INDIA NEEDS A “JP” TODAY!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Midnight of June 25th / 26th 1975 surely ranks as one of the darkest chapters of any democracy, the world over. The state of emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi not only suspended civil liberties of the ordinary citizen but censored free speech and suspended elections in the country for an indefinite period.
There were several factors that led to the imposition of emergency; among them: growing dissent all over, a paralysing railway strike, court judgments declaring Indira’s election as null and void and very particularly mass mobilization of the people in Delhi and elsewhere protesting against an insensitive Government. A good part of the credit for the latter has to be given to one man Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) who on June 25th 1975 brought Delhi to a halt demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and calling for a total revolution (‘sampoorna kraanti’) while insisting that the military and the police disobey any unconstitutional and immoral orders given by the Government.
In 1972, as a student of St. Xavier’s College (SXC), Mumbai I had the privilege of being one of the group of students to invite JP to SXC. This was a little before he went centre-stage. JP challenged our young and open minds, he insisted that the youth of India should show undaunted courage and unflinching commitment on national issues. He had already begun a movement in Bihar in which he called for social transformation, but in a non-violent way. Later on, in 1974, together with VM Tarkunde, he founded ‘Citizens for Democracy’ and in 1976, he founded the ‘People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ (PUCL). The main objective of both these organizations was to defend civil liberties. On June 5th, 1974, JP challenged a massive crowd at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna saying that “after 27 years of freedom, people of the country are wracked by hunger, rising prices, corruption…oppressed by every kind of injustice. We want a total revolution, nothing less than that”.
Today, 39 years after that ‘infamous’ emergency, we once again seem to live in those ‘dark times’ that JP lived in; any form of dissent, all forms of free speech are meticulously quelled - sometimes blatantly but mostly in subtle ways. Recently in Kerala, a group of college students were arrested because they had the courage not to agree with the status quo. A secret IB report on civil society organizations was carefully ‘leaked’ from the PM’s Office lambasting NGOs and individuals who critiqued mega-projects; strangely enough, among the NGOs mentioned is the PUCL which was founded by JP. Muzzling voices of dissent seems to be the prime objective of the report.
Prices have risen as never before and the burden of the common man is expected to increase manifold times in the not-too-distant-future. At the same time, the corporate sector seems to be on a roll, when even the mandatory environment clearances are officially allowed to be by-passed. About the media, the less said the better: the very media that was screaming hoarse on issues that plagued the country a few months ago has now hidden itself in a cloud of silence on matters which are much worse. The obvious one-sidedness on some issues by some of the electronic media does not fool a perceptive citizen. Efforts are made in all quarters to tactfully sweep the sins and wrongs of the past, under the carpet. Should one rake them up, one will have to pay consequences. …and there is much more!
More than ever before, India needs a JP to wake her up from her stupor!
25th June, 2014
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052
Phone: 79 27455913, 66522333 Fax: 79 27489018