Special on the birth anniversary of Jagdeo Prasad (2 February 1922 – 5 September 1974)
Jagdeo Prasad (2 February 1922 – 5 September 1974) is counted among leaders who turned the issues of the poor and the deprived into the fulcrum of politics, especially in North India. He was often described as the Lenin of Bihar. Taking Ram Manohar Lohia’s slogan of “Picchda pave sau mein aath” (The backwards are entitled to 80 per cent) a step further, Jagdeo Prasad talked of “Nabbe banam das” (90 versus 10).
He was one of the top leaders of the Dalits and the OBCs. He was a minister in the Bihar government thrice and at one time, the most powerful contender for chief ministership. However, few are aware of the deprivations and the miseries he faced in his personal life. There was a time when he did not have money to even buy a needle to mend his wife’s clothes.
His brother Virendra Prasad shared his memories with me. “My brother joined the Socialist Party after completing his education. Those were difficult days for our family. We didn’t have a regular income and were always cash-strapped. I remember the day when my brother came to our village Kurhari from Patna. My sister-in-law asked him to bring a needle and a reel of thread. But he refused, saying he didn’t have the money. My sister-in-law went inside and brought out her torn clothes. “What should I wear?” she asked him.
At the time, Virendra had just passed his matriculation exam. Discovering that his elder brother did not have any money left him in deep torment. “The next day, I left home without telling anyone and went to Jehanabad looking for a job. I found that there was a vacancy in the Malaria Department. Looking for me, my brother also came there. He talked to the officials and I was appointed to the post,” he says.
Jagdeo Prasad handed over the responsibility of running the household to his brother and immersed himself in politics. Anyone would find it difficult to believe the kind of problems this leader, who gave a new direction to the politics of Bihar, faced in his personal life.
For Jagdeo Prasad, his values were paramount – both in personal and public life. He did not hesitate to raise the banner of revolt whenever he felt that the values for which he was fighting were being compromised. The OBCs were not given their due share in the ministry of the first non-Congress government of Bihar, led by Mahamaya Prasad Sinha. This was not in keeping with the principles of the Socialist Party. Jagdeo Prasad complained about this injustice to Lohia. But when Lohia refused to intervene, Jagdeo Prasad rose up against his own party. He was an MLA from Kurtha at the time. Along with some other dissident MLAs, he launched the Shoshit Dal at Patna’s Anjuman Islamia Hall on 25 August 1967. Shivpujan Shastri was chosen as the first president of the new party while Jagdeo Prasad was appointed general secretary.
Addressing the gathering, Jagdeo Prasad said, “Today, India is clearly divided into two camps, one of the 10 per cent exploiters and the other of the 90 per cent exploited. The exploiter-versus-exploited battle is the real battle of the socialists and the leftists in the country. Dalits, Backwards, Adivasis and Muslims constitute 90 per cent of India’s population. The remaining ten per cent are the so-called upper castes. My politics is the politics of the 90 per cent exploited.”
How committed Jagdeo Prasad was to his ideology is evident by the fact that he minced no words in declaring where his loyalties lay. “The upper castes made our ancestors work their fields. I wasn’t born to work the political fields of the savarnas,” he said.
He was confident that the times would change. He said, “Today, I am laying the foundations of a battle that will last a hundred years. Ours will be a revolutionary party. People will come and go. But the party will march ahead on its chosen path. The first generation will be killed, the second will be jailed, and the third will rule. Ultimately, the victory will be ours.”
Jagdeo Prasad soon emerged as a prominent leader in Bihar. His Shoshit Dal managed to come to power in 1968. Satish Singh, an OBC, was named as the chief minister. He, however, could continue on the post only for three days and was replaced by B.P. Mandal, also an OBC. All this became possible due to the leadership of Jagdeo Prasad.
He did not do politics for grabbing power. He wanted to transform society, root and branch. He was against the caste system and openly assailed the hypocrisy of Hinduism. At the time, a former Uttar Pradesh finance minister Ramswaroop Verma was the leader of the Samaj Dal. On 1 June 1968, Verma founded the Arjak Sangh, which rejected Brahmanism and became the flagbearer of humanism. Jagdeo Prasad was in agreement with the philosophy and the mission of Arjak Sangh. Finding that their ideological inclinations matched, the two leaders together formed the Shoshit Samaj Dal in Patna on 7 August 1972 with Verma as president and Jagdeo Prasad as general secretary.
Jagdeo Prasad soon became a thorn in the flesh for the feudal forces who believed that they were born to rule Bihar. In 1974, Jaiprakash Narayan launched the Sampoorna Kranti movement to oppose the Indira Gandhi government. Jagdeo Babu was also involved in a parallel movement in support of his seven-point charter of demands. On 5 September 1974, while he was holding a peaceful demonstration at the block office in Kurtha (then in Gaya district and now in the Arwal district), along with thousands of farmers and workers, he was shot dead.
The bullets that killed Jagdeo could not kill his thoughts. Even today, his slogan fills the Dalits and the Backwards of Bihar with fervour: “Sau mein nabbe shoshit hain, shoshiton ne lalkara hai. Dhan, dharti aur rajpaat mein nabbe bhag hamara hai. Das par nabbe ka shashan nahin chalega” (Ninety of hundred are exploited. The exploited have thrown down the gauntlet. They are entitled to 90 per cent of the wealth, land and power. Ten cannot continue to rule over 90). His supporters do not observe February 2 as a day of mourning. Instead, a three-day fair is held near the block office at Kurtha in which people from across the country participate.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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