Jayaprakash Narayan and His Contribution to Social Movements in India


Sharad Mishra,

Hidayattullah National Law University, Raipur




Jayaprakash Narayan was one among the few luminaries in India, whose life was a message   of struggle for freedom and justice. In the post-Independence era he was the only ‘Crusader’ to launch Total Revolution in the country without any clamour for power. He was more a political activist than a political philosopher. He was a Gandhian-Marxist. Jayaprakash Narayan was a born revolutionary whose mission of life was to fight for both independence and a new socio-economic order.  He had left permanent imprint for his revolutionary role and was much acclaimed for his democratic humanitarian views like socialism, Sarvodaya, partyless democracy and total revolution. He was the one of the ‘Committed Socialist’ who made a dauntless fight against the forces of exploitation i.e., capitalism and landlordism in India. Jayaprakash’s Sarvodaya implies a new order in which the society will be class-less and stateless; it will be a political system in which Lokniti will replace rajneeti it will be ‘peoples’ socialism., which will ensure not only freedom and equality, but also peace and eternity. He was a self-less dedicated revolutionary that mother India has produced. Vinoba Bhave said after Jayaprakash's death that Jayaprakash considered himself only a "Lok-sevak," or servant of the people.




Life and Contribution:

Jaya Prakash Narayan whose name means, “Victory to the light” was born in October 11, 1902 in the remote Bihar village of Sitabdiyara. He was the leader of “Total Revolution”, great warrior of Indian Freedom Struggle; Marxist turned socialist Gandhinian, a life-long Ahinshak rebel Loknayak.

 His father Harsu Dayal has boasted about J.P., “My son will be a great man, some day.”  His father was a petty official in the Canal Department in Bihar and mother was a religious lady. His father had wanted him to be a government officer. But the currents of time guided by the forces of nationalism, socialism and mass movements under the leadership of Gandhi, changed the course of his life.


His School and College Life:

At the age of nine J.P. made his first break with the village and was admitted to the 7th class in the collegiate school at Patna. He proved himself to be a meritorious student by getting scholarship in the Secondary School Examination in 1909. After, completing high school education, he joined Patna College as a student of Intermediate Science. He continued to be retiring and intensely studious and by 1918 he had reached the final class. He sat for the ‘State Public Matriculation Examination’ and was awarded a District merit scholarship to Patna College.


During his higher studies he was highly influenced and motivated by the ideas of Gandhi. Gandhiji’s successful launching of Satyagraha at South Africa had created sensation in the mind of budding Jayaprakash. But after Gandhiji arrived in national politicsin the year 1915, he applied his technique of Satyagraha at Champaran in Bihar.

At Champaran the indigo farmers were exploited by the Britishers. The success of Champaran movement tremendously influenced the patriotic mind of young Jayaprakash who mentally got prepared for the future.


JP then became Swadeshi” (indigenous) in his attitudes, using handmade village shoes instead of the British manufactured ones and cleaning them with Indian mustered oil instead of with British shoe polish. He dressed himself in a Kurta, a home-spun, hand-woven material and an ascetically short dhoti (loose garment). JP at 18 was married to Braj Kishore Prasad’s daughter Prabhavati, 14 in October 1920.


Since he had the desire to pursue higher studies in Science and then he decided to leave for America. He left his wife Prabhabati became a great disciple of Gandhi. His stay in America brought different experiences and by the time he came back to India, he was no more a Gandhiji’s follower. He studies in the universities of California, Iowa, Chicago and Ohio. Due to financial difficulties he had to earn money by serving as a shoeshine boy, hotel waiter and working in factories. While reading and studying there he came in contact with communist friends he was influenced by marx and his thoughts and accordingly he joined Ohio University and did his M.A. in Sociology. In 1929 he came to India. By the time he reached India, he was no more a follower oh Gandhian doctrine. He had high regards for Gandhi, but lost faith in Gandhism. He had turned to be a Marxist by conviction, a journey from Gandhiji’s Passive Resistance to Marx’s violent revolution.       



Jayaprakash Narayan was a born revolutionary whose mission of life was to fight for both independence and a new socio-economic order. So when India got independence, other leaders got involved in the power tussle he planned for a social revolution to replace the present socio economic order by a new socialist order. He was the one of the ‘Committed Socialist’ who made a dauntless fight against the forces of exploitation i.e., capitalism and landlordism in India.


In the budding stage of his political mind, he was heavily drunk with ‘Marxism Socialism’. He was convinced about dialectical materialism and necessity of class war. But when he came to India, the Current of nationalism was most powerful subsiding the possibility of a communist revolution, but he preferred to join freedom movement. And in 1934, he founded Congress Socialist Party. He opposed Gandhi’s social philosophy and argues that it gives an opportunity to the princes to exploit the paupers. He rejected Gandhism as ‘timid economic analysis’ ‘ineffective moralising’ and Marxian socialism is the basis of his ideas of socio-economic order.


