How the events of 12 June 1975 launched a political revolution
It was a horrendous day for prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Before sunrise on 12 June 1975, she was woken up only to be told that her close advisor Durga Prasad Dhar had passed away from a heart attack. She had summoned him a few days earlier from Moscow where he was ambassador for urgent consultations. She rushed to the hospital and spent several hours trying to get through on the telephone to Dhar’s wife in Moscow to break the news to her.
Hours later at 10 am, Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court ruled against her in the election petition which Raj Narain had filed against her, setting aside her election to parliament on the grounds that she had availed herself of the services of a government official.
Soon afterwards the election results for the Gujarat Assembly started coming in. Notwithstanding the vigorous campaigning by the prime minister, her Congress party could obtain only 75 seats in the 182-member legislature, sharply down from 140. The Janata Morcha coalition, inspired by Morarji Desai, won 86 seats and formed the government.
Most lawyers and politicians across parties thought that the election petition which Raj Narain had filed after his defeat in 1971 was baseless and done out of malice. Atal Behari Vajpayee urged Raj Narain to withdraw it, but Chandra Bhanu Gupta of the Congress (O), who had been chief minister of Uttar Pradesh several times, instigated the maverick socialist.
On 7 June 1975, an additional secretary dealing with legal matters, PP Nair, had telephoned the chief justice of Allahabad high court, DS Mathur ICS, and told him that the verdict should be delayed so that it would not influence the electorate in the state elections in Gujarat, which were to be held the following day, 8 June.
Nair suggested to Mathur that the verdict could be delivered as soon as the summer vacations were over, in July.
Although Nair did not suggest that Justice Sinha deliver a favourable verdict, Chief Justice DS Mathur was unhappy that political considerations were influencing the judicial calendar.
Nair also told Mathur that Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha was being considered for being appointed as the chief justice of Himachal Pradesh, and asked for his confidential report.
Although Nair did not ask for a judgement in favour of the prime minister, Mathur was perturbed at the implications of a possible promotion of Justice Sinha in the same time period as the latter’s verdict in a politically sensitive case.
Chief Justice Mathur’s image has been wrongly and unfairly tarnished because rumours circulated that it was he who made the offer to Justice Sinha of being appointed as the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh in exchange for a favourable verdict.
The truth is that a perturbed Mathur decided to seek the advice of his close relative, Dr Krishna Prasad Mathur, who was the personal physician of Indira Gandhi and one of her closest confidantes, and who was also our next door neighbour and close family friend.
The two decided that Chief Justice Mathur should repeat to Justice Sinha exactly what Nair had said to him, word for word, and leave it up to Sinha as to what he should do.
Contrary to the rumours in legal circles, Chief Justice Mathur did not offer any blandishments to justice Sinha of his own accord, merely stating: “I expect you know what you have to do”, after recounting his conversation with Nair.
Justice Sinha immediately instructed the registrar of the Allahabad high court to notify that he would pronounce the verdict on the very next working day, i.e. on 12 June.
He then went into hiding in a secret location together with his trusted stenographer, and dictated his 258-page verdict.
YASH PAL KAPOOR,, Indira Gandhi’s personal assistant, had submitted his resignation to Parameshwar Narayan Haksar, principal secretary to the prime minister, in order to work on her election campaign. From the very minute he submitted his resignation letter, Kapoor did not attend office; nor did he draw his government salary.
But it took several days for Haksar, who was working feverishly round the clock, handling the volatile situation in East Pakistan, and travelling frequently, to get the time to sign his acceptance of Kapoor’s letter of resignation.
After desultory hearings before numerous judges for over three years, Indira Gandhi was summoned for cross examination in the court of Justice Sinha. According to sources present in the court, her performance on the first day was confident.
Raj Narain’s lawyer Shanti Bhushan, who was also treasurer of the Congress (O) party, reassured his client that he was lulling Indira Gandhi into a false sense of security, and that he would spring the trap on her the next morning.
Next day, he successfully lured her into acknowledging that she did not understand the documents which she had signed declaring her candidature: “…it was in legal language…” she hesitatingly admitted.
According to Bishan Narain Tandon, joint secretary in charge of political affairs in the prime minister’s secretariat, her team began to consider the implications of the verdict going against her.
Her advisor on legal and constitutional issues, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then the chief minister of West Bengal, and law minister HR Gokhale proposed that Shanti Bhushan could be enticed away from the litigation by offering him the position of a supreme court judge.
But PN Haksar thundered that this would be most improper. Haksar firmly rejected suggestions that he should prevaricate about the date on which he had appended his signature on Kapoor’s letter of resignation.
Shanti Bhushan was also the standing counsel of the State Bank of India and several other public sector enterprises. Pressure was put on these organisations to drop him. But PN Haksar and finance minister Chidambaram Subramaniam and industries minister TA Pai asserted that Shanti Bhushan had been appointed by these government organisations on merit.
Justice Sinha’s announcement that he would deliver his verdict on the next working day caught the lawyers for both parties by surprise. Indira Gandhi’s lawyer, SC Khare, was vacationing at a hill station, and Shanti Bhushan was in Mumbai on another client’s work.
Indira Gandhi probably realised that the verdict would go against her. On 10 June 1975 itself, she told Siddhartha Shankar Ray to immediately rush to Delhi to draft an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Her private secretary RK Dhawan too confirmed later that SS Ray and HR Gokhale had met together the day before Justice Sinha pronounced his verdict, to draft an appeal to the Supreme Court.
My father, HY Sharada Prasad, who was information advisor to the prime minister, had instructed the correspondents of the Press Trust of India and the United News of India to telephone him as soon as Justice Sinha had delivered his verdict.
Her principal secretary Professor Prithvi Nath Dhar and my father went across to Indira Gandhi to inform her that she had been disqualified as a member of parliament.
She heard the news in absolute calm, without showing any emotion at all, and turning to SS Ray, remarked: “You probably knew this already, didn’t you?”
Justice Sinha himself granted a stay of twenty days on his own verdict to enable her to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Always in supreme control of herself, Indira Gandhi dictated her letter of resignation as prime minister to RK Dhawan.
But even as Dhawan went off to type it out, Jagjivan Ram lobbied hard to be declared as the next prime minister.
Indira Gandhi had been suspicious of Jagjivan Ram’s ambitions right from 1961, when he had asked her for her support in his power struggle with Morarji Desai to succeed her father.
Her suspicions were exacerbated by Jaya Prakash Narayan’s lavish praise of Jagjivan Ram as an able administrator.
Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan too lobbied to be made prime minister. Indira Gandhi was wary of YB Chavan, because, as home minister, he had tapped her telephones. Moreover, Lal Bahadur Shastri had spoken of YB Chavan as his successor.
She knew very well that if either Jagjivan Ram or YB Chavan succeeded her, she would never be able to regain the prime ministership.
As soon as Sanjay Gandhi returned at lunchtime from his Maruti factory, he firmly quashed all talk of his mother’s resignation.
According to PN Dhar and my father, if Jagjivan Ram and YB Chavan had shown restraint, and permitted Congress party president Dev Kant Barooah to become an interim figurehead prime minister until the Supreme Court had decided on her appeal, she would not have imposed the Emergency.
