Terming the Emergency as the worst post-independence chapter of Indian democracy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said it gave him the best political education of his life as it taught him that some compromises are “just not possible”.
The senior BJP leader, who was President of Delhi University Students Union when the Emergency was imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 and was detained for 19 months, also said that it displayed the weakness of the Indian constitutional order where press could be silenced and judiciary “made pliable”.
“For many like me who underwent Emergency experience in Delhi and successfully fought against it, this became a turning point in our lives. The Emergency was perhaps the best political education of my life. It taught me that some compromises were just not possible,” he said, in an article on the 39th anniversary of the 1975-77 Emergency which falls tomorrow.
Jaitley, who is also the Defence Minister, said June 26 marks the 39th anniversary of the Emergency whose oppressive phase lasted 19 months (excluding two months of election) and said “this monstrosity” is perhaps the “worst” post Independence chapter of the Indian democracy.
Recalling some of his personal memories on the Emergency, he said he received a midnight knock at his residence past 2 AM when he escaped from the backdoor to a friend’s house in the neighbourhood. Jaitley said with no newspapers and the entire opposition political leadership including Jai Prakash Narain, Morarji Desai, Choudhury Charan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, L K Advani arrested, he along with his co-ABVP workers organised a protest at Delhi University campus next morning.
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“This was the only protest against the Emergency which took place that day in the whole country…I requested my colleagues to quietly disappear since I had been surrounded by the police. I courted arrest. I was also taken to the Timarpur Police Station where I was handed over a detention order under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA),” he said.
Jaitley said he was taken to Tihar jail and lodged there for eight days before being transferred to Ambala Jail in Haryana where he was kept for about three months. “I had been detained for 19 months in prison under preventive detention. Needless to say I was deprived of my right to continue my education in Delhi,” he said.
Jaitley said Indira Gandhi began to rethink on Emergency after pressure of international opinion but “miscalculated” and decided to hold elections in which people vent out their anger against Emergency and Congress was trounced with both Gandhi and her son Sanjay defeated from Rae Bareli and Amethi.
Critical of the Judiciary at the time, he said, “The Supreme Court in perhaps the worst amongst post independence judgments, in the habeas corpus case, ruled that even though political detainees have been illegally detained, they have no right to approach the court and seek the relief.” Jaitley said High Courts in the country “showed some courage” in giving relief to the detainees, but the “extremely pliable Supreme Court overturned each and every favourable order of the High Court.”
He said the Representation of People Act was amended retrospectively to “legitimise and validate the invalid election” of Indira Gandhi.
“The Constitution was amended to make the election of Prime Minister as non-justiciable. The proclamation of emergency was made non-justiciable,” he said, adding that opposition party governments in states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu were dismissed and President’s rule imposed.