Relevance of Internal Emergency in India’s Political History
Part One: All about Emergency of 1975
WHEN: Popularly known as the darkest draconian period in the political history of India, the Internal Emergency was proclaimed at midnight of 25th June 1975 by the then President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of the nation was blamed to have succeeded in convincing him in signing the proclamation by quoting threat to the country’s safety and security. It continued in India for 21 months with extensions over every six-month period until she decided to hold elections in 1977.
WHAT were the reasons/events leading to emergency?
Those were one of the worst times for the economy of India. The war with Pakistan had just concluded, oil crisis seemed to be never ending and drought was expected in most parts of the country anytime soon.
In 1974, the mess prices were increased in Gujarat government hostels by 30% which the students found too exorbitant and protested against it in the form of a mass movement. As a result the government was forced to take back the decision.
Students of Patna University too came out on streets and received violent treatment from police. Allahabad High Court gave a verdict in State of Uttar Pradesh vs Raj Narainwherein the court found Indira Gandhi guilty on charges of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign and declared her election null and void. And the court banned her from contesting any election for an additional term of six years.
Protests erupted on streets of Delhi. Jai Prakash Narayan, popularly known as JP, Nehru’s deputy in the Quit India Movement and ardent follower of Gandhian philosophy aroused citizens, police and the army against the corrupt practices of Indira Gandhi’s government. On 24 June he declared he would gherao the dictatorial Prime Minister on 29th June 1975. He went on to shout and demand through a very famous poem written by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, a famous Hindi poet “Sinhasan Khali Karo, Janata Aati Hai…..”(Vaccate the throne, for here come the masses)
This shocked Indira Gandhi immensely. She thought of resigning from the
post of PM but her son Sanjay Gandhi convinced her that if she resigned now, she would never get the power back. Instead he told her to fight it out and challenge the decision.
At the same time, she was reminded of her close aid Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s advice given 06 months prior. The then Chief Minister of West Bengal had suggested an innovative legal way out by proposing to impose internal emergency quoting internal disturbances harming National Security.
WHAT happened as a result of emergency?
All civil liberties were curtailed.
The first curtailment came in the form of electricity cut for all the newspapers in Mumbai and Delhi. All news was strictly censored. Certain newspapers found innovative ways to criticize the death of democracy.
The Delhi edition of the Indian Express carried a blank editorial on 26 June. The Financial Express reproduced Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem titled “Where the Mind is without Fear”. The Mumbai edition of The Times of India in its obituary column carried an entry that read:
“D.E.M O’Cracy beloved husband of T.Ruth, father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justice expired on 26 June.”
Most of the important leaders of Opposition were put under arrest including JP, Raj Narain, Morarji Desai, Choudhary Charan Singh, J Kriplani,
Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani, SN Sinha, George Fernandes and many others. Non-left Organisations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Jamaat-e-Islami were banned.
Sanjay Gandhi took complete control over his mother’s 20-point economic programme with his own 5- point programme. The most detrimental two
points of this programme were: the sterilization drive and the beautification of New Delhi through clearance of slums occupied by refugees and poor people in and around Turkman Gate neighbourhood.
Part Two: All about the movie Indu Sarkar
Significance of the Movie’s Title
While discussing her compatibility with her by then dead husband Indira Gandhi had told one of her biographers “If I had been a sweet little wife like anybody else he wouldn’t have wanted to prove himself somehow. Perhaps I too would have been content to live a very domestic life and not even turn to politics.”So when you see ever stammering orphan creative protagonist (Indu Sarkar) echoing the same mediocre aim one can sense the unrest she will encounter in her life. “Main sirf ek achhi biwi banana chahti hoon.” (The only thing that I want to do in my life is to be a good wife.) Says Indu Sarkar the protagonist of the movie.
Indu’s personal life gets drawn into the political backdrop as she tries to please her ambitious husband, who further wants to impress his boss, with her poems. The politically driven Indians can hardly miss the contrast the storyteller wants us to see with the other beti (lady) of India: Indira Gandhi. Mrs Indira Gandhi, who was fondly known as Indu by her father and close friends, was caught between her personal and political life. Her failing marriage with her not so liked in the Nehru household, husband Feroze Gandhi and her duties towards her Prime Minister Father’s household were well known to many well-wishers of the family.
