THIS ABOVE ALL
Looking back at the Emergency
has been declared a dirty word. On its 30th anniversary everyone is
waxing eloquent, condemning it as a blot on the face of Indian
democracy. Let me jog people’s memory about what led to its
imposition, how it came to be misused and its aftermath.
Recall the few months
preceding the Emergency. The country was slowly but surely sliding into
chaos. There were strikes, hartals, gheraos and bandhs on
the flimsiest of pretexts. Schools and colleges remained closed for
weeks on end; air and train services went haywire. The Opposition, led
by Jayaprakash Narayan (a man I admired), decided to cash in on the
increasing unrest to topple Mrs Indira Gandhi from power. The mess
Sanjay Gandhi had made of his Maruti project (despite Bansi Lal, the
Haryana Chief Minister, providing him land) made them easy targets. Then
Jayaprakash Narayan called for a bandh of state legislatures and
Parliament and exhorted the police and the Army to revolt.
Quite clearly this was
going well beyond the limits of protest permitted in a democracy. No one
should prevent an elected member of a legislative body from performing
his duties. I wrote to Jayaprakashji telling him that this was not done.
He replied at great length. I published his letter in full in the
journal I was then editing. Not a single Opposition leader raised his
voice against JP exceeding the legitimate limits of protest. They just
enjoyed Mrs Gandhi’s discomfiture.
The Allahabad High
Court judgment depriving her of the right to vote precipitated the
crisis. Despite her lawyer Nani Palkhiwala assuring her that he would
get the verdict over-ruled (he described it as no more than a minor
traffic offence), Mrs Gandhi’s close advisers, led by her son Sanjay
and Siddhartha Shankar Ray, advised her to strike the Opposition hard.
And so she did by ordering the arrest of all prominent opposition
leaders, banning political parties and muzzling the Press. It was danda
therapy which yielded results. Take my word for it that when it was
first imposed, the people sighed with relief as a semblance normality
came back. Schools and colleges started holding classes, shops opened,
trains began to run on time. Everyone knew that a call for a strike or
bandh would immediately land them in jail. Amongst the many who
justified its imposition was Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
There is reason to
believe that Mrs Gandhi herself was surprised that there was hardly any
resistance to the imposition of Emergency rule: a supine nation had
tamely surrendered its democratic rights. It was easy to settle personal
scores. Mrs Gandhi set a bad example. She had Maharani Gayatri Devi of
Jaipur and Vijaya Raje Scindia of Gwalior locked up for no ostensible
reason. Premila Lal and Srilatha Swaminadhan were picked up for doing
nothing more than organising farm workers around Mrs Gandhi’s
farmhouse. Romesh Thapar, editor of Seminar and a one-time
trusted adviser, stopped publishing his journal. Her sleuths did not
even spare his sister Romila: her house was searched and she was
interrogated for many hours.
She came down hard on The
Indian Express — its premises were sealed. Kuldip Nayar was jailed
and also his 80-year-old father-in-law Bhim Sain Sachar, former Punjab
Chief Minister, and retired Governor. Sanjay had his traducers locked
up. His wife Maneka and her mother Amtesh too settled their own scores
with people who got in their way. Rukhsana Sultana became a women’s
leader. Mohammed Yunus became a Pathan terror.
Cabinet ministers like
V.C. Shukla, Gokhaley and Bansi Lal became petty tyrants. Many civil
servants showed extra enthusiasm in carrying out orders of the
"royal" family: among them were Jagmohan, Navin Chawla and S.
Chand, Lt Governor of Delhi — who later committed suicide. The list of
names of those who misused Emergency powers is India-wide. They turned
Emergency into a dirty word. There is no truth whatsoever in the
statement that the RSS opposed the Emergency. As a matter of fact four
Bombay leaders of the RSS asked me to intervene and persuade Mrs Gandhi
to lift the ban on them. The only political party which kept up a
nominal satyagraha against the Emergency was the Akali Dal.
stories of how Sanjay’s cohorts went about picking up men from cinema
houses and bus queues to forcibly sterilise them were circulated. No one
has yet prepared a list of those who were in fact sterilised. But the
false propaganda yielded handsome dividends. The high-handedness
practised by some men and women in power explains Mrs Gandhi’s
downfall in the elections that followed. That also explains why a few of
years later the people of India voted her and Sanjay back into
Parliament and power.
A catastrophe of the
magnitude of the tsunami which struck early morning on the day after
Christmas last year will remain embedded in people’s minds for years
to come. An earthquake of 9.2 on the Richter scale shook the bottom of
the sea and devastated the coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand,
Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. It took a toll of nearly 300,000 lives.
While human beings remained unaware of what was coming, birds and
animals sensed it. Dogs, cats and monkeys fled to places for safety.
Elephants are reported to have trumpeted loudly warning humans to run
for their lives. Some went to the extent of grabbing them with their
trunks, hoisting them on their backs and taking them to safety. It was
inevitable that the tsunami would stir human imagination, particularly
of artists, poets and writers.
I have two books on the
subject. One by Satinder Bindra, who covered the event for CNN entitled Tsunami:
7 hours that shook the world (Harper Collins) and a collection of
poems Only the Sea Keeps: Poetry of the Tsunami, edited by
Judith R. Robinson. Joan E. Bauer and Sankar Roy (Rupa).
Bindra gives vivid
account of how the tsunami destroyed lives and habitations of thousands
of innocent people. He is perhaps the first to remind us of it. The
collection of poems is more subjective but of uneven quality. The one
which struck a chord in my mind is by Indran Amirthanayagam, a Tamil
(Sri Lankan or Indian, I could not make out), who writes both English
and Spanish and is now in the US Foreign Service. It is entitled Green
The typist asked the
professor: "But sir, this is the same paper you set last
Prof: "Yes, but I’ve
changed the answers."
(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla,