J.P. Narayan

[wptab name=’Introduction’]


Jayaprakash Narayan (11 October 1902 – 8 October 1979), widely known as JP Narayan, Jayaprakash, or Loknayak, was an Indian independence activist and political leader, remembered especially for leading the opposition to Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and for giving a call for peaceful Total Revolution. His biography, Jayaprakash, was written by his nationalist friend and an eminent writer of Hindi literature, Ramavriksha Benipuri. 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. The airport of Patna is also named after him.


Narayan died in Patna, Bihar,on 8 October 1979, three days before his 77th birthday. due to effects of diabetes and heart ailments. In March 1979, while he was in hospital, his death had been erroneously announced by the Indian prime minister, causing a brief wave of national mourning, including the suspension of parliament and regular radio broadcasting, and closure of schools and shops. When he was told about the gaffe a few weeks later, he smiled.

Jayaprakash was married to Prabhavati Devi, daughter of lawyer and nationalist Brij Kishore Prasad in October 1920. Prabhavati was very independent-minded and on Gandhiji’s invitation, went to stay at his ashram while Jayaprakash continued his studies. 



[wptab name=’Early Life’]

Early Life

Jayprakash (J.P.) Narayan was born on 11 October 1902 in the village of Sitabdiara, Ballia District, Uttar Pradesh, India. He came from a middle-class Kayastha family. He was Harsu Dayal and Phul Rani Devi’s fourth child. His father had boasted about J.P., “My son will be a great man, some day.” When J.P. was 9 years old he left his village to enroll in 7th class of the collegiate school at Patna. He was a serious student and by 1918 completed school and undertook the ‘State Public Matriculation Examination’ and won a District merit scholarship to Patna college. J.P. was not very religious but he began to read regularly some of the most basic Hindu scriptures starting with Bhagavada Gita, deriving heroic inspiration from the great battle of the Mahabharata described in the book which enlightens the concept that the essence of man is immortal. J.P. then also acquired a “Swadeshi” (indigenous) attitude, using handmade village shoes instead of the British manufactured ones and cleaning them with Indian mustard oil instead of with British shoe polish. He dressed himself in a Kurta, a home-spun, hand-woven material and an ascetically short dhoti. At 18, J.P. was married to Braj Kishore Prasad’s daughter Prabhavati,14 in October 1920. Then Braj Kishore sent Prabhavati to live with Kasturba Gandhi as a daughter in Gandhi’s ashram at Amdavad. Gandhi’s nation-wide strike in response of the Rowlatt Act, 1919, paralyzed economic life in April 1919. This was followed by the Khilafat movement together with his call for the non-co-operator movement on a nation-wide scale. J.P. wanted to appear for his second year science examination at Patna college. However J.P.’s being part of the nationalist movement against the British rule in India left the college being funded by the British Government and joined the Bihar Vidyapith, a tertiary institution set up by Bihar Congress for all non-co-operation students. In the meanwhile, Gandhi called off the non-co-operation movement in horror because the violent mob had killed twenty-two policemen in Uttar Pradesh at Chauri Chaura. The Indian National Congress was outlawed and the non-co-operation subsided. J.P. felt completely crushed.

Higher education in America

Disillusionment due to recall of the non-cooperation movement led J.P. to go to the US for higher studies. He was assured that students from poor families could work their way through college. J.P. wrote to his wife Prabhavati requesting her to accompany him. She refused and J.P. too realized that he could not support her abroad. However J.P.’s departure was delayed for a year by his mother’s opposition due to religious belief as well as her failing health. J.P. eventually left India in 1922 for the USA on a ship. J.P. reached San Francisco in California in October 1922 via Japan. He pursued higher education in the US for seven years, from 1922-1929. To sustain himself financially in the US, J.P. worked in the fruit ranch setting out grapes to dry in the sun to be made into raisins in the factory. Then he joined the University of California at Berkeley, California. He lived in a rented room, earning by working in restaurants, waiting at the tables; or washing dishes and by taking up odd jobs on Sundays. During the vacation, he again looked for work in the country-side.

