As the Eknath Shinde-BJP alliance government in Maharashtra recently announced the restoration of a pension scheme for political activists who were imprisoned during the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during 1975-77, the state Congress criticised the move, asking how could CM Shinde, the leader of the rebel Sena faction, clear the decision, which, the party claimed, was against the ideology of the Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, who had openly supported the Emergency.
The scheme was initially launched by the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government in 2018. It was scrapped in 2020 by the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government which included the Congress and the NCP as partners besides the Sena. In the new Shinde-led government, Fadnavis is the deputy CM even as the BJP is the senior alliance partner.
The Mumbai Congress unit’s spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “This pension scheme is purely for RSS. What is more unfortunate is that CM Shinde who says that he is taking forward the legacy of the Sena founder late Bal Thackeray was mum over the decision. It is well known that Thackeray supported the Emergency. When you say you are taking forward the legacy of Thackeray then how can you allow this? Isn’t it contradictory?”
In 1975, just before Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in the country, there was a meeting between Gandhi, her son Sanjay Gandhi and Thackeray. During the meeting, which discussed various issues, Thackeray extended his support to Gandhi for her proposed Emergency move. The Sena founder had then also said that “If it makes the country more disciplined, then Emergency is needed” and that he will extend his support for the same.
The Sena was then reportedly in the list of several political parties and organisations, including the Left and the RSS, which were going to be banned by the Gandhi-led dispensation following the imposition of the Emergency in the country, and Thackeray could also have been arrested. It was then alleged by many that during their meeting Thackeray had struck a deal with Gandhi and had got the Sena’s name removed from the list of parties that would be banned. Many even claimed that Thackeray had extended support to Gandhi’s draconian measure to avoid being arrested like many Opposition leaders and to prevent a government crackdown on his party and its publication “Marmik”.
Thackeray and the Sena had subsequently sought to explain that the former had backed the Emergency because there was then a need for “ensuring discipline” in the country and that it was “necessary” when the leaders of the Opposition parties that formed the Janata Party were making statements “inimical” to the country’s interests.
The Sena has since maintained that Thackeray’s move was in the “national interest”. “But that did not mean he (Thackeray) was then supporting the clampdown on the Opposition parties and the press,” said a Sena functionary. “He had said it several times while speaking to media and at his rallies that he had told Gandhi during their meeting that if the decision of imposing Emergency is in the national interest then he is supporting it but if it is for saving the government or to remain in power he is condemning it.”
The Sena leader also said that despite Thackeray’s backing for the Emergency, his printing press for the publication of Marmik was also sealed by the then dispensation. “So it was not like Thackeray had caved in under any pressure or action. Thackeray would do everything for the country and Maharashtra,” he claimed.
Sena MLA Deepak Kesarkar, who is now the spokesperson of the Shinde-led party faction, said, “Congress should not speak about Thackeray. He had supported the Emergency, not Congress or Indira Gandhi. In fact he has said that he will never go with the Congress.”
Kesarkar claimed that Thackeray’s support for the Emergency was “based on issues” and was “not specific to any party or personality”.
“During that time there was a need for discipline in the country as the Opposition leaders had made several objectionable statements which would have harmed the country’s unity and democracy. It was completely issue-based,” he said.