Revisit of Emergency: political personalities and public institutions

Radhakanta Barik

Forty three years ago Emergency got declared when I was a student in JNU. In my room eighteen friends who came for taking admission were sleeping. Exactly at 4 AM in the early morning policemen came to our rooms and picked up all of us to the police station of Hauzkhas where they left everybody and kept me till evening. There were 12 friends from JNU who got detained in the police station. In the evening we six were allowed to come back to our hostel where other six were taken to the Tihar Jail. But there was no fear in our minds. We got a meal of chapati and dal at the police station. The police officer did not misbehave with us. But today under Modi Raj we feel more insecure as ordinary citizens. It is a shared experience as we find that ordinary citizen of UP, Haryana are getting killed by cow vigilantes. Rationalists are shot dead by the militants belonging to Hindutva. Writer, journalists or teachers are getting harassed by the present regime. As friends and citizens of my country are being harassed and tortured by Hindutva forces. I personally feel insecure and threatened by their actions as one does not know what is going to happen to friends and political workers by these forces who can declare us as anti-nationalists. As Tennyson says one cannot be an island I feel insecure because of harassment of others. In those days of constitutional emergency there was no fear experienced by ordinary citizens but today ordinary citizens moving in the train or doing small trading can be killed by these people in the presence of policemen.

While the emergency got declared, JNU was in its infancy stage. With the police entered into the campus to arrest JNU students the Vice Chancellor (acting) Prof Mahalay resigned from the post with a protest letter telling that without the permission of the VC the police force entered into the campus. He was a brave soul in the administration. All the Professors protested against the action of Delhi police and students and karmacharis protested against the illegal action. This unity remained till the end of the emergency. There was a resistance movement started by all. We were given the responsibility of distributing pamphlets against the emergency and the other friend is at present Professor of Economics in JNU. We both distributed these pamphlets in the middle of night by pushing these leaflets into the hostel rooms.

 There was a protest meeting got organised by all of us. After some time our friend Prabir Purakayastha was picked up from the campus where all students came to the down campus to protest against the police action. JNU was in a rebellious mood but tempered by intellectual arguments. This helped in changing the minds of those who supported the emergency. There were two RSS pracharaks in the campus who resigned from the RSS as it started supporting the emergency. They joined the Resistance movement. The movement led by MS Abhilasha Kumari and MS  Parvati Menon who openly distributed pamphlets whenever it required. The movement continued but Mrs Gandhi never tried to reduce the budget for the university which the present Modi government is going. She was forced to resign from the post but never destroyed the institution.

What are the instruments of power politics of the emergency Raj. The problematic understanding of the emergency needs to be probed by us. There was a twenty point programme which needed to be implemented by the state. It is an interesting programme as it was antifeudal and antislavery document. Its implementation was uneven as the nature of politics is different. The States where the leadership was in the hands of the progressives within the Congress Party supported by the CPI had implemented some parts of programme. Specifically, the State of Odisha where Nandini Satpathy as the chief minister supported by CPI implemented the Land Ceiling Act. The landlords collected a fund to bribe Nandini Satpathy which they wanted to pay on the marriage function where she was invited and the landlords wanted to hand over the purse  but she refused to take it. It was a progressive legislation prepared by Ramakanta Rath(IAS) as her secretary with the support of CPI. Most of landlords lost their land which created an egalitarian society. The money lenders used to demand usurious interest rate got stopped doing so. But with the rise of Sanjay Gandhi within the Congress Party Nandini Satpathy resigned and the implementation of some of land related policies remained unfinished.

