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Jagdeo Prasad: why I find his life and work inspiring?

Jagdeo Prasad: why I find his life and work inspiring?

By Ashok Yadav


A rebel against casteism

Jagdeo Prasad’s life and work:

Jagdeo Prasad was born on February 02, 1922 at Kurtha of Jehanabad district of Bihar to Raaskali Devi and Prayag Narain. He belonged to Kushwaha caste who are vegetable growers. The Kushwaha have richly contributed to the struggle for social justice and democracy. His father Prayag Narain was a middle school teacher. Jagdeo Prasda [henceforth JP in the article] passed matriculation examination very late at the age of twenty three in first division which brought pride and cheer to the family and the village folk.

However, his father died soon after. It is said that the village Brahmin priest who visited JP’s home blamed him for untimely death of his father. The Brahmin priest was of the view that JP had angered the gods by not pursuing his caste occupation of cultivating vegetables and taking to study instead. The born radical that he was, JP prevailed upon his grandfather to not perform ‘Shraddh ’ of his father. Instead of ‘Shraddh’ rituals, there a condolence meeting and a small meal was held, all without any Brahmin priest. This was not the only incident of caste-based exploitation. He had already suffered many. On some occasions he had reacted and protested. The adolescent Jagdeo grew up with rage against casteism.

In 1950 he graduated from B N College of Patna and in 1952 he earned Masters in Economics. He got married while still a student.

He came in contact with the socialist leader Upendra Nath Verma. (He is still alive.) He entrusted JP the task of editing Socialist Party organ “Janata”. Thereafter his party sent him to Hyderabad to edit English organ “Citizen.” Socialist Party made him a candidate from Bikramganj parliamentary constituency in the general election of 1957. He lost the election. He again contested Bihar assembly election of 1962 from Kurtha constituency. He again lost. However, in 1967 he won from Kurtha constituency. 1969 saw mid-term election of Bihar assembly. In this election his party ‘Shoshit Dal’ won six seats. He too handsomely won. However, in 1972 he lost the election.

He did not support Jai Prakash Narain led student movement. He was of the view that though the issues of the movement were good, the leadership was wrong. He kept his organization separate from Jai Prakash led movement.

Jagdeo Prasad’s legacy of of uncompromising struggle against caste-based exploitation and oppression and blending culture with politics will continue to inspire the millions of marginalized people in Bihar. He will continue to shine like the lode star, even though in his brief life he came and went too quickly like a comet,.

(The above write up is based on memoirs and articles on Jagdeo Prasad published in Hindi monthly Mandal Vichar, August, 2007)

Jagdeo Babu’s martyrdom:

There have been many communist leaders in this country but none could fire the public imagination of the people enough to be called ‘Lenin’ – yes, Jagdeo Prasad was called ‘Lenin of Bihar’ even when he was alive.

When he was killed BBC aired the news that ‘Bihar Lenin’ had been killed while a local Patna daily Hindi newspaper “Aryawart”, carried the news that ‘the self-styled Lenin of Bihar killed’. Those were the stormy initial years of the Naxal movement. Jagdeo Prasad who never called himself a Communist, who openly branded Indian communist leaders as belonging to feudal class, who had conviction in parliamentary democracy, who rejected armed revolution, radicalized the politics of Bihar so much that the people began calling him ‘Lenin of Bihar’.

While Naxalism saw feudalism in terms of mere land relations, Jagdeo Prasad saw it as primarily a casteist institution committed to social oppression and economic exploitation of the lower castes. Though he did not approve of Naxal politics, he declared that he would repeat ‘Sahar’ (the hotbed of Naxal uprising in those times in Bhojpur district of Bihar) in the whole of Bihar. Master Jagdish, the hero of ‘naxal’ uprising in Sahar, was closely associated with Jagdeo Prasad.  Unlike naxals, Jagdeo Prasad held big meetings all over Bihar that attracted thousands of poor people from Dalit and backward castes sending tremors through the feudal camps.

Jagdeo Babu He was tipped off by a freedom fighter belonging to Bhumihar caste three days before he was killed on September 05, 1974 that a conspiracy had been hatched by the feudal lords to kill him. The freedom fighter who had affection for revolutionary Jagdeo advised him not to visit Kurtha on September 05.  His national President, Ram Swaroop Verma, too advised him to postpone his meeting at Kurtha. But fearless Jagdeo Prasad, did not heed any advice and visited Kurtha on the fateful day.

