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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 27 New Delhi June 27, 2015

Emergency (1975-77): Mainstream’s Rewarding Struggle

Monday 29 June 2015

To mark the passage of forty years since the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, we reproduce some extracts from the story of “Mainstream’s Journey Through Emergency” which was published in the June 25, 1977 issue of this journal. —Editor

The story of Mainstream during the nineteen months of Emergency is both exciting and rewarding. It has many lessons to impart. The confrontation with a despotic authority could not possibly be direct and formal: by its very logic it was in the nature of a continuous political guerilla warfare for eighteen long months until its forcible closure with the issue of December 26, 1976. It could reappear only with the relaxation of Emergency following Indira Gandhi’s fateful decision to go to the polls.

Looking back, one cannot but have a sense of pride at the career of Mainstream. It never bowed before the Emergency Raj. Often there was a feeling of being left alone by others in the fraternity of the Fourth Estate—many of whom should have known better than singing hallelujahs of Emergency, for which they have had to subsequently face punishment at the bar of public opinion. But for Mainstream there was never a moment of doubt, and not certainly of fear.

As this week marks the second anniversary of the promulgation of Emergency on June 25, 1975—and the first after its withdrawal—it is worth noting some of the milestones in Mainstream’s journey through Emergency. Some of the extracts from its pages during the nineteen months of Emergency are reproduced here below.

The first Editor’s Notebook (Mainstream, June 28, 1975) after Emergency had the heading ‘Tagore for Today’:

Somewhere in the excitement of National Emergency, the Editor has lost his Notebook. However, Rabindranath Tagore has, in the abundance of his generosity, lent him his own notebook:

Tagore’s famous ‘Freedom from Fear’ poem was reproduced and although this was passed by the Censor after some haggling, it drew the animus of the new Minister. V.C. Shukla warned the Editor that no such quotation from Tagore, or for that matter from Nehru or Gandhi, would be permitted.

In the very same issue of June 28, 1975, under cover of an innocuous feature, “Readings from Marx and Engels”, Analyst reproduced some passages from the Marxist clasics, one of which by Marx began with these famous words:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

The distance between Nehru’s unfulfilled task and Indira Gandhi’s grotesque caricature of it could hardly be concealed.

For the next two months, Mainstream came out without the Editor’s Notebook. The reason was explained in guarded language in the issue of July 12, 1975, which published a Letter from the Editor to the Reader:

In the prevailing conditions it is neither feasible nor permissible to attempt an overall appraisal of the situation from week to week. And it is only to be expected of the intelligent readersip of this journal an understanding of the present realities which enjoin their own norms of conduct upon any exercise at surveying the affairs of the nation in their totality. Under the circumstances, Mainstream has to adjust itself in a manner that it can continue to serve the objectives which it so long tried to adhere to.

And he added:

It is to be clearly understood that more than a demonstration of radical posture for clap-trap applause, what is needed today is serious and sustained efforts at building the national economy in a manner that fetches long-term gains for the millions and curbs the greed of the vested interests, and thereby strengthens the country’s independence.

The Thirteenth Annual Number in the first week of September 1975 carried the Editor’s Notebook, captioned “Where Do We Go from Here?” with a pointed reference to Bangladesh and its lesson for India:

To say that the tragic denouement in Bangladesh with the ghastly killing of Mujibur Rahman and his family and entourage, is the vindication of the Emergency in our country, is rather a naive and simplistic reading of a very complex situation. For one thing, the Mujib regime was run, at least from the beginning of this year, on what may be called the imposition of super-emergency with political parties dissolved, the press folded up except for Government organs, and the administration immune from effective and organised mass pressure; in other words, the emergence of the one-pillar regime, instead of ensuring a centralised and cohesive instru-ment of social advance, made it possible for the forces of Reaction, both indigenous and foreign, to burrow in and bring down the entire edifice that was expected to take the country forward....

The Editor’s Notebook in the issue of November 15, 1975, captioned “Before the Chips are Down”, contained pointed criticism of the game of destabilisation indulged in by the Establishment in UP by unseating Bahuguna and in the Youth Congress by replacing Priya-ranjan Das Munshi and recalling that this was the week of Nehru’s birthday, it commented:

With all his shortcomings, Jawaharlal Nehru never permitted himself to be swayed by Disraeli’s dictum that the practice of politics can be reduced to dissimulation. As the nation celebrates his birth anniversary this week, it is good to be reminded that the time has come for us to seriously equip ourselves for the handling of crucial affairs facing this great nation. Dissimulation in the final analysis does not pay. We have to act before the chips are down.

Mainstream kept up in the next few issues, its constant sniping at the government offensive against civil liberties, its concessions to kulaks and complacence at the failure of its economic programme.

With the onset of 1976 began a more difficult period for Mainstream. The Editor’s Notebook in its issue of January 3, 1976, captioned “Chandigarh to Chasnala”, came in for widespread comments. Some extracts from it are given below:

The distance from Chandigarh to Chasnala cannot be measured by the span of a thousand miles of India’s landscape. More important is the hiatus between the two worlds—one of a political festival where thousands upon thousands congregated last week-end; and the other of searing sorrow writ large on the hundreds of weather-beaten faces as they grieved beyond tears the loss of their beloved, their bread-earners entombed in the worst mining disaster in the country. Together the two constitute the reality that is India today... In a sense, Chandigarh marks the end of a phase in the Congress during which the illusion was nurtured that it might grow into a full-fledged political organisation with the capacity to provide the lever for social change. That illusion has gone with the wintry winds blowing down from the hills. At Chandigarh, the Congress has emerged as its leadership seems to want it to be, namely, a powerful propaganda platform and nothing more. The execution of policies is left to the administration over which the Congress leaders expect to preside for years to come.

This calculated division of labour—on paper, flawless—has far-reaching implications for Indian politics. Inexorably it has to led to a single-pillar edifice around the personality of Indira Gandhi. A glimmer of this approach was provided not only by the abundant demonstration of hero-worship but by the new anthem Indira Hindustan ban gayi which in normal circumstances could not but have repelled the demo-cratic instincts of Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. There are also reports about some of the ultra-loyalists wanting to amend the Constitution so that the office of the Prime Minister is directly elected by the people, perhaps an after-thought since the proposal for a Presidential form was found to have poor response.

T he editorial annoyed the Establishment and duly the displeasure was conveyed orally to the Editor, but since reference to the deliberations of a political party could not offend the Censor’s Guidelines, no formal action was possible. Mean-while DAVP advertisements for Mainstream were totally banned.

The Editor’s Notebook in the Republic Day Number (January 26, 1976) warned:

There are precedents in history which show that the assumption of virtually absolute power by the executive has often strengthened the forces of the status quo than those of social change. Public life itself can be distorted by unscrupulous elements reducing healthy politics to manipulation of sycophants ending up in a Kafkaesque caricature of democracy.

The next issue, dated February 7, 1976, attracted the Minister’s angry attention. The Editor was warned because of his reference to Sanjay Gandhi as “a high-breed political spring-chicken trotting out the worn-out shibboleth of being neither Left nor Right”. Another piece on which objection was raised was a passage from a speech by Feroze Gandhi in Lok Sabha in 1956 when he moved his Bill providing immunity for publication of parliamentary proceedings. Since this measure was repealed in 1976, the piece was captioned “Good-bye Feroze”—against which the Minister conveyed his objection since it might “hurt the Prime Minister’s (Indira Gandhi’s) feelings”.

The next two months saw many criticisms in Mainstream about the government’s slide-back on the economic front. An important contribution came from the late S.V. Bedi in the issue of April 17, 1976, pointing to the unwisdom of the forcible sterilisation campaign.

The issue of May 8, 1976, had the editorial “The Two Worlds”:

May Day last week did not see any rally in the Capital and at many other centres in the country. This is undoubtedly a new record because this has never happened since the birth of the Republic.

It was not that the Congress leadership officially frowned upon the May Day celebrations; on the contrary, the Chairman of the Central Campaign Committee of the Congress issued a statement asking for joint observance of the May Day. But the juggernaut of Emergency had its way, though it was under Emergency that the working class had permitted many of its cherished rights and hard-fought earnings to be curbed. If the production has gone up and the loss of mandays reduced, the sacrifice of the toiling millions has to be recognised.

There was an outburst of anger on the part of Indira Gandhi over the Mainstream issue of May 28, 1976, which carried the Editor’s Notebook, “Do We Need Nehru Today?” Since this was pointedly attacked by her at the AICC meeting that week-end, some portions of it deserve to be reproduced:

Jawaharlal Nehru personally never claimed to be a revolutionary. But by his precepts and practice he tried to instil into the unlettered millions of this great country the democratic temper of a modern parliamentary system, and with it also he tried, in his own way, to bestir them with the vision of building a new India of hope and promise.

Forty years ago when he urged upon a subject nation the need to commit itself to socialism, Jawaharlal Nehru was not indulging in airy-fairy do-goodism. From the platform of the Lucknow session of the Congress, he, as its President, enunciated his understanding of socialism which has become classic for every democrat in this country.

In a report to the AICC at Haripura in 1938, Nehru warned: ‘An attempt to drive out the Left, if successful, would be fatal, for it represents a vital part of the movement without which it would lose much of its flair and become increasingly wedded to petty reformist activities. It would spread confusion in the mass mind, more especially among the peasantry, and thus weaken the Congress. I feel that some such attempt has been made during recent months and it has created considerable bitterness.’

Thirtyeight years later, as the members of the AICC meet this week, they need to be reminded of this warning born of wisdom because of the emerging phenomenon of mod-politics which denies this reality—a politics that can only undermine the fibre of the national will for building a new social order. It is no truism to say that this nation faces today the most formidable challenge from political philistinism since the one that faced Jawaharlal Nehru before Lucknow forty years ago. As we pay our humble homage to his undying memory, we are tempted to use the words that one poet wrote two hundred years ago, about another, a fearless crusader: Thou should be living at this hour: India hath need of thee.

The very next issue (June 5, 1976) reviewing the AICC session editorially wrote under the caption, ‘Twenty plus Four’:

Science claims that the addition of quantity beyond a particular point brings about a qualitative change in matter. By this law of quantity changing into quality, the All-India Congress Committee, meeting last week-end, can claim to have made a qualitative leap at the programmatic level with the official impramatur being given to the four points now come to be associated with Sanjay Gandhi’s high-powered publicised politics—no dowry, one tree, one literate and two babies—which are now tagged on to the eleven-month-old Twenty Points.

Between the Youth Congress boss’s “no-Left-no-Right stand” and the Prime Minister’s “no-ism” position at this AICC, there is no room for any cobweb of confusion about the overall identity of approach between the politics of the two. This clarification on Indira Gandhi’s part has been overdue and it marks, in a sense, the recognition of a new reality in which one can understand her broadsides against those in the Left quoting Nehru against some of the facets of the present Indian situation.

This led to one more warning from V.C. Shukla who told the Editor quite shamelessly that any reference to Sanjay Gandhi in Mainstream would lead to serious consequence for the paper.

The next item of annoyance came in the issue of June 26, 1976, which carried the carried the Editor’s Notebook on “Emergency and the Future”, debunking many of the claims made by the government about the nation’s progress under Emergency. It concluded with the passage:

To be compelled to a state of emergency is a matter for celebration neither for the Government nor for the people. Because, as emergency, by its very nature, is a temporary expedient, a stimulant and not a tonic, it cannot be a way of life; it has nowhere in history been the hallmark of stability, political, social or economic.

Wisdom born out of calm introspection over basic issues and not excitement generated by continued tension has to be the watchword before the leadership of this great nation, as it faces the future beyond the One Year of the Emergency.

