The Last Decade is Worse Than 21 Months of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency


During the Emergency, many among the RSS and Jana Sangh were out of jail giving mafi namas. They were the first to apologise

Professor Ram Puniyani

OM BIRLA, the Speaker of Lok Sabha, is mired in many controversies. When he started his second term as Lok Sabha (Parliament) Speaker he read out a resolution against Emergency which was imposed in 1975 by Indira Gandhi. The background of that emergency was the rising Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) Movement, led by Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP). The movement of students of Gujarat which began to protest against the rise in mess bill, was soon joined by the students of Bihar.

This spiraled into students requesting JP to lead the movement at the national level. JP gave the call of gheraoing (encircling) the assemblies and parliament. On 15th June 1975 in a huge rally at Delhi’s iconic Ramlila Maidan, he gave the call to military and police to defy the orders of the Government. Mrs Gandhi’s election was challenged and on flimsy grounds she was disqualified by the Allahabad High Court. The Supreme Court gave a stay on this on 24 June.

Seeing the growing turmoil in the country, Mrs. Gandhi imposed the emergency using Article 352 of the Constitution on 25th June 1975.

This lasted for 21 months, and she herself lifted it. Mrs. Gandhi had regretted excesses committed during this period in a speech in Yavatmal on 24th January in 1978. Even Rahul Gandhi offered apologies for the excesses during Emergency. While the opposition leaders were arrested Lalu Pradsad Yadav who was in jail all through emergency, in a recent article along with a journalist (The Sangh Silence on Emergency, (I.E. June 29, 2024) wrote that though  opposition leaders were arrested they was treated with dignity by Indira Gandhi.

For many years BJP has been observing 25 June as the dark period of Indian democracy.

The first major change occurred around that time was that Jaya Prakash Narayan, who was one of the tall leaders of the freedom movement, accepted RSS to be the part of the agitation launched by him. RSS’s Nanaji Deshmukh, who has recently been awarded Bharat Ratna by the BJP regime, became the central organiser of the movement. It gave respectability to the RSS as it was under eclipse due to its trained ex-Pracharak Godse having killed the Father of the Nation. As some people pointed out to JP that RSS is a fascist organisation, JP in his naivety or whatever went on to say, if RSS is fascist I too am a fascist!

JP’s call to the army and police to defy government orders was very unnerving and this precipitated the intensification of agitations, gherao of Parliament and assemblies. RSS had played an important role in the Sampoorna Kranti movement, which gave it credibility in public eyes. After the imposition of Emergency, when many of its members were arrested, it started bowing to the ruling regime. Many of its members signed mafi namas (mercy petitions) and got released.

BJP’s effort is to project itself as the hero of resistance of Emergency. Eminent journalist Prabhash Joshi brought out the real truth in his article in Tehelka Magazine. “Balasaheb Deoras, then RSS chief, wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi pledging to help implement the notorious 20-point programme of Sanjay Gandhi. This is the real character of the RSS…You can decipher a line of action, a pattern. Even during the Emergency, many among the RSS and Jana Sangh who came out of the jails gave mafi namas. They were the first to apologise. Only their leaders remained in jail: Atal Behari Vajpayee [most of time in hospital], LK Advani, even Arun Jaitley. But the RSS did not fight the Emergency. So why is the BJP trying to appropriate that memory?”

Deoras’s letters were also published in a book, ‘Hindu Sangthan aur Sattavadi Rajniti’, authored by him and published by Jagruti Prakashan Noida. Same was confirmed by TV Rajeshewar who was Deputy Chief of IB.

Press censorship and excesses on the issue of vasectomy and demolition of slums were painful parts of this period.

On the contrary, for the last ten years we have been witnessing the arrest of public intellectuals, participants in peaceful struggles, arrest of journalists, the mainstream media bowing to the regime, the opponents of government policies being called anti-nationals, the suspension of 146 members of parliament among others. The violations which took place during this period are aided by the foot soldiers of the patriarch of the ruling party, the RSS. The situation for the last one decade has been worse than the declared emergency. This is what prompted the critic of 1975 Emergency, Nayantara Sahgal, to call the last one decade as undeclared emergency: “Well, we have an undeclared Emergency; there is no doubt about that. We have seen a huge, massive attack on the freedom of expression. We have seen innocent, helpless Indians killed because they did not fit into the RSS’s view of India. … So we have a horrendous situation, a nightmare which is worse than the Emergency… It is an absolutely nightmarish situation which has no equal.”

And to cap it all, the tall BJP leader Advani also called last one decade as undeclared Emergency, “Today there is an undeclared emergency in the country. Even senior BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leader Lal Krishna Advani hinted the same after the government was formed but after pressure from RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), he became silent…” While we look back to the period of Emergency 1975, we need to introspect and ward off the periods like undeclared Emergency which the country has witnessed during the last decade.

Filing mercy petitions to the rulers is the norm with the Hindu right-wing. Savarakar wrote five mercy petitions when he was in Andamans, Vajpayee wrote on similar lines to get released during his arrest in 1942 uprising stating that he had nothing to do with the ‘Quit India’ movement and during emergency Deoras wrote to Indira Gandhi twice to patch up, and then requested Vinoba Bhave to ask her to lift the ban on RSS. Also many BJP leaders like the late Arun Jaitley compared the Emergency period to Hitler’s regime. The crucial difference between the two is the encouragement of foot soldiers by the fascist regime. It was brown shirts in Germany, in India there are many vigilante groups which flourished during the last one decade.

* Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai.

The views expressed here are personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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