In his article titled ‘Why did Indira Gandhi call off the Emergency?’ (IE, February 08), Fali S Nariman speculated that the then US president, Jimmy Carter, had put pressure on Indira Gandhi to call off the Emergency and hold elections in March 1977. However, Nariman went on to say that he could not find any documents to substantiate his “recollections”.
Carter was sworn in as US president on January 20, 1977. And, it was two days earlier, on January 18, that Indira Gandhi addressed the nation on All India Radio, calling for elections. As president-elect, Carter would not have written on such a sensitive topic to a world leader, before he was sworn in.
As far back as early November, in 1976, Indira Gandhi had told her principal secretary, P N Dhar, and my late father H Y Sharada Prasad, who was her information advisor, in strict confidence: “I am going to call off the Emergency and hold elections. I know that I will lose, but this is something which I absolutely have to do. The intelligence agencies will tell me what they think I want to hear. But I know that I am going to lose, even though the IB is saying that I will win 330 seats.” Neither of them ever got to know the reasons behind her decision.
Although, N K Seshan, Dhar, and my father got the impression that, from about September 1976 onwards, Indira Gandhi was beginning to get disillusioned with the Emergency, and was implementing measures to re-take power away from her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi. She was particularly perturbed by a rash interview which Sanjay Gandhi gave to a newspaper, in which he had harshly criticised the Soviet Union and the Indian communist parties. She had also received inputs from intelligence agencies that the CIA had penetrated Sanjay’s inner circle.
In the March 2006 issue of the magazine Realpolitik, my father wrote: “The Emergency can be described as Indira Gandhi’s coup against her own prime ministership. Her Secretariat, the Home Ministry, the Cabinet, and indeed her government as a whole, were deprived of their effective power, and the prime minister herself was made a prisoner of the Palace Guards…”
Indira Gandhi did not let Sanjay Gandhi get even the slightest inkling of her intention to hold elections. In fact, Sanjay Gandhi first got to know about the elections from her radio broadcast on January 18, 1977, and he had an angry showdown with her. On February 2, 1977, when Jagjivan Ram and Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna defected, she told my father, “I am sure to lose the elections. Now that Bahuguna has abandoned me, I will be wiped out in Uttar Pradesh.” But in a cryptic remark, she also said that, “It will be a relief if I lose, an absolute relief”.
In recent years, the RSS has been trying to portray that it was its strong grass roots opposition which led to the defeat of Indira Gandhi. But the truth is quite different. Its then sarsanghchalak, Balasaheb Deoras, had issued numerous statements supporting Sanjay Gandhi’s Five-Point Programme. In November 1976, over 30 leaders of the RSS, led by Madhavrao Muley, Dattopant Thengadi and Moropant Pingle, wrote to Indira Gandhi, promising support to the Emergency if all the RSS workers were released from prison. The RSS’s abjectly cringe-inducing letter of surrender was processed by my father.
This surrender by the RSS has been confirmed by Subramanian Swamy too. He wrote in The Hindu in 2000, on the 25th anniversary of the Emergency: “…A tearful Muley told me in early November 1976 that I had better escape abroad again since the RSS had finalised the document of surrender to be signed in end January of 1977, and that on Mr. Vajpayee’s insistence I would be sacrificed to appease an irate Indira and a fulminating Sanjay whose names I had successfully blackened abroad by my campaign. I asked him about the struggle, and he said that in the country everyone had become reconciled to the 42nd Amendment, and democracy as we had known it was over. Democracy was over for the RSS but not for all others. A few weeks later general elections to the Lok Sabha were declared. No one quite understood then what had made Indira Gandhi do that. But as a consequence, the RSS, luckily, did not need to sign the document of surrender.”
It could be that Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency because she was more the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru than the mother of Sanjay Gandhi. However, Jayaprakash Narayan and Morarji Desai had miscalculated badly when they relied on her being Nehru’s daughter. After JP’s speech at Ramlila Maidan in June 1975, when he had called on the army and police to not obey orders, Biju Patnaik had warned JP: “Now that you have pushed her into a corner, she will retaliate harshly.” But both JP and Desai replied saying: “No, Nehru’s daughter will never ever impose a police state.”
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 23, 2019, under the title ‘Emergency chronicles’. The writer is a New Delhi-based defence and security analyst.