26th June, 2014 marks the 39th Anniversary of the Emergency. The Emergency whose oppressive phase lasted 19 months (excluding two months of the election) is perhaps the worst post independence chapter of the Indian democracy. Most Indians today were not even born when the country had to suffer this monstrosity. I wish to recall some of my personal memories on the Emergency.
Smt. Indira Gandhi had won her 1971 election from Rai Bareilly against the Socialist Leader Raj Narain. Raj Narain had filed an election petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging the validity of Mrs. Gandhi’s election. His lawyer in the Allahabad High Court was Shanti Bhushan. The trial was well publicized in the Indian newspapers and attracted a lot of national curiosity. On June 12, 1975, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court quashed the election of Mrs. Indira Gandhi as being influenced by corrupt practices. The Prime Minister ceased to be the Member of Parliament. She was also disqualified for a period of 6 years from contesting any further election.
Mrs. Gandhi preferred a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court. Nani Palkhivala appeared for her. The Judge in the Supreme Court Justice Krishna Iyer gave a partial stay. She could attend the House and speak as a Prime Minister but was not allowed to vote. Meanwhile the national agitation spurred by the mis-governance and corruption led by Shri Jaiprakash Narain had captured the popular mood. A two day conference of leaders of non-Congress political parties was held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi. On the evening of 25th June, 1975 a massive rally was organized at Ramlila Maidan which was addressed by JP and several other leaders. After attending the rally I came back home late in the evening. I was at that time a second year student of the law faculty pursuing my studies. I was the President of the Delhi University Students’ Union and convener of JP’s Committee for Youth and Students Organisations.
At about 2 AM past midnight, I received a midnight knock at my residence. The police had come to arrest me. My father, a lawyer by profession got into an argument outside the gate of my house asking them at least to inform him as to the nature of offence I had committed. The police had simple instructions to arrest me - they did not know under which provision and for which offence. While this argument was on, I escaped from the backdoor and went to the friend’s house in the neighbourhood.
I telephoned my colleagues and collected the details of what was happening. In the morning, there were no newspapers. Electricity of the entire press at Bahadurshah Zafar Marg had been disconnected. News started trickling in that the entire political leadership of the opposition including Jai Prakash Narain. Morarji Desai, Choudhury Charan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani had been arrested. The police station in Timarpur nearby Delhi University was the centre of this activity. All the detained leaders had been taken there and transferred to specific jails in Haryana and Delhi. Along with my co-ABVP workers I reached Delhi University Campus by about 10.00 AM to organize a protest. This was the only protest against the Emergency which took place that day in the whole country. An effigy was burned by us in protest. The news of the protest attracted a large number of policemen in the Delhi University campus. I requested my colleagues to quietly disappear since I had been surrounded by the police. I courted arrest. I was also taken to the Timarpur Police Station where I was handed over a detention order under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). I was taken to the Tihar jail in Delhi where all the political detainees were also kept. I stayed there for eight days before being transferred to the Ambala Jail in Haryana. After about three months, I was re-transferred back to Delhi where I remained till the end of January 1977 for a period over 19 months. I had been detained 19 months in prison under preventive detention. Needless to say I was deprived of my right to continue my education at Delhi.
The declaration of emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution was accompanied by a Notification under Article 359 wherein fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, 21 and 22 were suspended. All the newspapers were subjected to pre-censorship. A representative of the Censoring Authority sat in the office of every newspaper and news agency. No news critical of the Government could be published. Fundamental rights were suspended. The right to oppose the Government was taken away. No protests were allowed anywhere in the country. The Supreme Court in perhaps the worst amongst the post independence judgments, in the habeas corpus case, ruled that even though political detainees have been illegally detained, they have no right to approach the court and seek the relief. The Government took the position that even if a detainee was physically killed, he could not approach the court. A submissive Supreme Court agreed with this observation. Most of the Members of the Parliament were detained. Any Parliamentary proceeding where Government was criticized could not be published in newspapers.
The Prime Minister Indira Gandhi proclaimed that an era of discipline had started. She announced a 20 Point Economic Programme comprising of ideas which were most retrograde. Loyal to the 20 Point Programme of the dictator, the Congress President Dev Kant Baruah proclaimed “Indira is India and India is Indira.” Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay was introduced as a youth icon of India. Proclaiming loyalty to the 20 Point Programme, film actors and musicians were asked to perform for the Congress Party at its programmes. The dissenters were punished. Kishore Kumar’s songs were banned on the All India Radio. Dev Anand’s films were not telecast in Doordarshan. The entire police administration of the country had become an instrument of sycophancy. False FIRs were filed and lakhs of political workers were arrested.
The Representation of Peoples’ Act was amended retrospectively to legitimize and validate the invalid election of Indira Gandhi. The Constitution was amended to make the election of Prime Minister as non-justiciable. The proclamation of emergency was made non-justiciable. Some dissenters in the Congress Party led by Chandra Sekhar were also detained. Governments of Opposition Parties in states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu were dismissed and the President’s rule imposed. The High Courts in the country showed some courage in giving relief to the detainees. But the extremely pliable Supreme Court overturned each and every favourable order of the High Court.
The Emergency displayed the weakness of the Indian Constitutional order. The press could be silenced. The judiciary could be made pliable. Large number of opposition parties including the Left either supported the emergency or only put up a soft opposition against it. For us in prison, it was not clear as to how long we will be in detention.
It was the pressure of the international opinion which had started building up that Indira Gandhi began to rethink. She miscalculated and decided to hold elections. Towards the end of January 1977, the emergency was relaxed and the most political detainees were released from jail. The election saw a massive anger against the emergency .The Congress Party was trounced in the election in most parts of India. Both Mrs. Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay were defeated in their constituencies of Rai Bareilly and Amethi.
For many like me who underwent emergency experience in Delhi and successfully fought against it, this became a turning point in our lives. The emergency was perhaps the best political education of my life. It taught me that some compromises were just not possible.