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September 05 , 2008

In the name of Democracy

JP movement and the Emergency


An examination of two watershed developments in our contemporary history The Emergency of 1975-77 was a dark chapter of India’s democracy. Leading up to it was the JP movement, named after its leader Jayaprakash Narayan, which paralysed much of northern India and directly challenged Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Centre. This book, unlike earlier studies, looks at these happenings sequentially, seeking to understand their character and the nature of the challenge they posed to our democracy. Tracking the events of the period, Bipan Chandra finds that instead of pressing for Mrs Gandhi’s resignation, JP could have waited for the low to take its course or asked for immediate elections. Similarly, Indira Gandhi could have preponed elections on grounds of political instability and sought a popular mandate rather than impose Internal Emergency. Both sides seemed to have been prisoners to immediate circumstances and had the potential for leading to a totalitarian dictatorship though they did not. Yet, despite the authoritarianism inherent in the Emergency, particularly with the rice to power of Sanjay Gandhi and his Youth Congress brigade, Indira Gandhi ended it and called for elections. Likewise, the JP movement ran out of steam, through the danger of it turning fascist was real, given the fuzzy ideology of Total Revolution, confused leadership, and dependence on the RSS for its organization. Finely argued, incisive and original, this book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of those turbulent years. Further, by raising the matter of acceptable limits of popular protest in a democracy, it offers insights of great contemporary relevance.
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