But in the forties after his imprisonment in special camp jail at Deoli in Rajasthan, he realised the necessity of a democratic polity with moral values. He was drawn towards Gandhism for the latter’s emphasis on decentralisation in administration and commitment to certain ethical values in politics.



In his book ‘Why Socialism’ he advanced his arguments for adopting socialism in India. He made an analysis of socio-economic conditions of India which is discussed below.

A.     Inequality in the Society:   He says that the main cause is inequalities--- inequality of rank, of culture and of opportunity; a most disproportionately unequal distribution of the property and the things needed for life.

B.     Unequal Distribution of Wealth

C.     Accumulation and Concentration of Wealth

D.     Exploitation:  Accumulation and concentration of wealth makes it easier for some to exploit money.


SOCIALISM—the only Panacea for Socio-economic Maladies

Jayaprakash Narayan viewed socialism in Indian perspective. He viewed “Socialism is a system of social reconstruction. Socialism is not a code of personal conduct; nor is it a hot house growth.” It means to change in the socio-economic and political life of the country –where there will be no inequality in possession and no exploitation. It will be a society with balanced growth from all sides.


He said socialism is a system of social organisation which has few objectives that are -:

·        Elimination of exploitation and poverty.

·        Provision for equal opportunities to all for self-development.

·        Full development of material and moral resources of the society.

·        Equitable distribution of national wealth.


Socio-economic Construction

Jayaprakash Narayan regarded socialism as a complete theory of socio-economic construction. He said that the inequality in society exists due to the disproportionate control of the means of production. He advocated reduction in revenue, limitation of expenditure and the nationalization of industries.


In the Ramgarh session of the Congress in 1940 he advocated collective ownership and control of large-scale production, and nationalization of the heavy industries, heavy transport, shipping and mining. He made Gandhism the base of his socialism. The village should be made a self-governing and self-sufficient unit. He favored the distribution of land to the tiller, co operative farming, and cancellation of agriculture debt.


Any attempt at establishing new socio-economic order must start with the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and establishing social ownership. That will solve the problem of accumulation of wealth in few hands and eradicate exploitation from the society. He described the process of applying socialism to both agriculture and industry. In the field of establishing ‘Socialist Industry’, he said, both large and small-scale industry must be democratically managed and controlled and it must be owned by the government. 


Hence Jayprakash’s socialism in economic sphere includes

·        Abolition of landlordism and capitalism.

·        Socialization of means of production by abolishing private property rights.

·        Cooperative farming run by the gram panchyats.

·        Collective farming.

·        Large-scale industries owned by the states with workers participation and small-scale industries organized into producer’s cooperatives.



Jayaprakash made a voyage from socialism to Sarvodaya in the fifties. The Sarvodaya movement was started by Gandhi in pre-independent India and spearheaded by Vinoba Bhave in the post-independence era. Jayaprakash’s Sarvodaya implies a new order in which the society will be class-less and stateless; it will be a political system in which Lokniti will replace rajneeti it will be ‘peoples’ socialism., which will ensure not only freedom and equality, but also peace and eternity.


The Meaning of Sarvodaya

The Sarvodaya aims to establish a new social order on the basis of truth, love and non-violence. It is highly critical of the State and its government, because both are based on force and coercion. As such, sarvodaya aims towards the creation of a social order free from every form of authority. Its ultimate aim is to establish a stateless society where “the ruler and the ruled will be merged in the individual”. 


The main features of sarvodaya social order, are as under:- 

Ø  No power should be dominant in society; there should omly be a discipline of good thought;

Ø  All facilities of the individual to be dedicated to society which must provide the individual for growth and development ; and

Ø  The moral, social and economic values of all the callings performed honestly should be the same.


Causes for joining the Sarvodaya Movement:

In 1954, Jayaprakash joined Sarvodaya Movement as a Jeevandani and left power-politics with the determination to dedicate his life to Bhoodan and Sarvodaya movement. He observed that unless socialism is transformed into Sarvodaya, the sublime goals of life such as freedom, equality, brotherhood and peace can’t be achieved by the society .


In poor countries like India it is the task of social reconstruction to raise the living standard of people. But it would not work if an insatiable hunger for material goods becomes the goal of life. There can be no peace in the minds and hearts of men, if this hunger grows at them continuously. That would necessarily set up an uncontrolled competition between individuals, groups and nations. In such a restless society violence and war would be endemic. Equality, freedom, brotherhood and peace would all be in the danger of being submerged in the universal flood of materialism. Therefore disciplining of bodily appetite is essential for a moral life and growth of human personality. The socialist way of life is the way of sharing common good; the more willingly this sharing is made, the less tension and coercion in society and there is more socialism.


