Twenty-six years after the Emergency -- By Kuldip Nayar Back   Home  

Even a couple of weeks after the Emergency - imposed on the 26th of June 26 years ago _ it was quite well known in Delhi that Rajiv Gandhi, then a pilot with the Indian Airlines, and his wife, Sonia Gandhi, were not happy over the way Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv's younger brother, had become an extra-constitutional authority and had literally taken over the government. In fact, both of them would spend most of their time outside the house, 6, Safdarjung Road, from where Sanjay operated. They did not want in any way to be associated with what was going on. Rajiv even complained to his mother, Indira Gandhi, then the Prime Minister, that he did not like all that was happening.

Newspapers at that time compared the two rooms, used by Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, located at opposite ends of the house, to underline the differences between the two brothers.

One room was quiet with the door shut and the other busy and noisy with senior officials hanging around and a long queue of visitors waiting.

The views of the two were poles apart. Rajiv respected the wishes of the electorate as he proved subsequently. He did not even try to form a government in 1989 when the Congress lost the majority in the Lok Sabha. He preferred to sit in the Opposition, although his was the largest party.

On the other hand, Sanjay believed in a system, which was ruthless and autocratic. I had a peep into his mind when I met him. I was then writing my book, The Judgement - The Inside story of the Emergency.

Sanjay came to know of it. He sent me a message through Kamal Nath, who was then a member of the reconstituted board of the Indian Express, where I worked.

Both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay had lost at the polls, and so had the Congress. The party's tally in the entire northern India was two or three seats.

The Safdarjang Road house looked like a lost battlefield, a sad picture of furniture, luggage and papers strewn all over.

"How could you think you would get away with it?" I asked Sanjay who, clad in a white kurta and pyjamas, was standing under a tree.

"In my scheme of things, there were no elections," he said without any trace of remorse.

"Then why were elections held?" I asked him. "You should put the question to my mother," Sanjay replied, adding, "I opposed them vehemently."

At that very moment, I had a short glimpse of his mother, retracing her steps from the verandah to the main house.

I never asked her why she went to the polls. In fact, we did not meet even after her return to power. So the mystery remained unexplained.

I believe that Maneka Gandhi, Sanjay's widow, has filed a case in London against the author and the publisher of a recent book on Indira Gandhi.

Maneka has reportedly challenged certain observations attributed to her husband. I do not know what she has said in her plaint but she knows very well that what Sanjay did harmed the country a lot - something which cannot be repaired.

What he or his mother did during the Emergency can never be condoned nor effaced from the pages of Indian history. The authoritarianism of the two, violating all laws and values, will remain a black mark against them.

Posterity may be harsher to them because they set in motion the type of personal governance, which has continued to be followed both at the Centre and in the States. The undemocratic way of administration is increasing as the days go by.

The new rulers do not even have the desire to act according to what is right. It is, however, strange that neither Rajiv Gandhi, when he was Prime Minister, nor Sonia Gandhi, even after becoming the Congress president, ever uttered a word against the Emergency.

Probably they thought that the criticism of the Emergency meant the criticism of Mrs Indira Gandhi. And they did not want to criticise her.

Yet, if they were unhappy during the Emergency, as is the general impression, Sonia Gandhi should at least say "sorry" to make it clear that she and her husband were not a party to the Emergency. The Congress will have to make amends.

Some bitterness will remain because one lakh people were detained without trial, far more than the total arrests the British had made during the Quit India movement. Still the expression of regret may begin to irk the conscience of people in high places and make them realise that the wrongs would have to be accounted for one day.

In a country where the line between right and wrong, moral and immoral, has been obliterated, the word "sorry" may begin some introspection in public affairs.

I do not like to recall bad days. They bring back bitter memories. Still I believe that the dust of time should not be allowed to obscure certain happenings. They should always be remembered, even though they reopen old wounds.

The process may be cathartic because people had surrendered their freedom without any fight at that time.

True, the nation was initially in a state of shock and then of stupor, unable to realise the directions and the full implications of the actions of the government and its functionaries. But subsequently, when the mindless arrests of opponents did not abate and motivated raids were conducted on houses and business premises, people woke up.

But they were too scared to speak out.

The Communists, initially on Indira Gandhi's side, also recalled how wrong they had been in supporting her. By then democracy had been subverted. Indira Gandhi had not only suspended the fundamental rights but had also switched off the lights of the democratic system to put people in the darkness of dictatorship for 20 months.

The press behaved most abjectly. L K Advani was right when after the Emergency he told journalists: You were asked to bend but you began to crawl. The role of the Press Council was most reprehensible because the then chairman allied himself with the government.

Sanjay literally ran the country. His henchmen carried out high-handed and arbitrary actions with impunity. Tyrants sprouted at all levels overnight - tyrants whose claim to authority was largely based on their proximity to the seats of power.

The attitude of general public functionaries was largely characterised by a paralysis of the will to do the right thing. The ethical considerations inherent in public behaviour became generally dim and in many cases beyond the mental grasp of many public functionaries.

Desire for self-preservation, as admitted by a number of public servants before the Shah Commission, which went into the excesses during the Emergency, became the sole motivation for official action and behaviour.

Anxiety to survive at any cost formed the keynote of approach to the problems that came before many of them.

But Jayaprakash Narain, who represented the country's collective resistance to the Emergency, wrote in his prison diary that the people would not accept the indignity and shame of totalitarianism. People did rise ultimately.

What worries me is that those who were victims of the Emergency are themselves indulging in acts that suggest their faith in the freedom of individual or the press is only skin-deep.

A few television anchormen have gone to the extent of characterising the protest against the Emergency as a personal campaign by some people against Indira Gandhi.

All I can say is: Lord, forgive them; they know not what they do.

This article was published in My mother is an ardent fan of Indira Gandhi. Naturally I too like her though I do not know much about her. When I read something about Emergency or Sanjay Gandhi I wonder why do people hate Indira and Sanjay so much! So, I am interested in reading about Emergency. Hope this article is interesting to u too.