PN Dhar wrote in his book ‘Indira Gandhi, The Emergency and Indian Democracy’, Oxford 2000):
“…Had the opposition leaders, particularly JP, left the onus of the decision entirely to her, it is not improbable that she would have resigned. But they were keen to exploit the situation, exercise their newly gained strength, and demonstrate that they had forced her to resign. Even before she could file her appeal, to which she was entitled, a delegation of opposition leaders from the Congress (O), JS, BLD, SP and Akali Dal called on the president and presented a memorandum to him saying that ‘a grave constitutional crisis had arisen as a result of Mrs Gandhi continuing to occupy the office of the prime minister despite a clear and categorical judicial verdict’. They pressed for her resignation. In their public utterances she was mercilessly demonised…”
Contrary to the widely held view that Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency on 25-26 June 1975 to save her prime ministership after the Allahabad High Court verdict, both PN Dhar and my father were of the considered opinion that the Emergency was the culmination of an improbable series of political miscalculations made by Jaya Prakash Narayan, Indira Gandhi, and Morarji Desai.
This string of misjudgements was exacerbated by their strong mutual suspicions and their massive egos which prevented them from ratifying rapprochements which had been painstakingly worked out by their aides. Former president Pranab Mukherjee too stated that the Emergency could have been avoided.
FROM EARLY 1973, most senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat were unhappy with the dubious activities of Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie, as well as with widespread political corruption and misgovernance.
PN Haksar, Gopalaswami Parthasarathi, NK Seshan, and my father had been brought into government personally by Jawaharlal Nehru and they were aghast at how his own grandson and his daughter were subverting his ideals.
PN Dhar and my father had been extremely close friends since 1957, when neither of them had the slightest inkling that a decade later, they would be the most senior officials in Indira Gandhi’s government. G. Parthasarathi and my father were editors, and PN Dhar was a professor at Delhi School of Economics.
Both PN Dhar and my father submitted their resignations to Indira Gandhi, but she refused to accept them, saying “the nation needs your services”.
PN Dhar, NK Seshan, and my father sought the advice of PN Haksar and Gopalaswami Parthasarathi.
Voicing their dilemma, G Parthasarathi, who had been a cricketer in England, quoted the question which his friend Hedley Verity had asked during the Bodyline Ashes series: “Should loyalty to the captain prevail over qualms of conscience?”
But PN Haksar was firm that they should not to resign under any circumstances. He emphasised: “We must all stay within the system and fight further deterioration. If we are not there, there will be no one left to counter the influence of the people at her residence.” Haksar meant Sanjay Gandhi, RK Dhawan, and Mohammed Yunus, and their cronies Bansi Lal and Om Mehta.
Haksar added: “We will all feel morally superior and assuage our consciences if we resign, but outside the system we will count for nothing, and there will be no one left to stem the rot.”
PN Dhar remarked: “I hope we will not turn out to be like Albert Speer.”
Since NK Seshan was the only one of them who functioned out of Indira Gandhi’s residential office at 1 Safdarjung Road, rather than from South Block, Haksar gave him instructions to stymie Sanjay Gandhi’s nefarious plans from within.
NK Seshan had been the highly trusted personal secretary of Jawaharlal Nehru from 1944 onwards, and Nehru fondly referred to Seshan as the son he never had. Sanjay Gandhi greatly harassed the man who had dangled him on his knee. But Haksar exhorted NK Seshan to stay firm, no matter how strong the provocation.
PN DHAR AND my father analysed that the Emergency was the unfortunate culmination of three confrontations waged against Indira Gandhi:
– First, the Nav Nirman Andolan led by Morarji Desai in Gujarat from December 1973 onwards.
– Second, the railway strike led by George Fernandes in May 1974.
– Third, the Sampoorna Kranti Aandolan led by Jaya Prakash Narayan and Nanaji Deshmukh from March 1974 onwards.
Each of these could have been resolved, but suspicions about motives and massive egos of JP, Morarji Desai, and Indira Gandhi resulted in a series of political miscalculations and missed chances.
THE NAV NIRMAN ANDOLAN in Gujarat started off as a student protest in December 1973 against high hostel fees and bad food in college canteens. The agitation spread within days as housewives joined to protest against high food prices and shortages of numerous commodities.
By the end of January 1974, numerous protesters had been killed and several hundred injured in clashes with the police and army.
Even though her Congress party had 140 seats in the 167 member Gujarat assembly, Indira Gandhi asked the chief minister, Chimanbhai Patel, who was widely perceived to be corrupt, to resign, which he did on 9 February 1974. The Gujarat assembly was suspended and president’s rule imposed.
Since 1972, Subramanian Swamy had been trying to persuade Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan, who had retired from party politics in 1954 to devote himself to social work, to re-enter active politics to lead the opposition to Indira Gandhi.
Even as late as mid-1971, JP had been the personal envoy of Indira Gandhi to numerous world leaders to brief them about the atrocities unleashed by the West Pakistani army in East Pakistan, and to garner international support for India in the war which was sure to follow.
Ever since they had met at Harvard / MIT in 1968, the young Swamy exercised a mesmerising hypnotic hold on the legendary hero of the freedom struggle.
As soon as Chimanbhai Patel resigned, JP visited Gujarat on 11 February 1974, and spent several days interacting with the students. JP wrote in August 1974: “I wasted two years trying to bring about a politics of consensus. It came to nothing. Then I saw students in Gujarat bring about political changes with the backing of the people, and I knew this was the way out.”
Even though the assembly had been suspended, the students, instigated by JP and Morarji Desai, demanded the resignation of individual members from the assembly. They managed to force 95 MLAs of various parties to resign.
On 12 March 1974, the 78-year-old Morarji Desai went on a fast unto death, demanding the dissolution of the state assembly, and the holding of fresh elections.
According to officials in the prime minister’s secretariat, Sanjay Gandhi told his mother that Morarji should be left to die since he was not a mass leader, and she replied to Sanjay that he lacked political maturity.
The senior officials of the prime minister’s secretariat, including my father, were of the opinion that Indira Gandhi had no option but to give in to Morarji Desai.
As he was hours away from death, Indira Gandhi dissolved the state assembly on 16 March 1974, but did not announce the dates of fresh elections.
One single elderly politician had pulled down a powerful chief minister who commanded 140 out of 167 seats. PN Dhar stated: “Congratulations poured in for the success of the students’ efforts from many quarters. But nobody shed a tear for the demise of the rule of law and constitutional means of changing governments.”
IN MAY 1974, George Fernandes, then president of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, led a strike of 1.7 million railway workers, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Their salaries and allowances had remained frozen for several years, while inflation was high. Many railway workers had been injured in hazardous working conditions.
But their strike brought the nation to the verge of collapse. Power plants and steel factories were down to just two days supply of coal.
Jaya Prakash Narayan, who had been president of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, tried to mediate. JP wrote to Fernandes: “…You are aware of the harm which the present strike is causing the nation…I therefore suggest a compromise…”
Indira Gandhi initially took a conciliatory approach, writing to JP with a copy to George Fernandes: “…I admit there are several anomalies in our wage structures…and distortions and shortcomings in our economic system…”
However, the railway minister and Congress veteran, Lalit Narayan Mishra, was firmly against any concessions to the striking railway workers. He wanted to bring in the police to break the strike, and if necessary, even the army.
