Betrayal Buried

Emergency and Sangh Parivar

Sankara Narayanan

Every anniversary of the Emergency brings the memories of the darker side of the authoritarian regime of Indira Gandhi and the heroic struggle launched by the opposition parties and freedom lovers under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan to overthrow that dictatorship. Recently gone 40th anniversary was no different.

RSS-BJP leaders as usual recounted the tales of resistance they mounted against the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi. But what they will not talk about, or counter, are the accusations of Dr Subramanian Swamy against their leaders in the year 1998, 2000 and very many occasions in the past till he joined BJP.

This piece is written based on Swamy's controversial article 'Unlearnt lessons of the Emergency' published in The Hindu (June 13, 2000), excerpts from Swamy's autobiography 'Swami and Friends—a Few Enemies Too' ran in Outlook magazine in March 1998, Coomi Kapoor's observations in her recent book, 'The Emergency: A Personal History' and Ajaz Ashraf’s article "Vajpayee, RSS cowered before Indira: BJP can't ignore Swamy's account of the Emergency" appeared on June 25 2015 in the internet magazine Firstpost.

Subramanian Swamy (now a member of BJP's national executive) on June 13, 2000, a fortnight before the 25th anniversary of the Emergency, claimed that the then RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras and former PM A B Vajpayee betrayed the anti-Emergency movement by writing letters of apology to Indira Gandhi. Swamy wrote, "It is on the record in the Maharashtra Assembly proceedings that Balasaheb Deoras wrote several apology letters to Indira Gandhi from inside the Yerawada jail in Pune disassociating the RSS from the JP-led movement and offering to work for the infamous 20-point programme. She did not reply to any of his letters."

Indira Gandhi, however, replied to Vajpayee who too wrote apology letters to her. "In fact for most of the 2O-month Emergency, Vajpayee was out on parole after having given a written assurance that he would not participate in any programmes against the Government," Swamy declared. The two weren't the only luminaries who apologised to Indira Gandhi. He even cited Akali leader Surjit Singh Barnala's book which provides "vivid description of other erstwhile Jan Sangh worthies who chose to walk out of prison on promise of good behaviour".

Stories about RSS chief Deoras apologising to Indira have always been in circulation. It has been reiterated, once again by Coomi Kapoor, Swamy's sister-in-law. Kapoor says, "Ironically, Deoras, who was put in jail, did not play such a heroic role. From prison he sent several letters to Indira Gandhi praising her leadership, and these were perceived as a form of apology and a plea for pardon". This echoes Swamy's allegation made in 2000.

Kapoor's own narrative illustrates vividly that Deoras wasn't the only RSS luminary who buckled under pressure. Kapoor further writes, "Many more 'Twenty Pointers'—paying allegiance to the Emergency powers, they declared their allegiance to Indira Gandhi's Twenty Point Programme and Sanjay Gandhi's five-point programme."

Swamy's indictment of the RSS, in contrast to Kapoor's, wasn't confined to individuals but extended to the organisation as such. In the Hindu piece, Swamy said it was RSS leader Muley who advised him to go abroad. Swami wrote, "A tearful Muley told me in early November 1976, I had better escape abroad again since the RSS had finalised the document of surrender to be signed in end January of 1977, and that on Vajpayee's insistence I would be sacrificed to appease an irate Indira and a fulminating Sanjay whose names I had successfully blackened abroad by my campaign."

One of the entries from Outlook magazine in March 1998 quotes Swamy saying, "Just to get out of the prison on parole, Vajpayee had given a letter of apology to Indira Gandhi and had created a bad precedence." As recently as 25 Nov 2012, The Economic Times quoted Swamy saying, "During the Emergency, Vajpayee wanted me to surrender. He felt that it would send the right message. The RSS had told me not to, under any circumstances. So I didn't."

Nevertheless, different accounts make it clear Vajpayee spent much of Emergency period on parole, albeit under house arrest. Not the doughty opponent of the Emergency as he has been made out. Nor was it that the RSS remained steadfast in opposing the Emergency. Its role in the resistance against the Emergency wasn't bigger than that of socialists, without whom the movement to reclaim democratic and civil rights would have floundered. Worse, the RSS leadership seemed to have caved in to Indira Gandhi.

The Sangh's narrative of the anti-Emergency movement has gone unchallenged for a variety of reasons. One, the collapse of the Janata Party and the dispersal of socialists have prevented the creation of Emergency memories parallel to that of the Sangh's. Two, several Janata Party's offshoots over the last 25 years have aligned with the Congress, rendering difficult the task of keeping alive the memory of their own as well as their mentors' role in it. To harp on the movement against the Emergency implies criticising the Congress too.

Three, the anti-Emergency movement, as political scientist Prof D L Sheth suggests, provided the Sangh an event to celebrate and mainstream itself. Till then, it had been a marginal force, having contributed little to the Independence movement and known more for its role in the killing of Gandhi. The JP movement sanctified the Sangh. This has prompted the Sangh, with a little help from its friends, to spin myths about its own role in the RSS.

Four, the party in power is relatively better placed than others to scribble its name on the milestones of the past. This truism was on display on the 40th anniversary of the Emergency, as it was on the 25th as well—the BJP was in power then too. As BJP leaders celebrated in 2015 their role in resisting the Emergency, it was yet another attempt at scrubbing from the public memory what is inconvenient to them and writing history in black-and-white, as is their habit.

Vol. 48, No. 4, Aug 2 - 8, 2015