Let us examine the Sanjay Gandhi phenomenon which needs a little careful handling. Towards the end of the emergency Sanjay Gandhi brought a four point programme which virtually replaced the 20point programme, but officially it was announced by the Congress Party. His rise pushed the eclipse of an enlightened leadership within the Congress such as Nandini Satpathy, Siddhartha Roy and H N Bahuguna etc. New forces got entry into the Congress fold. The royal families of Odisha, Rajasthan, MP and UP allowed to enter into the party who were traditionally supported the Swatantra Party. A powerful Punjabi business group entered into the party through his wife Menaka Gandhi. Many civil servants who had an antipeople approach such as Jagmohan got into decision making process. Indira Gandhi felt alienated in the process of reorganization of the party. RSS worked through these new forces within the party and supported Sanjay Gandhi's programme. Dadagiri politics started with the rise of him. As James Cameron a leading journalist from Guardian, Manchester branded him as 'super brat'. Without knowledge of history and ideology of Congress Party this group worked within the party. Sanjay Gandhi told once to Illustrated Weekly he did not read anything except sometimes saw some journals in the barber's shop. This can be called political illiteracy. This trend of political illiteracy has got strengthened by the Modi regime. Perhaps an enlightened leader like Indira Gandhi wanted to go to people by declaring the lifting of emergency and holding general election.

Indira Gandhi was an enlightened leader. For enlightenment one has to study and learn from others and read texts which have a permanent place in enlarging thinking of the oneself and the world. In her residence in Allahabad there is a study room attached with a self-containing classics. She went to Tagore's Shantiniketan where she met people in different disciplines such as art, literature, sculpture and social sciences. This shaped her intellectual personality. She went abroad and studied in London and came in contact with R P Dutt and others. She became friendly with Jyoti Basu, Kumarmangalam. She grew under the shadow of Nehru who provided her insights about political and global situations. She came back joined the national movement and she made her choice of her marriage. She made a choice of her political career. She has made her destiny. As the BJP says that she is fascist, they want to divert the attention of Indian public as they have decided to characterise Modi as a communal fascist. As Modi has no reading except he has listened to some pracharaks of his party and that made him to have a blinkered view of everything. He lacked an aesthetic sense of Sanskrit classics or Western classics. This created a limitation of his own political understanding which is not working in any field: economy, culture or politics. Let us examine the administrative capability of Mrs Indira Gandhi who reads files and provide her own comments whereas Modi depends on some retired civil servants without any knowledge. She herself monitored the architectural design and landscape planning of Central University of Hyderabad, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and JNU which are standing as bright stars of Indian intellectual world. Whereas Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat destroyed the only good university of Gujarat that is Baroda University and its well-known department of Arts and Aesthetics by removing some Professors and attacking some art students. Nehru Park was monitored through L N Mishra who was a minister in her cabinet. She has an association with Papul Jayakar, as her cultural adviser and J Krishnamurti as a spiritual guru. Whereas Modi does not have any such thing except his association with Asharam and other false gurus. Yes Indira Gandhi was an enlightened class politician for which she can be characterised as an authoritarian leader. I will give one example that after coming back to power in I980 she came to Port Blair where I was teaching as a Lecturer and doing working class politics. She came there and got information about me. In a meeting with officials there she decided to dismiss from the job. This is where her limitation was there as a class politician she declared emergency.

Emergency, after so many years is being analysed as the result of Mrs Gandhi's election annulment to Loksabha by the Allahabad High Court. It is like telling the starting of first world war because of killing of a prince of Austria- Hungary in Serbia. There are many reasons behind the starting of the first world war. Killing of Prince looks like the starting point. Inter-imperialist war searching for a portion of Africa and Asia for imperialist exploitation was the root cause of starting of the first world war. The same thing can be told regarding the imposition of emergency by Mrs Gandhi. Although on the flimsy grounds Justice Sinha gave the judgement against Mrs Gandhi. But it would have taken care of by the Supreme Court. But the real reasons need to be located here. The JP Movement is the most anarchist movement in India on the elusive demand for fighting against corruption. The defamed RSS got revived by the movement and their anti-democratic demand for dissolution of assembly. The Railway strike of 1974 affected the life line of economy and industrialists. Such reasons were behind the declaration of emergency under the Art 352 on the issue of breakdown of administration. I wrote a book on the JP movement where I analysed which got the attacks by the supporters of the movement in JNU and demanding that Barik should be thrown out. But politics has a logic and which resulted in declaration of emergency.

