Late PN Dhar on what JP and Indira Gandhi thought of each other

In this book extract, Late PN Dhar recalls that while Indira Gandhi had respect for JP as a human being, his ideas, she thought, were woolly and often irresponsible

Late PN Dhar on what JP and Indira Gandhi thought of each other

PN Dhar

I had known JP [Jayaprakash Narayan] since 1961, when I published a monograph on the economics of small industries. It was an empirical study whose conclusions had cast doubt on some of the assumptions on which the government’s support to these industries was based. The issues I had raised provoked JP so much that he came to my house with my friend LC Jain to talk about it. Although I could not convince him of my viewpoint, he gave me the impression that he would like to keep in touch w ith me.

Some time later he told me he was keen that I visit the Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi, which was one of his many concerns. It so happened that, about the same time, the UGC asked me to review the working of the institute as part of their normal procedure for the grant of finance to such institutions. JP invited me to discuss my report with him. This led to several discussions on the relevance of the ongoing research in social sciences in the country, during which he talked about his own ideas on such research.

In 1968 he sent a Sarvodaya team to Kashmir to report on the political situation there and asked me to join the team. Again, we were together at a conference organised by the Society of Friends at Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka in 1968, primarily to get Indians and Pakistanis together to discuss their problems (though participants from Iran, Afghanistan and Nepal were also invited to give it a broader regional cover.)

Such being the background of my association with JP, I believed I could help throw a bridge between him and Indira Gandhi. I roped in Radhakrishnan of the Gandhi Peace Foundation and Sugata Dasgupta, Director, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi, to help me in this endeavour. At my request, they both tried to find out what he expected Indira Gandhi to do regarding electoral reform, corruption in high places, land reforms, and so on.

I had hoped that some concrete suggestions would emerge on which there could be an agreement between JP and the Prime Minister. However, nothing came of these efforts except, as a by-product, the discovery of the real reason for JP’s displeasure with her. This happened when Dasgupta, in his exasperation at my persistent questioning, said, ‘Frankly speaking, these policy questions are secondary matters. My advice to you is, ‘un ko kuch maan deejiye [he should be shown some reverence].’ I could not let this cryptic remark pass without seeking elaboration.

According to Dasgupta and Radhakrishnan, JP expected that, after she became Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi would establish with him the same sort of relationship that her father had with Mahatma Gandhi. JP was sentimental about many things and had some sort of affection for her. Nehru had been like an older brother for JP, and his wife Prabha Devi was a friend and source of solace for Kamala Nehru.

Indira Gandhi had not only neglected her filial obligations, she had done something worse, she had, according to JP, come under the influence of Moscow through her liaison with the CPI after the 1969 split in the Congress Party. That had enraged him and that was the reason why he had tried to help organise a consolidated opposition of noncommunist parties against her at the time of the 1971 elections.

Indira Gandhi, on her part had some respect for JP as a human being, but not a great deal for his ideas, which she thought were woolly and often irresponsible. According to Indira Gandhi, JP was a theoretician of chaos, and politics for him was the art of the impossible. With such perceptions about each other, it would have been difficult for JP and Indira Gandhi to develop a common political understanding.

The fact that both were endowed with fierce egos made this virtually impossible.

(Excerpts from the book “Indira Gandhi, The ‘Emergency’ and Indian Democracy” by Late PN Dhar, former Principal Secretary to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This excerpt was published on November 19, 2016 on

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