Mass movement, did you say?

Today's city-centric civil society campaigns are pale imitations of the ones seen in the past

The movements launched by Anna Hazare and yoga guru Ramdev, and the manner in which these campaigns are now seeking to mesh with mainstream politics, have made some wonder whether the main opposition party is looking to manufacture another "sampoorna kranti"-type mass struggle that Jayaprakash Narayan had launched in the early 1970s against Indira Gandhi's ruling Congress. JP's campaign for moral reconstruction through a peaceful revolution had a definitive ideological background that went back to the late 1920s, when he was first invited to join the Indian National Congress (INC) by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. The JP phenomenon begins and develops from there. It is equally important to examine the evolution of Jayaprakash Narayan as a leader of social movements through the 1950s and 1960s. This will also enable us to understand how social movements in the past have continuously interfaced with mainstream party politics in one way or the other and have left lasting influences on the polity as a whole. Going back into recent history may provide a perspective on whether Anna Hazare's movement against corruption will have a lasting impact on India's 21st century brand of coalition politics.

JP's ideological evolution was very interesting. He was a staunch Marxist while studying in the US in the 1920s. As a young Marxist, he thought Gandhi was a status quoist, but soon realised he was wrong. Later, he joined the INC and became close to Nehru. Nehru even encouraged him to lead the left-wing group within the Congress, the Congress Socialist Party. All this while, Gandhi was also gradually exercising a deep and lasting influence on him. Later, the Socialist Party formally split from the Congress as it was seen as too left-oriented by the likes of Sardar Patel. The somewhat rigid and collectivist socialist agenda did not fit into the Congress's middle-of-the-road omnibus character. So after 1948, Jayaprakash led the Socialist Party along with stalwarts like Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyut Patwardhan and others.

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