Emergency and Kerala: An Unsung Saga of India's Second Freedom Struggle
With CPI leader C Achutha Menon as Chief Minister and Congress leader Karunakaran as Home Minister, Kerala witnessed unparalleled violence and brutality during Emergency. RSS Swayamsevaks played an exemplary role in the anti-Emergency struggle, falling prey to unbridled oppression and police brutality, whereas CPM pulled out of the struggle after realising that RSS was the lone target of Emergency

Mrs Indira Gandhi with the then Kerala CM & CPI leader C Achutha Menon & Congress leader K Karunakaran

The housewarming of Madhava Nivas, the newly constructed state headquarters of RSS, was scheduled to take place on June 26, 1975 morning in Elamakkara, Kochi. Senior workers of Sangh and Sangh oriented organisations from all over Kerala had assembled in the new building which had hardly undergone the final touches. RSS Dakshin Kshetriya Pracharak Swarg. Yadava Rao Joshi had come from Bangaluru to participate in the housewarming ceremony. An element of uneasiness prevailed in the waterfront country environment of Elamakkara off heart of the Ernakulam city in the otherwise happy moments of the opening of an own Pranth Karyala of RSS in Kerala. Even the presence of Yadav Rao Joshi, loving patriarch of Sangh workers of four South Indian states and Dakshin Kshetriya Pracharak of RSS could not kill the anxiety lock, stock and barrel.
The morning dailies and morning bulletins of AIR had reported the hot news of Emergency declaration. But, no further information was available. The only source of ‘Delhi news’ was a pocket radio P. Narayanji, the then state organising secretary Bharatiya Jan Sangh, was carrying. He switched it on during the breaks for tea and lunch as the meeting of Sangh Pracharaks from the whole state was going on. BBC informed the listeners the number of arrests, actions of the Indira regime, etc. sans any failure. AIR assumed the role of ‘Indira Vani.’ Obviously the annual meeting of the Pracharaks, a serious routine for the beginning of the ‘organisational year,’ had been kicked off along with the inaugural ceremony of the newly constructed state karyalaya. Usually, it is a one-week affair. But, the second day, June 27, Yadav Raoji and Pranth Pracharak Bhaskar Raoji took stock of the situation for some time and reached the conclusion that Indira would definitely lay her reckless hands-on Sangh soon. The veterans dissolved the Pracharaks’ camp on the second day, June 27. The Pracharaks, the full-timers who formed the steel frame for the organisation, were asked to work underground in their respective jurisdictions. The ‘native’ workers were supposed to lead the work in ‘daylight.’ All workers vacated the new centre in the evening. After a couple of days, police raided Madhava Nivas. Karyalaya Pramukh M. Mohan Kukiliya, Kochi Mahanagar Zilla Pracharak C.K. Sreenivasan, ABVP state organising secretary K.G. Venugopal and the cook were arrested in that raid and were charged under DIR. False cases were charged against them; they were jailed for about three months.
One of those days, raid took place in the state office of VHP in Kaloor, Kochi. State organising secretary V.P. Janardhanan, his predecessor Iravi Ravi Namboothiripad and office secretary Sugunan were arrested from there. RSS worker Sivadas was arrested from his work and Kochi Mahanagar Zilla Karyavah D. Anantha Prabhu was arrested from his rice shop. VHP functionaries and both Sivadas and Prabhu were charged a single false case: They tried to recruit Babu, a native of Kaloor, Kochi, by force to RSS, the banned organisation! That they were arrested from three different places under three different circumstances did not prevent the ‘committed police’ from framing the cases to please their political ‘masters.’
Babu was an innocent bloke, a lathe workshop owner who used to leave the work sometime around midnight depending upon his commitments. Once he was taken by the police to custody when he was returning home past midnight. It was a regular phenomenon those days. Next day, his brothers came to the station and he was released conditionally – He had to report whenever police wanted. When the aforementioned RSS-VHP leaders were arrested, police summoned him and instructed to submit a statement before the court that those RSS-VHP leaders compelled him to join RSS! Babu told a young active RSS worker about the dilemma he faced in this matter: He was worried about police’s wrath if he did not comply with their order; the same time he was worried about the RSS’s anger if he told an utter lie before the court! But, actual fact was something else. The defendant’s lawyer could argue the case on behalf of his client, but, the ‘committed judiciary’ gets the ‘timely’ order from a ‘superior source’! So, Babu, despite his compulsion, failed to tell lie (as it was never his cup of tea) ! The RSS-VHP leaders were convicted for recruiting him to RSS by force. This is just a narration of the arrests in the organisational capital of RSS in Kerala.