Why did Mrs Gandhi withdraw emergency? It was clear that by the end of the first year the impact of the emergency started dwindling. She had only one instrument to implement a policy of twenty point programme. That was bureaucracy which had a close association with the class and caste structure of society. Mostly they belong to the upper class and high caste linkage who started shrinking their responsibilities because of this social character. The Congress Party had evolved from the same social background which created its limitations over the implementation of the programme. Middle class welcomed emergency as their perception was this that the trains started functioning in time. Train symbolized the pro -emergency as train strike disturbed the middle class society. During emergency in the first year the trains started moving in time. Classes were organised on regular basis as the Universities and colleges were on strike during the JP Movement. Workers strike went down drastically in the first year. Rural elite was unhappy of the policies pursued by the State. Their linkage with the money lending and slavery got challenged by the state. They were the leaders of anti-emergency and they were the backbone of the Janata Party politics. Mrs Gandhi could feel the pulse of people and functioning of the emergency Raj. She had a rivalry with her son's army. She decided to withdraw emergency. Most of the opposition parties started negotiating with Mrs Gandhi. Some of the prominent leaders announced that they would support Mrs Gandhi and there was nothing wrong with the emergency. Biju Patnaik a leading opposition leader gave a statement in favour of the emergency and Mrs Gandhi.  There was a political impasse when Mrs Gandhi declared of holding the general election and withdrawal of the emergency. This was turning point in the political history as most of the opposition parties merged together except the left parties under the flag of Janata Party. There were popular leaders like JP, Kripalini started working with the opposition leaders to create an alternative platform to the Congress Party. They succeeded to reorganise the Janata party by taking the major opposition parties such as Congress (O), Lokdal, Swatantra, Socialists and Jana Sangh. Merger created an alternative candidate not alternative political formation in each constituency of Northern and Eastern India as in the South there were not present. Death of political Party helped the RSS to gulp the majority of the party members such as Congress (O) and Swatantra into its fold. Perhaps withdrawal of the emergency has been done with the consent of the opposition leaders which resulted in the defeat of the Congress in the general election of 1977 in Northern India.

Emergency affected popular culture of urban India. Adda or gossip is an integral part of our urban culture. Coffee House or tea stall or road side dhaba provides space for a dialogue among friends. This is life line of city life. In Delhi there was a coffee house in CP which has been turned into underground market by DDA. This place was a place of congregation among political workers, friends and theater persons and journalists. We as students used to meet there as it was the centre of Delhi which drew students from DU and Jamia. This Coffee House could accommodate around 500 people at one time. It had many counters where people did not have to wait more than ten minutes and there were rounded table surrounded by chairs. It was managed by Indian Coffee House which provided cheap coffee and snacks. As the story goes that one-day Sanjay Gandhi came to the Coffee House with his friends and found that people were busy in having adda where the main theme of discussion was the stories related to Emergency and Sanjay Gandhi. This angered him and he had his close friends in DDA as the Vice Chairman Jagmohan who was directed by him. This led to demolition of the Coffee House. This reflected in the writing of K A Abbas who used to write a column on the back page of Blitz, a popular weekly from Bombay edited by R K Karanjia. He kept the last page blank and K A Abbas wrote a week after what happened to Coffee House at CP which drew him whenever he was in Delhi. His literary piece pained many well-wishers of him and writers and journalists of India  as it was not functioning by the time of withdrawal.

As a part of JNU students we used to have a fascination for cheap non veg food in the restaurants nearby Turkman Gate and Nizammuddin bastis. Specifically, Bada ghosh or buffalo meat. Elite students in JNU got plebianised and poorer student's taste for a variety got upgraded. This convergence brought a friendship on an equal plane. In our times rich students some of them children of industrialists used to study and students from London used to study. This brought a high level of intellectual debates and discussions. Everybody was holding a book. There were book lovers and food lovers. We used to visit those dhabas to collect Badeghosha ka Biriyani or kabab from Nizammuddin where we used to find M F Hussain sitting in a dhaba eating kabab which had a special flavour. Both Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and Christians used to eat as it was a delicious stuff. But in both of these places there were slums with poor and migrant labour who used to stay. In the name of beautification of the city which was an eyesore to the Vice Chairman of DDA Jagmohan with the support of Sanjay Gandhi got destroyed. Moreover, Sanjay Gandhi's four-point programme did not have any radical social programme as the twenty-point programme of Indira Gandhi.