Jayaprakash’s Interpretation of Sarvodaya:

Sarvodaya is people’s socialism, where there will be more of voluntary participation of the people and non-state form of socialism. The philosophy of Sarvodaya believes in ‘inner goodness’ of man. But its objective is to establish a small society with ethics and morality. He said that ‘self-government, self-management, mutual co-operation and sharing, equality, freedom, brotherhood all could be practiced and developed better if men lived in a small communities.


Hence he concluded that “the form of Sarvodaya society will be such that people will manage their affairs with co-operation, non conflict, self-discipline and sense of responsibility”. Unless man realizes the importance of Satyagraha and non-violence, class-war can’t solve the problem. Because class-war will beget hatred amongst brothers in the society.


In economic sphere, Jayaprakash travelled from class-war of Marxism, nationalization of democratic socialism to Bhoodan, trusteeship and Sarvodaya. He was sure that ideals of Bhoodan that is –

Ø  To give surplus land to landless. (Bhoodan).

Ø  Communalization of land. (Gramdan).

Ø  Converting property into what Gandhiji called trusteeship. (Sampattidan).


Provides the real solution to the problem of accumulation and concentration of wealth. He observed that the outward socio-economic change was accompanied by inward human change. He further admitted that Bhoodan was the beginning of all round social and human revolution, human because it aims at changing man along with society.


He discarded party politics and parliamentary democracy and found an alternative in the Gandhian way of Sarvodaya which stood for participatory, non-violent and non-power politics. Sarvodaya ensures a system where all centres of power will be abolished. There will be a system of Gram Raj with complete decentralization, voluntary participation of the masses and without interference of either parties or the state, Lokniti will prevail over Rajniti.


Jayaprakash was relentless crusader for human freedom and democracy. He had made sincere effort to search for new Indian polity where power would really belong to the people. He had raised questions on the efficiency of the present political institutions and processes in India and suggested the measures to make democracy more democratic, efficient, enduring and meaningful. The aim of Jayaprakash is to create and establish a stateless and participatory democracy. Sarvodaya aims at liberty, equality, peace, and fraternity with mass involvement and voluntary participation of people paying less importance on state and government.


Jayaprakash’s concept of Participatory Democracy

His concept of participatory and partyless democracy found detailed elaboration in his pamphlet ‘swaraj for the people’ published in 1961. He said that Indians followed western democracy, where government is based on consent of the people without any participation in it. He wanted and advocated the participation of the people in the polity and governance this would require a thorough- going system of political as well as economic decentralization. He advocated Gandhi’s view that as you proceed from the bottom level to the top each higher level should have less and less functions and powers. In such a system people of each level would have fullest opportunity to manage all the political affairs. Such a system of democracy could give the people a stake in the democracy as well as a sensation of Swaraj.


Panchayati Raj System is the foundation of Jayaprakash’s views on democracy. Because it will take the govt. to the door step of the people and enable every citizen to participate in it. But he also laid down some conditions, that are –

·        Education should be provided to the people.

·        Political parties should not interfere in the elections and functioning of Panchayats.

·        Real devolution of power and responsibilities to the Panchayats.

·        Giving financial autonomy to the local authorities, making civil servants accountable.


On these conditions the structure of participatory democracy has to be built up. And he also viewed political decentralization necessitates economic decentralization. A decentralized economy demands full utilization of local, regional, human and material resources to the satisfaction of local and regional needs. Emphasis should be on small machine, labor intensive economy and village industries.



The clarion call for ‘Total Revolution’ was the last revolutionary quest of Jayaprakash Narayan. It is the only indigenous revolution in the post independence era. Though a Sarvodaya activist, a revolutionary Jayaprakash could not remain indifferent to the crumbling of Indian polity. Corruption, manipulation, exploitation, social discrimination, unemployment and rise of authoritarianism provoked an old guard of freedom movement like Jayaprakash to launch a total revolution in post-independence polity. 


Meaning of Total Revolution

On 5th June, 1974 addressing a mammoth gathering of 5 lakh people in Gandhi Maidan at Patna, he launched the revolutionary programme called Total Revolution. He defined total revolution as a combination of seven revolutions –

·        Social Revolution – Establishing equality and brotherhood in the society.

·        Economic Revolution – Decentralization of economy and making efforts to bring about economic equality by taking village as the unit of development.

·        Political Revolution – Ending political corruption, decentralization of  politics and making public partner by giving them more rights.

·        Cultural Revolution – Defending Indian culture and regeneration of cultural values in common man.