In the end, Indira Gandhi sided with Mishra, who exercised a mysterious powerful hold over her. She brutally suppressed the railway strike, jailing lakhs of railway workers and evicting their families from their homes. George Fernandes was forced to call off the strike after twenty days.
President VV Giri, usually a firm supporter of Indira Gandhi, remonstrated with her for throwing the families of railway workers on to the streets; Giri had been a labour leader.
Indira Gandhi had a strong idee fixe that Fernandes would have her assassinated during one of her train journeys. After LN Mishra was killed in a bomb explosion at a train station on 2 January 1975, she kept remarking to her officials that she was next.
SEEING THE SUCCESS of students in Gujarat, students in Bihar began an agitation in March 1974 against corruption of the Congress government led by chief minister Abdul Ghafoor.
But whereas the Gujarat agitation began as a non-partisan protest over high food prices, the Bihar agitation was from the outset led by the student wings of major political parties – Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and Samajwadi Yuvajan Sabha (SYS) of the Samajwadi Party.
The Bihar Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti (BCSS) was formed in March 1974, led by Lalloo Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi, and Ram Vilas Paswan. JP agreed to be associated with the BCSS.
There were numerous strikes, paralysing the entire state of Bihar. Dozens of students were killed in violent clashes with the police. However, the students could not succeed in toppling the government of Abdul Ghafoor, with Indira Gandhi standing firm, determined not to repeat her capitulation in Gujarat.
BOTH PN DHAR and my father had known JP extremely well, fifteen years before they had any inkling that they would be the most senior officials in Indira Gandhi’s administration. They tried hard to bridge the growing rift between Indira Gandhi and her father’s closest friend.
Jawaharlal Nehru had wanted JP to succeed him as prime minister. After his massive victory in the 1952 Lok Sabha elections, Nehru invited JP to join his government as his deputy prime minister, ‘to be his conscience keeper, and to counsel him frankly whenever he thought Nehru was about to go wrong’.
But JP rebuffed all of Nehru’s entreaties to be groomed as his successor. JP had this image of himself as being a saint and as a successor to Mahatma Gandhi, far above the lure of office.
Nehru interpreted this as JP’s not wanting to take on the onerous burdens of governance and administration, and he felt let down that the man he wanted to groom as his successor was not willing to accept responsibility.
JP’s wife Prabhavati Devi and Indira Gandhi’s mother Kamala Nehru were very close friends. JP’s wife had nursed Motilal Nehru during his dying days in 1930-31. The astute Motilal Nehru had appointed JP as the executor of his estate and the custodian of the Nehru family records.
The intellectual JP took an extraordinary interest in new ideas in economics and sociology which could be used for national development, spurred by his post graduate degrees in sociology and political science from the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he was a protégé of the eminent sociologist Edward Alsworth Ross.
JP had been one of the key proponents of Nehru’s beloved Planning Commission. On his own initiative, JP reached out to promising young economists and social thinkers, and took them under his wing. He travelled to Europe to meet Ernst Friedrich Schumacher and appointed him to the Planning Commission.
My father HY Sharada Prasad had become editor of Yojana, the journal of the Planning Commission, in 1959 at the age of 35 soon after his return from Harvard. JP frequently provided insightful feedback to my father on his articles. In addition, JP would give suggestions to my father about economic and social developments to be covered in Yojana.
Soon after he had left the Congress party in 1948 because he thought that Nehru was not socialist enough, JP came across an article written by PN Dhar on rural and small-scale industries in an international academic journal. The young academic was very pleasantly surprised when the hero of the 1942 Quit India Movement suddenly turned up at his house to discuss his research paper. JP then took Dhar under his wing, mentoring his research in economics and sociology.
Since 1947, JP had been a vociferous proponent of the nationalisation of banks, insurance companies, and mining. JP told Indira Gandhi to take PN Dhar’s advice on devaluation in 1966, and on the nationalisation of banks in 1969. An impressed Indira Gandhi invited PN Dhar, who was then head of the Institute of Economic Growth, to join her secretariat as deputy to PN Haksar.
My maternal uncle, KS Radhakrishna, head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, had been the closest advisor of JP since the early 1950s. Radhakrishna had been brought up in Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram at Wardha, working with Acharya Vinobha Bhave and JP in the Sarvodaya Movement. JP and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan would stay with Radhakrishna during their visits to Delhi.
INDIRA GANDHI told PN Dhar and my father to initiate talks with JP to find a rapprochement. JP appointed my maternal uncle as his chief negotiator.
Radhakrishna was assisted by Sugata Das Gupta, head of JP’s Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi, and on occasion by retired justice VM Tarkunde and JP’s co-founder of the Congress Socialist Party, Achyut Patwardhan.
All members of both sides had known each other extremely well for decades. JP had founded the Gandhian Institute of Studies in Varanasi, and he had nominated PN Dhar to its council. Dhar and Sugata Das Gupta had worked together on several research projects.
Sanjay Gandhi and his cabal tried hard to sabotage these negotiations.
To avoid Sanjay Gandhi’s ubiquitous informers, my father and my maternal uncle would pre-arrange to ‘accidentally bump into each other while buying vegetables behind Khan Market’ or ‘meet by chance during early morning walks in Lodhi Gardens’, where they would speak to each other quietly in Telugu under an isolated clump of trees.
But every time the negotiators thought that they had reached an agreement, JP would shift the goalposts. KS Radhakrishna and Sugata Das Gupta were never clear as to what JP expected of them, let alone what he wanted from Indira Gandhi.
Indira Gandhi thought that JP had been a very confused man for decades, vacillating in his political ideologies and convictions, and she dubbed him “Theoretician of Chaos”.
While providing the negotiating parameters to PN Dhar and my father, she mentioned that Nehru had really taken to heart JP’s refusal to share his burdens of office.
She ‘blamed JP for letting down her father when he needed him the most’, holding JP’s rejection responsible for the decline in Nehru’s health.
She added that JP’s destructive behaviour was because he was sexually frustrated. Mahatma Gandhi had very unfairly imposed a vow of celibacy on JP and his wife immediately after their marriage, which they scrupulously adhered to.
Under instructions from Indira Gandhi, PN Dhar and my father agreed to all of JP’s demands, except the dissolution of the Bihar assembly. They entreated JP to sort out his differences with her at the polls, since elections had to be held before March 1976.
But not only did JP continue to insist that he would physically prevent legislators from entering the assembly building and government officials from attending their offices, he added further demands of electoral reforms.
PN Dhar and my father reminded JP that the founding fathers of our parliamentary democracy had recognised the dangers of continuing with methods of Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience in an independent India, emphasising BR Ambedkar’s ‘Grammar of Anarchy’ speech in the Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1949: “The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us…”
JUST AS PN Dhar and my father were on the verge of convincing JP’s team to settle his differences with Indira Gandhi at the polls rather than by paralysing the administration by strikes and gherao, Saeed Naqvi wrote a report in the Statesman newspaper giving details of these sensitive secret negotiations.
