Earlier, I have outlined the difficult food situation in the country in the wake of the 1972 draught. In Gujarat the situation became much worse because the drought was followed by a poor kharif crop which resulted in a sharp increase in the prices of wheat, jawar, bajra and other essential commodities. Students were the first organized group to protest against rising food prices, the spark being lit by students of L D Engineering College, Ahmedabad, when they protested against increased mess charges. This was the small beginning of a movement which brought down the Gujarat government and much else in the country.
Sensing an opportunity for political gains by exploiting genuine hardship, opposition parties, particularly the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) and the Congress (O), supported the students'agitation against the government's failure to hold the price line and encouraged them to form a `Nav Nirman Samiti' to spearhead the movement. At the same time, these parties cynically organized opposition to the procurement levy of foodgrains, which would have increased supplies available to the government for distribution. As the student agitations spread to other towns in Gujarat, they became more violent, leading to police firings in which 85 people were killed. The BJS, Congress (O), CPI(M), SP and others now gave calls for bandhs and organized dharnas. With the increase in the tempo of the agitations, the demands of the opposition leaders also escalated, culminating in a demand for the resignation of the ministry.
There were charges of corruption against Chimanbhai Patel, the chief minister. Among his other failures, it was alleged that he had made money by allowing the price of groundnut oil (the most popular cooking oil in the state) to rise. There may have been some truth in the allegation. But the demand was not for legal action against the chief minister; it was for the resignation of the Congress government which had a majority of 140 in a house of 168. As the disturbances continued unabated, the government resigned and president's rule was imposed on 9 February 1974. Since the president's proclamation had kept the state assembly under suspension the demand now was for dissolution of the house. Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) visited Ahmedabad two days after the imposition of presdient's rule. He complimented students and youth on their role in bringing down the Congress ministry and encouraged them in their efforts to get the assembly dissolved. To achieve that objective the agitation was continued with renewed vigour, resulting in 95 deaths and injuries to 933 innocent people, besides loss to public and private property. Several Congress members of the assembly were gheraoed to force them to resign. Several did, but the number was not large enough to clinch the issue.
The opposition parties were determined to get the house dissolved, especially because they had lost the state elections in UP and Orissa in February. They needed to retrieve lost ground in Gujarat, where they felt their electoral chances were better. With that end in view, Morarji Desai undertook an indefinite fast, starting from March 11.
His fast added a new urgency to the need to accept the students'demand for dissolution of the assembly. The central government, fearful of the consequences of Morarji Desai's fast, dissolved the assembly on March 15. Morarji ended his fast soon after, in the traditional Gandhian style. Congratulations poured in for the success of the students' efforts from many quarters, and the Nav Nirman movement became a model for similar agitations in other parts of the country. Nobody shed a tear for the demise of the rule of law and constitutional means of changing governments. And JP was inspired by these happenings!...
The forced resignation of the Gujarat government gave a signal to Bihar's students, who were dissatisifed with the high prices, the inadequate supplies of foodgrains to their messes, and the growing problem of unemployment. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which had played an important role in the Nav Nirman movement, took the initiative in organizing the students for a Gujarat-like struggle. As a result the ABVP, the Samajwadi Yuva Jan Sabha (SYJS) which owed allegiance to SSP, and the Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti (CSS) got together and forced what was called the Bihar Rajya Sangharsh Samiti to spearhead the agitation.
The demands that the students presented to the chief minister were, increase scholarships, remove minimum marks restrictions for those who sat for medical examinations, and improve supplies of wheat and rice to hostels. The chief minister's response satisfied the students and they promised him co-operation in apprehending black marketeers, profiteers and hoarders. This did not suit those politicians whose aim was to overthrow the state government; they were not confident of achieving that objective by themselves. Jayaprakash Narayan, impressed by the Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat, agreed to lead the movement when he was approached in early April 1974. He was given the impression that the opposition MLAs and some Congress MLA, were ready to resign their seats, and that the Gujarat success could be repeated in Bihar.
