इंडियन आवाज़     02 Oct 2023 10:23:55      انڈین آواز

Memories of Emergency


By J. Sri Raman      

India since Independence: Making Sense of Indian Politics

By V. Krishna Ananth


New Delhi

Pages: 435, Price: Rs. 750.

"THE Emergency, which lasted for 19 months between June 1975 and March 1977, has been the subject of many books… The point being that the Emergency marked an important watershed in the evolution of democratic practice in India, most of the published works are either in the nature of holding a brief for Indira Gandhi or accounts that present her as an autocrat…"

So writes V. Krishna Ananth, and his is not one of these books, of either category. It sets out to treat a wider theme as the title suggests. The nation’s political trauma of 34 years ago, however, finds a place at the centre of his narrative. There is more to this than the space the landmark event occupies in his story — with three of the total 14 chapters revolving around it.

Talking of what prompted him to write the book, Ananth recalls his experience while "formulating and teaching a module on political reporting" in the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. "The module was intended to equip he aspiring journalists with a sense of history while they looked into the contemporary political events. However, I found in them a sense of remoteness whenever I lectured to them about an event that I felt was contemporary."

Adds the author: "It then occurred to me that even the national Emergency of June 1975-March 1977 belonged to the distant past to them. This book was conceived in that context."

The volume, thus, reflects a view of India’s post-Independence history where the Emergency occupies an obviously central place, a political consciousness where it is almost a "contemporary" event.

Such an Emergency-centred India-view (if the coinage is allowed) can raise questions of two kinds. In the first place, it can provoke posers about the perspective itself. Some may suggest an Ayodhya-centered alternative, others may see the Gujarat pogrom as the vantage point for the overview. To still others, the epic Telengana Rebellion that ended in 1951 may seem more of a turning point. Not a few may see the linguistic reorganisation of states in 1956 as a larger event with a more far-reaching impact.

Secondly, those who agree on the Emergency as an extraordinarily important event can and do differ on why it deserves such importance. Some saw and still see it as preceded by a democratic surge and followed by a furtherance of democracy. Others were not and are not sure. At least some of them would see a travesty of a democratic movement in the ‘total revolution" that led to the Emergency and a mockery of the voters’ post-Emergency verdict in much that it led to.

Ananth makes it clear right at the outset that "this book is an account of the events as they occurred in history, and is not an attempt to look at the undercurrents and construct a theory". On the Emergency itself, he aims only to "present the developments as they happened and in their context". A strictly factual narrative of this kind can, obviously, help towards an informed debate on the Emergency along with allied issues and meet the need of those trying to find and fathom the event’s extra-party-political significance.

For those like this reviewer, who was a political journalist in New Delhi during the stormy seventies, Ananth’s story brings a slew of memories back. The excitement of the events around the event, the many secrets of mandarins’ and censors’ creation, the sordid saga of Sanjay Gandhi, the "spirit of 77" displayed in contrasting styles in the street and the new dispensation, the post-Emergency parade of political opportunism — it is all recalled for the reader not too far removed from those days.

What brings out the newsman in Ananth best, perhaps, is the cast of characters in the whole drama. The minor characters range from M.O. Mathai (Jawaharlal Nehru’s secretary who turned into a detractor of his daughter) and Dhirendra Brahmachari (the yoga guru of some grossly un-spiritual reputation). The middle-level characters include the then would-be Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral (who, according to one of the author’s many tidbits, grew his French beard during his term as India’s ambassador in Moscow).

Of the major players, there is no doubt who the biggest and most buffoonish of them all was. He was the "Socialist" politician who went to the Allahabad High Court against the election of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Parliament and had got her disqualified (on grounds including the police help in constructing the dais for an election rally. The verdict set in motion a very unfortunate chain of events, but the victor was to surprise a vast constituency of new-found admirers.

Ananth records Raj Narain’s betrayal: "The former health minister, whose election petition… turned out to be the immediate cause for the Emergency and in a logical way (led) to the formation of the Janata Party and its victory in 1977, would establish contact with Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi by March-April 1979 and finally ensure the fall of Morarji Desai’s (post-Emergency) government on 16 July 1979."

Another big player was to commit a betrayal much later. The book chronicles: "On 7 and 8 July 1979, George Fernandes held a convention of former socialists… the socialists now resolved to render themselves into a pressure group within the Janata Party. The high point of the two-day convention was a scathing attack by speaker after speaker, including Fernandes…, against the Jan Sangh (the parent of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party) bloc in the Janata Party."

Years later, Fernandes was to become the best friend of the BJP and preside over the National Democratic alliance (NDA) headed by it. The former Socialist, who protested against India’s first nuclear tests in 1974, was to become the Defence Minister in a BJP-led government that presided over the nuclear-weapon tests of 1998.

The BJP, too, has reversed its relations with pro-Emergency politicians. Jagmohan, once held one of the guilty men of the Emergency, became a minister in an Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. Bansi Lal, once berated as a brutal oppressor, became an ally of the BJP for years. V. C. Shukla, again considered part of the Emergency establishment, went on to contest an election as a BJP candidate.

Most ironically of all, the Sanjay Vichar Manch (Sanjay Thoughts Forum) of Maneka Gandhi had no problem merging with the BJP. And Sanjay’s son Varun is now the blue-eyed boy of many in the BJP leadership, after his videoed anti-minority rhetoric of the most rabid kind in an election rally.

The well-researched book, presenting a wealth of information about the politics of this period in particular, should provide Ananth’s students and others much food for thought. After all, Indian democracy survives not always because of, but often despite its self-proclaimed "saviours".

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