Down Memory Lane—the Emergency

It was 25 June, 40 years ago. The countrymen received through the radio and newspapers the news that Internal Emergency had been declared by the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. The manifestations of the Emergency were the incarceration of all Opposition leaders considered troublesome to Indira Gandhi and the ruling Congress Party, the imposition of press censorship, a severe propaganda blitz to spread the glory of the Prime Minister and her 'socialist programme', forced sterilization campaign etc.

All the Naxalite groups and parties were officially banned; so was the RSS. All those who publicly protested against the Emergency were arrested. In Delhi, slums were demolished in the Turkaman Gate area in the name of development, and reportedly about 150 persons were killed for trying to resist this process. Thousands of persons were robbed of their virility (nasbandi).

What led Mrs G to declare the Emergency? It was a situation of serious political crisis for her. The first of them was the movement led by the Gandhian socialist Jay Prakash Narayan for greater freedom and democracy. The second was the great railway strike and the exposure of at least three big scandals, the licence scandal, the Nagarwala scandal and the Maruti scandal. The government was successful in crushing the railway strike by a most unabashed display of repression, and the vaccillation of railway union leaders helped it. The final catalytic element was a judgment of the Allahabad High Court declaring Indira Gandhi's election to the parliament in 1971 invalid—Mrs G had contested from Raiberily seat of UP—for illegal use of government personnel in the campaign. After the Court verdict all sorts of Indira loyalists all over the country were made to declare their faith in Mrs G's leadership and were rushed to New Delhi to stage demonstrations. Immediately on the eve of the declaration of the Emergency, a journalist (not Samar Sen) wrote an editorial piece in Frontier—it was, however, published on June 28—describing the nature of the so-called assertion of faith in Mrs G's leadership. A few lines from the piece may be quoted. "Indira Gandhi is one up on his father. When Jawharlal Nehru threatened to quit as Prime Minister in the mid-fifties because he was feeling stale—some recent chroniclers contend that it was a ruse to secure a confidence-vote from the party so that he might quietly have his way—he did not think of appealing to the people, of having a dance recital at Safdarjung roundabout or a fancy dress party at the Boat Club. The father was satisfied with a declaration of trust by the party; the daughter wants a mandate from the people also. Toadies have spoken and we have now a new description of the country. .....An adverse judgment by the Supreme Court will be contemptuously tossed aside by the Prime Minister. ...The prime fact is that she will not resign. The opposition parties should have the sense to realise that they cannot deflect her from the chosen course even with Mr Jay Prakash Narayan providing them the leadership". The writer proved remarkably correct as the events of the following days showed. En passant, it may be mentioned that this issue of Frontier was proscribed by the state.

The leaders of the old Congress Syndicate (e.g. Morarji Desai), the Sociliast Party and the Jana Sangha were arrested. Some erstwhile supporters of Indira Gandhi, notably Chandrashekhar and Mohan Dharia, who had earlier helped Indira Gandhi in her battle against the Congress Syndicate, were also put behind bars because they had refused to cling to the petticoat of their leader and asked her to resign her post following the judgment of the Allahabad High Court. The press censorship was imposed immediately after. In West Bengal, Dipankar Chakravarty, the editor of a monthly leftist journal, Aneek, was arrested for condemning and ridiculing the Emergency. Two journalists of the Ananda Bazar Group, Gour Kishore Ghosh and Barun Sengupta, were put behind bars. The former publicly protested against the Emergency, while the latter came to be the bete noire of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, for regular exposure of the corrupt practices of Ray's government. The CPI, probably at the behest of their Kremlin masters, supported the Emergency, while the CPI(M), concurrently with their formal opposition to it, tried to find 'progressive elements' in Indira Gandhi's 20-point programme, which was a mere gimmick. No important CPI(M) leader was arrested, suggesting that Mrs G did not consider these leaders a real threat to her regime. One important CPI(M) MP, Mr Jyotirmay Basu, was, however, arrested, owing to his leading and courageous role in exposing the Maruti and Nagarwala scandals. George Fernandes, who was then an important leader of railwaymen, was arrested after remaining a fugitive for a few months. It was later learnt that probably he would have been killed but for the intervention of Willy Brandt, the then West German Chancellor. Geroge's brother was arrested and brutally tortured. Shamefully enough, a large number of artists, intellectuals, musicians, university teachers and vice-chancellors, sports-world persons etc rallied to support the Emergency out of fear or for considerations of power and pelf. One of them, B D Nagchaudhury, became particularly famous for his deeds as the Vice-Chancellor of the Jawharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. That fellow later became a CPI(M) loyalist. It may be added that two Naxalites, Bhumaiya and Kesta Gour, were hanged to death in Andhra Pradesh.

It is important to note that the leaders of the Soviet Union, Cuba and Vietnam openly supported the Emergency. At an anti-fascist rally organized by Sanjay Gandhi in Patna, Cuban delegates were present. Russia and Vietanam called the anti-Indira movement as a CIA-spnsored one. Indira Gandhi also, before the imposition of the Emergency, accused the CIA of trying to destabilize her, conveniently forgetting that it was during her father's premiership that the CIA made its entry into India.

In January 1977, the Emergency was lifted and Mrs G announced a fresh election. The reason for this decision was probably the belief, based on intelligence reports, that with the help of her army of storm troopers, she would be able to secure a sizeable majority. But she miscalculated the side of the people. The crimes done by her men were too fresh in the minds of the people and the prison united the Opposition parties. The Janata Party was formed and the Janata-CPI(M)–Akali alliance almost routed the Congress in the Hindi-speaking belt, West Bengal and Punjab. Indira Gandhi herself was defeated by Raj Narain and her distinguished son was humbled by an unknown fellow named Rabindra Pratap Singh. Her money and muscle power was of little help, and in many cases, the musclemen, realizing the futility of their effort, chose to remain aloof. George Fernandes, still in prison, contested the election from Mujaffarpur constituency and won by a record margin.

After the polls, the new government led by the Janata Party was sworn in with Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister. There took place a vigorous movement for the release of political prisoners including the Naxalites, and the movement was fairly successful. The CPI made a public self-criticism for their support to the Emergency. The Shah Commission was formed in order to investigate the crimes committed during the Emergency. The revelations before the Commission were horrifying, and were enough to prove the guilt of the mother and the son, and their associates and accomplices. The outburst of people's anger made the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi during the Emergency commit suicide. But as time rolled by, factional squabbles inside the ruling Janata Party began to surface, public memory receded and the purpose with which the Shah Commission was formed was defeated. Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and their sycophants escaped punishment. The functionaries of the Janata Party became more intersted in promoting their self-interest than in preserving the revived democratic atmosphere. The Jana Sangha people broke out of the Janata Party and formed their own outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Finally the Janata Government collapsed and the CPI(M)-CPI combine aided the process. Indira Gandhi used all these skilfully and returned to power with a majority in the 1980 polls.

The Emergency and its aftermath highlighted an important point. An election does not offer any revolutionary emancipation for the masses; but the masses can earn temporary and partial victories. It is certainly true that the defeat of Indira Gandhi and her party in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls taught the people a valuable lesson, and forced the erstwhile boycottists to review their line of thinking.

Vol. 47, No. 52, July 5 - 11, 2015