Indira Gandhi was planning it from January 1975, long before the Allahabad High Court judgment
Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad | 19 Jun, 2020
Indira Gandhi addresses the nation from the Doordarshan studios in New Delhi, August 1975 (Photo: Express Archive)
ON JUNE 12TH, 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court set aside the 1971 parliamentary election of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the grounds that she had availed herself of the services of a government official. However, he himself granted a stay of 20 days on his own verdict to enable her to appeal to the Supreme Court.
On June 24th, 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 she did not have the right to vote in Parliament.
Most people believe Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on June 25th-26th, 1975 to save her prime ministership.
However, both her principal secretary, Prithvi Nath Dhar, and my father, HY Sharada Prasad, who was her information advisor, believed Emergency was the culmination of a series of political miscalculations and missed chances, arising from three confrontations against Indira Gandhi being waged simultaneously: the Nav Nirman Andolan led by Morarji Desai in Gujarat; the railway strike led by George Fernandes in May 1974; and most importantly, the Sampoorna Kranti led by Jayaprakash Narayan.
The Nav Nirman Andolan 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, over a hundred protesters had been killed, and several thousand injured, in clashes with the police and army.
On policy, there was hardly any difference between Jayaprakash Narayan and Indira Gandhi, both of whom held near-identical socialist views. Since Independence, JP had been calling for the nationalisation of banks, insurance companies, mining and infrastructure—and Indira had fulfilled all of those. She thought JP was a very confused man, vacillating in his ideology
Even though her Congress party had 140 seats in the 167-member Gujarat Assembly, Indira Gandhi asked Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel, widely perceived to be corrupt, to resign, which he did on February 9th, 1974. The Gujarat Assembly was suspended and President’s Rule imposed.
Since 1972, Subramanian Swamy had been trying to persuade Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), 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. In mid-1971, JP had been Indira Gandhi’s representative to world leaders to brief them about the atrocities unleashed by the Pakistani army in East Pakistan and to garner international support for India. Ever since they had met at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s, the young Swamy exercised a hold on the hero of the freedom struggle.
As soon as Chimanbhai Patel resigned, JP visited Gujarat on February 11th, 1974 and spent several days interacting with 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, students, instigated by JP and Morarji Desai, demanded the resignation of individual MLAs. They managed to force 95 MLAs of various parties to resign. On March 12th, 1974, the 78-year-old Morarji Desai went on a fast unto death, demanding the dissolution of the state Assembly and fresh elections. His condition deteriorated rapidly. Sanjay Gandhi allegedly told his mother Morarji should be left to die since he was not a mass leader. Indira Gandhi is reported to have replied to her son that he did not understand politics at all. 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 from death, Indira Gandhi dissolved the Assembly on March 16th, 1974 but did not announce the date of fresh elections.
One single elderly politician had pulled down a powerful Chief Minister who commanded 140 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. Power plants and steel factories were down to just two days supply of coal, and the economy was on the verge of collapse. Indira Gandhi brutally suppressed the railway strike, jailing hundreds of thousands of railway workers and evicting their families from their homes. Fernandes was forced to call off the strike after 20 days. President VV Giri, usually a firm supporter of Indira Gandhi, remonstrated with her for throwing the families on the streets. Giri had been a labour leader.
Indira Gandhi strongly believed that Fernandes would have her killed, most probably during one of her train journeys. After the main fundraiser of her Congress, Railway Minister Lalit Narain Mishra, was killed in a bomb explosion at a train station in January 1975, Indira Gandhi kept remarking to her officials that she would be the next to be killed.
Seeing the success in Gujarat, students in Bihar began an agitation in March 1974 against the alleged 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 student wings of the major political parties and outfits: the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (SYS) of the Samajwadi Party. The Bihar Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti (BCSS) was formed in March 1974, led by Lalu Prasad, 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. Hundreds of students were killed in violent clashes with the police. However, the students could not succeed in toppling Ghafoor’s government, with Indira Gandhi standing firm, determined not to repeat her capitulation in Gujarat.
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. Many of Indira Gandhi’s key officials—PN Haksar, Gopalaswami Parthasarathi, NK Seshan, my father, and so on—had been brought into government personally by Jawaharlal Nehru and were aghast at how his grandson and his daughter were subverting his ideals. PN Dhar and my father submitted their resignations to Indira Gandhi, but she refused to accept them, saying “the nation needs your services”.
There is evidence that Indira Gandhi, advised by Siddhartha Shankar Ray, had been planning the Emergency since January 1975, with the aim of crippling the RSS and other Hindutva organisations. There is a handwritten letter dated January 8th, 1975 from Ray to Indira Gandhi in which he advised her about the constitutional provisions regarding an internal emergency
Dhar, Seshan and my father went to PN Haksar and Gopalaswami Parthasarathi, who told them not to resign under any circumstances. Haksar 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, Bansi Lal, Om Mehta and their cronies]. 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.” Parthasarathi, who had been a cricketer in England, quoted the words his friend Hedley Verity had uttered during the Bodyline series: “Loyalty to the captain must prevail over qualms of conscience.” Dhar remarked, half in jest: “I hope we will not turn out to be like Albert Speer.”
All through the summer of 1974, Indira Gandhi and JP attempted to negotiate a compromise. Indira Gandhi’s negotiators were her principal secretary PN Dhar and my father HY Sharada Prasad, who was her information advisor. JP’s chief negotiator was my maternal uncle, KS Radhakrishna, head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, who had been JP’s main advisor for decades. Radhakrishna was assisted by Sugata Dasgupta, head of the Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi, retired justice VM Tarkunde and JP’s old colleague in the Congress Socialist Party, Achyut Patwardhan.
The confrontation between Indira Gandhi and JP was similar to the Mahabharata, in that every member of both sides had very close connections with each other for decades.
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, to be his conscience-keeper and to counsel him whenever he felt Nehru was wrong. Nehru even proposed a merger between the Congress and JP’s Praja Socialist Party. But JP had rebuffed all of Nehru’s overtures. JP apparently saw himself as a saint and successor to Mahatma Gandhi, far above the lure of office. Nehru interpreted this as JP’s unwillingness to take responsibility for governance and administration, and he felt let down.
JP’s wife Prabhavati Devi and Indira Gandhi’s mother Kamala Nehru were close friends. JP’s wife had nursed Motilal Nehru during his dying days in 1930-1931. Motilal Nehru had entrusted JP with all the legal documents when he bequeathed his fortune to the freedom struggle.
PN Dhar had known JP extremely well for decades, long before he came to know Indira Gandhi, who pulled him out of academia to be her Principal Secretary in 1970.
JP took an extraordinary interest in new ideas in economics and sociology which could be used for national development. In the early 1950s, JP, who had been one of the earliest champions of Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, came across an article written by PN Dhar in an academic journal. The young academic was pleasantly surprised when the second-most revered man in the nation suddenly turned up at his house to discuss his research paper. From then on, JP gave Dhar many ideas for his research in economics and sociology.
JP had founded the Gandhian Institute of Studies in Varanasi and he placed Dhar on its council. Dhar, therefore, came to know JP’s two main advisors—KS Radhakrishna and Sugata Dasgupta—well. With the authorisation of Jawaharlal Nehru, JP had also started Track-Two efforts to find solutions to the Kashmir issue and in developing peaceful relations with Pakistan. He involved Dhar in them. JP recommended to Indira Gandhi that she should take PN Dhar’s advice during the bank nationalisation in 1969. She did so and, in 1970, invited Dhar to join her secretariat as understudy to Haksar.
My father HY Sharada Prasad had been editor of Yojana, the journal of the Planning Commission, since 1959. JP would provide detailed insightful commentaries on most articles written by my father and other experts in each issue. JP frequently gave suggestions to my father about economic and social developments in rural areas for coverage in Yojana.
Moreover, Dhar and his wife Sheila were among the closest friends of my parents since 1957, when neither Dhar nor my father had any inkling that a decade later they would be the seniormost officials in Indira Gandhi’s secretariat. Dhar and my father had an almost telepathic understanding that came in use when they were involved in sensitive negotiations.
Sanjay Gandhi and his group tried hard to sabotage the negotiations that Dhar and my father were conducting with my maternal uncle KS Radhakrishna. To avoid Sanjay Gandhi’s ubiquitous informers, my father and my uncle would arrange to “accidentally bump into each other while buying vegetables behind Khan Market” or “meet by chance during early morning walks in the 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. Radhakrishna and Dasgupta were never clear as to what JP expected them to achieve, let alone what he wanted from Indira Gandhi.
On policy issues, there were hardly any differences between JP and Indira Gandhi, both of whom held near-identical socialist views. Since Independence, JP had been calling for the nationalisation of banks, insurance companies, mining and infrastructure—and Indira Gandhi had fulfilled all of those.
Indira Gandhi thought that JP had been a very confused man for decades, vacillating in his political ideologies and she dubbed him “Theoretician of Chaos”. While providing the negotiating parameters to Dhar and my father, she mentioned that Nehru had really taken to heart JP’s refusal to be his deputy and political heir. 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. Indira Gandhi added that JP’s destructive behaviour was because he was “sexually frustrated” (Mahatma Gandhi had imposed a vow of celibacy on JP and his wife immediately after their marriage, which they scrupulously adhered to).
Under instructions from Indira Gandhi, 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 the Prime Minister at the polls, since elections to the Lok Sabha had to be held before March 1976. But not only did JP continue to insist he would physically prevent legislators from entering the Assembly building and government officials from attending their offices, he also added further demands of electoral reforms.
Dhar and my father reminded JP’s team that the founders of our parliamentary democracy, including JP himself, 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 November 25th, 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 Dhar and my father were on the verge of convincing JP’s team to settle his differences with Indira Gandhi at the polls in 1976 rather than by paralysing the administration with strikes and gheraos, Saeed Naqvi wrote a report in The Statesman giving details of these secret negotiations. While it was a scoop for Naqvi, its consequences were that the negotiations had to be terminated immediately.
Keeping her son Sanjay in the dark, Indira Gandhi then enlisted Archibald Fenner Brockway, Baron 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 Calcutta-born Brockway had been a very close friend of both Nehru and JP. But JP escalated his demands, insisting to Brockway that he would now settle for nothing less than the immediate resignation of Indira Gandhi.
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 the party, informed Indira Gandhi he was going to meet his mentor JP. Indira Gandhi told Chandra Shekhar to report back to her on “what JP really wants”.
Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary, Prithvi Nath Dhar, and my father, HY Sharada Prasad, who was her information advisor, believed Emergency was the culmination of a series of political miscalculations and missed chances
Chandra Shekhar advised JP to immediately accept Brockway’s proposal. But JP kept dithering and 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. Both Brockway and Chandra Shekhar got the impression that JP was confused about his political objectives. The historian Bipan Chandra, the author of a book on JP, 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 surmised that it was a clash of egos between JP and Indira Gandhi rather than policy differences. Brockway told JP he would get Indira Gandhi to apologise if she had hurt him (JP) in any way, and that the ball was now in JP’s court. Brockway’s conjecture turned out to be correct. JP’s close friend and Congress MP Ganga Sharan Sinha recounted JP’s 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.”
After JP’s demise, Radhakrishna and Dasgupta told my father that since JP saw himself as the next Mahatma Gandhi, he expected Indira Gandhi would constantly run to him for advice, and he was miffed when she refused to treat him as a father figure. My father replied it was unrealistic to expect her to treat someone who was only 15 years older than her as a father figure.
Even while Brockway was waiting for JP’s response, JP suddenly committed a blunder—getting persuaded by Subramanian Swamy to get the RSS involved in his Sampoorna Kranti movement. Swamy, then a Bharatiya Jana Sangh Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, convened a meeting at the residence of Murli Manohar Joshi, to which he invited JP, Nanaji Deshmukh, KN Govindacharya and Kailashpati Mishra. It was decided that the Bihar student leaders—Lalu Prasad, Sushil Kumar Modi, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad and others—would cede the leadership of their agitation to JP and Nanaji Deshmukh.
JP’s own team of Radhakrishna, Dasgupta, Patwardhan and Tarkunde, as well as his political heir Chandra Shekhar, were kept in the dark about JP’s abrupt tying up with the RSS, all in the course of a couple of days. They were aghast at his sudden abandonment of the principles of a lifetime, since JP had been second only to Nehru in condemning Hindutva and the RSS. PN Dhar and my father reminded JP’s team of his past statements about the RSS, such as:
“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… .” Or, “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 civilization. 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—and JP had not forgotten the CPI’s role during the freedom struggle. So he chose to go along with the RSS.
A furious Indira Gandhi then vowed she would no longer negotiate with JP. She had inherited her father’s deep suspicion of the RSS. Nehru had long equated the RSS with fascists and had warned all chief ministers in December 1947 against allowing their state governments to be infiltrated by the RSS.
A CHAIN OF POLITICAL blunders took place during the last week of October 1974, when JP was staying with KS Radhakrishna at Rouse Avenue. Raja Dinesh Singh visited JP. A rattled Radhakrishna came to our house late that night and asked my father whether Dinesh Singh was sent by Sanjay Gandhi or Indira Gandhi. Then Jagjivan Ram visited JP and accused him of being an “anti-national traitor”. A furious JP retorted that it was Indira Gandhi who was anti-national.
JP then foolishly asked Giani Zail Singh and Sheikh Abdullah to reopen the dialogue with Indira Gandhi on his behalf. Indira Gandhi and PN Dhar were well aware that Zail Singh and Sheikh Abdullah would use this opportunity to further their own political agendas, with repercussions in Punjab and Kashmir.
The final straw for Indira Gandhi was when JP addressed RSS workers, declaring: “If the RSS is fascist, then so am I.”
After the negotiations broke down irrevocably, late at night on November 1st, 1974, JP drove over to the Prime Minister’s residence and sought a one-on-one meeting with her. According to her trusted private secretary NK Seshan, no politics was discussed. JP handed over several sealed cartons to her. These contained letters between Indira Gandhi’s mother and JP’s wife, in which Kamala Nehru had poured out her anguish over her ill treatment by Jawaharlal Nehru’s sisters. JP did not want this personal correspondence containing embarrassing details falling into the hands of anyone. JP had also been the trustee of Motilal Nehru’s estate and he handed over all of the Nehru family’s documents. The two sat in silence for a long time, their eyes brimming with tears. JP then gave Indira Gandhi his blessings and departed.
JP nominated RSS stalwart Nanaji Deshmukh as his deputy in the Lok Sangharsh Samiti. On November 4th, 1974, JP and Deshmukh led a massive rally in Patna. The police beat up JP with lathis, breaking his collarbones, elbows and legs. Deshmukh courageously threw himself over JP’s unconscious body, absorbing further blows. Public admiration for JP and Deshmukh soared, and revulsion at Indira Gandhi reached an all-time high.
THE SCENARIO IN Gujarat was becoming tense again and Indira Gandhi authorised her officials to negotiate quietly with Morarji Desai.
During the India-West Indies Test match at Feroz 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 Morarji’s 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. Dhar and my father found out the reason several weeks later. A suspicious Morarji did not expect Indira Gandhi to accept most of his demands so readily, and so smelt a rat. Morarji showed the draft of the agreement to JP, who dubbed it: “A cleverly designed political rape.” Morarji Desai 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. Morarji Desai entered into an alliance with the man whose corruption he had railed against 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. Morarji Desai began another fast unto death on April 6th, 1975, demanding fresh elections to the Gujarat Assembly. As his condition worsened, Indira Gandhi gave in again, ordering fresh elections on June 10th, 1975.
Jayaprakash Narayan suddenly committed a blunder—getting persuaded by Subramanian Swamy to get the RSS involved in his Sampoorna Kranti movement. JP explained that he required a cadre-based organisation to take on Indira Gandhi. A furious Indira Gandhi, who had inherited her father’s deep suspicion of the RSS, then vowed she would no longer negotiate with JP
There is evidence that Indira Gandhi, advised by Siddhartha Shankar Ray, had been planning the Emergency since January 1975, with the aim of crippling the RSS and other Hindutva organisations. There is a handwritten letter dated January 8th, 1975 from Ray to Indira Gandhi in which he advised her about the constitutional provisions regarding an internal emergency.
Indira Gandhi’s personal assistant Rajinder Kumar Dhawan confirmed that SS Ray, Law Minister HR Gokhale, Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal and Bombay barrister Rajni Patel had planned the arrests of leaders of the RSS and its student wing ABVP in January 1975 itself.
Remarkably, Motherland, a newspaper published by the Jana Sangh, carried a detailed article written by a Jana Sangh Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Vasant Kumar Pandit, in which he gave details of Indira Gandhi’s plans to arrest opposition leaders and muzzle the press. In this article published in mid-January 1975, Pandit even mentioned the names of the hundreds of politicians and journalists who would be arrested.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) 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. The lists of those arrested on June 26th, 1975 proved Pandit had got every single name correct, six months in advance. Pandit also 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—tried to bring about a rapprochement between Indira Gandhi and JP. But since JP was by now in the grip of the RSS and its leaders Deshmukh and Swamy, Indira Gandhi rebuffed them, and she had these Young Turks arrested when she declared Emergency.
My own assessment is that Indira Gandhi would have imposed Emergency even if the Allahabad High Court had not invalidated her election, since her primary aim was to finish the RSS and similar Hindutva organisations. Dhar and my father were both of the opinion that the major trigger for Emergency was that governments really did not know how to deal with the Satyagraha practised by Morarji Desai and JP except by repression.
My father dubbed Emergency ‘Indira Gandhi’s Coup Against the Prime Minister’ 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 Guard”.
Tandon’s diaries throw light on the chain reaction of misjudgment.’
PN Dhar wrote: ‘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…’
Dhar further wrote: ‘Indira Gandhi’s 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…’
And: ‘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…’
One of the shrewdest persons in Indian politics, Dwarka Prasad Mishra, summed up the conflicts memorably in a discussion with 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.”
YET, IN DECEMBER 1976, Indira Gandhi more than kept her promises to Jayaprakash Narayan when she amended the Preamble to the Constitution to include the word ‘Socialist’.
Since 1946, JP had been campaigning to have India formally declared a socialist republic in its Constitution. JP, one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party, was irritated with Nehru that he was not pushing socialism vigorously enough. JP and Acharya JB Kripalani had parted ways with Nehru by 1952 over this.
For good measure, Indira Gandhi also included the term ‘Secular’. She was well aware of the political compulsions faced by VK Krishna Menon, Nehru and Ambedkar that forced them to consciously exclude the term ‘Secular’ from the Preamble. She foresaw that Hindutva fundamentalists would come to power soon—and she wanted to safeguard the secular basis of the freedom movement.