He grew close to Gandhi and became in time one of his most ardent disciples. Kripalani was a familiar figure to generations of dissenters, from the Non-Cooperation Movements of the 1920s through till the Emergency of the 1970s.
Jivatram (also spelled Jiwatram) Bhagwandas Kripalani was born in Hyderabad in Sindh in 1888. Following his education at Fergusson College in Pune, he worked as a schoolteacher before joining the freedom movement in the wake of Gandhi's return from South Africa.
Kripalani was involved in the Non-Cooperation Movement of the early 1920s. He worked in Gandhi's ashrams in Gujarat and Maharashtra on tasks of social reform and education, and later left for Bihar and the United Provinces in northern India to teach and organize new ashrams. He courted arrest on numerous occasions during the Civil Disobedience movements and smaller occasions of organizing protests and publishing seditious material against the British raj.
Kripalani was prominently involved over a decade in top Congress party affairs, and in the organization of the Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement. Kripalani served in the interim government of India (1946-1947) and the Constituent Assembly of India.
Nehru, however, supported Kripalani in the election of the Congress President in 1950. Kripalani,supported by Nehru was pitted against against Patel's candidate Purushottam Das Tandon. Tandon defeated Kripalani.
Bruised by his defeat, and disillusioned by what he viewed as the abandonment of the Gandhian ideal of a countless village republics, Kripalani left the Congress and became one of the founders of the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party. This party subsequently merged with the Socialist Party of India to form the Praja Socialist Party.
For a while it was even believed that Nehru, stung by the defeat, was considering abandoning the Congress as well; his several offers of resignation at the time were all, however, shouted down. A great many of the more progressive elements of the party left in the months following the election, however. Congress's subsequent bias to the right was only balanced when Nehru obtained the resignation of Tandon in the run up to the general elections of 1951.
Kripalani remained in opposition for the rest of his life. His wife since 1938, Sucheta Kripalani, went from strength to strength in the Congress Party, with several Central ministries; she was also the first female Chief Minister, in Uttar Pradesh. The Kripalanis were frequently at loggerheads in Parliament.
One matter they agreed on was the undesirability of vast parts of the Hindu Marriage Act, particularly the controversial 'Restitution of Conjugal Rights' clause. By this clause a partner who had survived an unsuccessful filing for divorce could move the courts to return to the status quo ante in terms of conjugal interaction. Kripalani, horrified, made one of his most memorable speeches, saying "this provision is physically undesirable, morally unwanted and aesthetically disgusting."
Kripalani was also concerned with the privilege of parliament over the press. During Nehru's premiership, the Lok Sabha called the Chief Editor of the weekly Blitz, the well-known Russi Karanjia to the bar and admonished him for "denigration and defamation of a Member of Parliament" for calling Kriplani Cripple-loony. This was despite Karanjia' closeness to, and Kripalani's estrangement from, Nehru.
Kripalani remained a critic of Nehru's policies and administration, while working for social and environmental causes.
While remaining active in electoral politics, Kripalani gradually became more of a spiritual leader of the socialists than anything else; in particular, he was generally considered to be, along with Vinoba Bhave, the leader of the what remained of the Gandhian faction. He was active, along with Bhave, in preservation and conservation activities throughout the 1970s.
In 1972-3, he agitated against the increasingly authoritarian rule of Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India. Kripalani and Jayaprakash Narayan felt that Gandhi's rule had become dictatorial and anti-democratic. Her conviction on charges of using government machinery for her election campaign galvanized her political opposition and public disenchantment against her policies. Along with Narayan and Lohia, Kripalani toured the country urging non-violent protest and civil disobedience. When the Emergency was declared as a result of the vocal dissent he helped stir up, the octogenarian Kripalani was among the first of the Opposition leaders to be arrested on the night of 26 June 1975. He lived long enough to survive the Emergency and see the first non-Congress government since Independence following the Janata Party victory in the 1977 polls.