Naqvi has to this day not revealed how he obtained copies of my father’s handwritten reports to Indira Gandhi. My surmise is that Sanjay Gandhi or someone close to him provided these to Naqvi, since they were trying to sabotage any reconciliation between JP and her.
While it was a scoop by Saeed Naqvi, its consequences were that the negotiations that PN Dhar and my father were conducting with KS Radhakrishna and Sugata Das Gupta had to be terminated immediately.
DELIBERATELY KEEPING Sanjay in the dark, Indira Gandhi then enlisted Baron Archibald Fenner Brockway to mediate on her behalf with JP, with the mandate to agree to all of JP’s demands except the dissolution of the Bihar assembly. The 86-year-old Kolkata-born Lord Fenner Brockway had been a very close friend of both Nehru and JP.
But JP escalated his demands, now insisting that he would settle for nothing less than the immediate resignation of Indira Gandhi.
Brockway surmised that it was an interpersonal clash of egos rather than any substantial policy differences between the two. Brockway told JP that he would get Indira Gandhi to apologise to him if she had hurt him in any manner, and that the ball was now in JPs court.
JP summoned Chandra Shekhar, whom he considered his ideological heir, to discuss Brockway’s offer. Chandra Shekhar, then a Congress MP and leader of the Young Turks faction in her party, informed Indira Gandhi that he was going to meet his mentor JP.
She told Chandra Shekhar to report back to her on “what JP really wants”.
Chandra Shekhar advised JP to immediately accept Brockway’s proposal. But JP went off on a long rant about Indira Gandhi being under the influence of Moscow and tying up with the Communist Party of India (CPI) which had collaborated with the British in 1942, and which had badly betrayed him when he was waging a guerrilla campaign out of Nepal.
Both Brockway and Chandra Shekhar got the impression that JP was confused about his political objectives. The historian Bipan Chandra termed JP “hazy, naive, and unrealistic” in his negotiations with Indira Gandhi.
Bipan Chandra recounted what Achyut Patwardhan told him in 1984: “JP’s indecisiveness was responsible for the failure of all attempts to mediate between them, and just when an agreement had been arrived at, JP vacillated and did not put the final seal of endorsement on it.”
Brockway’s conjecture that it was an interpersonal clash of egos rather than any substantial differences on policies turned out to be correct. JPs close friend and Congress MP Ganga Sharan Sinha recounted JPs thundering to him: “What does Indira think of herself? Does she think she can ignore me? I have seen her as a child in frocks.”
Years after the Emergency, KS Radhakrishna told my father and PN Dhar that since JP viewed himself as the next Mahatma Gandhi, he expected that Indira Gandhi would constantly run to him for advice and guidance, and he was miffed when she refused to treat him as a father figure.
My father replied that it was unrealistic to expect her to treat someone who was only fifteen years older than her as a father figure; JP was born in 1902 and she in 1917.
EVEN WHILE Brockway was waiting for JPs response, JP, on the advice of Ram Nath Goenka and keeping his own negotiating team in the dark, asked Subramanian Swamy to ascertain from Nanaji Deshmukh if the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was willing to provide him the cadre strength which he needed for his protracted battle against Indira Gandhi.
In 1953, Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS had spent a few months on deputation to Acharya Vinobha Bhave’s Sarvodaya movement. JP, Nanaji, and KS Radhakrishna had worked closely together on the same team.
Swamy was another of the brilliant young economists whom JP had reached out to, on his own initiative. In 1968, JP was lecturing at Harvard and MIT, and he requested for a meeting with Swamy. Swamy soon began to exercise a mesmerising hypnotic hold on JP.
In 1972, JP was recuperating from a severe heart attack at Radhakrishna’s ashram near Bengaluru. Radhakrishna invited several of JP’s friends to keep him company. There Swamy brainwashed an ailing JP that it was his duty to re-enter active politics to lead the opposition to Indira Gandhi. Just the previous year, JP had been Indira Gandhi’s personal envoy to several world leaders to brief them that war with Pakistan was inevitable.
At JP’s request, Swamy, then a Bharatiya Jana Sangh Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, convened a meeting at the Allahabad residence of Murali Manohar Joshi, to which he invited Nanaji Deshmukh, KN Govindacharya, and Kailashpati Mishra.
It was decided that the Bihar student leaders – Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, etc – would cede the leadership of their agitation to JP and Nanaji Deshmukh.
JP’s OWN TEAM of KS Radhakrishna, Sugata Das Gupta, Achyut Patwardhan, and Justice VM Tarkunde, as well as his political heir Chandra Shekhar, were aghast at his abruptly tying up with the RSS. From the 1930s, JP had been second only to Nehru in vociferously condemning Hindutva and the RSS.
PN Dhar and my father reminded JP of his past statements about the RSS:
“…Although almost every religious community has its own brand of communalism, Hindu communalism is more pernicious than the others, because Hindu communalism can easily masquerade as Indian nationalism and denounce all opposition to it as being anti-national…”
“….Some like the RSS might do it openly by identifying the Indian nation with Hindu Rashtra, others might do it more subtly….But in every case, such identification is pregnant with national disintegration, because members of other communities can never accept the position of second-class citizens. Such a situation, therefore, has in it the seeds of perpetual conflict and ultimate disruption…”
“…. Those who attempt to equate India with Hindus and Indian history with Hindu history are only detracting from the greatness of India and the glory of Indian history and civilisation. Such persons, paradoxical though this may seem, are in reality the enemies of Hinduism itself and the Hindus. Not only do they degrade the noble religion and destroy its catholicity and spirit of tolerance and harmony, but they also weaken and sunder the fabric of the nation, of which Hindus form such a vast majority…..”
JP explained to his team that he required a cadre-based organisation to take on Indira Gandhi, and the only two cadre based organisations were the Communists and the RSS.
JP elaborated that he had never forgiven the CPI for having collaborated with the British during the freedom struggle; the CPI had badly betrayed him when he was waging a guerrilla campaign out of Nepal.
Indira Gandhi, who had inherited her father’s deep suspicion of the RSS, was furious that JP was abandoning the principles of a lifetime to ally with his bitter enemy. Nehru, with his personal knowledge of European Nazism and Fascism, had warned chief ministers in 1947 itself against allowing their state governments to be infiltrated from within by the RSS.
My father reproached JP in anguish: “If Prabhavati Devi Ji were alive, she would never have permitted you to tie up with the RSS, let alone drift so far apart from your closest friend’s daughter”. JP’s wife, who had grown up in Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram and was the closest friend of Indira Gandhi’s mother, possessed sound political judgement.
ANOTHER CHAIN of political misunderstandings and blunders took place during the second half of October 1974, when JP was staying with my maternal uncle KS Radhakrishna at his Rouse Avenue residence.
Indira Gandhi, who still retained affection for JP as her father’s closest friend although she seriously doubted his discernment and judgement, cautioned JP that he “…was allowing himself to be exploited and that he should re-evaluate the dubious company which he was now keeping…”.
But her private note to him was read by his new found friends from the RSS.
They reacted vociferously, and convinced JP that this was proof that she wanted to sow dissensions in his anti-corruption crusade, which was rapidly gathering support from a wide assortment of parties, from the Right to the Left.
Indira Gandhi again informed JP in a private note that he “…should carefully examine the ultimate origins of the funds of his Andolan…”.
She had obtained concrete proof that foreign intelligence agencies were funnelling funds to JP’s movement through a series of front organisations located in numerous countries; Ram Nath Goenka was the principal conduit in India.
JP again made the blunder of showing this private note to his new circle of RSS members. Misled by them, JP misinterpreted her cautionary advice as a personal attack on his integrity, and he harshly criticised her.
JP blundered again when he praised Jagjivan Ram’s administrative acumen. Indira Gandhi harshly retaliated that those who accused her government of corruption should first take a long hard look at themselves.
Then Raja Dinesh Singh visited JP. I do not know what happened during their meeting, but a rattled Radhakrishna came to our house in the middle of the night and asked my father to clarify whether Dinesh Singh had really been sent by Indira Gandhi to convey a message personally authorised by her, or whether he was acting at the behest of Sanjay Gandhi, or whether he was acting on his own accord.
A few days after Dinesh Singh’s visit, JP, who had by now begun to realise that he would not be able to extricate himself from the clutches of the RSS, in desperation asked Giani Zail Singh and Sheikh Abdullah to intercede on his behalf with Indira Gandhi.
But both she and PN Dhar were well aware that Zail Singh and Sheikh Abdullah would use this opportunity to further their own political agendas, which would have serious repercussions in Punjab and Kashmir.
This marked the point of No Return.
JP wrote to Indira Gandhi that he “would try to persuade the RSS to abjure communalism”, but she decided not to reply.
PN Dhar wrote in his book ‘Indira Gandhi, The Emergency and Indian Democracy’, Oxford 2000):
“…Indira Gandhi’s problems were much more complex than JP’s, for whom what was happening in the country was like a medieval morality play in which all the angels were on his side. He had no dilemmas and his mind was full of certitudes. He was more attuned to the rhetoric of revolution than to the complexities of administering a difficult country….”
ON 4 NOVEMENR 1974, JP and Nanaji Deshmukh led a massive rally in Patna. The police beat up JP with lathis, breaking his collar bones, elbows and legs.
Nanaji Deshmukh courageously threw himself over JP’s unconscious body, absorbing further blows from the police, and himself suffered grievous injuries.
Raghu Rai’s photographs and Saeed Naqvi’s reports in the Statesman newspaper horrified the nation.
Home minister K Brahmananda Reddy denied in parliament that any assault by the police had taken place. Even sycophants of Indira Gandhi were horrified by these blatant lies.
Revulsion against Indira Gandhi’s government reached an all time high, and public admiration for JP and Nanaji Deshmukh soared.
JP declared that if he were to be killed or incapacitated, then Nanaji Deshmukh would take over the leadership of his Lok Sangarsh Samiti.
Nanaji, in turn, declared that if anything happened to him, then Sunder Singh Bhandari and Dattopant Bapurao Thengadi of the RSS would assume leadership of JP’s Sampoorna Kranti Andolan.
Indira Gandhi had long regarded Nanaji Deshmukh as the most formidable of her political opponents because of his excellent organisational capabilities and his ability to build alliances across the political spectrum.
She kept telling her advisors that the “nation was in need of a shock treatment”, because ‘JPs coming under the grip of Nanaji Deshmukh would soon bring the RSS to power’.
JPs political heir Chandra Shekhar, who detested the RSS, advised Indira Gandhi: “Since JP and Nanaji are not interested in power, you cannot hope to defeat them by using the repressive instruments of power”.
The killing of her fund raiser and cabinet minister Lalit Narayan Mishra in a bomb explosion at a train station in Bihar on 2 January 1975 convinced her that she would soon be next. The intelligence agencies suspected that the Ananda Marg had carried out his killing.
Indira Gandhi resolved to crack down on Hindutva fundamentalist organisations, mainly the Ananda Marg, ABVP, and RSS. Knowing that European Nazi and Fascist movements were spearheaded by youth, she was even more hostile to the students ABVP than she was to the parent RSS. For good measure, she decided to crack down on Islamic fundamental organisations as well, with a determined resolve to keep India firmly secular.
According to her personal assistant Rajinder Kumar Dhawan, immediately after LN Mishra’s killing, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, law minister HR Gokhale, Congress president Dev Kant Barooah, Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal, and barrister Rajni Patel, the Congress party strong man, began planning the arrests of members of the Ananda Marg, ABVP, and RSS.
There is a hand-written letter dated 08 January 1975, from SS Ray to Indira Gandhi, in which he advised her on imposing an internal emergency, together with legal justifications for doing so, and enumerating the constitutional provisions.
This was several weeks before Indira Gandhi was cross examined by Shanti Bhushan in the court of justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha.
On the politically significant dates of 26 and 30 January 1975, the Motherland, a daily newspaper published by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, carried articles written by a Jana Sangh Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Vasanth Kumar Pandit, in which he gave details of Indira Gandhi’s plans to arrest opposition leaders and impose press censorship.
The Intelligence Bureau questioned Pandit, but he managed to convince the IB that since he was a renowned astrologer, this was a mere astrological prediction on his part and not based on any confidential information.
Some weeks later Pandit told Lal Krishna Advani that they would all be in jail for the next two years.
Even as late as June 1975, the Young Turks faction in the Congress —Chandra Shekhar, Krishan Kant, Mohan Dharia, Ram Dhan, Chandrajit Yadav, Lakshmikanthamma — tried to bring about a rapprochement between Indira Gandhi and JP.
But since JP was by now firmly in the grip of Nanaji Deshmukh and Subramanian Swamy, she rebuffed them, and she had these Young Turks arrested when she declared the Emergency.
MEANWHILE, THE SCENARIO in Gujarat was becoming tense again, and Indira Gandhi told PN Dhar and my father to approach Morarji Desai and agree to most of his demands.
But Morarji bluntly refused to negotiate. At the India versus West Indies cricket test match at Feroze Shah Kotla in December 1974, Fateh Singh Rao Gaekwad discreetly arranged for officials of the prime minister’s secretariat to be seated on chairs adjacent to persons associated with Morarji Desai.
As Vivian Richards and Clive Lloyd hammered the Indian bowlers, Indira Gandhi’s team, led by my father, hammered out an agreement with Morarji Desai’s associates, wherein they agreed to most of his demands.
But as with JP, Morarji too refused to accept the agreement negotiated by his associates, even though it was largely in his favour. Morarji’s own associates were bewildered.
PN Dhar and my father found out the reason a few weeks later. A suspicious Morarji did not expect Indira Gandhi to accept most of his demands so readily, and so smelt a rat.
Morarji had shown the agreement to JP, who cryptically dubbed it: “A cleverly designed political rape.”
Morarji replied to JP: “This is the battle I have been dreaming of since 1969.”
After his dismissal by Indira Gandhi, Chimanbhai Patel started his own political party, Kisan Mazdoor Lok Paksha. Morarji Desai entered into an alliance with the very man whose corruption he had harshly attacked only a few months ago.
