Bihar CM Nitish Kumar remembers the Emergency: ‘Many in the police sympathised with us, though they couldn’t show it’

Today, the attitude is — let’s do it only my way. There is little tolerance for opposition and there are obvious double standards in play.

Written by Nitish Kumar | Updated: July 3, 2015 10:35 am
emergency, indira gandhi, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, internal emergency, Jayaprakash Narayan, 1975 emergency, imposition of emergency,  emergency anniversary, indian express column, ie column, nitish kumar column Today, what L.K. Advani has said — that he is not confident that the Emergency cannot return — is not without reason.

An external emergency was in place since the time of the 1971 war. During the 1974 JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement, many were arrested under the Defence of India Rules and the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, but there was mass support for the movement. JP gave the call for Sampoorna Kranti and then for a Bihar bandh in October 1974.

Pre-Emergency, I was arrested in September under Misa and was in jail till December.

Bihar was its epicentre but the movement had spread. The student movement became a broader mass uprising that was anti-establishment and anti-government.

When the Emergency was announced on June 26, 1975, I was putting up in the hostel of the engineering college I had passed out of. I was getting ready to go out, when the friend I was staying with came in and declared: “Emergency lag gayi hai.” I said, but there is already an emergency in place. He said, there is another one now, the police will be here soon, and you must go.

Soon we gathered near JP’s home.

The police had spread out and we actively protested on the streets. In three or four days, the government writ spread and the demonstrations and open protests started subsiding by June 28-29. Press censorship was imposed, there was only one-sided news. The propaganda was that the trains ran on time.

JP was arrested on June 26, along with most of the top leaders of the opposition. Those who escaped arrest went underground. We prepared and distributed pamphlets. People were angry but also apprehensive. We felt that many acquaintances suddenly became uncomfortable around us. But at the same time, my impression also was that many in the police sympathised with us, though they couldn’t show it. One day, in July in Patna, I thought a police officer saw me from afar and turned away, pretending he hadn’t noticed I was there.
Soon, after the floods came, we fled the city, moving from village to village, to evade the police dragnet.

We were meeting at the Khadi Gram Udyog Samiti JP had established on the banks of the Falgu river in Gaya. The police came and 16-17 of the top leaders of the Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti, Sarvodaya, Sangharsh Vahini and other opposition leaders were arrested. As we fled, we found that wood was piled up against a boundary wall that was about 10-11 feet tall — on the other side was a sheer drop to the sandy river bank. We, 12-13 of us, including Lalu ji and I, climbed up the pile of wood and then jumped. Lalu ji and I were in our 20s. Bhavesh Chandra Prasad ji and even Ram Sundar Das ji, who was around 50 years old at that time, had to jump. I was uncomfortable with heights, but at that moment, I was more determined to evade arrest.

We ran from so many places. The police intelligence network was so good that if we stayed for a few hours at one place, they would come to know.

JP was in Bombay, at Nariman Point, and we were determined to meet him. We took the train to Banaras and from there to Bombay. There was no question of making reservations. We were in a three-tier compartment and all night, we heard some people in the train speak in praise of the Emergency. With a mounting urge to respond, we waited for morning and then we spoke out, had our say.

My impression was that most people in the train, though they were afraid to agree with us, silently sympathised with our point of view. But we were apprehensive that we had revealed ourselves and someone would inform the police. So, even though we were headed to Bombay, we got off the train before, at Kalyan.

At that time, Karpoori ji (Thakur) was also underground and I went to meet him in Bengal after I received a message from him through our underground channels of communication. Karpoori ji was staying at the home of a Class 4 railway employee in the Chakradharpur area. When I met him, he took the report of the goings-on from me, and offered words of encouragement. But I remember I was taken aback by his physical appearance — his beard had grown, and he was wearing trousers, not his usual dhoti, as disguise.

Later, in the summer of 1976, I and some others went to Bhojpur district to meet Ram Iqbal ji, a very important leader of the region, who (Ram Manohar) Lohia had given the title of “Peero ka Gandhi”. We noticed that the police was more alert and there was heavy bandobast because there had been bomb blasts in the area. The Naxal movement was also strong in these parts.

We arranged a meeting there in which Ram Iqbal ji was to participate at Duboli, the village my friend Mahendra Dubey belonged to. Ram Iqbal ji was in favour of an open movement, instead of underground activity. But we believed in resistance, any which way.

The meeting was to be at a spot outside the village. A friend had been deputed to divert the police and to alert us so that we could make our escape. But the person we deputed had a medical emergency and had to leave to take his child to the doctor. He instructed someone else to take his place, who did only half the job — he diverted the police by giving them wrong information, but didn’t alert us. In the event, the police eventually reached Mahendra Dubey’s house and asked a child who was playing outside where the leaders were meeting.
The police found us, and we were surrounded, filmi-style, guns held to our heads. We were arrested and taken to Arrah jail.

This was 1976, after we’d been underground for about 10-11 months.

The police dragged us all the way to the jail. That night, I got into an argument with the DM, who was a promotee and pro-government. He asked me, are you an engineering graduate? I said, if you don’t know, why did you arrest me? The police wanted to take me on remand to interrogate me. But Ram Iqbal ji was such a popular and influential leader, he mobilised a big protest. Even the doctor certified I was not well. So they couldn’t take me.

A few days later, they took us to Buxar Central Jail, 60-70 km away. In Buxar jail, I remember one day, the monsoon rains came, and the prisoners who had hung their clothes out to dry, tried to hurriedly retrieve them, causing some commotion.

For a minute, then, I was jolted out of my sleep — I thought, the police has come. Until I realised that I need not fear, I was already in jail!
From there, we were taken to Bhagalpur Central Jail. In all, I was in jail for nine months. I went home only once during the Emergency, for Chhat. I reached home at night, did the morning prayers and left. I stayed in so many villages in those days, but I never spent more than a night and a half in any one.

Today, what L.K. Advani has said — that he is not confident that the Emergency cannot return — is not without reason. At that time, censorship was needed to control the press. But now, how many papers are independent? Corporate interests prevail and dominate. Social media is relatively free, but there are ways even to block that. Who needs censorship now?

Advani ji is right to point to the weaknesses of the political leadership. Today, the attitude is — let’s do it only my way. There is little tolerance for opposition and there are obvious double standards in play.

The Congress was a mass party. Even Indira Gandhi, being Nehru’s daughter and having seen Bapu, may have been haunted by the way she dealt with JP.

But today, the BJP and Sangh Parivar have organised ways of exerting control. After the Emergency, it seemed that because Indira Gandhi was defeated at the polls and institutions like the judiciary and media seemed stronger, it cannot happen again.

In the last two years, that confidence has been shaken.

The Congress has paid for the Emergency. Today, it is not the Congress of 40 years ago. It will have to learn all over again to fight and to agitate. The BJP has replaced it on centrestage. It has internalised the negative attributes of the Congress rule and gone beyond. Riding on a divisive ideology and a more organised force, it is a dangerous mix.

Today, power is in the hands of those forces that did not participate in the freedom movement, and carry no trace of its values. On the other side, the democratic forces are scattered. It was not so difficult for us to fight the Congress.

The BJP is trying to weaken and divide the anti-BJP forces by raising the bogey of anti-Congressism. But we must all be clear. It is the BJP we must fight today, not the Congress. It is logical and natural that anti-Congressism should be replaced by anti-BJPism. We are not going to be defensive about joining hands with the Congress because the circumstances have changed.

In the end, we must trust democracy. In Arrah jail, where I spent 8-10 days during the Emergency, I saw one man who had no one to call his own outside of jail. He had no family, no land, no employment, nothing. He would survive on the mercy of strangers. Inside jail, he was treated like a political prisoner, given clothes, food and shelter. But he seemed troubled.

I asked him, you have no one outside, so why fear jail? He said, but I am not free. That is when I learnt what the urge to freedom, the power of democracy, is.

