President Pranab Mukherjee’s new book The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years reveals that former prime minister Indira Gandhi was not even aware of the constitutional provision allowing for the deceleration of a state of emergency. The book, published by Rupa, focuses on the decade of the 1970s which saw creation of Bangladesh, declaration of Emergency and advent of the politics of coalition.
In a chapter titled The Midnight Drama, the veteran Congress leader writes that Siddhartha Shankar Roy, the then chief minister of West Bengal, played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency.
Calling the Emergency a misadventure, Pranab, who was then a junior minister, says, “It is believed that Siddhartha Shankar Roy played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency; it was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it. In fact, Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the constitutional provisions allowing for the declaration of a state of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance, particularly since a state of emergency had already been proclaimed as a consequence of the Indo-Pak conflict in 1971″.
About Roy’s association with Indira, Pranab writes that she would seek his advice on diverse matters. “Siddhartha babu had been very close to Indira Gandhi ever since the days of the Congress split in 1969, and was at one point regarded as one of her most influential advisors. As a member of the CWC and Central Parliamentary Board, Siddhartha babu had considerable influence over the decision-making process of the organisation and administration,” he writes.
Pranab says many of the Congress leaders who were part of the Union Cabinet at that time did not then understand the deep and far-reaching impact of the Emergency. “The Congress and Indira Gandhi had to pay a heavy price for this misadventure,” Pranab writes.
Pranab calls July 1969 as a turning point for the Congress. “Zakir Hussain passed away in May 1969, and the President’s post fell vacant. The Congress Parliamentary Board, dominated by ‘syndicate’, proposed the name of Neelam Sanjiva Reddy (six in favour, with four in favour of Indira Gandhi’s candidate, V.V. Giri). Indira Gandhi fought this tooth and nail, fearing that the syndicate’s choice might hamper her function as Prime Minister.”