J.P. found himself increasingly interested in sociology than in science and his career began to take a turn. Because of his longing for a national revolution in India, he could not visualize the study of science assisting him much in his work for Indian independence. Hence he enrolled for a PhD in social sciences at University of Wisconsin, being a well known department due to the influence of Robert La Follette. By the day and night he read through the writings of the social scientist and radicals – Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Plekhanov and Rosa Luxemburg. He read the three volumes of Das Kapital and everything available in English that Marx had written. He came to regard Marx then, as one of the greatest minds of the human race for his path finding work in Sociology. His intellectual interests were greatly broadened by the contacts with a group of Marxist-Leninists of the Madison home of a Russian Jewish tailor. He remained attentively alive to the writings of sociologists throughout the world. His studies proved so engrossing that he did not write to his family members or friends for a year and they became exceedingly worried about him. However, he did write to Prabhavati, telling her that he had received an invitation to study in the Soviet-union, making again a personal request to accompany him on his visit to a Moscow. Prabhavati again refused to go with him. Finally JP was dissuaded by his father Braj Kishore from India for going to Moscow and becoming a Bolshevik. He graduated as a Bachelor of Arts. He was granted a post graduate scholarship. The subject of his thesis for his Master of Arts was “Social Variation”. It was declared the best paper of the year. In it, he took the Marxist view point of dialectical & historical materialism. Then he planned to continue his studies until he had completed his Ph.D. But his dream did not become a reality, because he learnt that his mother was so ill from dropsy that she was bedridden. In the US in Wisconsin, he got acquainted to the writing of M. N. Roy that made on impact of his political mind and even aroused in him a suspicion of Gandhian thought. He read Roy’s writings like “The Aftermath of Non-co-operation”, “India in Transition”. Naturally M. N. Roy had a great hand in moulding his thought and leading him to communism as a confirmed Marxist. Finally, he returned to India convinced that he central problem of human society was inequality of wealth, property, rank, culture and opportunities and the passage of time never obscured it’. J.P. left for India in September, 1929 and reached India in November, 1929 at the age of 27, after seven year’s stay in the US. His wife Prabhavati was living with Gandhi and had taken the vow of celibacy. J.P. respected his wife’s decision. During this period the Nationalist Movement had reached its peak of frenzy. Gandhi was preparing for the next phase of struggle after independence. J.P. went to Wardha to see Gandhi and he met Jawaharlal Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru was impressed by him and invited him to come to Allahabad and head the labour research department of Indian Nationalist Congress. When J.P. returned to India in 1929, he was not interested in leading a comfortable life. He was determined to devote whole of life for the good of the people. Though J.P. was practically a committed Marxist, he was convinced that the communists in India must join the main stream of the struggle for National Liberation even if it was under the hegemony of the so-called bourgeoisie. On his way back to India, he had met Clemenus Dutt, brother of Rajni Palme Dutt and other communist leaders in London and discussed with them the issue of India’s freedom & revolution. J.P., who had read Lenin’s famous “Colonial thesis” calling upon the communists in the “Slave” countries to take active part in the national freedom struggle, was not convinced of Dutt’s argument. Later when J.P. joined the nationalist freedom movement, he was surprised to find that Indian communists were following the line which Clemenus Dutt advocated. J.P. could not understand the rationality of the fight against the INC (Indian National Congress) which was fighting for the freedom of the country.


[wptab name=’Politics’]



Narayan with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv, 1958 On April 19, 1954, Narayan announced in Gaya that he was dedicating his life (Jeevandan) to Vinoba Bhave‘s Sarvodaya movement and its Bhoodan campaign, which promoted distributing land to Harijans (untouchables). He gave up his land, set up an ashram in Hazaribagh, and worked towards uplifting the village.

In 1957, Narayan formally broke with the Praja Socialist Party in order to pursue lokniti [Polity of the people], as opposed to rajniti [Polity of the state]. By this time, Narayan had become convinced that lokniti should be non-partisan in order to build a consensus-based, classless, participatory democracy which he termedSarvodaya. Narayan became an important figure in the India-wide network of Gandhian Sarvodaya workers.
In 1964, Narayan was vilified across the political spectrum for arguing in an article in the Hindustan Timesthat India had a responsibility to keep its promise to allow self-determination to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He hit back at critics in a second article, dismissing the Indian version of the “domino theory” which held that the rest of India’s states would disintegrate if Kashmir were allowed its promised freedom. In his graceful if old-fashioned style, Narayan ridiculed the premise that “the states of India are held together by force and not by the sentiment of a common nationality. It is an assumption that makes a mockery of the Indian Nation and a tyrant of the Indian State”.

Bihar Movement and Total Revolution
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.

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 kraanti[Total Revolution]. Instead she proclaimed a national Emergency on the midnight of June 25, 1975, immediately after Narayan had called for the PM’s resignation and had asked the military and the police to disregard unconstitutional and immoral orders; JP, opposition leaders, and dissenting members of her own party (the ‘Young Turks’) were arrested on that day.

Jayaprakash Narayan attracted a gathering of 100,000 people at the Ramlila Grounds and thunderously recited Rashtrakavi Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’‘s wonderfully evocative poetry: Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai.

Narayan was kept as detenu at Chandigarh even after he had asked for a month’s parole for mobilising relief in areas of Bihar gravely affected by flood. His health suddenly deteriorated on October 24, and he was released on November 12; diagnosis at Jaslok Hospital, Bombay, revealed kidney failure; he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life.

The “Free JP” campaign was launched in the UK by Surur Hoda and chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winnerNoel- Baker for the release of Jayaprakash Narayan. 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. On the call of Narayan many youngsters joined the JP movement.


[wptab name=’Biographical Sketch’]


11 October 1902
Sitab Diara, Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, India


8 October 1979 (aged 76)
Patna, Bihar, India



Other names

JP Narayan, Jayaprakash, Loknayak


Indian National Congress, Janata

Political movement

Indian Independence movement, Sarvodaya movement, Emergency movement

Jayaprakash Narayan (11 October 1902 – 8 October 1979), widely known as JP Narayan, Jayaprakash, or Loknayak, was an Indian independence activist and political leader, remembered especially for leading the opposition to Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and for giving a call for peaceful Total Revolution. His biography, Jayaprakash, was written by his nationalist friend and an eminent writer of Hindi literature, Ramavriksha Benipuri. 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. The airport of Patna is also named after him.




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