Let us not forget

Article 352 of the Constitution, which vested powers with the president to declare Emergency because of threat to the country’s security due to external aggression or war or armed rebellion (internal disturbances) was misused in 1975.

Written by M Venkaiah Naidu | Updated: June 26, 2017 2:09 am
 emergency, 1975 emergency, indira gandhi, freedom of expression, civil liberties curtailed, press freedom, indian express, india news Illustration by C R Sasikumar

In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, M.K. Gandhi wrote, “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” This quote from the Father of the Nation is perhaps most relevant while recalling how the will of the people put an end to one of the darkest periods in India’s history — the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.

On June 25, 1975, people of the country woke up to midnight knocks and arbitrary arrests of thousands of political activists and others as the hard-won independence from colonial rule was snuffed out and the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens were trampled upon by the then PM with the acquiescence of the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. Civil liberties were curbed, elections suspended, judges superseded, leaders of opposition parties put behind bars. The Constitution was amended, political prisoners were tortured and the country was ruled by the diktats of one individual — the PM. The police was given unfettered powers and there was no legal remedy even if a person was shot. Freedom of movement and other freedoms were curbed. The freedoms most important for a democracy to thrive — the freedom of press and freedom of expression were curtailed. The high-handedness created such a fear psychosis that people were afraid to criticise the government even within the four walls of their homes.

Article 352 of the Constitution, which vested powers with the president to declare Emergency because of threat to the country’s security due to external aggression or war or armed rebellion (internal disturbances) was misused in 1975. The Constitution mentioned “internal disturbance” as the third ground for proclaiming a National Emergency. The 44th constitutional amendment (1978) has since then substituted the words “internal disturbance” with “armed rebellion”. The president can now proclaim a National Emergency only after receiving a written recommendation from the cabinet and not merely on the advice of the prime minister as had happened in 1975, when Indira Gandhi advised the president without consulting her cabinet.

Even as Mrs Gandhi was losing grip over her party and the country was witnessing a growing anti-corruption movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), the Allahabad High Court declared Mrs Gandhi’s election void on grounds of electoral malpractices. Instead of stepping down, she clung to power by subverting the Constitution, stifling democracy and imprisoning most of her political opponents, trade union leaders, RSS activists, students and just about anybody who dared to find fault with the government. The infamous case of P. Rajan, an engineering student in Kerala, tortured to death by overzealous policemen under the then Kerala Home Minister K. Karunakaran makes us shudder even today. It was only one of many such instances across the country.

In 1974-75, I was a student and an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. In the wake of the Gujarat Nav Nirman agitation and the anti-corruption crusade by JP, who gave a call for a total social, economic and democratic revolution, I had invited him to address students at the Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. That was subsequently cited as the reason for imprisoning me for more than 17 months.

I was attending a youth programme in Vijayawada when we got information about the declaration of the Emergency. I remained underground for the next two months. I was entrusted with the responsibility of distributing literature against the Emergency in educational institutions in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. We used to motivate students to protest against the Emergency. I used to go around in disguise with some colleagues to distribute pamphlets. We would go to cinemas and throw pamphlets during the interval and vanish from the spot. There were blackboards in front of Congress offices. I would scribble messages against the Emergency and disappear.

I used to secretly take shelter at friends’ houses and at remote places on the Chittoor-Bangalore border. I would hold meetings with like-minded people to discuss ways to counter the Emergency. In Tamil Nadu, the Emergency was not implemented rigorously by the then CM, M. Karunanidhi and I had the opportunity to meet K. Kamaraj. The veteran politician, who was bed-ridden at that time, was a broken man. After the imposition of Emergency, he was believed to have said, “Yellam pochu, Yen thappu (Everything is lost, it’s my blunder)”. He was obviously referring to the key role he had played in making Indira Gandhi the PM.

There used to be widespread arrests under the DIR (Defence of India Rules), which we called the Defence of Indira Rules. Similarly, Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was invoked against all and sundry and we used to derisively describe it as the Maintenance of Indira Security Act. Newspapers faced complete censorship. Other than The Indian Express, owned by the fearless Ramnath Goenka and The Statesman with C.R. Irani at the helm, no other major newspaper stood up against the government. Nikhil Chakravartty’s Mainstream was another bold voice which refused to toe the Emergency line. He shut down his weekly instead of submitting himself to V.C. Shukla’s diktats, prophetically proclaiming, “We shall overcome.”

Coming back to my own experience, I was arrested near Vijayawada while returning from Guntur. In a bid to not arouse suspicion, I used to travel by a scooter along with a woman activist on pillion. However, a circle inspector who knew me from the Jai Andhra movement days intercepted the vehicle and took me into custody. I was lodged in the Visakhapatnam jail along with veteran leader, Gouthu Latchanna, Tenneti Viswanadham, well-known Telugu littérateur, Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry (Raavi Sastry) and writer, Chalasani Prasad. Others incarcerated in the same jail included RSS activists, some Naxalites, a few outspoken senior Congress leaders, Swatantra Party members and Socialist Party (Lohia’s followers) representatives. Our will was not broken and we ensured that the jail routine was not dull. We used to exchange views on a host of issues, read books, played volleyball and badminton and cooked. The discussion sessions enhanced my knowledge. My incarceration strengthened my resolve to fight dictatorial tendencies and I decided to enter politics instead of pursuing a career in law. I filed a petition in the high court and argued my case. Later, I filed another petition in the high court challenging the censoring of newspapers by the jail authorities. The court upheld my contention. The government rejected my plea when I sought a transfer to either Hyderabad or Nellore jail.

