Gandhi Unseated . " That was the 'flash ' message which N.K.I. Seshan,
her private secretary, ripped off from the UNI teleprinter. A lightning
call from Allahabad too confirmed that Justice Jagmohan Lal Saxena, who
was hearing the election petition against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,
had held her guilty of 'misusing' of ficial machinery during the poll
campaign. He had debarred her from occupying an elected of fice for six
years but had stayed the order for three weeks, from June 12 to July 3,
1975, to enable her to go in appeal to the Supreme Court.
But the Emergency exposed the fallibility of the press, public servants and the judiciary.
The punishment, many in the PM's house felt, was like unseating her for a
traffic offence. Rajiv simply told his mother: "They have unseated
you." But all awaited the return of Sanjay from his Maruti factory
coming up in Gurgaon. He was already the power behind the throne.
Initially, Mrs Gandhi was inclined to step down till the SC exonerated
her. She even sounded out Kamalapati Tripathi, her trusted cabinet
minister, to be ready to step in temporarily if she were to do so.
Jagjivan Ram, who was the seniormost minister then, felt hurt. Yet, he
was clear in his mind on the course of action. "We
shall all support Tripathi but once she steps down, we shall move in,"
he told me.
Sanjay Gandhi knew his mother was not the one to give up easily, but at
the moment, she was on the ve rge of doing just that. And that step, he
figured, he must stop. He organised large public rallies not only to
convince her that the country needed her but also to keep her 'enemies'
at bay. So crude was the exhibition of support for Mrs Gandhi that some
Congress MPs took exception to the 'populist' demonstrations. Mrs Gandhi
reply was: "They are spontaneous. "
For the Opposition—the Congress old guard, the Jana Sangh, the Bharatiya
Lok Dal, the CPI(M), and the socialists—the Allahabad judgement was a
godsend. They had attacked Mrs Gandhi on many counts: corruption,
authoritarianism and her scant respect for democratic traditions. But
nothing seemed to work. The judgement did. A wave of horror spread
throughout the country. There was an outcry against her. Both the
public and the press wa nted her to step down till the court cleared
her. It was a clamour she could not let continue.
Her lawyer-confidant, the West Bengal CM Siddhartha Shankar Ray, advised
her to impose "internal emergency" when she said that there was an
"external emergency". While imposing the Emergency, Mrs Gandhi said in
defence that she had foiled "the plot to negate the very functioning of
democracy ". However, Justice J.C. Shah, who looked into the excesses of
the Emergency, pointed out in his report: "But there was no evidence
of any breakdown of law and order in any part of the country to justify
the imposition of the Emergency. "
During the Emergency, thousands were detained without trial. The press
was gagged and a series of totally unwarranted actions followed. Even
Mrs Gandhi 's friends in the West were horrified. A daughter of
Jawaharlal Nehru snuffing out liberty was too horrible a reality for the
liberals to face. It is a tragedy that public servants or politicians
were never punished for the excesses they committed. The damage which
the Emergency did to the system—and the institutions— can never be
repaired because those who perpetrated the wo rst crimes are not even
feeling sorry. Some of them, in fact, are at the helm of affairs.
It is a hypothetical supposition. But what would have happened had
Indira Gandhi not imposed the Emergency? The demands for her resignation
following the Allahabad HC judgement would have become louder. The
press would have become critical. But all that would have come to a stop
a few weeks later when the Supreme Court gave her the "stay" and
all owed her to continue as prime minister, but denying her the right to
exercise her vote till the disposal of the case. The jurist Nani
Palkhivala, who returned the brief after the imposition of Emergency,
would have fought her case and probably got the HC judgement annulled.
Justice Shah has said in his report: "There is no reason to think that
if the democratic conventions were followed, the whole political upsurge
would in the normal course have not subsided." But in her anxiety to
continue in power, Mrs Gandhi brought about instead a situation which
directly contributed to her continuance in power and also generated
forces which sacrificed the interests of many to serve the ambitions of a
Nonetheless, had the Emergency not been imposed, the fallibility of the
press, public servants and the judiciary would not have been proved.
Newspapermen, in the words of L.K.
Advani, began to crawl when they were asked to bend. The anxiety to
survive at any cost became the key concern of public servants. Most of
the judiciary was so afraid that it
would reject habeas corpus petitions against detention without trial.
The high priests at the SC, with the exception of Justice H.R. Khanna,
upheld the Emergency and the suspension
of fundamental rights.
The imposition of the Emergency exposed the timidity of Indian society
once again. Its moral hypocrisy was reinforced. There was no awareness
of what was wrong, nor was there a desire to act according to what was
right. The dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral,
ceased to exist. And the nation is still paying for it.
Did the Emergency help the JP movement? Yes, in the sense that Mrs
Gandhi's authoritarian rule wiped out the Congress, as was proved in the
polls in 1977. But Jayaprakash Narayan's stir was independent of her
functioning. His was a fight for a revival of values. At his first
meeting in 1973 at Patna, two years before the Emergency, he gave a call
to the youth to fig ht against all that was dishonest in societ y. He
moved to Gujarat in 1974 to initiate the Nav Nirman agitation, and won
at the assembly polls.
Eventually, he would have taken up state after state and demolished the
vested interests, whether they were in Indira Gandhi's camp or that of
The JP movement did not provoke Indira Gandhi to impose the Emergency.
Nor was the Emergency meant to suppress the JP's growing popularity.
Both were independent developments. What was common between the two was
their failure. Both exposed the deficiencies of our society. People did
not have the courage to respond to the call to fight the fear which Mrs
Gandhi had created. Nor did they stand up when JP gave the call for
'parivartan' (change). People quickly defeated her when elections were
That was their catharsis.
Former envoy to the UK, Kuldip Nayar is the author of 11 books, including 'Between
the Lines' and 'India after Nehru'.
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