Features Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 05:30

  When Indira Gandhi forced a country-wide emergency on June 25, 1975, I was a senior editor in Indian Express in Madras. The run-up to it was a massive rally addressed by Jayaprakash Narayan in which he called upon the uniformed forces not to obey illegal orders. It was a kind of a climax to JP’s campaign against corruption which intensified after Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha was set aside by Allahabad High Court judge J L N Sinha on June 11, 1975. The Delhi’s rally was a call to Indira to step down or face the people’s wrath. 'Master' CP Seshadri In the early hours of June 25, around 1.30 am to be precise, I got a two-para report on the UNI ticker. It said the then Rajasthan Congressman Mohanlal Sukhadia flew to Hyderabad, met AP Chief Minister Jalagam Vengala Rao and the two together then flew to Bangalore to meet Karnataka Chief Minister D Devaraj Urs. Smelling a rat, I drew the attention of our legendary news editor C P Seshadri, fondly known as Master, who used to sit with us till the paper was put to sleep. On his advice, I carried the report on Page 1. Around 2 pm on June 25, I heard on All India Radio that a country-wide emergency had been imposed. There was already an internal emergency confined to the north-east since the China-India war of 1962 and was extended in 1971 after the Bangladesh operation. As there was no provision under the Constitution for a nation-wide emergency, I rushed to office only to be greeted by Master who recalled our conversation the previous night. He said the three Congress leaders got together obviously to prepare a list of political leaders to be arrested after the imposition of emergency.   I could sense his anguish and anxiety about the future of the country, the feelings veteran BJP leader LK Advani showed in an interview with Indian Express while talking about the 40th anniversary of the imposition of emergency a few days ago. Express came out with a special supplement, listing the leaders of all hues who had been jailed in an unprecedented country-wide crackdown, including Advani and Vajpayee who were then in Bangalore.   That supplement should have been reserved for posterity, but no one thought of it, for by night the Indira Gandhi government had brought into force censorship. When I went for the night shift, I found the government was in complete control and people like us felt stifled. While the people in the rest of the country lived in fear for the next 19 months and resistance movement went underground, Tamil Nadu breathed free, thanks to the then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. He not only called the DMK executive to adopt a resolution condemning the imposition of Emergency and calling for the release of jailed opposition leaders, he also sheltered leaders of the resistance movement like George Fernandes and Achyut Patwardhan who were later implicated in the Baroda Dynamite case. Tamil Nadu felt the heat only after the dismissal of the Karunanidhi Government on Jan 31, 1976. The obvious reason was his opposition to the emergency. The more important reason was that Indira wanted to get even with him for having forced her to forgo all Tamil Nadu Assembly seats in return for a mere nine Lok Sabha seats in the 1971 mid-term elections.  Of course, rivers of blood did not flow as Mr Karunanidhi prophesied. But frontline leaders of the DMK, including his son Stalin and nephew Murasoli Maran were not only jailed, but also tortured, a fact which came to light only after the emergency was lifted in January 1977. In a blatantly illegal move, the entire Indian Express chain was brought under pre-censorship in mid-1976. While censorship meant you violate the guidelines at your own peril, pre-censorship gave arbitrary powers to the censor officers to not only black out news but also order publication of news favourable to the government. There were two designated censor officers in Madras. One was Mr Rajan who brooked no dissent, but was decisive. The other was Mr Sowmyanarayanan, a  slimy character. The first night of pre-censorship, he ordered me to publish a Page-1 report which quoted Indira declaring at the CHOGM conference in Colombo that press in India was free. When I protested, he said, “You should thank yourself I am offering you a seat. Representatives of Murasoli and Thughlak have to wait outside my room,” referring to the Tamil magazines. To beat the censorship, Murasoli gave names of arrested cadres in code words. Thughlak reviewed with due reverence an old Tamil movie “Sarvathakari” (Dictator). Ramnath Goenka eventually moved court and got the pre-censorship lifted, a move he rightfully contested was aimed at killing the newspaper chain. Even that news was blacked out. Not only that, when Goenka was in hospital, the government arm-twisted his son and daughter-in-law who were running the show to ease out veteran editors like Kuldip Nayyar and S Mulgaokar. True to Express tradition, Financial Express Editor V K Narasimhan, who took over concurrently as editor of Express, steered the ship caught in choppy seas, holding aloft the flag of freedom. It was a black chapter in India’s history. Few in the media stood up to the threat to the freedom of speech. Notable exceptions were Indian Express, Statesman and Mainstream while RSS mouthpiece Organiser went underground. As Advani put it in April 1977 after the Janata swept to power, “the press chose to crawl when asked to bend”. Again we have to revert to Advani’s poignant poser whether India has become a mature enough democracy, as Germany has become after Hitler, to see that we  never again we have an emergency. Sadly, the answer is no. True Indira and Sanjay themselves were routed and the Congress drew a blank in the entire northern belt. But then, it got nearly 140 seats from the south. Obviously, emergency excesses like forced sterilization, particularly on Muslim men, and ruthless eviction of slum-dwellers from Turkman Gate in New Delhi, did them in. Of course Kerala engineering student Rajan died in custody. But by and large, the people were left alone. So Advani was right. It was not awareness about civil liberties which led to the rout of Indira.  Why blame the masses when educated elite like Ramakrishnan, a friend of mine who was then a senior railway official,  justified the emergency on the ground that trains were running on time?  Read our other stories from the Emergency here.

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