If we want democracy to take roots in our country and to make freedom secure for ever we must teach courage at all levels, from infancy to manhood
Smt Indira Gandhi with Congress party members just
before delcaring the state of Emergency
The awesome period of twenty-one months of the Emergency was a cruel period in the life of our nation. It is at such crucial moments that a nation’s mettle is tested.
How did our various social groups behave in these harsh times? What rote did they play? In what ways did they express their reactions? What attitudes came to the surface? Which of these were beneficial for our national life and which ones were detrimental to it? A dispassionate assessment of all these factors is called for. If we do not do it we would , like the Bourbons of France learn nothing and forget nothing. If we want to shed dangerous attitudes and habits of mind and learn new lessons of nationalism we cannot escape some cruel introspection.
During the difficult times of the emergency both the dark and bright aspects of the popular mind came to the surface. If, on this occasion, some people wrote golden pages of history by their behavior there was also no shortage of those who proved shameful blots. At one end of the situation there was the courage to accept the challenge of the situation and to change it, the manhood to stand up to dictatorship, and uncompromising urge for freedom, and the high morale to gladly undergo all privations for its attainment. The present book is mainly devoted to a glimpse of this bright side. The previous chapters have given a broad picture of it. At the other end, however, there was also a dark side. Fear, flattery, selfishness, treachery of near and dear ones, hunger for power, delight in atrocity and repression—such dark attitudes were also everywhere, and they helped Mrs. Gandhi give substance to her dream of absolute power.
Every nation has both tendencies, but when a nation’s existence is at stake its future is decided by which tendency has the upper hand.
Under cover of the Emergency Mrs. Gandhi was out to destroy all democratic systems, beliefs and organisations of India. Freedom of dissent is the life-blood of democracy. Dissent with the ruling party expresses itself in the form of various political parties. For killing dissent Mrs. Gandhi had taken all necessary steps to bring all parties to an end. Naturally all opposition parties were faced with a life –or-death situation. Now it was expected that at least in order to save their own existence they would oppose the Emergency with all their might. Unfortunately and surprisingly enough a majority of them could not pass this test. They did not discharge their responsibility with honesty.
Immediately on the Emergency being declared some workers of the Tamil Nadu RSS and some other youth organisations met K Kamaraj, the towering figure of the South, and sought his guidance. He said, “After the advent of independence we have built up our institutions only centring round seats of power. All eyes came to be riveted on membership in Assemblies and Parliament and position in ministries. The parties, the leaders and workers who have come up in this climate of scramble for power are the last ones to be depended upon where suffering and sacrifice are called for.”
Police lathi charging on the public meeting of JP in Delhi
The then Jana Sangh leader Atal Behari Vajpayee also expressed similar thoughts about the then political parties and their leaders, MPs and legislators. In a letter he wrote to a friend on Sept. 25, 1976 from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, where he was undergoing treatment, “It is strange that among those who have fallen a prey to fears or favours the majority are the members of legislatures and Parliament. Present-day politics, it seems, has only succeeded in creating an opportunistic class who would flee at the first onslaught on their privileged position.”
Kamaraj and Vajpayee painted the real picture of our political parties. It is true that a few all-India as well as provincial opposition leaders had taken a leading part in the struggle, but at lower levels even their active members did not seen prepared for such a struggle. Their organisational structure was so weak that when the Government declared the Emergency and arrested some opposition legislators, MPs and leaders at various levels these parties could not maintain contact even with their own ranks, let alone other parties. Their whole network broke down. Neither the leaders not the workers knew what to do. The only exception was the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. It could play a role in the struggle to some extent because it had paid special attention to train its workers in this direction.
Fear, flattery, selfishness, of near and dear ones, hunger for power, delight in atrocity and repression—such dark attitudes were also everywhere, and they helped Mrs. Gandhi give dream of absolute power
It is true that when the Emergency was declared the Kerala Marxists plunged into the Satyagraha, but they did not have the mettle to bear police atrocities and within a few days ran away from it. AK Gopalan, the most popular leader of Kerala’s workers and farm labourers, was ill in those days, yet he took part in the struggle and took police lathis on the head. Gopalan felt confident that in Kerala his organisation was the most widespread and strong, so its contribution to the struggle would be the greatest. But he was shocked to see the reality. In the last days of his life the question that saddened him was why his party failed the test. He repeatedly said to his close associates, ‘To date I have many times led farmers’ and workers’ agitations. On such occasions it was common for me to have a following of ten thousand people. How tragic it is that today even ten people do not have the courage to follow me. Why is this so? It is clear that those who participated in the previous agitations had hopes of some financial benefit, while in the struggle against the Emergency no personal benefit is involved. So in such a struggle only those people can be of use who are devoted to some high ideal and are prepared to face all adversities for its sake’.