Although politically more interesting to note will be the Bengal connection of the title with Mrs Gandhi’s life and its impact on emergency and future politics of Congress. Everybody blames Indira Gandhi for the emergency but very few know that she was forced to take the decision based on a long letter written by Mr. Siddharth Shankar Ray.
Mr. Ray enjoyed a personal relationship with Mrs Gandhi whom he called ‘Indu’. He was envied not only by other Congress leaders but also by her son Sanjay Gandhi. He spoke only to the PM. When somebody asked Sanjay how he could watch his mother destroy herself by announcing elections at the end of emergency when she knew she would lose, he said and I quote “I couldn’t help it. She was too much influenced by the communists.”
Although Congress tried to emerge as a secular party after the emergency by wooing the Muslim voters, it can’t be denied that many of its stalwart leaders were in favour of the rise of communism in Indian Politics. Mr. Ray, being a lawyer convinced Mrs Gandhi to opt for an internal Emergency while an external Emergency already existed. And probably Mrs Gandhi saw this as the best legal way to cut down all constitutional rights.
Similarities between Real Politicians and Characters
Indu Sarkar= Indira Gandhi?!! : The journey of an awkward tongue-tied lady stammering while reciting her own poem in front of a big crowd to the rebellious one who throws controversial pamphlets at a political meet can be seen as a strong parallel to that of young Indira from a student to the much adored Prime Minister of the country. Those who heard her as a student in London said “She squeaks, not speaks”. She was initially termed to be not so good with the masses by the Times correspondent. But she emerged as the one politician who knew how to pull crowds through her emotional rhetoric after the Emergency debacle too.
Chief=Sanjay Gandhi?!!!:Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of the Prime Minister was termed by late Khushwant Singh as the ‘man who got things done’. The smiling face with sparkling eyes, white pajama-kurta, with a shawl, his trademark Kolhapuri Chappals and love for rash car-driving; all add on to the facade of a central young national leader that was created in the minds of Indians.
Sanjay and his cronies were blamed by the older Congress party leaders as the main cause behind the wrongs of Emergency. He dealt with all the important Cabinet Ministers instead of his mother, snubbed them as and when he wished, named them buffoons and gave them orders as if he was the PM. What was surprising was their submissive stance about this dynastic stand of the PM of world’s greatest Democracy! The director and esp. Neil Nitin Mukesh (the actor playing Sanjay Gandhi in the movie) succeed to create the uncanny calmness of his character while taking extremely harsh and unprecedented decisions on the spur of the moment! The irony of the situation hits you the most when he tells another character” Chaploosi chodo aur desh seva me dhyan do.” (Stop pleasing me and focus on the nation’s development.)
The Cronies: Sanjay Gandhi’s cronies wooed him unabashedly, obeying his wishes blindly. They had the habit of calling on him at 8 a.m. at his residence. Carrying files and ideas/ inputs they were ready to take orders from the Chief. His cronies included the brash Punjabi Mafia, all sorts of men and women such as rough, no-holds-barred Jat leader Bansi Lal, equally brutal V.C.Shukla, magistrate Navin Chawla, vice chairman DDA Jagmohan, Kishen Chand, B.R. Tamta and DIG PS Bhinder. And last but mostimportant was the Muslim boutique owner Ruksana Sultana who motivated the people of the old Delhi, mostly poor and Muslims to take part in the sterilization programme.
Nanaji:A close aid of JP and Morarji Desai, Nanaji Deshmukh was one of the active members of the Janata Government who opposed Emergency peacefully. We find the character in the movie trying on similar lines to motivate and instill a sense of belongingness in Indu when her world is falling apart. He hides in distant areas and uses disguises (as Modi, Narayan swami and many other politicians used in reality) to evade the Police and Intelligence agencies. He clearly denies using violent measures when suggested by some of the young rebels.
Women Rebels: Snehlata Reddy was a reputed film actress in theatre and films and was very much interested in poetry and arts. Police picked up her teenage son. Snehlata was taken into custody and tortured severely so that she would disclose the names of her associates. But she refused to toe the line. Dr Girija Huilgol was another such rebel whose names were dropped from the final list of rebels fearing the kind of public sympathy they may generate being woman protesters.
