If we fail to remember the heroes of the Emergency and forget who its villains were,we will not be able to protect and preserve our democratic way of life
Apart from the dreaded heat that the month of June brings with it, it also brings back painful memories of the despotic Emergency that the Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed on the country on June 25, 1975 that turned a vibrant democracy into a dictatorship and snatched away not just the fundamental rights of citizens but also the right to life itself. If we are to preserve our democratic way of life, we need to recall the events of 1975-77 to understand how democracy got derailed and what transpired when India came under the spell of an authoritarian regime. We must also make a list of things relating to the Emergency which we should never forget and also a list of incidents we should never forgive, if we wish to preserve the core values of our Constitution. So, here goes:
We should never forget
i) The sacrifices of a large number of political and social leaders and workers who risked their lives and fought against the autocratic regime of Indira Gandhi and eventually put democracy back on the rails in March, 1977. Among them were Jayaprakash Narayan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandra Shekhar, George Fernandes, lK Advani, Charan Singh, Madhu Dandavate, Morarji Desai, Nanaji Deshmukh, Ramakrishna Hegde, Sikander Bakht, Narendra Modi, HD Deve Gowda, lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and scores of others.
ii) The role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the restoration of democracy in the country. Of the 6,330 political activists who were jailed under the much-feared Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), 4,026 belonged to the RSS and the Jana Sangh (predecessor to the Bharatiya Janata Party). Among them, apart from some of those named above, were then RSS sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras, current Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu, Union Ministers Arun Jaitley, Ravishankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Ananth Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan and senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale.
Dr Subramanian Swamy, BJP MP, slipped out of the country twice and launched campaigns against Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship in the US and in the UK. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then a RSS pracharak, was part of the underground movement, organising resistance, producing anti-Emergency literature and helping the families of jailed leaders.
iii) Justice HR Khanna, the sole dissenting judge in ADM, Jabalpur vs Shiv Kant Shukla case (also known as the Habeas Corpus case) in the Supreme Court. The court had to determine whether a citizen had the right to move courts to safeguard his right under Article 21 which said, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”, when the Emergency was in force. This is the bedrock of any democratic constitution and the presence or absence of such a provision is what distinguishes a democratic state from an authoritarian state. As the Attorney General, Niren De, pressed for acceptance of the Government’s view that the citizens did not have the right to life and personal liberty — Justice Khanna asked him if there could be no judicial remedy if a police officer killed a person out of personal enmity.
Niren De said, “Yes, there would be no judicial remedy”. Those in the court room were stunned to hear this argument and Justice Khanna recalls in his autobiography that the other judges on the bench — Chief Justice AN Ray and Justices MH Beg, YV Chandrachud and P N Bhagawati — sat tongue-tied when all this was on.
Eventually, all of them upheld the Government’s view and snatched away the citizen’s right to life and personal liberty. Justice Khanna was the lone dissenting voice and some months later, Indira Gandhi superseded him and made Justice Beg the Chief Justice. That is why Justice Khanna remains a hero for all those who value democracy and fundamental rights.
We should not forgive
i) Indira Gandhi, for turning a democracy into a dictatorship; for forcible sterilisation of the population; for amending the Constitution and election laws just to protect herself; for bringing in the 42nd Amendment to cripple the higher Judiciary; and for empowering the President to amend the Constitution through executive orders.
ii) The Kerala policemen who brutally tortured and murdered P Rajan, student of the Regional Engineering College, Calicut but went unpunished
iii) The Karnataka policemen who tortured lawrence Fernandes for many months but went unpunished
iv) VC Shukla, the Information and Broadcasting in the Indira Gandhi Government, who imposed censorship, pushed for Government control of the Indian Express and passed draconian anti-press laws that empowered district magistrates to raid newspaper offices and shut down publications. Shukla’s diktats reached absurd levels when he prohibited newspapers from publishing any quotation of Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore. He ordered All India Radio, which was then a monopoly, not to broadcast any song sung by Kishore Kumar because Kishore Kumar refused to sing a song for a Government advertisement.
v) Justice Beg, for his deplorable observation in the ‘Habeas Corpus’ judgement , that Indira Gandhi was taking “maternal care” of the political prisoners. He said “We understand that the care and concern bestowed by the state authorities upon the welfare of detenus who are well-fed and well-treated, is almost maternal…”.
vi) Navin Chawla, then Secretary to the lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Kishan Chand, who became an extra-constitutional authority. When the Superintendent, Tihar Jail said he had no place to accommodate so many political prisoners, Chawla directed him to put them in prison cells built with asbestos roofs and “bake” them. He also directed that some of the detenus “should be kept with the lunatics”. The evidence against Chawla before the Shah Commission showed how ill-informed Justice Beg was about the conditions in the jails.
vii) Bansi lal, Chief Minister of Haryana and later Defence Minister in Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Cabinet, who behaved like a medieval despot and sought to destroy the lives and careers of every individual who did not do his bidding. He personally supervised mass sterilisation camps, the most terrifying example of which was the assault on Uttawar Village, largely populated by Muslims in Haryana.
Policemen arrived in trucks, surrounded the village, pulled out every male resident from age 8 to 80 and took them to a camp where they were forcibly vasectomised. In most of the northern states, school teachers and policemen were given sterilisation quotas. In many cases, the teachers had to themselves undergo vasectomy. Those who refused were jailed under the dreaded MISA.
This in no case is the complete list. But, if we fail to remember the villains of the Emergency and draw the right lessons from those days of repression, we will not be able to protect and preserve our democratic way of life.
(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati)