Remembering the Emergency
Contrary to popular perception that Sanjay Gandhi and his motley crew of goons were behind the decision to impose the Emergency, the strange truth is that they actually wanted Indira Gandhi to take over as President and by virtue of being so become Supreme Commander of the Indian armed forces. <g data-gr-id="88">Truth</g> is sometimes stranger than fiction. Sanjay Gandhi was also against his mother’s original decision to go in for general elections. He wanted elections to be delayed for five years through one-year extensions.
Sanjay Gandhi’s sinister takeover plan
Much before the Allahabad High Court’s judgment unseating Indira Gandhi and disqualifying her from contesting elections for six years, Indira Gandhi used to hold nocturnal meetings with her younger son Sanjay Gandhi and his close confidant Bansi Lal . These meetings were held to discuss contingency plans in the event of an adverse verdict in the case.
My sources privy to the machinations in the Prime Minister household had at that time told me that in such meetings Indira Gandhi was presented a two-phase plan for implementation even before the Allahabad High Court’s judgement slated for June 12, 1975.
The first phase of the plan envisaged a rather bleak future for Indian democracy. The first phase involved multiple steps. Firstly, Indira Gandhi was to take over as President and become the Supreme Commander of the Armed forces.
The Constitution was to be abrogated and fundamental rights were to be <g data-gr-id="76">immediatelysuspended</g> in this hypothetical plan. The judiciary was to be disbanded and central and state legislatures were to be retained as it is. If this plan had been implemented then Indian democracy would have effectively turned into a tin pot dictatorship.
My sources informed me that the other steps that were proposed to be taken in sync with the aforementioned draconian measures included house arrests of the then president, the Union agriculture and irrigation minister, Jagjivan Ram, the Union oil minister, K.D.Malviya and the minister for external affairs Y.B.Chavan. It was also suggested that some other top-level officials, including N.K.Mukherjee, Union home secretary and P.N.Haksar be arrested.Haksar was the brains behind crucial events such as the nationalization of banks in 1969, the 1971 Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty and the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 Apparently the PM was not in favour of such harsh measures. She merely listened to the suggested takeover plan but did not instantly respond.
However, after the Allahabad High Court’s 12 June 1975 judgement disqualifying her from contesting elections for six years, active consideration of the takeover plan began. Indira was still not inclined to take such extreme steps. But under sufficient pressure from her son and his coterie’s hard-core member Bansi Lal, she reluctantly approved the takeover plan at 2-30 pm on 25 June 1975.
Sanjay Gandhi was to the play <g data-gr-id="97">a active</g> role in planning future strategies on the economic and political fronts. He also emphasized at one of the nocturnal meetings that three basic factors would have to be kept in view while deciding post-takeover policies: Vigilance against the CIA; maintaining good relations with the USSR; and, that at no cost should the USSR be displeased. Duties were assigned by Sanjay Gandhi to the PM loyalists to mobilise all chief ministers in support of the PM. Some of the CMs were brought in Air Force planes. Madhya Pradesh chief minister P.C.Sethi was the first to arrive. He was followed by Bansi Lal who was in Srinagar and reached Delhi by 8-30 AM on June 13.
Proclamation of Emergency
After initially giving her consent to the takeover plan of Sanjay Gandhi on June 25 afternoon, Indira Gandhi changed her mind after a late night meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and one of her other inner circle advisers. After she explained her reservations on the takeover plan, Ray suggested the imposition of internal Emergency instead of acting on Sanjay Gandhi’s takeover plan. She agreed with the suggestion.
After Indira Gandhi’s meeting with her advisers and confidants, Ray drafted a letter to the President to issue proclamation of Emergency “on the basis of information Indira Gandhi had received that there is an imminent danger to the security of India being threatened by internal disturbances and the matter is extremely urgent”. The pliant President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed duly issued the proclamation. Although Emergency came into effect on the night of 25 June, the Union Cabinet passed a formal resolution on the imposition of Emergency only in its meeting the next morning.
Had the takeover plan been implemented, India would have perhaps become another Pakistan, with the sole difference that instead of army dictatorship of which Pakistan has been a victim – the country would have been under a civilian dictator. Such a development would have led to consequences worse than what happened during the Emergency.
Proclamation of Emergency, my sources claimed, came as a huge surprise to Sanjay Gandhi and members of his caucus who had urged the PM to take over even before the Allahabad High Court judgement on June 12, 1975. They were convinced that it was Siddhartha Shankar Ray who had “sabotaged” their plan and had substituted it with the Emergency. They were confident that they would ultimately persuade Indira Gandhi to give her consent to their takeover plan. Their line of argument would be “Once you slip in politics and do not go the whole hog, you are out of politics”.
After the declaration of the Emergency, political leaders opposed to Indira Gandhi were arrested in a sudden swoop. The most notable among them were Jaya Prakash Narain, Morarji Desai, L.K.Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Advani and Vajpayee then belonged to the Jan Sangh, which later re-emerged as the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP in 1980 .After Bansi Lal returned from Delhi to Chandigarh on the night of 25-26 June 1975, the Punjab CM, Giani Zail Singh, contacted him for further instructions which were to precede the promulgation of Emergency the same night.
The imposition of the Emergency was followed by the curbing of civil liberties, the gagging of the media by enforcing censorship and imprisoning prominent opposition leaders as well as a number of journalists. All this created a fear psychosis across the nation. It was a dark period in Indian history. We must never forget the lessons we learnt from it.