Violent rebel: With his unruly shock of hair, dressed in his trademark kurta-pyjama and scuffed chappals, fondly known as ‘George the giant killer’ George Fernandeswas a fiery activist of the Janata Party. For the auto rickshaw and taxi drivers of Mumbai he was a hero and saviour. He changed disguises often as a Sikh, a sadhu or a fisherman. Soon after Emergency was declared he felt the most effective way to open the government’s eyes and ears to reality was through use of Dynamite. He arranged for training sessions and carried out the so-called Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy.
The Rich Businessman Sponsor: Sharad Patel and Bharat Patel, Businessmen Brothers whom George Fernandes had contacted to procure the dynamite required for the blasts had revealed their knowledge of the underground activities as a result of which George Fernandes could be caught by the police.
Depiction of Events in the movie.
“Future generations will not remember us by how many elections we had, but by the progress we have made.” – Sanjay Gandhi
Unlike many old Bollywood movies on the topic, Indu Sarkar doesn’t revolve around how Indira Gandhi went on to sacrifice her personal life to save the country from the hands of incompetent opposition party leaders.Also, it doesn’t limit itself to a personal attack on the shrewd mother-son’s activities; hence it doesn’t include anything about gossip tales related with Indira Gandhi’s whims and fancies/ blind love for her son and his creation of Maruti Car. Instead the storyteller spins a whole gamut of political events happening in and around the life of Aam Indians such as Indu Sarkar and her husband Naveen Sarkar serving in the central government.
All the important incidents which actually shaped the occurrence of political unrest amongst citizens are well portrayed. Let’s take a look at few important ones:
Press Censorship: Press Censorship was imposed through cutting off electricity supply to all important newspapers and printing presses. There were no newspapers for two days. Not even a wordwas allowed to go without the government’s nod.
Kuldeep Nayar, editor of the Express News Service was arrested. Still some organisations such as Anand Math, RSS carried out printing pamphlets discreetly for criticizing the government’s actions.
Singing and Dance Classes in Mumbai were shut down.
Inder Kumar Gujral snubbed for his inefficiency by Sanjay Gandhi in curbing the freedom rights of Press and asked to tender resignation. He was relieved of the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting (I & B Ministry). V.C. Shukla who left no occasion to show his admiration for the mother-son duo, gets an additional charge of the I& B ministry.
Nasbandi: The urgency and cruelty with which sterilization drives were carried out all over the country.
Kishore Kumar Banned: Songs of Kishore Kumar banned from All India Radio and Doordarshan as he refused to sing for the Congress Party’s meetings.
Turkman Gate Firing: Police opened fire at Turkman Gate, Old Delhi area as mob revolted against the police and other authorities in protest over the demolition drive and sterilization campaigns.
Outside Influences: Leaders like C.G.K Reddy addressed members of International Socialist Bureau and others overseas and read out a pamphlet titled Indira’s India: Anatomy of a Dictatorship. Translations were made available after the meeting and so well-circulated that it contributed significantly to neutralize Mrs Gandhi’s propaganda globally.
Jail Diaries: All the rebels, (including the Rajmatas and the others) irrespective of gender or status, were ill-treated. In spite of being political prisoners, they were denied their privileges and put in custody with the routine thugs, smugglers and thieves. They were tortured mentally and abused physically to such an extent that many succumbed to the injuries and agreed to change sides.
The scene when Indu is tortured by the Inspector is inspired by an incident that took place when George Fernandes was taken to Tihar Jail and he saw the photograph of Mrs Gandhi on the wall. He taunted his captors,” You are following the orders of this woman, but I tell you, tomorrow this woman will be in jail.”
Trials in the court: In the manner similar to what actually happened in the courts, the Protagonist goes on to nullify the façade of threat through personal struggles of common people like her in the name of them being Pain/ Hurdles for Democracy. In the end she says “Yes I plead guilty. If they prove to be democrats then I am a rebel working to save the humanity.” This again echoed what the Romantic Rebel George had claimed “The chains that we bear are symbols of the entire nation which has been chained and fettered. “Sir, I am proud, very proud indeed, that when Mrs Gandhi became the dictator, I and my comrades behaved like MEN”.