·        Educational Revolution – Making education occupation based and changing of education system.

·        Spiritual Revolution – Developing moral and spiritual values, and turning materialism towards spirituality.

·        Thought Revolution – Revolution in the way of thinking.


Narayan returned to prominence in State politics in the late 1960s. In 1974, he led the student's movement in the state of Bihar which gradually developed into a popular people's movement known as the Bihar Movement. It was during this movement that JP gave a call for peaceful Total Revolution Together with V. M. Tarkunde he founded the Citizens for Democracy in 1974 and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in 1976, both NGOs, to uphold and defend civil liberties. On June 12, 1975, the Allahabad High Court held the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, guilty on charge of corrupt practices in the election. Jayaprakash advised her to resign until her name was cleared by the Supreme Court. Instead, she clamped Emergency on June 26. Jayaprakash was arrested and sent to Chandigarh where he was kept prisoner in a hospital. "My world lies in shambles around me," he cried. As his health worsened, he was moved to a hospital in Bombay. 

Finally in January 1977, Emergency was lifted. Fresh elections were declared. Under Jayaprakash's guidance several parties united to form the Janata Party. The party incorporated all of Jayaprakash's goals in its manifesto.  When Indira Gandhi was found guilty of violating electoral laws by the Allahabad High Court, Narayan called for Indira to resign, and advocated a program of social transformation which he termed Sampoorna kraanthi [Total Revolution]. After Indira revoked the emergency on January 18, 1977 and announced elections, it was under JP's guidance that the Janata Party (a vehicle for the broad spectrum of the anti-Indira Gandhi opposition) was formed. The Janata Party was voted into power, and became the first non-Congress party to form a government at the Centre.


Causes of Total Revolution:

Jayaprakash’s total revolution can be traced to the socio-economic, education, moral and political maladies existing in Indian society. He gave his note on Total Revolution in his book ‘Prison Diary’, written during his year of arrest and solitary confinement in which he talks about why he gave call for ‘total revolution’. Since independence, he observed, there has been no real change in social, economic and political structure of the society.


Zamindari is abolished, land reform laws have been passed, untouchability has been legally prohibited and so on. But village in most parts of India is still in the grip of higher castes and bigger and medium land owners. Harijans are burnt alive. Adivasis are still the most backward section and money-lenders still cheat and exploit adivasis. Inspite of nationalization, there is no element of trait of socialism. There is no economic democracy, which is much talked about. The educational system inspite of several committees and commissions remains basically what it was during British rule. Since independence there is steady decline in the political, public, and business morality. Population growth goes racing forward. Poverty is also growing; more than 40 percent of people are below poverty line. The basic necessities of the people are also not getting fulfilled. Therefore there is the need of a systematic change in the society i.e., a total revolution in every sphere and aspect of society. 



Narayan spent the first 25 years of independence as the patron saint of lost causes: the Praja Socialist Party, the Sarvodaya movement, even self-determination for Kashmir. His most enduring contribution to the life of the Republic was the movement he led to unseat Mrs Gandhi, which provoked the Emergency. As the eminence grise of the Janata Party, the first non-Congress party to run the central government, he can take credit for catalysing the political forces that set in train the Congress’s political decline. Narayan also wrote several books, notably Reconstruction of Indian Polity. He promoted Hindu revivalism, but was initially deeply critical of the form of revivalism promoted by the Sangh Parivar.


In 1998, he was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in recognition of his social work. Other awards include the Magsaysay award for Public Service in 1965. Narayan is sometimes referred to with the honorific title Lok nayak or 'guide of the people'. A university (J P University in Chhapra, Bihar) and two Hospitals (L N J P Hospital in New Delhi and Jai Prabha Hospital in Patna) have been opened in his memory. The capital's largest and best-equipped trauma centre, the Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, also honors his contributions.

He was a crusader and visionary. No doubt critics have assailed him as a man with inconsistencies. Some view him as a Utopian thinker, an ideal dreamer and too liberal internationalist. His ideas on Sarvodaya and participatory democracy may be relevant for simple and small society, but can’t be applicable to modern complex society. His views on socialism, sarvodaya and total revolution bear testimony to his humanitarian goals. In post-independent Indian polity Jayaprakash’s call to the people was like that of charmer. He was a self-less dedicated revolutionary that mother India has produced. Vinoba Bhave said after Jayaprakash's death that Jayaprakash considered himself only a "Lok-sevak," or servant of the people.



·        Political Theory and Organization, L.S. Rathore and S.A.H. Haqqi, Eastern Book Company.

·        Indian Political Tradition – From Manu to Ambedkar, D.K. Mohanty.




Received on 19.01.2012

Revised on   23.02.2012

Accepted on 27.03.2012

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