Social activists who were part of the JP movement, led by the political activist Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s, see echoes of that movement in the ongoing farmers’ protest. In March 1974, the JP movement began as a student-led protest in Bihar against unemployment, which soon gained Narayan’s support. The movement subsequently fought against corruption by Congress leaders under the Indira Gandhi-led government. Narayan had called for “sampoorna kranti,” or a “total revolution.” Several activists said that if the farmers’ protest sustains for longer, it could turn into a second total revolution.
Lakhs of farmers have been camping at Delhi’s border to protest against the centre’s farm laws. I spoke to NK Shukla, an active participant of the JP movement and presently the national joint secretary of the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha, a farmers’ organisation affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), that is also participating in the ongoing protests. “The JP movement was the first such mass movement, which gave an open challenge to the mighty government of Indira Gandhi,” Shukla told me. “It sustained for more than a year, resulted in the Emergency and then a clean defeat of Congress for the first time in Indian politics. Even Indira and Sanjay Gandhi lost their seats.” He continued, “Similar is the condition going to grow with time with respect to the ongoing farmers’ movement which has already crossed more than three months. If it sustains for a long time in such spirit, it would reach the same point where the JP movement was.”
I also spoke to Anil Roy, a resident of Patna, a former professor who was an active student participant in the JP movement. Roy is currently the secretary of the Association for Study and Action, a social group that works to organise informed discourse on social, economic and constitutional values. “The issue of the agitation is more severe and more profound than that of the agitation that took place in 1974,” Roy said. “This pressure group has identified the tie-up between the government and the corporates. But, as far as its consolidation is concerned, it's still now on the way to get more strength. The second thing is that the agitation is stimulating the other pressure groups as well. The students federation of Bihar are in speculation and in churn constantly about how they should associate themselves to this drive.”