Dropping of cases: Seeing the mood of the public and the overseas media all the cases were either withdrawn/dropped/accused released on bail.
The Suicide: The catharsis in the movie reaches finale when Indu’s husband, a true confidant of one of the Minister, commits suicide after listening to her statement in the court. He is so ashamed of his support for the wrong cause that he can’t face his wife and life anymore.
On 10th February, President Fakruddin Ali Ahmed died of a heart attack. There were many rumours regarding the real reason behind the heart failure ranging from his displeasure about the whole Emergency decision to the rule the PM wanted him to pass related to barring all those who were detained under MISA from standing from elections.
Part Three: Relevance in today’s times
For Movie lovers:Truth has more fiction than reality. There have been many movies in the past and recent times based on political events in India. Sometimes, the storyteller gives prominence to the personal emotions of the decision makers and avoids taking a stance on any issue of national importance to avoid losses at Box Office (Examples: Andhi, Rajneeti, Haider). At other times, the story becomes a struggle of common man as an outcome of an event of political importance (Mere Apne, Dil Se, Bombay). But Indu Sarkar surprises you as a reasonable mix of both. In addition to showing the actual events happening while Emergency in India, it succeeds in getting a tear/two in your eyes with the personal loss of the protagonist.
For Political Science Students and Thinkers: A blast from the past is always required to let you know how fortunate/unfortunate you are in addition to make you aware of the roots of any person or organisation and their future. The movie reiterates some old maxims to me: 1. History repeats itself at some or the other time. 2. There are no permanent Ideologies in Politics, just as international relations; there are only permanent interests. 3. Multi Party systems and Democracy may not always be the best forms of governance dedicated to safeguard the interests of people. 4. The independence of Judiciary from the Executive and the freedom of press need to be respected and used judiciously to enhance the polity rather than suppressing the voice of the people. 5. Programmes related to public development such as family planning, eradication of poverty need assertive but radical ways of implementation.
For a country which had fought against the British rulers and declared to the world its tryst with destiny at the stroke of midnight, the Emergency was really the darkest hour as the same democratically elected government arrested its own people and curtailed constitutionally granted rights for their own vested interests.
The same Congress party which has become the most ineffective Opposition party in today’s Parliament was once again re-elected by the people of India on whom they had imposed so many atrocities during the Emergency.
The charges of Corruption levied could not be proved in totality by the Shah Commisssion ordered against the mother-son duo for the excesses done by their government during Emergency.
Just as the old guards of Congress party and the JanSangh came together to form a coalition Janata Government after Emergency, we see rivals from local parties like RJD and JDU joining hands to keep the National parties away from the region.
For today’s Indian who is so vocal on social media platform, the days of Emergency will seem to be a remote possibility in a Democracy. But let’s face it: all this did happen. For the political interests of a few individuals the interests of the whole nation were curtailed. People couldn’t talk, walk or behave freely at home, in communities or at offices too.
Part Four: In 2019 can there be a politician like Chief !?
A young man in hurry to prove himself to his mother and to the motherland, a young man with only the Doordarshan, All India Radio and the newspapers wanted to change the country, a young man who dared to take risks, a young man who thought planting trees, eradicating dowry, beautifying Delhi, cleaning lanes, promoting literacy and family planning were the aspects of nation building and nation cleaning. Doesn’t this young man look like any right- wing leader?
With the recent steps taken by the BJP government led by PM Modi such as Swachata Abhiyan, Demonitisation, Beti Bachao Andolan, GST and Make in India projects, it seems the economic reforms required for building a nation as a Superpower are the same. Then is there any difference between this not-so young man of the present and the very young man from the past? Both seem to be in a hurry to prove their leadership skills Both want their country to rule the world. Both believe in indigenous things. Both were responsible for a clean sweep of their parties in General Elections. Both have succeeded in limiting the Opposition to a meager number in the Parliament. May be the difference lies in the roots.
Some people are born great while some have greatness thrust upon them and another variety attains greatness through their environment.
Sqn Ldr Vidula Abhyankar (retd) A SSC Officer of Indian Air Force, having background of a linguist in English Language (ELT) has worked for last 17 years in the field of education, training and development of Air warriors and their families.