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My experience with Jayaprakash Narayan

I met JP first in USA in 1968, when he came on a tour sponsored by an American organization
- the Quakers. I was then a Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and had already
made a name in the field having collaborated in research with two of the most famous Nobel
Prize Winners, Paul Samuelson of MIT and Simon Kuznets of Harvard. In fact both of these
Nobel Laureates had said that I too would get some someday the Nobel Prize if I continued to
work on my theory of Index numbers, for which I had already achieved fame. But it was that
fateful meeting with JP that changed my life and my profession from teaching to politics. I
have never regretted for a moment that decision because of the way JP convinced me to make
the sacrifice, during his three days stay with me. I have been filled with a sense of mission
since then which has focussed my attention in achieving my political goals. Because of this, I
am never discouraged by defeat or delay, nor even much delighted by victory. And again
because of this sense of mission acquired from JP, I never give up any fight nor been afraid of
consequences. It is thanks to the combination of JP's political advice, and spiritual blessings of
the divine Parmacharya, that I am as tough today as I am never afraid to stand alone, and speak
as I feel.
It was sometime in April 1968 that the Harvard University Marshal's office, which deals with
visitors to the campus, telephoned me at my office at the Economics Department. The lady on
the phone in a typical American slang said: "There is a guy from India called Mr.J.P.Narayan
who is here and wants to meet you as well as the Universitys Faculty." I had as a child in
1940s heard of a leader called 'JP' and wondered if this was the same person. I asked the lady to
put him on. When he came on the line, I simply asked "Are you the freedom fighter JP?" JP's
voice choked with emotion and said "Oh I am so happy that the younger generation (I was 28
years old then) has heard of me!" I then asked JP to hand back the phone to the Marshal's office
lady. When she came on the line, I instructed her to put JP up at the University's Faculty Club,
and that I would right away go to see him.

Those days I was fired by nationalist ideas such as that could do without foreign aid, that we
could afford to build the atom bomb, and that the Aryan - Dravidian theory is a British
concoction to divide India. In the 1960s these ideas were considered radical and extreme. So
because of this nationalistic fervour, I used to wear "close coat", modern Indian dress, unlike
other Indians who wore tie and shirt. The Americans to their credit never commented on my
dress since I was a good economics professor and researcher. It was the Indian's inferiority
complex that made them wear western clothes.
But when I went to see JP at the Faculty Club, I was taken aback to see him a three-piece
Western suit and tie. His wife Prabhavati was with him, dressed in a sari and she saw the
incongruity. She then admonished JP for wearing western clothes and told me that I had put
two Gandhiji's followers to shame. But JP with his famous sweet smile said "It looks like I
have found a new friend", and simply went back to his room, changed into an Indian Sherwani
and Pyjamas. After that, all through the 3 days stay, he was in Indian dress.
I acted as a driver for JP during this visit, since he did not have a car. I arranged for him to
lecture at Harvard on the current situation in politics in India. Due to the fact, that my father
was in the Congress party during the Freedom Struggle, and was associated with Satyamurthi
and Kamaraj, I was aware of little facts which I overheard as a child in the drawing room of our
house. One such fact which I knew impressed JP greatly. When at a lecture, he asked his
audience, "What is the last wish of Mahatma Gandhi?" No one in the audience, consisting 300
Indian and American scholars could answer. Then JP looked at me, and I blurted out that
(Gandhiji's private secretary, Pyare Lal had recorded it as the "Last Will and
Testament"), Gandhiji wanted the Congress Party to wound up. He complimented me for
keeping such close touch with the history of Freedom struggle despite living abroad for so
After the meeting was over, JP asked me to see him at the Faculty Club for dinner. On that
occasion, he began urging me to return to India, and join his Sarvodaya movement. He told me