This confirmed Indira Gandhi’s beliefs that her opponents, JP and Morarji, would go to any length to overthrow her, including entering into unscrupulous opportunistic alliances behind their pious facade of crusading against corruption.
Instead of accepting her generous terms, Morarji Desai took an extreme position. He began another fast unto death on 6 April 1975, demanding the end of president’s rule, and fresh elections to the Gujarat Assembly.
As his condition worsened, Indira Gandhi gave in yet again, and ordered fresh elections to be held on 8 to 10 June 1975.
The results were a major setback to Indira Gandhi, who had bravely battled heatstroke to vigorously conduct a gruelling election campaign. She constantly emphasised the hypocrisy of the Morarji Desai-led Janata Morcha entering into an unscrupulous alliance with the very same Chimanbhai Patel whose resignation they had demanded on grounds of corruption. Her Congress party could win only 75 seats out of 182, a steep fall from 140.
The Janata Morcha coalition of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Congress (O), Bharatiya Lok Dal, and the Socialists won 86 seats. The disgraced Chimanbhai Patel’s KMLP won 12 seats, and they together formed the government.
ON 24 JUNE 1975, the vacation judge of the Supreme Court, Justice VR Krishna Iyer, did not grant Indira Gandhi an absolute stay but only a conditional one, ruling that she could continue as Prime Minister till the matter was decided by the Supreme Court but that she did not have the right to vote in Parliament.
PN Dhar wrote in his book ‘Indira Gandhi, The Emergency and Indian Democracy’, Oxford 2000)
“…All these cogitations and counsels came to an end on 24 June when Justice Krishna Iyer of the supreme court, before whom she had moved her appeal for absolute stay order against the Allahabad high court judgement, granted her only a conditional stay, which meant that she could continue as prime minister but not function as a full voting member of the Lok Sabha. This was the fateful moment of decision for her. Feeling diminished in her authority by Justice Iyer’s verdict to cope with the threatened disorder that was looming large — the opposition parties announced their plans of countrywide satyagraha — she pressed the panic button and her contingency plan for the declaration of an internal emergency came into operation…”
On the evening of 25 June 1975, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Raj Narain, Nanaji Deshmukh, Madan Lal Khurana, and several other political stalwarts addressed a mammoth crowd at Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan, calling on Indira Gandhi to resign.
JP made a fiery speech, reciting Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem, ‘Singhasan khaali karo / janata aati hai (surrender your throne, for the people are coming)’. JP exhorted the army and the police to not obey orders which they considered illegal and unconstitutional. He also called on the nation to not pay taxes.
Morarji Desai, usually a stickler for law and order, told journalists that they would surround Indira Gandhi’s house until she resigned.
Many of JP’s colleagues were horrified at his calling upon the armed forces and police to disobey orders, since they had no inkling at all that JP would demand this in his speech.
Biju Patnaik admonished JP – “I warned you not to take an extreme stance. Now that you have pushed Indu into a corner, she will retaliate harshly in desperation. I know her mind”. He pleaded with JP – “Even now please please please give her a face-saving way of coming to a settlement with us”.
After returning from Ram Lila Maidan, JP, Morarji Desai, Subramanian Swamy and several other political leaders had dinner at KS Radhakrishna’s residence on Rouse Avenue.
Swamy recognised some police officials in plain clothes outside, and voiced his apprehensions that they would all be arrested.
But both JP and Morarji Desai replied that Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter would never even think of doing such a thing. When Swamy persisted, JP replied: “Will she be so stupid? That will be the end of her”.
Swamy was not convinced, and quickly left. Morarji Desai too left the dinner early and returned to his residence.
Just after midnight, a pack of police officers banged on the gate of Radhakrishna’s bungalow. A policeman held a revolver at the chest of my cousin KR Chandrahas, then a college student, ordering him to produce JP.
Radhakrishna requested the police officers that since JP had a tiring day, if they could allow him to sleep for another couple of hours. The police officers graciously agreed, and chatted amiably with my aunt Kamala over snacks.
Meanwhile, Chandrahas went to an adjoining building and telephoned Nanaji Deshmukh and Madan Lal Khurana who were at the RSS headquarters at Rani Jhansi Road, and they managed to escape minutes before the police arrived there.
Morarji Desai told Chandrahas that he would not escape and would instead wait for the police to come and arrest him, which they did within a few minutes. When Chandrahas telephoned Raj Narain, the police had already arrived there to arrest him.
Chandrahas also tipped off a couple of reporters of UNI United News of India to rush to the nearby Parliament Street police station. Radhakrishna accompanied JP to the Parliament Street police station, where JP surrendered to Maxwell Pereira, making his much-reported statement – “Vinaasha Kaaley Vipreetha Buddhi”.
Even though the police had an arrest warrant against Radhakrishna, they just plain forgot to take him into custody. In the confusion while JP was being put into the vehicle to be driven to a guest house in Haryana, Radhakrishna quietly slipped away from under the very eyes of the policemen. He organised the resistance to the Emergency for several months all over the country, aided by Narayanbhai Desai, Siddharaj Daddha, Manmohan Chaudhary, and other Gandhian Sarvodaya workers.
Chandra Shekhar, who was a Congress MP and the leader of the Young Turks faction in the Congress party, was arrested from Rivoli theatre where he was watching a late-night movie together with BP Koirala of Nepal.
That morning Chandra Shekhar had called for Indira Gandhi’s resignation. A few days earlier, Chandra Shekhar had hosted a dinner in honour of JP, with whom he had an heir-mentor relationship. Chandra Shekhar was unable to attend the rally at Ram Lila Maidan because he had to take BP Koirala to dinner at Kwality restaurant; he had to scrounge around for several hours to borrow a hundred rupees to pay for the dinner and movie.
The sympathetic police officer took Chandra Shekhar to a nearby pay phone booth and told him: “Indira Gandhi has gone mad. I am delaying noting the time of your arrest in the case diary by half an hour. During these thirty minutes, call whomever you can to warn them of their imminent arrest and that they should escape immediately”.
A telephone operator overheard these conversations, and tipped off George Fernandes who was holidaying with his family at Gopalpur On Sea in Odisha. Fernandes had earned the gratitude of female telephone operators by fighting for improving their working conditions. Clad in just his lungi, George Fernandes managed to jump into his car minutes ahead of the arrival of the police.
The sympathetic police officer put Chandra Shekhar in his vehicle, telling him: “I have orders to take you to Parliament Street police station. But let us first make a detour to Gandhi Peace Foundation, and see what is happening with JP, and warn whomever else we can.”
But as they arrived at GPF, JP was already being bundled into a car by the police. Karpoori Thakur of Bihar too arrived at GPF. But as the police moved to arrest him, Chandrahas convinced them that Thakur was the chowkidar of the Gandhi Peace Foundation. The police then took Chandrahas to the Daryaganj police station and beat him up for several hours.
A police officer called up Subramanian Swamy at 4 am, and asked him if he could come over to Swamy’s residence straightaway to discuss some urgent issues. Swamy asked him what could be so urgent at 4 am. Speaking slowly and emphatically, the police officer said: “If you happen to not be at home when I come….” Swamy understood what this police officer was hinting at, and quickly made his escape.