When the prominent district leaders were arrested throughout the state, young blood with utmost idealistic moorings took over those positions. All political parties, except Bharatiya Jan Sangh, tuned perplexed and scared. Even though the leaders of CPM, a party with the strong organisational network, had been arrested during the initial days, most of them were released from the jail as the government could gather that the party was not resolved to fight against Emergency. Of course, CPM leader AKG courted arrest in Kochi when all the Opposition leaders had decided to carry out satyagraha against Emergency. Jan Sangh leader O. Rajagopal courted arrest in this connection. But, non-Jan Sangh parties or their leaders were not seen for any follow-up activities. Young CPM leaders like Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were jailed under MISA. Most of the CPM leaders were released within an year. Even senior CPM leader A.P. Varkey was released from Jail by the beginning of the second part of 1976. CPM resorted to a policy sans fighting against the ‘Emergency raj.’ EMS and other CPM leaders were able to address public meetings in town halls, etc. without discussing political matters and confining to economic issues. It was a rare privilege which BJP and most of the Opposition parties could not even imagine.
By August, 1975, the anti-Emergency fight became the sole responsibility of RSS and Sangh-oriented organisations like Jan Sangh, etc. Wall posters and wall-writings of June 26 – 27, 1975 and a pamphlet captioned “Indira’s Atiyanthiram” (Indira’s Emergency) were the stiff resistance demonstrated by Congress Reformists, a splinter group of Congress, led by M.A. John. It led to the arrests of John, senior journalist P. Rajan and their state general secretary Devassykkutti. Congress Reformist leader Devassykkutti made sincere arrangements for printing “Kurukshethram,” the underground fortnightly published and distributed by RSS workers surreptitiously. Printers, if caught by police, could have been killed in police torture. A.P. Bharatkumar, a senior RSS worker in Thrissur, turned chronically sick because of the police torture in this regard.
By that time, the country-wide organisational machinery of RSS was converted into an anti-Emergency agitation apparatus. During the initial days of Emergency prominent RSS leaders like Pranth Karyavah Adv. T.V. Ananthan and Vibhag Karyavah V. Radhakrishana Bhattji were jailed under MISA. Later on several leaders like P.P. Mukundan, V.P. Dasan, Vaikkom Gopakumar, etc. were put behind bars under MISA. The physical custodial torture Gopakumar and another pracharak Sivadas underwent was unparalleled post-independence. Still, organisational machinery remained intact. Those who were arrested during the initial days dived into underground activities once they were released. Office of the Sangh-oriented “Kesari” Malayalam weekly was sealed by the police on the initial days of the dark era. “Janmabhumi” eveninger had been launched from Kozhikkode hardly two months prior to the declaration of Emergency. Police closed it and took the octogenarian editor P.V.K. Nedungadi to custody. He was not permitted to wear proper clothes or to take his spectacles. And, he was handcuffed. It was the grave experience a senior journalist had ever encountered in India until then. The reason was simple, but a grave for the establishment: “Janmabhumi” carried news against the emergency, An eveninger from Kochi “Rashtravartha” had to face the same fate, It carried a picture of RSS Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras when he was arrested on June 30, 2017, in Nagpur.
On July 4, 1975, Indira regime banned RSS and several other organisations. Indira’s target number one was RSS! Immediately all the Pranth Sanghachalaks of RSS issued statements dissolving the organisation in their respective states. It was a legal step prior to launching a powerful, but non-violent, war against Emergency. Within a few days BMS founder and senior RSS pracharak Dathopanth Thengadi came to Kerala deputising the central leadership of RSS. His mission was to meet the leaders of the non-Congress and non-CPI parties and establish a common platform to fight Emergency. But, he could only meet CPM leader V. Vishwanatha Menon MP (RS); all others were incommunicado.
Several senior RSS and Jan Sangh leaders travelled throughout the country in disguise. Madhva Rao Mule, Moropanth Pingle, Bhao Rao Deoras, Nanaji Deshmukh, Bapurao Moghe, Sunder Singh Bhandari, Prof. Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiyya) and Yadav Rao Joshi were some of the prominent leaders among them. Nanaji was arrested by October, 1975, a big catch for Indira who used to describe him as “hard as nail.” Interestingly our legendary PM Narendra Modiji used to travel disguising as a Sikh. Dr Subramaniam Swamy, Kidarnath Sahni and Makaranth Desai sent abroad and unleashed propaganda against Emergency. It paved the way for a clear understanding, in foreign countries, of what was happening in India. Dr Swamy’s secret arrival in the country, his dramatic appearance in Rajya Sabha and immediate disappearance from the country evading arrest, etc. had demoralised the regime a lot.
On October 2, Lok Sangharsh Samiti (LSS) started the poster campaign with Mahatma Gandhiji’s picture. October 2 was selected as it was Gandhi Jayanthi Day. By that time Congress (O)’s Raveendra Verma had taken over as the general convener of LSS as Nanaji was arrested. Poster campaign proved that Sangh workers could break any sort of police bundobust. The same time LSS established a parallel news distribution system circumventing the strict censorship I & B ministry had implemented. Fortnightly newspapers in vernacular languages were printed and distributed clandestinely, taking grave risks which had been described in earlier paragraphs. In Malayalam it was “Kurukshethram.” Ordinary people, bureaucrats, police officers and even ministers of the ruling regime depended on these journals for getting genuine news. CPM which did not have any programme to fight against Emergency depended a lot on LSS journals. But for them, CPM men would not have read the speech made by their senior leader A.K. Gopalan in Lok Sabha.