The Nasabandhi or sterilisation of women for controlling the population created a furor in urban India. There was some payment to the middle men who persuaded people in gullible manner and brought them to the hospitals for sterilization. Once I was in Dhanbad central hospital where there was a hue and cry in the front of the hospital where the middleman was caught by bringing some innocent people who were unmarried got sterilized. This created a lot of antipathy in urban society of the Northern India which got erupted in the 1977 general election.

Let us examine the working of media during the emergency. The editors and managers were subject to publish their editorials after getting approval from the Censor Board which was working under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This ministry turned into the most powerful ministry after Prime Minister. Some of the editors refused to go to the Censor Board for getting their approvals. But some protested against the censorship by the government. Mainstream, a weekly edited by popular journalist Nikhil Chakrovarty refused to obey the dictates and kept its editorial page blank as a sign of protest. The Indian Express kept its editorial page blank in the protest against censorship. Many newspapers played safe by taking news without relevance which got a humorous commentary from R K Lakshman, the famous cartoonist. Under the title that what should be news that it says "Hi, bye etc" That explains the quality of news got declined. The Doordarshan and All India Radio were under the government control which worked under the government instruction. But no fake news as it is happening today in both the electronic media and print media.

Indira Gandhi as a political leader was being characterized by the American media as the fascist leader. Let us look at her leadership and its ambiguous relationship with America. That was the time America was the super power and biggest economy of the world. She being a patriot refused to go with this sort of understanding of America. She had faith in public and refused to bow down to American interest in India. That was the time America was doing worst form of hegemonic power politics through food as it was a surplus country. There was an arrangement of PL480 under which India was getting food from America as India was a food deficit country. After she became the Prime Minister she went to America to renew this agreement where she had a meeting with Lyndon Johnson the President. American political class used vulgar language to humiliate her. As Johnson said, 'We have been screwing you for so many years' In a reply to him she retorted, "yes but no further you can do it". She being daughter of Nehru a patriot replied to American leadership in her words. She came back and used her political leadership to make India an agriculturally self-sufficient country by 1972. During the Bangladesh war she refused to be dictated by American power politics or she had no fear of seventh fleet roaming in the Indian ocean. She used her diplomacy to elicit the support of Soviet Russia. After she declared emergency she refused to obey America. This made American journalists to brand her fascist. Today after 43years the BJP party and government branding her as fascist. ha ha ha.

 BJP as a party during emergency had gone for a negotiated settlement with her for withdrawal of the emergency. Mrs Indira Gandhi's declaration of emergency is constitutional but sending the army by her into the golden temple is not constitutional. Protecting the place of worship by the State is the duty as it gives confidence to various religious groups to respect their contract with the Indian state. This is the biggest political blunder and violation of Indian constitution under which she took oath as the Prime Minister. Once the contract broke down the trust between various religious groups declined which threatened social compactness of a society. There were many alternatives available for her government to flush out the terrorists from the premises of the temple. As I was in Delhi a well-known RSS bhakta and a retired IAS officer was of opinion that sending army was the correct one whose son became the minister of Vajpayee's cabinet. Had Mrs Gandhi had taken advice from the RSS pracharaks before sending the army into the Golden temple? This question remains before us and it has been found in the 1984 riots it was the political recruits of Sanjay Gandhi and members of the RSS were active in Delhi. What relationship Mrs Gandhi had with the RSS in the year 1984 needs to be probed by scholars.

Emergency has been looked by the Indian left as a form of an authoritarianism which comes nearer the truth. Indira Gandhi was the dominant personality in the party. She took some decisions made her more popular such as the slogan of Garibi Hatao, War with Pakistan despite the opposition from America and declaration of emergency all these were bold decisions which resulted in enlarging her political persona. She was ruthless in implementation of Garibihatao as studies show the level of poverty fell down. War with Pakistan led to creation of Bangladesh and defeat of Pakistan. Declaration of emergency created a disciplined public administration which created a great impression among the middle class. She had an immense energy to coordinate with various regions and helping in building the strong midfield players within each region. Strong regional leaders worked with her in creating the Congress Party after the split in1969. Authoritanism of her was being sustained by the social structure and cultural values of a society which was in a transition from tradition to modernity. In such a transition she remained as the charismatic leader with a wider appeal.

Jul 13, 2018

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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