Total Revolution

[On his return home to Patna in 1975 after release from detention due to acute illness, JP wrote a long letter to his followers explaining the circumstances of the Bihar movement and committing the remaining years of his life to total revolution.]

Continuing Change

From the very beginning I have been saying in the course of my speeches that the objective of our movement is total revolution. In other words this movement aims at bringing about a revolutionary change in all aspects of the life of both society and individual. The objective of this movement is not merely to change the Government, but also to change the society and the individual. That is why I have called it total revolution. You can also call it a comprehensive revolution. There is some difference in the meaning of the terms 'total' and 'comprehensive', but both are almost the same to me. A comprehensive revolution can also be total... This is not something that can be achieved in a day or in a year or two. In order to achieve this we shall have to carry on a struggle for a long time, and at that same time carry on constructive and creative activities. This double process of struggle and construction is a necessity in order to achieve total revolution.

The situation at present is that the people are afraid and thousands of leaders and workers are in prison. Hence it is possible that, in their absence, the revolution may not continue in the form in which it was proceeding last year. However, since we have to bring about a revolution in every sphere, my appeal to all of you who think of the country and the society is that you all should play a part in it. For instance, take the field of education. It is generally felt by all, including eminent educationists and members of the Kothari Commission, that there should be a radical change in the field of education from the primary to the secondary stage. But very little has been achieved in this direction. There is deep discontent among the students on this point, as the education they are receiving is full of defects and the future before them is dark. The outward manifestations of their discontent have been suppressed now. But discontent continues to be present in their hearts and will come out into the open at some time or the other when there is a suitable opportunity. The problem will not be solved by this. But whenever such an explosion takes place, the society and the leaders of the society get a warning that they should beware, destruction is around the corner, they must change their ways, they must think and they must do something.

There are other similar problems, particularly the economic and social problems of Harijans and the tribal people. From the economic point of view they are poor and backward. From the social point of view their condition is even worse. Even today Harijans are treated badly and kept separate as untouchables by the people belonging to the so-called upper castes. Not only this. The anger of the people of these castes towards them sometimes assumes a dangerous character. So many incidents involving the burning alive of Harijans have taken place and are continuing to take place. The soldiers of total revolution will have to find a constructive solution to this explosive situation. For this they will have to enter the lives of the Harijan and tribal people and, after winning their hearts through service, bring them into the mainstream of Indian society. This is the sort of constructive service without which total revolution will remain incomplete.

Now the question arises, what to do for total revolution in the present situation? There are four aspects of the work for total revolution: struggle, construction, propaganda, and organization. In the present situation we should concentrate or he constructive aspect. For example, it should be the main plank of our programme to turn the people's and the youth's minds against such evils as the dowry system, caste-distinctions, untouchability, communalism etc. and to work unitedly for social and cultural integration. Total revolution is permanent evolution. It will always go on and keep on changing both our personal and social lives. This revolution knows no respite, no halt, certainly not a complete halt. Of course, according to the needs of the situation its form will change, its programme will change, its processes will change.

(Letter to People of Bihar, 1975)

Why and How?

Since Independence, full twenty-eight years now, there has been no real change in the social, economic and political structure of our society. Zamindari is abolished, land reform laws have been passed, untouchability has been legally prohibited, and so on. But the village in most parts of India is still in the grip of the higher castes and the bigger and medium landowners. The small and marginal landowners are the landless, the backward classes and the Harijans - these form the majority in most villages in most states, perhaps in nine-tenths of India. Yet their position continues to be miserable. Harijans are still burnt alive. The Adivasis are still the most backward section, barring the Harijans. And the money-lenders (who include many land-owners and shopkeepers, maybe petty themselves) mercilessly cheat and exploit the Adivasis, who in Bihar call the plainsmen dikku.

Some industries, banks, life insurance have been nationalized. Railways were nationalized long ago. New large public-sector industries have been established. But all this adds up to state capitalism and inefficiency, waste and corruption. State capitalism means more power to the State, mainly the state bureaucracy, or what Galbraith aptly calls 'the public bureaucracy'. There is no element or trait of socialism in all this. The working class and the public or, let us say, the people have no place in all this except as workers or consumers. There is no economic democracy, which is so much talked about, nor even industrial democracy. This does not mean that I am opposed to socialism. It is only because I am so deeply concerned about socialism that I am pointing out all this. It is a pity that our socialists very largely equate socialism with nationalization.

The educational system in spite of several committees and commissions remains basically what it was during British rule: class education designed as an escalator to reach the top. There is so much to say about this, but this is not the place. Here I am trying only to show that the structure of society has remained unchanged through the years since Independence.

The customs, manners, beliefs, superstitions, all these remain much the same for the masses. Even among the classes the change is superficial in most parts.

Since Independence there has been a steady decline in political, public and business morality. If we take social and economic development, the picture is frightful. Population growth goes racing forward. Poverty is also growing: more than 40 per cent of the people are below the poverty line. The barest necessities such as drinking water, man-worthy and not cattle-worthy housing, medical care, apart from food and clothing, are not available. Schools are few and the teaching is bad. The papers say today that Bihar is the richest State in the country in minerals. Bihar also has good land and perennial rivers. Why then is Bihar the poorest State in India? Well, one could go on adding to that list.

The question is, can the picture be fund amentally altered through the ordinary democratic process? Even if the Opposition wins, will the picture change? I fear, no, laws will be passed and applied, money will be spent - even if all this is done, possibly without the corruption creeping in, will the structure, the system, the 'order' of our society change? I think, no. Why?

Before I answer let me elucidate what I mean by a few examples. Take the marriage customs, particularly the tilak and dahez (dowry) system, prevalent in Bihar, Bengal, UP and some other States. This evil has been sought to be corrected by law, but the law has been a dead letter. Meanwhile, the disease is growing fast, ruining many families and ruining the lives of many girls. Castes that had till the other day been free of this evil are rapidly falling a prey to it, because what is a social evil appears to them to be a status symbol. There is no remedy but a vigorous social movement, a peaceful struggle against the evil. Likewise, the implementation of land reforms, homestead tenancy legislation, removal of corruption in the administration etc. All this requires a mass awakening and a mass struggle. The youth, including the students, must naturally be in the vanguard.

The question is even larger. It is how to bring about a systemic change in society; i.e. how to bring about what I have called a total revolution: revolution in every sphere and aspect of society. The question becomes harder to answer when it is added that the total revolution has to be peacefully brought about without impairing the democratic structure of society and affecting the democratic way of life of the people. Put in this way, even the most legalistic and constitutionalist democrat would agree that all this could never be accomplished if the functioning of democracy were restricted to elections, legislation, planning and administrative execution. There must also be people's direct action. This action would almost certainly comprise, among other forms, civil disobedience, peaceful resistance, non-cooperation - in short, satyagraha in its widest sense. One of the unstated implications of such a satyagraha would be self-change: that is to say, those wanting to change must also change themselves before launching any kind of action.

(Notes on Bihar Movement, 1975)

Source : Transforming the Polity- Centenary Readings from Jayaprakash Narayan