B S Raghavan

JP should be living at this hour

B.S. RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

Spontaneous student protests… The police must desist from moves that weaken democracy.— Sushil Kumar Verma

Jayaprakash Narayan was categorical in asserting that if any illegal or unjust orders were given to the police or the military personnel it would be within their competence to defy them.He was categorical in asserting that if any illegal or unjust orders were given to the police or the military personnel it would be within their competence to defy them.

The sight of Delhi police perpetrating brutalities on the young boys and girls who were merely trying to pump some sensitivity and accountability into the psyche of the powers-that-be over the gang rape of a woman would have made the blood of every Indian boil.

Their superciliousness and contempt for the people have put to shade the Imperial British rulers who invariably displayed some measure of humanity and empathy in dealing with demonstrations against their regime.

India’s ruling circles are bringing disgrace to themselves by snuggling in their respective climate-proof mansions in luxurious comfort under an impenetrable, impregnable, multi-layered firewall of security at tax payers’ expense and smugly watching the barbaric treatment meted out to the aam aadmis by their minions.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Cabinet Ministers, leading lights of political parties and high officials seem determined to crush what obviously is an emotional upheaval by giving it a bad name rather than to live up to their primary responsibility of heeding the voice of the people.

If India hadn’t had an Indian Spring so far, it was entirely because the higher judiciary had been providing a safety valve to the rage of the people by means of public interest litigation, their castigation of the wayward occupants of the high pedestals of authority, and handing courageous game-changing verdicts pulling the nation back from the brink.

Otherwise the fury that has been building up among the people at large, and is being so assiduously fuelled by the arrogant and callous behaviour of their servants, would have long ago exploded into uncontrollable violence of volcanic proportions, sweeping away every institution and every pompous panjandrum before it.


In fact, seeing the savaging of the young protesters by the police, one normally reticent but sophisticated woman who had seen the world and was not normally given to hyperbole, burst out to my hearing, “For every girl raped, and for every person brutalised, one Minister should be stood against the wall and shot! That will stop all future instances!”

How deeply the young boys and girls were affected by the lawlessness in Delhi should have been evident to the political and governing classes by the huge size and spontaneous nature of the demonstrations which has been free from any political colouration. What was their crime that they should be pulled, dragged and beaten as if they were animals?

All that they wanted to do, as free citizens of a supposed democracy, was to meet their President, who was duty bound to meet them and hear them, and sensitise him to the imperative need to save Delhi from becoming the nation’s rape capital.

If any law makes this a crime and subjects to vicious attacks those exercising their fundamental right to hold the high functionaries to account, then, does not disobedience to that law become people’s paramount duty?

There is no doubt what the answer would be if Mahatma Gandhi or Jayaprakash Narayan were alive today. Listen to Gandhiji: “It is our first duty to render voluntary obedience to law, but when law fosters untruth, it becomes a duty to disobey it.” He believed with Henry Thoreau that under a government which imprisons anybody, or deals with its sovereign masters, the people, unjustly, the true place for a just man is a prison, if that is the consequence of disobeying that government.


JP, a staunch upholder of values in public life, went even farther. He led the massive Nav Nirman movement and gave a call for sampoorna kranti (total revolution) when he found that conditions in the country in the 1970s had become intolerably oppressive.

He openly called upon government servants, the police and the army to resist all measures and orders which could weaken democracy and to remain faithful to the Constitution and not to a particular party or person. He was categorical in asserting that if any illegal or unjust orders were given to the police or the military personnel it would be within their competence to defy them.

He based it on the rationale that the police and the army were bound to safeguard and defend the Constitution against threats from totalitarian trends in the same way as they were bound to safeguard the security of the country and the honour of the national flag.

They would be only doing their duty if they refused to cooperate with those in authority if they acted in defiance of the Constitution.

He frequently expressed his conviction that there was nothing illegal or immoral about these precepts as constitutional experts had advised him that such a call to the police and armed forces did not amount to treason.

Duty towards just cause

The International Law Commission, at the instance of the UN General Assembly, went into the question of disobedience to unjust laws and orders and one of the principles it enunciated was that a person who commits an act which is a crime under International Law cannot be absolved from liability because he was carrying out the orders of his government or his superiors. The same should be held to be applicable to national jurisdictions as well.

In other words, orders of the government cannot be pleaded as the ground in justification of inhuman acts against the people.

In fact, the extension of JP’s principle could well be that the government servants, the police and the armed forces have a duty to further a just cause by at least refraining from unleashing the might of the state against its adherents, even if they find it impolitic to join them.

Published on December 25, 2012

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