how he too, as well as Dr.Ambedkar, had received American education and degrees, but they
had sacrificed for the country. He told me about Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel and Subash Bose who
gave up their careers for public service. But he urged me not to enter politics, but instead join
him in Sarvodaya.
A year later in 1969 I resigned my professorship at Harvard and came to India. After meeting
JP in Delhi, I left for Batlagundu in Madurai district to join the Sarvodaya movement, or at
least try it for few months. At that time, JP was almost a forgotten person by people of India. I
remember going to receive him at the New Delhi Railway station after my return to India. JP
was coming to Delhi from Patna by train. At the railway station, except for his Secretary, there
was no one else to receive him except me. None recognized JP in the platform after he
disembarked from the train.
I left for Batlagundu, Madurai in October 1969 after having lived in comfort in the USA for
more than seven years. While life in Sarvodaya was hard, the Sarvodaya leaders in Batlagundu
tried to make my life interesting. But what I found was while the people in the villages
respected Sarvodaya leaders for their sacrifice, they did not take them seriously. Meantime
during my stay, I read Gandhiji's work in the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi Museum in Madurai city
which I often visited to reduce the boredom of living in a village. Gandhiji had clearly
advocated in his writing the combining of politics with constructive social work to enthuse the
people. But Sarvodaya was purely social work with no politics. Indian society was purely
social work with no politics. Indian society, it seemed to me, was not ready to de-politicize
So I wrote to JP after a few months that I could not fit into Sarvodaya as I did not believe that
social work without political clout had a future in India. And hence I left Batlagundu for Delhi
in early 1970 to become a Professor of Economics at the IIT, Delhi.
JP was very upset with my letter. I little realized that JP had come to the opposite conclusion in
1953 after rejecting Jawaharlal Nehru's offer of making him the Deputy Prime Minister. JP's

mission from 1953 was to liquidate politics. He had advocated party less democracy and
panchayati raj based on non-political Sarvodaya. My letter was thus in effect saying that JP had
wasted his life since 1953, and JP was satisfied in feeling hurt.
JP wrote me a stiff and cold letter in reply, saying that he was disappointed with me. He did not
reply to any of my letters thereafter. But in July 1972, 2 1/2 years later I received a telegram
from JP. He was recuperating from a heart attack at Tipponagondahalli near Bangalore. In the
telegram, he invited me to join a small get together of his friends to discuss "an important
So I went to Tipponagondahalli to see JP. There about 15 top Sarvodaya leaders were camping.
We all stayed together and discussed many issues. In one session, JP posed a question. He
asked: If Indira Gandhi imposes military rule, what should be his role? Or what can he do to
stop it?
While all Sarvodaya leaders advocated fasting or writing letters or something passive. I was the
only one to suggest to every ones shock, that JP had committed a mistake in giving up politics,
and that he should correct for it by entering it now. Every Sarvodaya leader in the meeting
condemned me for saying this, and exhibiting my immaturity. But to everyone's surprise, JP in
his concluding speech agreed with me that for stopping the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi, he
had to re-enter politics. He said emotionally; "Dr.Swamy is courageous. He is not afraid of
speaking the hurtful truth. I agree with him. At the appropriate date. I have decided to enter the
political arena". Thus I can truly say that the germ of the idea to oppose the coming Emergency
and create the Janata Party was planted in JP's mind by me.
By 1974, JP was fully into the political movement to oppose Mrs.Indira Gandhi's authoritarian
rule which he was certain would come in the form of military rule. Throughout 1974-75, JP
was never in Delhi without giving me a telephone call and asking me to meet him. He made me
a member of the national coordination committee of political parties, even though I was a
junior in politics. The first meeting of Kamaraj with JP was fixed by me. This was in

