Indira and the Emergency Part II—Defining moment for Democracy

In this excerpt from ‘his book “Indira Gandhi, The ‘Emergency’ and Indian Democracy”, late Prof PN Dhar recalls the events that preceded the declaration of internal ‘Emergency’ <br>


PN Dhar

Towards the end of 1974, the Bihar movement was showing clear signs of fatigue. The cadres were losing their enthusiasm as the state government, unlike that of Gujarat, had withstood their onslaught. The grassroots organisation that JP [Jayaprakash Narayan] had expected would sprout from his call from jana-shakti to sustain the movements failed to materialise. In the meanwhile, the economic situation had improved in the wake of the government’s anti-inflation policies adopted in July. Prices had begun to fall by October and food supplies had increased because of imports, a moderate agricultural recovery in 1973-4, and ‘dehoarding’ by traders fearful of police raids.

The visibly earnest efforts of the government to get a grip over the economic situation was resulting in some favourable public opinion. Had nothing intervened, the process of a return to normalcy would have gained speed.

But that was not to be. In early January 1975 LN Mishra, Railway Minister, was assassinated in Samastipur, Bihar. This was fol­lowed by an attempt on the life of the Chief Justice of India. Both had been targets of virulent propaganda; the former as the Congress Party's fund-raiser and the latter as a favourite of Indira Gandhi (JP called him her stooge), because he had superseded three of his colleagues when he was elevated to the post of chief justice of the Supreme Court. These incidents convinced Indira Gandhi that there was a conspiracy against her and the government.

JP's warning, in an interview with Karanjia, the editor of the weekly Blitz—‘If Mrs Gandhi does not take steps to change radically the system and persists in standing in the way of revo­lutionary struggle, she cannot complain if in its onward march, the movement pushes her aside with so much else'only added to her anxiety about the possibility of greater violence in the country.

Gujarat, where the economic and law-and-order situation had greatly improved under President's rule, came alive once again with Morarji Desai's announcement of an indefinite fast on April 7, this time for the restoration of people's rights to elect their representatives. The blow for the restoration of democracy, after the forced dissolution of the state assembly by a similar method, was later to be called by him "the start of the battle I had been dreaming of since 1969”.

Indira Gandhi was convinced that there was a conspiracy against her and the government

The govern­ment had scheduled the elections in September but Desai wanted them before the end of May. JP strongly supported Desai, criticising the government's promise to hold the elections in September 'as a clev­erly designed political rape'. The government, once again, gave in and to save Desai's life agreed to hold the elections on June 10 in the blazing heat of summer, an unusual time for holding elections in India. Desai ended his fast after his victory and the elections were duly held on June 10.

The results were announced on June 12. The Janata Morcha, a four-party alliance of the Congress(0), the Jan Sangh, the BLD and the Socialist Party, formed earlier with Desai as leader, won the elections. The result of the Gujarat elections was a big setback to the Prime Min­ister's political standing because she had vigorously campaigned for her party in the state. But an even bigger blow had been struck against her moral authority earlier in the morning of the same day by Justice Jagmohan Sinha of the Allahabad High Court. He had set aside her election to the Lok Sabha on grounds of electoral malpractices in his judgement on an election petition filed four years earlier by Raj Narain. June 12 thus proved a red letter day for the opposition parties, espe­cially for JP, for whom Indira Gandhi was by now the source of every­thing that had gone wrong in the country.

Justice Sinha had done for them what the opposition were not able to do for all their striving. For Indira Gandhi it was the worst setback of her political life. It became a testing time for her and JP, the two principal antagonists in the political strife of India; the test was how they would react to the judgement. It was also a defining moment for Indian democracy and the rule of law. For the opposition parties, the judgement was the fulfilment of a mission and Justice Sinha became their most-talked-about hero overnight. He was hailed as a Solomon. They disregarded the part of the judgement that stayed his order for 20 days to enable Indira Gandhi to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Justice Sinha had done for them what the opposition were not able to do for all their striving. For Indira Gandhi it was the worst setback of her political life. It became a testing time for her and JP, the two principal antagonists in the political strife of India

The opposition could not wait. They lost no time in mounting a campaign—both open and secret—to force Indira Gandhi to resign the office of Prime Minister. The national executives of the BJS, the BLD, the SSP, the Congress(0), and leaders of the Akali Dal got to­gether to form a 10-member National Programme Committee to for­mulate a programme of action. The programme was drafted by Nanaji Deshmukh of the BJS and included, among other things, suggestions such as processions and demonstrations by students and youth in vari­ous areas of Delhi, the gherao of industrialists and businessmen sup­porting the Prime Minister, gate meetings outside mills and factories in and around Delhi, lunch-hour meetings of central government em­ployees, demonstrations outside the Prime Minister's residence by various sections of the people—including teachers, doctors, lawyers, students, jhuggi-jhompri dwellers, businessmen, housewives, scooter and taxi drivers, construction workers—and the beating of thalis from rooftops at night.

JP participated in these preparations and went far beyond. At a rally held on the Ramlila grounds in Delhi under the auspices of the Jan Morcha, with Morarji Desai as chairman, he said: 'Friends, the civil disobedience will be of varied types. A time may come when, if these people do not listen, it may be necessary to derecognise the govern­ment. They have no moral, legal or constitutional right to govern; therefore we would de-recognise them; we would not co-operate with them; nor a paisa of tax shall be given to them.’

June 25—Declaration of a National Emergency

In the same speech he asked the army, the police and government servants not to obey orders which they considered wrong and challenged the government to try him for treason.

After this inflammatory speech Morarji Desai asked the approval of the audience for the programme of agitation which had been chalked out by the programme committee. All this was happen­ing on the evening of June 25. Early next morning Indira Gandhi announced her response to the activities of the opposition leaders on All India Radio. It was the declaration of a National Emergency.

Late PN Dhar was a senior bureaucrat and former Principal Secretary to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

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