The writer is chief minister of Bihar

(This article appeared in print under the headline: ‘‘We, Lalu ji and I, climbed up the pile of wood and jumped’)

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First Published on: July 3, 2015 12:00 am
  1. B
    Jul 4, 2015 at 10:05 am
    Its same Nitish kumar as Railway Minister praised Narendra Modi in Gujrat. Told 2002 should be forgotten. In 2014 General Election, in the hope to become PM back tracked and said there was no meaning of what he said about NAMO. Once he told publicaly, LALU JEE SE BACHE RAHANA WAS HIS ACHIEVEMEMT. Who is double speaking and who should trust you Mr CM?
    1. R
      Jul 3, 2015 at 6:09 am
      Emergency rule now is impossible. Social media, lack of same party govt in all states, and potential of large economic damage will prevent its re-occurrence.
      1. A
        ak dev
        Jul 4, 2015 at 11:35 pm
        Nitish 's time is over. People are tolerating him due the consutional provisions otherwise he should have left politics a year back.
        1. C
          Jul 4, 2015 at 6:02 am
          a man with such training,rigours went down the hill,adopting the same measures of the then govt.,immoral to say.power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
          1. C
            Jul 3, 2015 at 7:23 pm
            What right Nitish has to talk about democracy, a person who has proven himself to be the opportunist to the core. In his lust for power he has come to hug someone like Lalu a convict in fodder scam and whose 15 years in Bihar were termed by Nitish as jungle raj. So now shaking hands with Lalu, it seems Nitish wants to bring back jungle raj in Bihar. And the Congress party that Nitish is also courting to ensure his own political survival was the proprietor of Emergency. So what morality a person like Nitish has to say anything except that he is a desperate, opportunist and if he gets a chance he himself will restore to Emergency to keep his own political ambitions and ego alive.
            1. S
              sanjeev vasishtha
              Jul 3, 2015 at 10:30 pm
              This fellow is a rank opportunist and totally fake. There was so much hope from him, but he dashed it all by aligning with the very person he was fighting against. Does he think BJP members did not go to jail during emergency?? I hope Modi gets time to do for India what he has done for Gujrat in past 10 years. These fellows can keep dividing society based on caste and religion in the meantime. Secularist my foot!!
              1. S
                Jul 3, 2015 at 4:39 pm
                In the article the difference between Congress and BJP is nicely explained. One carries the legacy of freedom struggle and it's values. The other is strengthened by a cadre based organization and fascist ideology. As soon as BJP is in power it started controlling everything and even changing history. For them culture is what they think is the way of life. They will try to stop all different thinking. Only they can be right. Even in corruption, they have their say : "No BJP Minister can be corrupt, because we have already declared before election that we will fight against corruption". So no enquiry is required. In MP, In Chattisgarh, In Rajasthan, in Maharashtra everywhere wherever they are in power they are into corruption and they would not agree any of it. They would never need to declare an emergency like Indira G did. BJP's emergency has already come creeping, slowly but continuously it is taking over more areas and insutions into its fold. You will have no say on anything. At the same time, you will get to hear man-ki-bat from an indifferent PM who will not touch any issue felt important by the public. Another difference of this emergency is that Indira hi herself called it off even before strong, mive agitations were yet to come up against it. RSS will not do such mistake. Once the Emergency's dark blanket is extended firmly on Indian Democracy, they will prevent sunlight from peeping through the blanket. Because their ideology demands it.
                1. V
                  Jul 3, 2015 at 9:05 am
                  Nitish is a d!ck
                  1. G
                    Jul 3, 2015 at 6:49 pm
                    It was the Congress who did the emergency, and the same party now talk about dictatorship. Liars.
                    1. G
                      Jul 3, 2015 at 10:31 pm
                      No mention of the fact that a large number who were arrested were from RSS. The organization was banned. Emergency was supported by not just the Congress but also by many Marxists, socialists and left wing academics. This is the same group that now supports Nitish and Lalu. So, perhaps, a little introspection is needed when he talks about democracy.
                      1. I
                        Jul 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm
                        So this is all you have to offer - abusive language to a senior citizen ?
                        1. K
                          Kunal K
                          Jul 4, 2015 at 7:02 am