November 1974 and all the papers had the photograph of the three of us.
On the morning of June 25, 1975 ( the day before Mrs. Gandhi declared 'Emergency') , I got an
urgent call from a political leader who said that for the crucial evening rally for that day in
Delhi's Ramlila Grounds, JP and Morarji Desai were locked in a quarrel, and no one had the
guts to talk to either. Morarji Desai was in high spirits because his fast for Gujarat Assembly
polls had led to a formation of Janata Front Government in the elections. Morarji was a strong
disciplinarian and disapproved of JP's unpunctual schedules. This quarrel was because the
public meeting had been announced for 5 PM that evening. It was a hot summer, so JP said he
would arrive at the meeting at 8 PM. Morarji quarrelled on that, saying that if meeting was for
5 PM, JP and he must both turn up on time. "Why are we spoiling people's habits that we don't
mean what to say?" So it was left to me to persuade JP to come on time, since all political
leaders knew the soft corner JP had for me. This situation helped me to get properly introduced
to Morarji. But becoming friends with Morarji was not easy, since he thought I was too young
(I was 35 years old then) to mingle with "seniors". He kept telling me "You are Americanized.
You are too frank for Indian political culture". This, coming from Morarji who had been
criticized for being too blunt, surprised me!
But I finally made the two giants agree to a joint appearance at 6 PM at that historic Ramlila
Grounds rally, which was later cited by Mrs.Indira Gandhi as the reason for proclaiming the
Emergency (JP, it was alleged had, at that rally, incited the Army to rebel against Indira
Gandhi. As an eyewitness I can say this was a lie). Morarji Desai was so impressed with my
patience in handling the issue that he asked me to sit with him in the rally. In his autobiography
(Volume III), Morarji has reproduced a photograph of the rally, with me sitting with JP and
That night I had a dinner with JP alone. He was very emotional. He said military rule was
certain, and I must fight. "You have necessary guts and friends all over the world. So you must
organize the fight abroad". I really thought that JP was being unnecessarily alarmist. But he

was right. Next morning a policeman, who shall remain anonymous, called me at 4.30 am. He
said JP has been arrested and unless I left my residence, I too will be.
Remembering JP's previous night advice, I went underground. All through the Emergency,
despite being declared a "proclaimed offender", and having the highest reward for my arrest,
Indira Gandhi's police could not catch me. That is another story I will write about later. But I
opposed the Emergency tooth and nail as JP had wanted me to do.
When I next met JP, it was in 1977 after the Emergency. He has been transformed from zero of
1970 to national hero. He was very pleased to see me, but I could not get anytime to talk with
him as before. The crowds were everywhere. Old socialists reclaimed him, and hailed him as
theirs. Even RSS almost made him their leader. Till 1979, I met JP off and on. In our brief
meetings, he sentimentally referred to our 1972 Tipponagondahalli meeting. He also
complained about Morarji to me. I tried to patch up, but the forces pulling them apart were
much stronger. JP had specially called me to the Gandhi Peace Foundation, when he and
Acharya Kriplani selected Morarji Desai and not Jagjivan Ram. JP made me sit with him
throughout as leader after leader came in to give their view. I got a real political training in
witnessing this event. JP was very clear that Morarji Desai should be PM for the first 2 1/2
years. But everyone knew Morarji was too strong headed to accept any conditions. So
ultimately JP relented, Morarji was made PM.
My last talk of great substance with JP was in 1979 in Patna when the Janata had broken up. He
was literally in tears and in bad health. "My beautiful garden of flowers (Janata) has been made
a desert", he cried. He then put his hand on my arm, and said "But you must mobilize the
younger generation to keep the Janata flag flying. Promise me". I have kept the promise.
When the BJP was formed by further splitting the Janata, I did not desert the Janata. When in
1984, Chandrasekhar in a fit of rage for opposing him in a Presidential contest expelled me
from the party, I waited for an opportunity to make friends with him, and return to Janata. In
1989, when everyone including Chandrasekhar deserted the party to join Janata Dal, I stayed

out with Deve Gowda (later in 1992 Gowda too deserted the Janata for the Dal). I have stuck
with Janata because of the promise I had made to JP, and tried to rebuild it. But JP had formed
the Janata for an ideology of decentralization. Today JP's victory is that his ideology is
accepted by everybody.
Even though his baby, the Janata Party, has not regained the 1977 glory, the ideology has
triumphed. His arch opponent, the Congress Party has lock, stock and barrel accepted JP's
ideology. That is his victory. For this we should thank Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao.
When I look at JP's personality now, what strikes me in his simplicity and straight forwardness
That is what made him great. If Gandhiji symbolizes Freedom, JP symbolizes that spirit of
democracy. It was an honour to have known him so closely.