Leslie Ann Tripathy
American born British settled poet T.S.Eliot once said, "Time present and Time Past are perhaps present in Time Future and Time future perhaps present in Time Past ." A nation that forgets its history is condemned to repeat it. Henry Ford pooh poohed history as junk. Junk or not history is no respecter of hubris. History is a big leveller. History makes many things possible unseen before.
India saw its worst turmoil in 1975. Jayprakash Narayan asked army to revolt. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi clamped emergency. All leaders like Jayprakash Narayan, Moraji Desai, Charan Singh, Biju Patnaik, George Fernandez were incarcerated. The largest democracy was put to a coma. When rest of world cried foul at the foul play the Indian leaders turned a deaf ear to the din outside and continued their gameplan of putting the clock back. They showcased to people their own cosmetic achievements.
However trains ran on time. Officers came to office at 10 o clock. But press suffered its worst casualty. BBC was not allowed to report. There was serious and severe gagging. Newspapers like The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Statesman protested with blank editorials. Veteran columnists like G.K.Reddy, N.Ram of The Hindu protested. So did C.R.Irani of The Statesman and Mr G.D.Goenka of The Indian Express. The din got louder. Press proved once again that pen is mightier than sword of the oppressor. Many turned to BBC, which was the only authentic source of news. The great writer Nirad C Chaudhury wrote in ENCOUNTER magazine about the anathema called emergency and showed how press was muzzled and freedom of expression was crushed under the heavy boots. The world condemned throttling of the neck of democracy in India's fledgling republic. World leaders condemned the hijacking of Indian democracy. America contemplated sanction. So did Britain and other democracies.
Meanwhile , people also resented the gagging of the press and muzzling of media. Many excesses in family planning stoked people's anger against the government. Sycophancy became the new religion of the bureaucrats and self-serving politicians. The same officials told lies to Mrs Gandhi that she would win if there would be election. This was the 'hamartia' of Indira Gandhi. But for Indian democracy, this was the turning point, history was offering.
Soon Mrs Indira Gandhi lifted emergency in 1977, declared elections and released all the leaders. The election was an earthquake. Indira Gandhi and Congress party were routed and the first non-congress govt was installed under the leadership of Morarji Desai. This was a fitting tribute to Indian democracy above all its great people. The world hailed the maturity of Indian democracy and its democratic foundation was secure forever.
The most intriguing thought that eats up anyone is, what led to the declaration of emergency??? Walking past the memory lane, it started with Raj Narain, a socialist who was recently defeated by Indira Gandhi (two to one) in the Rae Bareilly parliamentary constituency of Uttar Pradesh, submitted to the Allahabad High Court charges of corruption in the election process against Mrs. Gandhi. In 1974, Jayaprakash Narayan, ex-congressman, ex-socialist began to organize a campaign in Bihar to oust Indira Gandhi and her congress party from office on charges of corruption. On June 12th, 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court, found the Prime Minister guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election "null and void" and unseated her from the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting in any election for an additional six years. Some serious charges such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held guilty on comparatively less important charges such as building of a dais by state police and provision of electricity by the state electricity department and height of the dais from which she addressed the campaign rally. Some of these charges were in reality an essential part for the Prime Minister's Security protocol. In addition, she was held responsible for misusing the government machinery as a government employee. Because the court unseated her on comparatively lesser charges, while being acquitted on more serious charges, The Times of India described it as "firing the Prime Minister for a traffic ticket". Strikes by labour and trade unions, student unions and government unions swept across the country. Protests led by Raj Narayan and Moraji Desai flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the Prime Minister's residence.
Justice Sinha stayed the operation of his judgment for 20 days allowing the Congress party to elect a successor to the Prime Minister. Unable to find a competent successor, Mrs. Gandhi, on June 23rd 1975 appealed for “complete and absolute” stay which would have permitted her to be a voting Member of Parliament, as well as Prime Minister. On June 24th 1975 Justice Iyer granted Indira Gandhi “conditional stay”. This decision gave rise to outcries of opposition from the opposition that she should resign. Mrs. Gandhi did not resign. On the evening of June 25th 1975, JP Narayan called for a civil disobedience campaign to force the resignation of the Prime Minister. In response, the authority of the maintenance of Internal Security Act was used in the early hours of June 26th to arrest more than a hundred people who opposed Mrs. Gandhi and her party. People arrested included JP Narayan, Raj Narain, Jyortimoy Basu (communist party-marxist), Samar Guha (president of the Jana Sangha). A proclamation of Emergency was issued on June 26th by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, on the advice of Prime Minister Gandhi. The authority for calling the emergency was under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution. Such an emergency can be called by the President whenever he is satisfied that the security of India, or any part of it has been threatened by war, external aggression, or internal disturbance. The actual occurrence of a disturbance is not necessary, only expected the occurrence of a disturbance. Furthermore, under Article 352, the Courts may not inquire into the validity of the grounds upon which emergency was called. The powers given to the Central Government under this form of emergency virtually have no limits.
The key events during the emergency that came so heavily on the citizens, on July 1st, 1975, Economic and Social reforms were made when civil liberties were suspended and the government introduced a mandatory birth control program. During the emergency, Mrs Gandhi’s 20-Point programme promised to liquidate the existing debts of landless labourers, small farmers and rural artisans. The programme planned to extend alternate credit to them, abolish bonded labour and implement the existing agricultural land ceiling laws. It provided house sites to landless labourers and weaker sections and it revised upwards minimum wages of agricultural labour. The program also provided special help to the handloom industry by bringing down the prices, preventing tax evasion and smuggling, increasing production and streamlining distribution of essential commodities. It increased the limit of income tax exemption up to Rs 8000, and liberalized investment procedures. On July 4th, four parties were banned, the government of India banned four major religious, political and revolutionary parties and 22 associated parties with them. These parties included the Anad Marg, Rashtriya Swayamasevak, the Naxalites and the Jamaa-e-Islami-e-Hind. On August 3rd, an amendment to the Representation of the People Act was drafted to clear Indira Gandhi from the Allahabad high court ruling of June 12th. On August 4th, at least 50,000 or more people had been jailed in India since the declaration of Emergency. On August 15th, Bangladesh President Mujibar Rahaman was assassinated by Bangladeshi military leaders and this incident gave rise to new external problems in India. On September 15th, The Delhi High Court ruled that charges must be entered when arrested under the Internal Security Act. On September 26th, the Constitution (39th Amendment) Bill 1975 allowed the election of a Prime Minister beyond the scrutiny of the parliament was approved. On January 9th 1976, the government suspended seven freedoms guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India. On February 4th, Lok Sabha's life was extended by one year. On November 2nd, Lok Sabha passed 42nd Constitution Amendment Bill making India a socialist, secular, republic and laying down the fundamental duties of citizens. On January 18th, The President dissolved Lok Sabha. On March 21st, Emergency was withdrawn. And on March 22nd, 1976, Janata Party gained absolute majority
The 21 month Emergency period was long and intensive, enough to leave permanent scars. The Janata Party, now the ruling party in India. The Janata government’s response to the natural calamities (seasonal floods and their associated devastation) and old Indian problems proved no more effective than other methods had been in the past. Thus social and political discontent was very much present in the post-emergency India. It became harder for the government with the increase in smuggling, strikes and social protests. Moreover, no satisfactory solution was produced that insured the Indian people and the democratic institutions that they will not be threatened by Emergency again. In response to this, the Shah commission was appointed by the new government on May 28th 1977. The commission inquired into the allegations of abuse of authority and the malpractices during the emergency period. The commission found that Indira Gandhi had been motivated by considerations of exigency, as there was no concrete evidence that could warrant the declaration of emergency. She never consulted the cabinet with her decisions and the citizens were denied their basic freedom.
Charges against the government during the Emergency era, were wanton detention of innocent people by police without charge or notification of families. Abuse and torture of detainees and political prisoners.Use of public and private media institutions, like the national television network Doordarshan, for propaganda.Forced vasectomy of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative. Indira's son, Sanjay Gandhi, was blamed for this abusive and forcible treatment of people. Arbitrary destruction of the slum and low-income housing in the Turkman Gate and Jama Masjid area of old Delhi.
Taking these findings into consideration, the Janata government’s Home Minister, Choudhary Charan Sigh ordered the arrest of Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. The arrest meant that Indira was automatically expelled from Parliament. However, this strategy backfired disastrously. Her arrest and long-running trial, gained her great sympathy from many people who had feared her as a tyrant just two years earlier. Charan Singh made Indira Gandhi a martyr and she rode a sympathy wave. Mrs. Gandhi succeeded in defying both the courts and the government over the alleged improprieties committed even before the emergency. She began giving speeches again, tacitly apologizing for "mistakes" made during the Emergency, thus proceeding with her political comeback in the backdrop of the crumbling rule of the Janata party. This set up the stage for the 1980 elections, which brought Indira Gandhi back to the office.
Desai, known for pioneering beliefs and enforcing strict discipline and authority and thus possessed a radical mindset. His government undid many amendments made to the constitution during emergency and made it difficult for any future government to impose national emergency.
The first non-congress govt assumed power on 24th March under the Gandhian leader Morarji Desai and history of India turned a new leaf. On 25th July of the same year, the great South India leader Neelam Sanjiva Reddy became the first Indian President sponsored by non- congress alliance.. World adressed this as it was a line away from dynastic rule. The world hailed all these democratic milestones .
But soon trouble started brewing as Govt appointed B.P Mandal in November , otherwise known as Mandal Commission to make recommendations for the backward cast was resisted by students from general candidates. Thus polarisation was in the offing in caste lines that saw the worst student violence of the century.
1977 was the year in which the racing driver Narain Kartikeyan, hockey legend Dilip Tirkey were born. One year may not be such a big thing, but it assumes great significance in the march of a nation, in the flow of its history.