This led to a demand for the dismissal of the government and the dissolution of the assembly . The MLAs response to demands for their resignation, however, was very disappointing to the leaders of the movement. Despite a visit by Morarji Desai for this purpose, not even his own party, Congress (O) MLAs offered to resign. MLAs from other political parties showed even greater reluctance. After serious efforts at persuasion and intimidation, only 42 MLAs out of a total of 318 resigned. Some Harijan and Adivasi MLAs who had been forced to sign resignation papers backtracked after they were set free. Since the resignation campaign had not succeeded, students were again brought into the battle. They were asked to boycott colleges and not appear for their examinations. Most students did not respond-despite a campaign of coercion and intimidation during which a student was shot dead...
Since the movement was not yielding results as fast as its counterpart had done in Gujarat (that movement lasted only 10 weeks), the Bihar leaders, includding JP, were getting desperate. And the more desperate they got, the more drastic became the steps they took. JP called a conference of opposition parties and independent public figures in November in Delhi, where they decided to organize a gherao of parliament by one million people. Subsequently, the idea of a gherao was given up in favour of a massive demonstration outside parliament and similar demonstrations in the states. By December the CSS and the JSS were asked to form Janata Sarkars and Janata Adalats in villages as organs parallel to those of the government. On January 26, 1975 rival Republic Day celebrations were held at different places in the state.
In February, a march to the All India Radio station was organized. In March, JP gave a call to students to revive the no-tax campaign. In May, a three-month programme to form Janata Sarkars was announced. Despite all this turbulence, which resulted in over 500 casualities, of which 70 proved fatal, the Bihar movement was not getting anywhere. JP therefore decided to lift his Bihar struggle to an all-India plane. He joined forces with opposition parties and tried to galvanize the political infrastructure in other states. Parties everywhere had independently been stirred to action by the success of the Gujarat movement. The BLD had, even earlier, called upon its followers to prepare for the launch of a people's struggle. The Socialist Party, enthused by the Bihar experience, exhorted other Leftist parties not to let the opportunity of mass struggle slip by. The CPI(M) reached for a common understanding with JP. In Orissa, JP's Sarvodaya collegues took the initiative to rope in students and other anti-congress parties like the BLD,SP, SUCI, and Congress (O). In Madhya Pradesh the BJS, the SP, the BLD and others had joined hands to support a Bihar-type agitation.
In Bangalore student fronts of the BJS, SP and Congress (O) got together to form a Karnataka Nav Nirman Samiti. In Uttar Pradesh JP himself helped in the organisation of a Jan/Chhatra/Yuva Sangharsh Committee with a comprehensive programme of agitation. Other such alliances with similar objectives were set up between the opposition parties which commanded local influence in Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana.
Towards the end of 1974 the Bihar movement was showing clear signs of fatigue. The cadres were losing their enthusiasm as the state government, unlike that of Gujarat, had withstood their onslaught. The grassroots organization that JP had expected would sprout from his call for jana-shakti to sustain the movement failed to materialize. In the meanwhile, the economic situation had improved in the wake of the government's anti-inflation policies adopted in July. Prices had begun to fall by October and food supplies had increased because of imports, a moderate agricultural recovery in 1973-4 and dehoarding by traders fearful of police raids. The visibly earnest efforts of the government to get a grip over the economic situation was resulting in some favourable public opinion. Had nothing intervened, the process of a return to normalcy would have gained speed.
But that was not to be. In early January 1975 L N Mishra the railway minister, was assassinated in Samastipur, Bihar. This was followed by an attempt on the life of the chief justice of India. Both had been targets of virulent propaganda; the former as the Congress Party's fund-raiser and the latter as a favourite of Indira Gandhi (JP called him her stooge), because he had superseded three of his collegues when he was elevated to the post of chief justice of the supreme court.
(Excerpted From Indira Gandhi, The Emergency & Indian Democracy with permission from Oxford University Press)