All preparations had been made to finish him off. The feudal lords had got one of their own posted as police officer of Kurtha. The agent provocateurs had arrived. Jagdeo Prasad submitted seven points charter of demands to the block officer, two of them being to provide collected works of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar in Dalit hostels and all libraries of Bihar and to make available photo identity cards to all the voters. His program was to court arrest with his supporters after addressing the people. Some twenty thousand people were waiting for him to come out of the block office and address the meeting. The trained agent provocateurs merged into the crowd and began pelting stones on the police. The situation became tense. Jagdeo Prasad came out of the block office to pacify the crowd. He was garlanded that made it easy for the rifle carrying policemen to recognize him.

Then on order of the police officer on duty, the policemen took an aim on him which hit a Dalit boy named Lakshman Choudhary. The boy died on the spot. The second bullet pierced the neck of Jagdeo Prasad. He fell on the ground. There was commotion everywhere. The police charged the public with baton. The wounded Jagdeo Prasad was carried by his followers to his jeep to be taken to the hospital. However, the police snatched him from his men and took him to Kurtha police station. He asked for water. A dalit woman came with a glass of water from the neighborhood. The police chased her away. It was becoming late as life still animated his body. The police crushed his chest first with boot and then with butt of the rifle. He died.

This was independent India – where a political leader and a former minister of a state was killed by none other than the police.

This was not the end of the story. Lest his dead body should become a rallying point of protest, his body was taken to Daltonganj to dump it somewhere in the dense forest there. Backward caste leaders B P Mandal, Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, Bhola Prasad Singh and Daroga Prasad Rai met the then Chief Minister Abdul Ghafoor and warned him that if he did not order to bring the dead body to Patna Bihar would go up in flames. The pressure did work. On the morning of September six his dead body was brought to Patna.

His last journey began on September 7 with lakhs of people thronging the roads of Patna to express their solidarity as well as anger. On the evening of September 7th a condolence meeting was held in the historic Gandhi Maidan of Patna which was addressed among others by Jai Prakash Narain, Ram Swaroop Verma, Karpoori Thakur and Ramanand Tiwari.

Jagdeo Prasad’s contribution:

Credit goes to Jagdeo Prasad for breaking the monopoly of upper castes on the post of Chief Minister of Bihar. Bihar saw first non-Congress government in 1967 under the leadership of Mahamaya Prasad Sinha. Sanyukta Socialist Party with sixty nine MLAs was the biggest alliance partner of this coalition government but its leader Karpoori Thakur, a prominent backward caste leader who later wrote a new chapter in the history of struggle for social justice, could become only Deputy Chief Minister.

Jagdeo Prasad was an MLA of SSP from Kurtha constituency. He raised the banner of revolt against his own party and the national leader Ram Manohar Lohia and formed his own political party by the name of ‘Shoshit Dal’. ‘Shoshit’ means ‘the exploited and the oppressed’. While Ram Manohar Lohia coined the slogan of  पिछड़ा पावे सौ में साठi.e. ‘the backward must get sixty percent share’, Jagdeo Prasad went ahead and coined the slogan of सौ में नब्बे शोषित है, नब्बे भाग हमारा है/धन, धरती और राजपाट में नब्बे भाग हमारा है/दस का शासन नब्बे पर, नहीं चलेगा, नहीं चलेगा.” i.e.We the exploited are ninety, ninety is our share in land, wealth and power, the ninety will not allow the rule of the ten.”

He split the SSP legislature party and formed his own party by the name of “Shoshit Dal” on 25 August, 1967. In this conference he gave a stirring speech which has not ceased to echo till now: ऊंची जाति के लोगों ने हमारे बाप-दादों से हलवाही-बनिहारी करवाई है. मैं उनकी राजनीतिक हलवाई करने के लिए पैदा नहीं हुआ हूँ. मैं इस देश के नब्बे सैंकड़ा शोषितों, शिक्षा, सम्पति और इज्जत में हारे, गरीब, गंवार, नीच कहे जाने वाले, दबे-कुचले-काले-कलूटे,भूखे-नंगे,अनेक जातियों, पार्टियों, में बंटे लोगों को एक पार्टी और एक झंडे के नीचे संगठित करूँगा और इनके वोट के सहारे राजसत्ता पर कब्ज़ा करके, धन-धरती का बंटवारा करके एवं जातिवाद एवं संप्रदायवाद का खत्म करके, उनके लिए इज्जत एवं रोटी की गारंटी करूँगा.”