My cousin Shobhana Radhakrishna recalled: “That morning of June 26, at 5 am, after witnessing JP being escorted by the police to an unknown destination, Ram Nath Goenka came to our home like a hurricane, boiling with rage as the electricity was cut off in the Indian Express”.
Goenka quickly arranged for my aunt Kamala and Shobhana to be sent out of Delhi to safety; Chandrahas had been picked up by the Daryaganj police without a warrant, and beaten up.
My father came home at 2 am, slept for a couple of hours, and left again at 4:30 am. He was very tense and worried, and extremely fatigued, but did not utter a word. He called my mother and me shortly before 8 am, and told us to switch on All India Radio in order to listen to Indira Gandhi’s proclamation of the Emergency.
Bishan Narayan Tandon, who was joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, described in his book PMO Diary – I : Prelude to the Emergency, published by Konark Publishers :
26 June 1975
…As I was leaving for the office, Sharada phoned to say, “You must have heard, it is all over. We will talk when you come to the office.” He sounded very dejected.
On reaching the office I went straight to Sharada’s room. He told me in detail whatever he knew. Last night the PM had summoned him and Professor PN Dhar to her house at 10 pm. (Congress party president Dev Kant) Barooah and (Siddhartha Shankar) Ray were already there.
When Prof Dhar and Sharada reached there, the PM told them, “I have decided to declare an Emergency. The president has agreed. I will inform the cabinet tomorrow.”
Saying this, she handed over the draft of the Emergency proclamation to Prof Dhar. He and Sharada were stunned. They had been summoned only in order to be informed and for their advice on the propaganda to follow. She also told them to prepare a draft of her address to the nation. They were at the PM’s house till about 1 am. The cabinet was to meet at 6 am.
All those ministers who were in Delhi attended the cabinet meeting. The PM told them what she had decided to do but not one of them protested, not even faintly. Only Swaran Singh raised some administrative issues. The arrests were not discussed at all. One of the ministers said that he had heard about the arrests but the matter was swept aside.
Even Prof Dhar had no idea of these arrests. Sharada said that all the main leaders of the opposition, including JP, Morarji, Charan Singh have been arrested.
Sharada also told me that Sanjay was now in full control of the PM’s house. After the cabinet meeting, he called Gujral to one side and scolded him for the poor propaganda effort. He told him to send every news bulletin to the PM’s house henceforth. Gujral told him that from the functional point of view, some officials should be deputed for this. He could be stationed at the AIR, where he would be shown all the bulletins. He suggested Sharada’s name for this but Sanjay put Behl on the job.
VR (V Ramachandran, an IAS officer of the Kerala cadre, was joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat) also joined us. After hearing Sharada he said that henceforth India too would have a “guided” democracy.
Sharada said yes in a very low tone.
He was very tired. Since June 12 he has had to work the hardest in the PM’s secretariat because the PM’s entire strategy is based on propaganda. But more than physical tiredness, he was in mental agony. I have never seen him like this. He must surely have wondered if this was what he had gone to jail for in 1942. He is a journalist. After independence this is the first time that pre-censorship has been imposed….
Seshan ( NK Seshan was the highly trusted private secretary to Jawaharlal Nehru since 1944; Nehru referred to Seshan as the son he never had ) came very late to the office today and came straight away to my room. He said, “See I had told you. But I don’t know what will happen next. Sanjay has taken control completely.”
PN Dhar wrote in his book ‘Indira Gandhi, The Emergency and Indian Democracy’, Oxford 2000)
On 25 June, the Supreme Court gave its conditional stay order on her appeal. That night at 11 pm I was called by the prime minister to her house. The atmosphere in the house was tense. Ray and Barooah were there. Ray looked grim while Barooah wore a huge grin and was trying to look relaxed as usual.
Mrs Gandhi told me tersely: “The situation in the country is very bad. We have decided to declare an internal emergency. There is going to be a cabinet meeting early in the morning tomorrow after which I am going to broadcast the decision on AIR.”
Haying said this, she handed me the draft of the proposed speech, Just at that time Sharada Prasad, who had also been summoned, walked in. I went over the draft with Sharada and suggested the addition of the following line in the concluding paragraph of the draft: ‘I am sure that internal conditions will speedily improve to enable us to dispense with this proclamation as soon as possible.’
Sharada and I left the house together in despair. After a while he asked me gloomily what would happen at the cabinet meeting. I said mechanically that it would be a routine affair. He fell into a deep silence. All this time I had been cursing myself for not having carried out my decision to resign earlier, when the opportunity for it had arisen.
At 5 am, cabinet ministers were telephoned by RK Dhawan and told to rush for a cabinet meeting at 6 am at 1 Akbar Road. This room at 1 Akbar Road later became my father’s office.
None of the cabinet ministers knew about the Emergency, and neither did the Intelligence Bureau, nor the armed forces. Home minister K Brahmananda Reddy learnt about it when he had to sign the letter which Indira Gandhi had dictated in his name and on his letterhead, addressed to the president.
President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s image has been unfairly tarnished because of Abu Abraham’s cartoon in the Indian Express depicting him signing the Ordinance in his bathtub.
However, Indira Gandhi and Siddhartha Shankar Ray had met the president several times in the three days preceding the declaration of the Emergency.
RK Dhawan too confirmed later that Indira Gandhi and SS Ray had met the president numerous times after 21 June 1975; RK Dhawan’s brother KL Dhawan was the private secretary to the president.
President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed wrote a note in his private journal about his signing of the Emergency proclamation. However, his son, Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed, who had worked as an advocate in SS Ray’s chambers, destroyed it because of its extreme sensitivity.
At the cabinet meeting, the government officials present were PN Dhar, my father, cabinet secretary BD Pande, and the new home secretary SL Khurana, who had taken over from Nirmal Mukarji only a day earlier. Neither Pande nor Khurana had any idea at all about the Emergency and the arrests.
None of the senior cabinet ministers – Jagjivan Ram, YB Chavan, Sardar Swaran Singh, home minister K Brahmananda Reddy, etc voiced any objections over the declaration of the Emergency, and none of them knew about the arrests at all.
PN Dhar and my father whispered to each other that they had been witness to an evil act. While Dhar had drafted Indira Gandhi’s speech together with my father, he too had no idea of the arrests at all.
Indira Gandhi referred to JPs calling on the armed forces to revolt as the reason why she was reluctantly compelled to declare the Emergency.
However, the lieutenant governor of Delhi, an ICS officer named Krishan Chand, and his secretary Navin Chawla of the IAS, deposed before the Justice Shah Commission in 1978 that they were informed by Sanjay Gandhi of the plans to impose the Emergency half an hour before the rally began at Ram Lila Maidan, and to prepare for the arrests to be conducted later that night.
RK Dhawan too confirmed later that the magistrate warrants for the arrests under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act of political opponents all over the country, especially those from the RSS and the Ananda Marg, had been prepared and signed by 21-22 June, two days before Supreme Court Justice VR Krishna Iyer was to decide on Indira Gandhi’s appeal.
