RJD chief Lalu Prasad owes his political career to the JP Movement. The JP Movement, which started as a students’ agitation in Bihar in the early 1970s, evolved into a mass agitation against the Emergency after Jayaprakash Narayan took over its leadership and paved the ground for the Janata win in the 1977 general election. Lalu too rode the Janata wave and established himself as a frontline politician. So, it’s understandable that he wants to be associated with an initiative meant to recognise the contribution of those who were a part of the JP Movement. What is unacceptable, however, is for a former chief minister, who also receives the emoluments given to ex-legislators, to seek a monthly pension under the JP Senani Samman pension. It raises questions of propriety: Should politicians who have an independent source of income, especially on account of their public service, seek another pension for their contribution in politics? Jayaprakash Narayan, who put a premium on ethics and probity in public life, would certainly not have approved of his followers seeking gains for serving a prison term in their fight against the Emergency.
The JP Senani Samman pension was established by Bihar government in 2009 to recognise the contribution of those from the state who fought the Emergency. Those who served more than six months in prison under the draconian MISA between March 18, 1974 and March 21, 1977 are allowed a monthly pension of Rs 10,000 and those who were in jail for less than six months are provided Rs 5,000. Lalu, of course, is only a recent entrant into the scheme — over 2,500 persons, including well-established politicians, avail of this pension. Many consider the anti-Emergency movement a second freedom struggle and have pleaded that the people who participated in it be recognised the way the freedom fighters were, including with pension. States like Haryana also recognise anti-Emergency activists worthy of a pension. The decision to provide pension for freedom fighters was prompted by the fact that many among of those who spent the prime years of their lives in British prisons did not have any source of income and needed to be supported. Many deserving of the pension refused: Fighting for the nation’s independence was a call for which they could not accept a monetary reward.
The JP Senani Samman is hardly a burden on Bihar exchequer, even if the pension amounts are significant considering the wages in the state. But the purpose of the scheme is defeated if it is meant to serve the likes of Lalu.