Among regional parties that Akali Dal of Punjab was the only exception. From the beginning to the end of the Emergency it held aloft the torch of struggle. But the reasons for this is clear. The Akali Dal is not merely a political party. It is joined to the force of a religious seat. Its Satyagrahi batches that set out from Gurudwaras, its techniques of Satyagaraha and its leaders—all had the stamp of the Sikh sect on them . Hence it would not be logical to consider them on par with other political parties.
The above analysis makes it clear that the awesome experiences of 21 months have highlighted the weaknesses of the political parties and given them a never-to-be forgotten warning. Now they should be on guard, and work towards eliminating the weaknesses exposed by the Emergency. Their leaders not had the responsibility of using this experience to rouse among their ranks steadfast devotion to basic principles of national life. Mere advice was not enough to bring about the desired change. Only personal example could build a new edifice. In this direction the ruling party had the biggest responsibility. For its leaders and workers the experience of the Emergency should have led to serious introspection.
George Fernandes being arrested
Newspapers and men of letters
The press and the judiciary are the two main pillars of democracy. Without their freedom democracy cannot be imagined. Without destroying them dictatorship cannot last even for a day. So invariably a dictator’s first and fiercest blow is directed at them. The same thing happened in India. These two have the responsibility to maintain the nation’s morale at a high level. The press is a powerful medium of making the people aware of their freedom and rights and prepare them for a struggle. The judiciary on the one hand champions the cause of the people who fall prey to injustice and atrocity, thus giving them courage, and on the other reassures them that even official injustice can be restrained.
Kerala Marxists plunged into the Satyagraha, but they did not have the mettle to bear police atrocities and within a few days ran away from it
When the Emergency was declared many eminent people of the country reminded the press of its responsibility. Leaders like Acharya Kripalani and K. Santhanam sent letter to all editors reminding them of their duty in that hour of adversity. Vajpayee and Advani who had only a few minutes before their arrest on the morning of June 26, 1975, reminded journalists of their important role in the long struggle for independence and appealed to them to live up to it. But what happened? Newspapers and journalists also proved weak links like political parties. Except for a very few journalists and editors all others belied the expectations made of them. Some of them even became the courtiers of the dictator. A majority remained neutral. This proved a big blow to the struggle for the protection of democracy.
Dictatorship can play its game only so long as people are timid. Once the clouds of fear disperse, it cannot last
The biggest lesson
The biggest lesson about the behaviour of different sections of Society that the Emergency has taught us that the Emergency has taught us is that the fear felt by the common people is the mainstay of dictatorship. Dictatorship can play its game only so long as people are timid. Once the clouds of fear disperse, it cannot last. This truth was proved during the Emergency. When even a few dauntless spirits sounded the bugle of struggle, the fear gripping the people at large began to recede. The fearless warriors filled the people’s minds with courage and inspired them to exploit the golden opportunity. When the people shed their fear the demon of dictatorship had to take to its heels. All this means if we want democracy to take roots in our country and to make freedom secure for ever we must teach courage at all levels, from infancy to manhood. When every child in this country acquires Nachiketa’s courage to look death in the face to know the truth no power, internal or external, would dare cast an evil eye on Bharat.
This battle between the power of the ruler and the might of the people was like the Samudra Manthan of Satya Yug. This book has attempted to give readers a taste of a few drops of the nectar that emerged out of the churning. It has also tried to analyses the poison that came out. In order to make the people of our country capable of swallowing this poison it is essential to consolidate nation-building attitudes like noble character and devotion to ideals in their minds. When these attitudes take root in the life of our nation the might of the life-giving nectar will surge within us and we shall truly become what the Rishis of yore have called ‘Amritasya Putrah’—sons of immortality.
(The writer is former Sarkaryavah of RSS. Excerpt from the book, The people versus Emergency : A Saga of Struggle)