“Today in this conference I am laying the foundation of a hundred years long battle. The first generation of activists will be martyred, the second will be imprisoned and the third will conquer the power… The upper caste people subjected our fathers and forefathers to forced labour. However, I am not born to do their political errands. I shall organize ninety percent exploited people of this country, who are defeated in education, wealth and dignity, who are derided as being beggars, boorish and low, who are oppressed and suppressed, black and blighted, emaciated and naked, divided in castes and different political parties, shall bring them under one party and one flag and through their votes shall capture the political power, shall redistribute land and wealth, shall do away casteism  and communalism and guarantee them life and dignity.”

B P Mandal who later became Chairman of Second Backward Class Commission also famously known as Mandal Commission became the first backward caste Chief Minister of Bihar on 01 February, 1968. (As a time gap arrangement Jagdeo Prasad installed, Satish Prasad Singh, another backward caste leader, as CM for three days before B P Mandal took over.) As a master tactician and strategist Jagdeo Prasad took outside support of the Congress to pull down the government of Mahamaya Prasad Sinha which was supported by Jansangh as well as CPI. This government of Jagdeo Prasad and B P Mandal ran for forty five days before the Congress brought it down.

In these forty five days the backward caste officers were posted at key positions, bad remarks in their confidential reports made by their superior officers due to caste considerations were deleted to pave the way for their promotions. Jagdeo Prasad called his government the ‘pure government of the Shoshit’. After this first ‘pure’ ‘shoshit’ government, the socio-political dynamics of Bihar took a new turn. Before Jagdeo Prasad was killed in 1974 three leaders from ‘Shoshit Samaj’ viz. Daroga Prasad Rai, Karpoori Thakur and Bhola Paswan Shastri became the CMs of Bihar. The trend set by Jagdeo Prasad continues to this date when after fifteen years rule of Laloo, Nitish continues to be the CM into his second term. Of the forty two years since the first Shoshit Dal government of Jagdeo Prasad and B P Mandal, twenty seven years belong to the dalit-backward CMs. Of course, the role of ‘Mandal’ is there.

Jagdeo Prasad’s political career:

He was a political visionary and theorist. In the heydays of anti-Congress politics of Ram Manohar Lohia, he preferred Congress to Jansangh. He was the first leader to blend social justice politics with secularism. When Mandal got locked in a war with Kamandal in 1990, the legacy of Jagdeo Prasad got vindicated.

In association with legendary Ram Swaroop Verma of Uttar Pradesh he blended political struggle for social justice with anti-Brahminism cultural movement. He merged his party ‘Shoshit Dal’ with the party of Ram Swaroop Verma and created a new party by the name of ‘Shoshit Samaj Dal’ on August 07, 1972. Years later Kanshi Ram designed his ‘Bahujan Samaj Party’ after ‘Shoshit Samaj Dal’ as ‘Bahujan’ and ‘Party’ are synonyms of ‘Shoshit’ and ‘Dal’ and ‘Samaj’ is common. Jagdeo Prasad adopted ‘Arjak Sangh’, the anti-brahminical cultural organization established by Ram Swaroop Verma and made it a cultural wing of ‘Shoshit Samaj Dal’.

Ramswaroop Varma: the stalwart from Uttar Pradesh

Ram Swaroop Verma and Jagdeo Prasad have been the only north Indian leaders to realize the importance of cultural struggle in the political struggle of the people. They were of the view that without getting rid of the mental slavery of Brahmanism, the ‘shoshit samaj’ cannot successfully fight political struggle.  The crisis of present day dalit-bahujan politics is proving true the conviction of RSV and JP.

If the dalit-bahujan politics has to overcome its crisis, it will have to continue with the legacy of RSV and JP of blending cultural struggle with political struggle. To instill the importance of Cultural Revolution in the minds of his supporters, Jagdeo Prasad told them, “Gather courage to attend an anti-brahminical meeting going on at a nearby place even if dead body of son is lying at home.”

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