There was another bout of annoyance in the Establishment over the Editor’s Notebook in the issue of July 31, 1976, which disclosed for the first time in the Indian press a Maruti collaboration deal with a US company:

Perhaps it is this conviction about the Santa Claus role of the transnational that may have inspired the very interesting moves to invite the International Harvester of Chicago, a giant American corporation, belonging to the first twenty-five in the Fortune list of the year for collaboration on attractive terms with an enterprise claiming to be pucca ‘swadeshi’, for the manufacture of trucks, despite the fact that the indigenous truck production is saddled with idle installed capacity because of the sluggish internal market. How much the Birlas are involved in helping to pull off this patriotic deal may be worth investigating.

It was later on learnt that Shukla, echoing the Establishment, had blurted out that an attack on the Birlas amounted to an attack on the govern-ment. Candid, indeed.

In subsequent issues, Mainstream opposed the introduction of the Fortysecond Amendment of the Constitution:

In a multi-class set-up such as ours, with its unhesitating adherence to the so-called mixed economy, the need to uphold civil liberties is compulsive, and if the experience of Emergency has any relevance, such a conviction has only been reinforced. (Issue of October 16, 1976)

Incidentally, with this issue, Mainstream appeared without its thick paper cover, because of the serious financial situation created by the stoppage of government advertisements, a point which the Editor openly made in a letter to the Readers.

Then, in November 1976, came the Gauhati session of the AICC. On its eve, Mainstream (November 20, 1976) carried the editorial, “Road to Gauhati”, concluding thus:

For Congressmen with democratic conscience, the road to Gauhati is surely not strewn with roses. They have to make a bid to resolve normalcy in mass political activity in the country, and not leave this nation at the mercy of Praetorian Guards, thriving on the spoils of the Emergency.

The next issue (November 27) reviewed the Gauhati AICC with the caption, “End of the Beginning”. Since, this piece invited pre-censorship, a passage from it is reproduced here below:

From Chandigarh to Gauhati, the journey has been so assiduously arranged that few could demur and most seemed to have been taken aback: from the curiosity piece going up in a gas balloon at Chandigarh, Sanjay Gandhi has been marked out at Gauhati to be installed as the Number Two in Congress politics, next only to his mother....

The Establishment decided to strike at Mainstream. On December 10, 1976, at 8 pm, the written order for pre-censorship was served on the Editor, signed by a Deputy Secretary in the Government of India. Inevitably, the next issue (December 18, 1976) had to be submitted for pre-censorship. The Editor’s Notebook was drastically slashed, and it was made clear to the Editor that any favourable reference to any political figure in West Bengal opposing Sanjay Gandhi would not be permitted nor any criticism of any party leader supporting Sanjay Gandhi. Even the cover of the issue had to be cleared by the Censor.

Strange developments followed. The press where Mainstream was being printed received warning signals from the Delhi Administration threatening sealing up under MISA. The situation in the Mainstream office was no better. Nothing could be done to keep the paper going. So the issue of December 25, 1976, carried the following Editor’s Notebook:

Good-Bye to All That

There comes a moment in the life of a paper, as in the life of many an individual, when the sense of purpose is in danger of being lost by the constraints of circumstances. Such a moment has come today for Mainstream, after more than fourteen years of toil and tribulations, of successes as well as setbacks.

If the changed landscape of today nips the prospect for Mainstream to continue, there is no regret on the part of those who have served it as also of those who have helped it. The labour itself has had its own reward. To those who have stood by us through many a storm, we acknowledge their support and affection with unreserved gratitude. Today Mainstream closes its present chapter with the proud satisfaction of having tried to serve the right cause in the right spirit and with no dearth of dedication.

There is no room for depression. As winter has come, spring cannot be far behind. And with the first sproutings of spring shall Mainstream reappear.

We shall overcome.

Eighteen months of struggle did not go in vain. Mainstream and its staff were overwelmed by the messages of greetings and best wishes from friends from far and near, from home and abroad. And as it reappeared with the relaxation of Emergency with its issue of January 29, 1976, it was greeted with abundance of goodwill from all quarters.

Mainstream shall carry on, armed with the active support of our countrymen, its millions with their back-breaking poverty whom it is pledged to serve till its very last day.