As the Emergency prolonged on, there was one major pressure on Mrs. Indira Gandhi. International media and world leaders were aghast at the very suggestion that Pandit Nehru’s daughter had abandoned the path of democracy and turned dictatorial. She was always at pains to explain to her international audiences that this was a temporary phase and would not last forever. The Party, however, was of the opinion that since the term of Parliament had been extended by two years, election could await till 1978. Her political feedback and that of the intelligence agencies was that since there was no opposition, she should immediately call for a snap poll, give the opposition little time to prepare and Congress could comfortably sweep the poll. The latter view prevailed and on the 18th of January, 1977, she addressed the nation and announced a General Election to be held in the month of March. The opposition leaders were still in prison, Emergency was still on and would continue. It was decided that a snap poll would take the opposition by surprise, ensure her victory and give her Government the legitimacy it needed.
Since the Tihar Jail was the center of opposition activities, all the political detenues met immediately after the announcement. There were two clear views. George Fernandes and C.G.K. Reddy strongly argued that it would be a farcical election and hence must be boycotted. The other believed that we must use election as a platform to campaign against the Emergency and for democracy. This view was shared with senior leaders in other jails. JP, who had been released on account of ill health, took the first initiative and announced that he would participate and bless the coalition of the opposition only if all the political parties in opposition joined hands and formed a single party. The release of detenues started within a day or two. But some like George Fernandes, Nanaji Deshmukh and those belonging to the RSS were not released till the elections were over. Press censorship was relaxed but not removed.
I was released from detention on 25th January, 1977. My ABVP friends, on the 27thJanuary, took me in a large procession to every college of the university campus. I had suspected that we would meet student audiences with fear and awe. But contrary to my expectations, we witnessed an aggressive participation of students wherever we went. Amongst the released political leaders of Delhi, some of us met in that evening at 7 Jantar Mantar, which eventually became the Janata Party headquarters. On 30th January, Shri Morarji Desai and Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee were to address a rally. Unaware of the undercurrent, we initially sought permission to hold the rally at Chandni Chowk. The police declined the request due to dangers of a stampede and the venue of the rally had to be forcibly shifted to Ramleela Maidan. The rally turned out to be a big success. The fear was cracking up. People were willing to speak and come out. After almost nineteen months, they were all restless and waiting to hear the “Vajpayee oration”. When Atalji stood up to speak at the Ramleela Maidan, he was cheered for several minutes with slogans. In his customary poetic style, he started with a couplet:
बड़ी मुद्दत के बाद मिले हैं दीवाने,
कहने सुनने को हैं बहुत से अफ़साने,
आओ जल्दी से दो बातें कर लें
ये आज़ादी कब तक रहेगी कौन जाने ।
Events were changing very fast. On the 2nd February, three Congress leaders – Babu Jagjivan Ram, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy resigned from the Congress Party and formed ‘Congress for Democracy’. They decided to align with the Janata Party. On the 6th of February, they addressed, alongwith other Janata leaders, a massive rally at Ramleela Maidan. As a student leader representing the face of youth of this alliance, I was asked to be the first warmup speaker at the rally followed by some other leaders till Bahuguna and Jagjivan Ram spoke. Unquestionably this was the largest ever audience I have ever addressed. Mrs. Gandhi had accused Jagjivan Ram of betrayal. She charged him for not informing her during the Emergency as to what was going wrong. A powerful and a crafty orator Babuji responded at this rally by saying:
“कैसे बता देते ? बता देते तो जगजीवन कहीं होते और राम कहीं ।“
The size and enthusiasm of this rally sent a signal in the entire country that a Janata wave was building up. V.C. Shukla tried a petty trick. Before the rally he announced that popular film “Bobby” would be shown on Doordarshan at the time. But so powerful was the anti-Congress mood that people preferred to attend the rally rather than watching “Bobby”. To attend this rally, the crowd had to walk few kilometers since the bus service was also suspended.
I got my first opportunity to participate in an election campaign. I toured north Indian States and went through the entire heartland of Uttar Pradesh spending the last one week entirely in Rae Bareli and Amethi where Mrs. Gandhi and Sanjay were contesting. Campaigning through Rajasthan, I went till Mumbai and eventually Pune. Almost everywhere, we could see a mass citizen’s participation in the campaign. Both Mrs. Gandhi and Sanjay lost their own seats.
When the results were announced, States in north India voted en masse for the Janata Party. In the entire north India and the Hindi heartland, the Congress could win one seat in Madhya Pradesh and one seat in Rajasthan. It lost all the seats of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Punjab etc. However, it managed to win some seats in the South where the atrocities of the Emergency were relatively less. Janata Party got an absolute majority. Before resigning, Mrs. Gandhi revoked the Emergency and slowly all the detenues were released from the prisons. There was an air of freedom in the entire country.
Institutional safeguards and disturbing observations
The most disturbing observation of the Emergency was, when the Central Government turned dictatorial, the entire system caved in. The Supreme Court became subservient, the media became sycophantic. Post Emergency Advani ji told the Delhi media “when asked to bend, you chose to crawl”. Over two lakh false FIRs were registered and hardly any police officers stood up to protest. Thousands of detention orders were passed when there were no grounds of detention. Hardly any Collector refused to sign an illegal detention order. Even during the campaign when the result appeared inevitable, Mrs. Gandhi was unwilling to see the writing on the wall. She superseded Justice H.R. Khanna and appointed Justice Beg as the Chief Justice of India. Justice Khanna resigned. Palkhiwala commented that the post of the Chief Justice is now too small for Justice Khanna.
The Morarji Desai led Janata Party Government undid lot of damage that the Emergency had done so that nobody experiments such dictatorship in future. The power under Article 352 to impose an Emergency for internal disturbances was now restricted. Article 21 was made non-suspendable. The courts were given the power of judicial review of several detention orders. The 44th Constitution Amendment reversed most of the provisions of the 42nd Amendment. This was a major institutional safeguard.
Another significant development has been the evolution of technology which has made censorship of the media impossible. You could no longer withhold information from the people.
The role of Political Parties.
India’s Left parties have always been a puzzle to me. The CPI was an unashamed supporter of the Emergency. Its political line was that Emergency was a war on fascism. Though theoretically the CPI (M) was opposed to the Emergency and critical of it, it was not an active participant in the struggle against the Emergency. Only two of its MPs were arrested. Its Polit-bureau members, Central Committee members and students’ leaders were, by and large, not put in detention.
The Congress (O), the socialist parties, Swatantra Party, the Jan Sangh and the RSS were the main participants in the Satyagraha and protest against the Emergency. To me the Lohia socialist and their post-Emergency evolution has shown a very curious trend. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia was the creator of the slogan in the early 60s “Congress Hatao Desh Bachao”. His legacy was represented by George Fernandes, Madhu Limaye and Raj Narain, who were all consistently anti-Congress. Today that legacy has been inherited by Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and substantially by Shri Nitish Kumar in Bihar. While the trace of anti-Congressism is visible in both, the party formed by Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav is always willing to do business with the Congress. I have always serious doubts whether those who represent the political DNA of Dr. Lohia and Pt. Nehru can in the long run ever work together.
Though I believe it is impossible for anyone in India to repeat the Emergency, but as the famous advice goes that democracy lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no Constitution can save it and no judge can protect it.
A Personal Note
Union Minister Vijay Goel has today tweeted a letter, I wrote to him and Rajat Sharma during the Emergency. Thank you Vijay. Vijay Goel and Rajat Sharma were two of closest colleagues on the day of the Emergency. They helped me to organize the 26th June 1975 protest against the Emergency. While I was being arrested, I requested both to disappear, go underground and participate in the Satyagraha starting from 29th June. Both of them led the Satyagraha. Their courage was exemplary. Vijay Goel today is a valuable colleague in the party and the Government. Rajat did not continue in politics when he became a journalist. He today is one of the India’s celebrated journalists and anchors. Both continue to remain close friends of mine – almost a part of my extended family.