Bihar: The Prophet of Mushahari

Jayaprakash Narayan, Pic courtesy Indian Express


Frontier, 23 January 1971

One of the important things about the great Sarvodya leader J.P. Narayan is that he knows very well how to keep in tune with the times. Take his dress habits: in India he wears famous J.P. cut kurta and pyjamas, but while abroad he likes to be in costly Western style suits.

Mr Narayan has confined himself for over seven and a half months in the Naxalite-infested Mushahari Community Development Block of the district of Muzaffarpur in North Bihar He has taken a vow that “either my bones would crumble or I shall succeed in my mission-of curbing the Naxalites”.

Recently Mr Narayan came out with a well-circulated and rather lengthy article, “Face To Face With Reality”, in which he tells the story of his “mission of peace.”

The article can be divided into two parts. The first deals with the reality that J. P. had to face in the villages The second is an effort to criticise (or to malign!) the theory of violent revolution particularly that advocated by the CPI(ML).

The first reaction which the Sarvodaya leader had on coming face to face with reality was that the socio- economic condition in the villages was “ugly and distressing in the extreme. …In the event what meet the eyes are utter poverty, misery, inequality, exploitation, backwardness, stagnation, frustration, loss of hope.”

Some of his statements are contradictory.

Somewhere he says that he is losing faith in constitutional means but at the same time he declares that the Constitution facilitates the peaceful path to social revolution. “If the reform laws already enacted came to be fully and truly implemented, it would amount to a minor social revolution in the countryside.”

But soon enough, from his experience which shows that the existing laws continue obstinately to remain on paper, irrespective of whatever the administration may do, J.P passes in to the other theory : “It is better not to have a law than to have one which cannot be implemented.” He cites a number of examples to prove his point.

Mr Narayan tries to find out the causes of the growth of politically motivated rural violence. He says it would never have taken any root had not the ground been prepared for it by the persistence of poverty, unemployment, and myriad socio-economic injustices.

It is not the so-called Naxalites who have fathered this violence, but others who have persistently defied and defeated the laws for the past so many years — politicians, administrators, landowners, moneylenders.

The big farmer who cheated the ceiling law through benami and fictitious settlements ; the gentlemen who grabbed Government lands and village communes; the landowners who persistently denied the legal rights of the sharecropper and evicted them from their holdings and who underpaid their labourers and threw them out of their homesteads; the men who by fraud or force took the lands away from the weaker sections; the so-called upper caste men who looked down upon Harijans and illtreated and discriminated against them; the moneylenders who charged usurious interest and seized the lands of the poor and the weak; the politicians, the administrators and others who aided and abetted these wrongs: the courts of laws and the procedures and costs of justice that conspired to deny a fair deal to the weaker sections of our society; the system of education and the nature of planning that are producing an ever expanding army of ill-educated, frustrated and unemployed youth and are accentuating economic disparities and leading to further polarisation of classes; the politicians, whose self-seeking has reduced democracy, the party-system, the ideologies, to a farce — it is they who are responsible for the accumulated sense of injustice, grievance and hurt among the poor and downtrodden that is now seeking its outlet in violence, declares J.P.

Other Atrocities

But the story has another aspect, too. J.P. keeps himself away from dealing with it.

He points to the economic exploitation by the kulaks but is ready to forget and forgive the other atrocities like mass murder, loot, rape etc. committed by them. Actually, his Sarvodaya movement has always been blessed by the ruling class as a means of diverting the anger of the people against the iniquitous social organs.

And perhaps this is why Naxalites described him as the “tested and tried agent of the reactionary ruling class” and “a loyal lackey of the landlords who have now requisitioned his services at Mushahari”.

“J.P. has abandoned the pose of neutrality and is denouncing and condemning the violence of the peasantry and asking them to obey and worship the land lords as before,” the Naxalites alleged.

In his article Mr Narayan comes to the point — rather slowly, indeed — and declares that violence is not the saviour.

He gives four reasons: it might produce a reaction and end up in a fascist dictatorship; violent revolution takes time to engineer; there is not a single social revolution in history which succeeded in realising the ideals for which it was made; after revolution a new privileged class of rulers and exploiters grew up.

About the first point J.P. himself is not very sure and it is futile to discuss it here. For his other argument that a violent revolution takes time to engineer, can he cite a single example to prove that non-violent revolution is the quickest method?

Actually, the point that the non-violent method is the quickest does not arise in any case, as not a single non-violent revolution has taken place.

To prove his last two points, J.P. knowingly cites the example of the social-imperialist Soviet Russia.

Remarkably enough, he keeps himself away from indulging in ‘nonsense” arguments like the developments in post-revolution China. He avoids discussing the Chinese Cultural Revolution which took place under the personal guidance of Mao Tse-tung to solve the problems posed by the experiences of the Russian Revolution.

‘Modest Programme’

However, J.P has drawn a “modest programme” of intensifying his Sarvodaya movement to counter the Naxalite influence in Mushahari.

But ironically enough, Gramdan pledges — the higher form of the earlier Bhoodan movement — were obtained earlier in this Block, that is to say, the region had been donated to the ideals of Sarvodaya long ago. And, yet there is violence!

However, J.P. is again ‘honest’ enough to recognise the fact that Gramdan pledges have not been implemented in this area (like the rest of Gramdani areas!).

So, his Gramdan has also remained unimplemented just like the laws passed by the legislatures, about which Mr Narayan is so critical.

J.P.’s modest programme — drawn in two parts, the first being related to the implementation of the earlier obtained Gramdan pledges, and the second to the correction of ‘mistakes’ and ‘wrongs’ in this respect — sounds good enough (if implemented).

Leaders of all hues have assured him of their help in his mission. The enemy is common – Nasalism.

According to a recent report, the Socialist Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Defence Minister, Mr Jagjivan Ram, and several other like-minded Ministers, MPs and leaders of different political parties have expressed their desire to visit Mushahari where a high-pitched battle between two contradictory thoughts – Sarvodaya and Naxalism — is being fought.

Great as he is, J.P. gives us some high-sounding words. “I have no army (why he should need one when. the whole repressive machinery of the Government is in attendance to move at his command in Mushahari?)…to fight the Naxalites with, nor do I look upon what I am doing as a fight against anybody but as a fight for social and economic justice…Mine is not a negative but positive task.”

How sane sounds J.P.!

After denouncing the theory of violent revolution, he attempts to differentiate between the Maoists and the Guevarists and jumps to the conclusion that the path adopted by the CP (ML) follows the line of Che Guevara.

Leaving apart the question of his competence to judge these methods, one notes that J.P. is afraid to call the CP (ML) Maoists and then he continues slandering them.

He is well aware that the days may be fast approaching when he may not get away with his slandering campaign against Mao Tse-tung’s thought.

So why not subtly try to confuse people by telling them that these Naxalites are not Maoists after all. He pretends to criticise the methods and ideology of the CP (ML), differentiating them from the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung, though he is fully aware that the Naxalite movement in general and the CPI(ML) in particular has the approval of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Tse-tung.

As for the question of violence, it was there earlier too — violence of a counter-revolutionary nature as perpetrated by the kulaks on the rural poor. This monopoly of violence, alas, is gone today.

The peasants have risen with revolutionary violence to pay them back in the same coin. Here lies the fundamental objection of J.P. and like-minded gentlemen.

To subvert and crush the revolutionary struggle, there is to be a division of labour: the police, paramilitary forces and the hired goondas of landlords should let loose a campaign of terror against the rural people. On the other hand, the clever “Sarvodayi” should subtly preach the gospel of non-violence and attempt to calm down the people’s wrath.


The trouble with people like Jaya Prakash Narayan is that they are always among the latecomers. Something happens somewhere and then they appear on the stage to carry on their “mission of peace”.

In Telangana, the peasants rebel. The GOI suppresses it. Then comes the great saviour of society, Sant Vinoba Bhave.

In Naxalbari the peasants revolt and ten peasants including children and women die. Then comes the great Gandhian Acharya Bhave.

And in Mushahari again the peasants try to capture the state power. Their womenfolk are raped, property plundered and huts smashed. On the scene appears Jaya Prakashji.

He comes to remove the socio-economic, disparities and exploitation that are there. He asks the people to wait and not hurry and spoil all the things he has done for them.

He assures the peasants that they will get their land after he has finished his various donation programmes : Bhoodan, Gramdan, Prakhanddan, Ziladan, Prantdan and so on.

One question was there no exploitation in Telangana, Naxalbari or Mushahari before the revolt? Why didn’t all these Gandhians try to tackle it? It is remarkable that only when their class-brethren, the landlords, started getting killed, they rushed to Telangana, Naxalbari and Mushahari.

Mushahari Today

Let us peep into Mushahari where the Sarvodaya leader has been campaigning for the past SO many months. Surely enough, the arrival of a prominent figure like J.P. hampered Naxalite activities.

The work which could not be done by the anti-Naxalite cells of the Bihar police along with a network of spies, contingents of the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police and combatant sections of the Bihar Military Police, has been done by Mr Narayan; Naxalite activities have been hampered to a certain extent.

They had to shift their centre of activity to the nearby Hazipur region; since the arrival of J.P. only three or four annihilations have been included in the 18-man list. However, in the Hazipur region four murders were committed in quick succession in November-December, 1970.

One of the ‘annihilations’ that took place after the arrival of J.P. at Mushahari was that of the President of the local unit of the Jana Sangh.

After the murder, the Jana Sangh tried to make political capital out of it. A highly provocative leaflet is-sued on behalf of the party said that “the Muslims belonging to the CPI had killed its political worker. It gave the call  — khoon ka badla khoon (blood for blood). Meetings were held in pockets of Sangh influence and an attempt was made to observe a black day throughout the State.

All these things were aimed at the minority community. Obviously, the Sangh wanted to kill two birds with one stone: it wanted to create communal trouble as well as propagate an anti-commie feeling.

However, a small pamphlet, with the caption, “the Jana Sangh is the friend of the rich and sworn enemy of the poor: Arise against the communalism of the Sangh!”, issued on behalf of the CPI(ML) foiled the plans of neo-fascists.

It owned the murder and after listing a number of accusations against the deceased, it said that “the Jana Sangh-the party of black-marketeers and characterless zamindars-wants to give this incident a communal colour.”

So, a major clash between the two communities could be averted. But what the prophet of Mushahari was doing all this time? Significantly enough, he liked to keep mum and not a single statement denouncing the wicked game of the Sanghis did come from J.P., who is supposed to be very alert in these matters.

And perhaps this is why, writing in a Delhi fortnightly, the great Hindu leader, Mr Balraj Madhok, liked to keep Guru Gołwalkar, Vinoba Bhave and J.P. in the same category.

Frontier 23 January 1971
Frontier 28 November 1971
Frontier 23 January 1971


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