                          नितीश जी सत्ता जाने के डर से इतने मे हुए है की हर जगह उन्हें इमरजेंसी ही दिख रही है।जिस भाजपा ने उन्हें एक नेता बनाया,वो उसी भाजपा पर आरोप लगा रहे है।ये उनकी हताशा ही है जो दो साल के अंदर लालू जैसे निम्न स्तर के नेता की शरण में जाना पड़ा।नितीश में अकेले नेता बनने की क्षमता कभी ना थी और ना है। ये इसी बात से पता चलता है।वो बिहार के लोगो के लिए नहीं बल्कि सिर्फ खुद अपनी झूठी साख बचाने के लिए राजनीती कर रहे है।आगे ढेर सारी बेशर्मी की हदें भी पार करनी है।आपातकाल के बारे में भी उनका लिखना हास्यास्पद है।देश में आपातकाल और केंद्र से सबसे ज्यादा खतरा सिर्फ दो लोगो को है।एक नितीश कुमार और दूसरे अरविन्द केजरीवाल,तथा ये दोनों ही स्वयं के लिए राजनीती कर रहे है।इनके क्रियाकलपो से सबकुछ पता चलता है।नितीश शायद जिंदगी की अंतिम बाज़ी लड़ रहे है।फैसला बिहार की जनता को करना है की वो किसी के निजी लड़ाई के लिए वोट करते है की खुद की भलाई के लिए।
                          1. J
                            Joji Mathew
                            Jul 4, 2015 at 6:32 am
                            People of India always did right in the polls. They will do that again during Bihar embly elections. Compare Nithish and Shah, people know whom to vote for.
                            1. K
                              Kumar Swamy
                              Jul 3, 2015 at 10:43 am
                              Well written.
                              1. M
                                Jul 3, 2015 at 10:00 am
                                IMO Nitish is worse. He's actually allying with the guy who strengthened Jungle Raj in Bihar. He's allying with the guy who he was fighting to get rid of for so long. BJP want to win sure but Nitish wants to win at any costs even if that means destroying Bihar.
                                1. W
                                  Jul 3, 2015 at 2:01 pm
                                  This needs to be asked what was the reason behind trying to remote control the Bihar Government through Manjhi and create an emergency like situation?? Now leaking the boots of Lalu to be CM...khud ke pichwade ke dum pe ek baar to jeetkar dikhao...Pehale BJP se bhik maangi ab Laloo se!! Useless good for nothing..
                                  1. G
                                    Jul 4, 2015 at 2:31 am
                                    Lot of nonsense here. opposition is so stupid and dull. Most in opposition are doomed for their own misdeeds and consistently growing corrupt ways, abuses and lack of common sense. Nitish is one of the most egocentric, selfish and reckless person with power and a will to abuse, often in disguise. He and Lalu, both have similar characteristics. There is so much ignorance and "bad blood" in Bihar with political abuses and by dividing people, anger, hatred, crimes and unlimited corruption. That is a legacy of loud mouth Nitish. He ought to be ashamed of himself.
                                    1. k
                                      Jul 3, 2015 at 10:38 am
                                      Nitishji, you say 'there is a tendency that let us do it only my way ". Apparently you are referring to Mr Modi's style of functioning. But tell us , if you want to do it by your way not Modi's way, then can't Mr Modi accuse of same thing ? Nitishji, forget whose way it is, let us adopt a best way to do things, whoever may be the author.
                                      1. M
                                        Jul 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm
                                        A person, CM or anyone else, who has no ethics like him is heard to believe. May be he made up most of it. Look at his credibility: gravely criticizing Lalu for many years with choicest abuses then trying to lick his boot just (dreaming) to be CM again, sharing bread with BJP to gain pority (himself had no vision, as is evident from post-split actions and performance!) now severely criticizing BJP. Pity his opportunistic approach which he has proven beyond doubt. Uses Manjhi ( thinking he would prove to be like Rabriji for him!) and discards him when finds to hot to handle. He is the symbol of degraded politicians of today who has no scruples. It is hard to believe what a man like him says to glorify his struggle, seems more like another futile attempt to prove his non-existent principles and commitment. Through his suspect actions as a so called leader of Bihar he has compromised his character to such an extent that no one believes when he say anything about or judge either Congress or BJP.
                                        1. H
                                          Jul 3, 2015 at 9:51 pm
                                          Many were in jail during emergency not due to patriotism or democracy, but of necessity of escape the guilt or personal benefit of escaping punishment for fraud. The Nitish Kumar is one among them. Now his semon does not holds good.
                                          1. R
                                            Ramesh Nittoor
                                            Jul 4, 2015 at 7:31 pm
                                            Appreciate your Hindi standards! Losing JDU from NDA was a big blow in terms of freedom movement heritage. Now the role which JDU pla within NDA has to be pla at all India level. This explains efforts by leaders like Nitishji to join hands with others and make a stand for social modernization and protection of minority rights. Economic development can not take place unless social modernization also progresses hand in hand.
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