Curiously, in spite of all these preparations, the telephone lines and electricity supplies of these leaders were not cut. My cousin KR Chandrahas’s phone calls to numerous politicians enabled them to escape. Chandrahas had telephoned Nanaji Deshmukh and Madan Lal Khurana at the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan, and they escaped minutes before the police arrived.
While Sanjay Gandhi’s henchmen had cut off electricity to all the newspaper offices located at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, including to the Congress party’s own National Herald, they somehow neglected to cut off the power supply to the Jana Sangh’s Motherland, whose editorial office and printing press were in Jhandewalan, and to the Statesmen and Hindustan Times, which were located in Connaught Place.
The Motherland, edited by KR Malkani, carried complete details of the arrests of politicians and journalists all across the country in its issue on the morning of 26 June 1975. I read it when it was delivered to our house at 6 am, two hours before Indira Gandhi’s radio broadcast.
In stark contrast to Motherland’s scoop, the intelligence agencies and the armed forces came to know about the Emergency only from Indira Gandhi’s radio broadcast at 8 am.
My father, who had long been a senior journalist and a freedom fighter, again offered his resignation to Indira Gandhi in protest against censorship of the press, but she refused to accept it, adding that she had several compelling reasons for imposing the Emergency. My father told her that this was not what he went to jail for in 1942 during the Freedom Struggle.
To overcome my father’s vehement objections, Indira Gandhi showed him intelligence reports about the foreign sources funding JP and George Fernandes, as well as transcripts of communications between foreign diplomats and JP, Fernandes, and Subramanian Swamy. There were also personal messages from Leonid Brezhnev, marked for her eyes only.
Then when Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman of Bangladesh was assassinated at dawn on the politically significant day of 15 August 1975, Indira Gandhi told my father as they were driving together to Red Fort for her Independence Day address to the nation: “You were opposing the Emergency. Now you know why I was compelled to impose the Emergency. India was next”.
When Salvador Allende was assassinated, Fidel Castro, who was en route to Vietnam, diverted his plane to New Delhi to warn Indira Gandhi in person: “You are next”. Leonid Brezhnev too cautioned her within a few hours.
Even though they had been expecting Mujib’s assassination for several weeks, the senior officials of Indira Gandhi’s administration were still rattled when it actually took place, with the date sending a strong threatening signal to India.
Indira Gandhi had intended to announce relaxation of several of the Emergency measures; my father had drafted her speech. However, the pointed timing of Mujib’s assassination meant that these announcements had to be abandoned.
My father hurriedly rewrote her speech in the car. Even as she began her Red Fort address, my father kept frantically scribbling subsequent paragraphs for her to read out, as they anxiously awaited further news from Bangladesh.
Many decades later, my father stated in reply to a question at a lecture: “If Indira Gandhi had thrown in the towel at that point of time, it would have greatly weakened the Indian state. The Emergency did damage our democratic roots badly, but the state had been saved from a very grave challenge”.
PN Dhar and my father were both of the opinion that the trigger for the Emergency was that governments did not know how to deal with the Satyagraha practised by Morarji Desai and JP except by repression.
My father dubbed the Emergency as ‘Indira Gandhi’s Coup Against the Prime Minister’. He wrote in a review of Bishan Narain Tandon’s book in Realpolitik magazine in March 2006:
“…I shared, and still share, the pain he [Tandon] felt at the series of missed chances that culminated in the Emergency, and the battering that was dealt to the concept of Rule of Law…
…But even today I maintain that the mistakes were not unilateral. The opposition parties cannot be exculpated from their share of blame…
…The trouble is with the unresolved issue of the place of Satyagraha in a parliamentary democracy. All governments, whether colonial or autonomous, react the same way when their existence or legitimacy is questioned. The British arrested Gandhi and Nehru, and Nehru’s daughter in turn arrested a person identified with Gandhi and Nehru…
…Second, we have to examine the appropriateness of the judgment of JML Sinha. Would it be right to say that Indira Gandhi’s election was a result of corrupt practices, just because her election agent, Yashpal Kapoor, had not resigned from the government in time? Did it so materially alter Indira Gandhi’s electoral chances? Could she not have won at all on her own? It is this which foreign observers could see when they said that Indira Gandhi’s unseating was for an offence comparable to a parking violation…
…Events moved fast. Emergency was declared. It can perhaps 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’…
…Tandon’s diaries throw light on the chain reaction of misjudgment…
My father’s conclusion about the Emergency was that JPs vacillations and his allying with the RSS, as well as Morarji Desai’s intransigence had pushed Indira Gandhi into a corner. In a desperate over-reaction she used a hundred times more force than was necessary to retaliate.
Agreeing to a large extent with my father’s assessment, Dwarka Prasad Mishra told my father: “JP, having known Indira Gandhi from her childhood, ought to have realised that she was a wildcat. And she reacted exactly how a wildcat reacts when it is cornered without an escape route. She jumped on their faces, and gouged their eyes out.”
The eminent jurist Fali Sam Nariman recently revealed that my father had mentioned to him that if Indira Gandhi had a deeper understanding of constitutional law and constitutional history, then she would never have imposed the Emergency. This was in spite of constitutional law and constitutional history being among the subjects she had studied at Oxford. She could have found milder ways of handling the threats to India’s security, but she went by the advice of Siddhartha Shankar Ray.
PN Dhar wrote in his book ‘Indira Gandhi, The Emergency and Indian Democracy’, Oxford 2000)
“What led Indira Gandhi to take such a drastic step? Did she have to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by JP on the Ramlila grounds? There is no simple answer. Her problem was much more complex than JP’s, for whom what was happening in the country was like a medieval morality play in which all the angels were on his side. He had no dilemmas, his mind was full of certitudes. He was more attuned to the rhetoric of revolution than to the complexities of administering a difficult country…”
“…When the fateful moment arrived, JP did not let the law take its own course. Whether it was his mistrust of Indira Gandhi’s motives, or his own lack of faith in the democratic method, or his ambition to go down in history as a political messiah of the Indian people is beside the point. Similarly, Indira Gandhi showed more faith in the repression of political opponents and dissidents in her party than in her own ability to engage them constructively or fight them politically. Whether she opted for the Emergency to save herself from loss of power or as shock treatment to bring the country back to sanity is also beside the point. The fact remains that both JP and Indira Gandhi, between whom the politics of India was then polarized, failed democracy and betrayed their lack of faith in the rule of law…”
“…Whatever the final assessment that historians may make about Indira Gandhi, one conclusion is clear from the events preceding and following the Emergency declaration: it was not a contest between a revolutionary leader leading the hosts towards a new social and political order and a wily politician anxious to impose her personal dictatorship on the country. The actual outcome, on both sides of the barricades, was much less spectacular. JP proved an ineffectual revolutionary and Indira Gandhi a half-hearted dictator…”
(Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad has a unique perspective on the Emergency since his father HY Sharada Prasad was Information Advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and his maternal uncle KS Radhakrishna was the closest advisor of Jaya Prakash Narayan. The two brothers-in-law tried to reconcile Indira Gandhi with the closest friend of her father.)
(The views expressed are perso)
Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad