By P. Kharel
As India marked its 70 years of independence August 15, one particular event kept recurring fresh in this scribe’s mind. Perhaps no single event in the Republic of India has inspired so many books and written works as has the infamous Emergency rule that Indira Gandhi imposed to prolong her stay in power through utter misuse of her official status as prime minister. Tens of thousands of people were arrested across the world’s “largest democracy” after the draconian declaration was imposed on June 26, 1975.
“Great” has eluded Indian far too long than they ever imagined the inordinate delay in the delivery of the promises politicians so loftily made. Narcotised in rhetoric, the freedom they compare with the best of industrial nations in Asia and Europe has eluded them all along, as is been the rest of South Asia—a region free of army rule, today, but officially allowing political parties to function and holding elections regularly.
The incorruptible Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died in 1966, when Indira Gandhi was 49, already Congress president since several years. Gandhi, daughter of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, led the Indian National Congress to victory in the Lok Sabha elections in February 1971. She did better in the next general elections but a court ordered her own election invalid. In a rude and reckless response, she declared the Emergency, and resorted to highhandedness and went on to introduce authoritarian rule without qualms. Never might have Indian citizens anticipated such a scenario would actually occur in their country. One is bent on chronicling some of the incidents and excesses one’s access to memory allows.
EMERGENCY EXCESSES: Indira is India and Indira is India”, claimed the Congress leader D.K. Barooah, setting new benchmark for sycophancy, reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s “Germany is Hitler and Hitler is Germany”. Vendors, groceries, taxi drivers, friends and relatives turned against those arrested or who were on the run. Their close ones were harassed, intimidated and summoned for inquires and kept at the stations for long hours simply to demoralise those critical of the Emergency. Paroles were summarily denied as were visits to ailing family members or permission to perform last rites denied. Search and arrest were made without warrants.
Statements issued by the opposition leaders and critics were systematically censored. The first two days of the Emergency saw power cuts designed to prevent newspapers hitting the streets and news stalls. This was to give enough time for the government to work out the censorship strategy in detail.
Virtually all academics in Nepal and India were too stunned or completely cowered to comment against the draconian laws invoked so mercilessly. Indira Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay, who was projected as her successor, reprimanded Information and Broadcasting Minister Inder Kurmar Gujaral for being too timid in his dealings with the critical section of the press. Jana Sangh leader L.K. Advani commented: “The press was asked to bend and it chose to crawl.”
Names of those arrested were not allowed to be published. Coverage of parliament’s proceedings was also censored, not to speak of opposition protests and public statements. Names of opposition MPs and empty chairs in the parliament were also censored. Direct quotes from India’s father of nation Mahatma Gandhi, Nobel Laureate Ravindranath Tagore, Indira’s father Nehru and even the Gita were ordered banned.
Even newspaper greetings to Morarji Desai on his birthday did not escape the Emergency scissors. Many newspapers, notably the Indian Express and the Statesman, had their portions of their pages with wide gapes while editorials at times were similarly scarred or left completely blank to indicate where and how the censors wielded their scissors. Correspondents representing BBC, Newsweek and Daily Telegraph were ordered out of the country within 24 hours when they refused to sign a regulation restricting the scope of free reporting.
CENSORS WAYLAID: The world’s largest cinema producing industry also suffered bans and heavy scissors as per the whims, fancies and fears of the rulers and their cronies. In an ingenuous work of satire and plain-talking, the obituary column in the Bombay edition The Times of India announced the death of “D’ocracy, DEM beloved husband of T. Ruth, brother of Faith, Hope and Justice expired on June 26th.”
Passports and scholarship of Indian students who launched rallies against the Emergency in the US were scrapped, on the recommendation of T.N. Kaul, Indian ambassador to Washington. Among the few who supported the new dispensation was Communist Party of India leader Indrajit Gupta.
During the 1942 quit India call by Mahatma Gandhi when the British government issued a gag order on the press, Ram Nath Goenka let his publications, including the Indian Express, to close shop rather than carrying only contents approved by the British dispensation. Even under the 1975-77 Emergency disorder, Goenka gave priority to the contents of his publications over profits. Not so The Times of India and The Hindustan Times that thrived throughout the dire times without any commercial let up.
The rest is history for better or worse.
India’s Independence And After
By P. Kharel