Meanwhile, we came to know that Sanjay Gandhi would be visiting Visakhapatnam and got instructions to disturb his meeting. We feigned illness (a common practice to temporarily get out of prison) and were taken to King George Hospital where we met others and discussed our plan. Though the meeting was organised with a lot of fanfare, some youngsters reached there and created a flutter by shouting “snake, snake” after releasing water snakes carried in plastic bags. All hell broke loose, people ran helter-skelter, there was a lathi charge and the meeting ended abruptly.

The jail superintendent sent a report to the government stating that I played a part in the incident. I was, therefore, shifted to Musheerabad Jail in Hyderabad. I was taken in handcuffs during the transit. Later, I was shifted to Nellore and again taken in handcuffs. When my request to remove the handcuffs was turned down, I got off the vehicle after reaching Nellore and walked in protest to the jail so that people could see how I was being treated.

Emergency was the darkest chapter in the country’s democratic history and every youngster should be made aware of the importance of “eternal vigilance” to safeguard and preserve democracy in the country.

Important leaders including JP, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Madhu Dandavate and L. K. Advani were put behind bars in various parts of the country. In the wake of worldwide condemnation and growing protests in the country with each passing day, Mrs Gandhi finally bowed to international and domestic pressure and lifted the Emergency on March 21, 1977. Of course, it is also common knowledge that the IB report misled her into believing that the Congress would sweep elections and made her lift the Emergency.

Following the advice of JP, many parties — a breakaway faction of the Congress, Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and Socialist Party — came together to form the Janata party and the rest is history. Mrs Gandhi lost the election miserably; the Janata party stormed to power. At the first opportunity, the angry masses taught Mrs Gandhi and her party a fitting lesson. Incidentally, I made my entry into politics in these elections: I was chosen to contest on a Janata Party ticket from Ongole in Andhra Pradesh as a student representative.

The writer is Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation

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    chakm
    Jun 28, 2017 at 7:12 am
    As far as the Emergency was concerned, other than the Press and the Opposition, most people were pleased that everything in the Public and Private sector was operating smoothly. The elders who had seen India's independence were of the opinion at the time, that something like the emergency had long been due. The issue of coerced vasectomies was an excess committed by local authorities and was not under any PMO executive order. Modi's imposition of the illegal, authoritative and dictatorial fiscal emergency, his covert policy of saffronization and dictating what people should eat is a greater evil for India.
    Reply
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      chakm
      Jun 28, 2017 at 7:11 am
      However much one despises the Gandhi family, one cannot but admire the superlative personality and universal leadership of Indira. She was the unanimous world leader and successful PM both in India and abroad. Her singular personality was stunning but above all, she was not just a celebrity or a demigod figure that Modi has been projected by the BJP to be. Indira was India but Modi is only BJP. Her demure, demeanor, strength of conviction, finesse attracted the entire attention and following of the world at the time. There was no obsession with optics about her. Her strength of conviction and character extruded love for the country in real terms. Her sense of trust was so deep that in spite of serious objection from her advisors, she continued to hold on to her Sikh personal guards and gave her life for calling them her children. People were naturally drawn to her. Modi's countenance in contrast, is rustic, unpolished, unapologetic, sleazy, cantankerous, narcissistic and divisive.
      Reply
      1. C
        chakm
        Jun 28, 2017 at 7:06 am
        As far as the Emergency was concerned, other than the Press and the Opposition, most people were pleased that everything in the Public and Private sector was operating smoothly. The elders who had seen India's independence were of the opinion at the time, that something like the emergency had long been due. The issue of coerced vasectomies was an excess committed by local authorities and was not under any PMO executive order. Modi's imposition of the illegal, authoritative and dictatorial fiscal emergency, his covert policy of saffronization and dictating what people should eat is a greater evil for India.
        Reply
        1. K
          Krishnan
          Jun 26, 2017 at 11:59 pm
          Country like India Dictatership is correct,democracy is not suitable.Corruption is everwhere.law and order worest,women cannot walk alone, no safty for pesonnal belongings.Rogs and criminals are dominating the society.It will develop more in future very high.
          Reply
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            PRADEIDO
            Jun 26, 2017 at 11:28 pm
            The way things are going ay present, we are in state of undeclared emergency.
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              AK
              Jun 26, 2017 at 11:23 pm
              I was in College then. There was almost an Anarchy in the country as opposition went berserk nation wide. Though emergency was not necessary, yet the people did appreciate it too as the govt machinery and country as a whole was functioning smoothly. No strikes, agitations Corruption was controlled to a good extent. Trains were running on time and govt officers were working on time. Those who were behind bars are obviously complaining Mrs Gandhi did regret it though.
              Reply
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                BHAWANI SHANKAR DASH
                Jun 26, 2017 at 10:59 pm
                I WILL VOTE FOR BJP IN 2019 BUT I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY PM IS KEEP ON REMINDING EMERGENCY ON REGULAR INTERVALS.
                Reply
                1. S
                  Sammeer
                  Jun 27, 2017 at 1:44 am
                  PM his fellows reminding emergency every now n then coz people should forget current undeclared emergency like Note-ban, GST, lynching of muslims/ dalits, saffronisation of educational system, Modi's foreign trips-millions are spent on repeated trips to US, etc.
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                  ashwani
                  Jun 26, 2017 at 10:17 pm
                  Tell all these things to modi and Arun jaitely...we don't know what happened in 1975 but we see today where emergency is declared in form of notebandI and gst...we are not feeling free to exercise our right to do business freely...why a person whom we rejected in elections is sitting on post of finance minister is being dictatorial
                  Reply
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