Then LSS planned nation-wide non-violent satyagraha. Yadav Rao Joshi came to Kerala to declare it in underground meetings of RSS workers. Satyagraha was carried out from November 14, 1975, to January 14, 1976. It was absolutely non-violent and the participants suffered inhuman tortures mentioned in an exclusive chapter. LSS satyagraha was practically an RSS activity in Kerala. Other partners in the LSS like Congress (O) and Socialists did not succeed in inspiring their rank file to go for the high-risk satyagraha.
Satyagrahis were bound to lose everything they cherished in their life. They were screened and selected after three rounds of study classes. They were told again and again that they should be ready even to die at the hands of the police. They had to prepare themselves to lose their education, career, job, family, parents, etc. Still more than 100,000 workers came forward to stage satyagraha and embrace police torture and/or jail. Most of them were RSS workers, There were several women among them. Some of them were pregnant and kept the child with them in jail. In Kerala, women satyagrahis were beaten by the male police force. Still there were satyagrahis who courted arrest more than once. Every satyagrahi had to pay Rs 2 towards the central LSS committee fund. Since they determined to go for satyagraha very much after getting the enlightenment about the consequences, despite inhuman torture none of them revealed any organisational secrets. Police tortured the satyagrahis in the worst manners to get the information regarding the whereabouts of the senior underground leaders. In Kerala, K. Bhaskar Rao, Ranga Hari and P. Madhavji were the key underground leaders. Police destroyed several houses in Paivelive, a village in Kasaragod, for having an all India record of grooming and sending a maximum number of satyagrahis. Several people died during and after the torture. P. Rajan’s custodial death in Kerala shook the entire political apple cart of the state. Chief Minister Karunakaran had to resign from his position as Rajan was killed during Emergency when he was the home minister in the CPI-Congress alliance led by CPI veteran C. Achutha Menon.
Some Congress leaders utilised the situation to mint money during the most advantageous period they could ever imagine. They threatened rich businessmen; MISA was the most powerful tool to wield. They informed the “selected” business people that their names were in the MISA list. They (Congress operators) could save them if they were ready to grease the palm ! There were reports of several leaders who amassed lakhs of rupees this manner.
ABVP leaders, led by the then Kerala state organising secretary K.G. Venugopal, made an attempt to organise state-wide satyagraha in all campuses in the state, by organising a joint front with SFI, KSU (O), KSU (Congress Reformists) and Socialist students. After a couple of meetings, it was resolved to stage satyagraha in all campuses in the state under the leadership of the aforementioned student bodies. A subcommittee was formed to draft the pamphlet for distributing during the campus satyagraha and ABVP advanced the monies for the printing. But, on the eve of the final meeting to fix the date for campus satyagraha, SFI reneged from the earlier stand saying that their political bosses did not like them to participate in an RSS-led agitation against Indira regime. When SFI went back on their words other non ABVP student bodies lost their morale. That was the tragic ‘death’ of an ambitious and youthful agitation against Emergency in Kerala. Consequently, ABVP deployed their cadres in the local satyagraha batches of LSS.
However, ABVP continued to give the copies of Kurukshetram to SFI leaders clandestinely. During such an exchange in Maharaja’s College, Kochi, SFI leader T.M. Thomas Isaac (currently state finance minister) and ABVP’s K.R. Umakanthan (currently managing editor of Janmabhumidaily) were physically dragged ino the principal’s office and locked them there by KSU (Kerala chapter of NSUI) workers. Then the KSU men handed over them to the police. They were physically tortured to get the source of the journal and jailed under DIR.
The political frigidity CPM observed towards the fight against Emergency led lot of their cadres to the fold of RSS and Sangh-oriented organisations even during those dark days. RSS got lot of underground recruits those days. But, CPM’s bigwigs did not take it seriously at that juncture. But, after the lifting of Emergency when these new recruits turned active and dynamic RSS workers, CPM realised that their base was eroding slowly. This erosion took place mostly in their strongholds like Kannur and Alappuzha districts and coastal regions of Thrissur district. The only method they could devise to stop the erosion was to terrorise those who left CPM to join RSS by unleashing attacks and killings against RSS workers in general and these ‘new recruits’ in particular. If the history of CPM-RSS clashes in the above-mentioned places is studied thoroughly one can easily make out that their major targets are the ‘new recruits’ who left CPM and joined RSS. The victims are either former CPM men or at least the family members or close relatives of CPM cadres. This is a very important aspect which is always ignored by the researchers who study the CPM-RSS clashes.
RSS and LSS had played an exemplary role in the anti-Emergency struggle. But, CPM took undue advantage of the publicity shy character of RSS; now they take credit for the struggle in Kerala. RSS or Sangh-oriented organisations have to take this exploitation seriously.