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Mainstream, VOL LV No 27 New Delhi June 24, 2017

Emergency: What it meant / Tagore for Today/ An Eye-witness Account

Saturday 24 June 2017

Lest We Forget 

Fortytwo years ago on June 26, 1975, the Emergency was proclaimed throughout the country as the ruling leadership bared its fangs nakedly displaying its dictatorial proclivities. We present here write-ups and poems that bring back the nightmare of those dark days when our freedom was sought to be snatched away and our voice throttled. —Editor

Emergency: What it meant

Amiya Rao, B.G. Rao

Not a leaf stirs in my kingdom without my leave. See how quiet my people sit.

—Atahuallpa the Inca

To those whose only preoccupation in life is to survive, June 26, 1975 was like any other day in oppressive June—the sun cruel, the wind searching, the dust blinding. But to some at least of those who heard the Prime Minister on the radio that morning, had no paper to read before they went to work, and learnt about the midnight arrests only by way of rumour, June 26 looked ominous, terrifying. And to some whose homes had been visited by Mrs Gandhi’s police at the dead of night and a son or a brother or a husband taken away to some unknown place for unknown reasons, June 26 was the end of the world.

As the day advanced one saw the police everywhere—in street corners, at bus-stands, in market-places and shopping centres; armed police guarded important road junctions, carrying walky-talky sets, the Border Security Force stood by the Secretariat and other Government offices. Who were they guarding and against whom? What news could they be passing and against whom, one wondered. And whom are they watching and for what? “It could be me”—that would be the creeping, gnawing fear—for something one had said, something one had written, some remark one had passed, some meeting one had attended when the country was free. Many went underground, not for hatching plots to destroy Mrs Gandhi and her family but out of sheer panic. Life became one long dreary monotony. One avoided one’s friends—who knows who is an informer? Visits became few; telephones were not safe to use. Conversations which used to add zest to one’s life became halting. The radio blared forth one stupendous lie after another. And the newspapers gave no news which had not been censored.

Strict censorship had cut up the country into innumerable bits, each insulated from the rest against spread of news. One lived in a silent island of one’s own, not knowing what was happening in another part of the city. Then there was the omnipotent MISA. Was the son alive, the father whisked away by the police for indefinite detention? Are they being tortured? When will they be produced in the court? Vital questions, but one had lost the right to know the answer. June 26, 1975 introduced a new era, not merely of human suffering and pervasive fear but also of an awareness of the loss of all human rights and human dignity, and all because of one individual’s lust for power.

(From The Press She Could Not Whip: Emergency in India as Reported by the Foreign Press, edited by Amiya Rao and B.G. Rao)

The Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream (June 28, 1975) after the promulgation of Emergency and the imposition of press censorship appeared as follows:

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:

Freedom from fear is the freedom I claim for you, my Motherland!—fear, the phantom demon, shaped by your own distorted dreams;

Freedom from the burden of ages, bending your head, breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoning call of the future;

Freedom from shackles of slumber wherewith you fasten yourself to night’s stillness, mistrusting the star that speaks of truth’s adventurous path;

Freedom from the anarchy of a destiny, whose sails are weakly yielded to blind uncertain winds, and the helm to a hand ever rigid and cold as Death;

Freedom from the insult of the dwelling in a puppet’s world, where movements are started through brainless wires, repeated through mindless habits; where figures wait with patient obedience for a master of show to be stirred into a moment’s mimicry of life.

June 27                   N.C.

An Eye-witness Account

Published in The Morning News—Sunday Times Service (London) on July 3, 1975. An introduction to the article read:

“An uncensored account from Jonathan Dimbleby who was in Delhi last week for the Thames Televivsion programme: ‘This Week’. He filed his report from Addis Ababa to avoid censorship.”

This was included in The Press She Could Not Whip: Emergency in India as Reported by the Foreign Press. —Editor

The famous Indian journalist sat in his silent office surrounded by notes for an article he would never write and said without melodrama, “You will remember this day because it marks the end of democracy in India.”

The most awesome day in the history of India since Independence was uncannily normal. Soon after Mrs Gandhi’s radio broadcast announcing the state of Emergency, Delhi’s jingling flotilla of bicycles set off for work as normal. No angry crowd gathered. Shops and factories opened as usual. Beggars begged. The sleek race horses of the rich had their daily exercise and across the road from them and as ignorant as they, one of India’s millions of untou-chables tottered by clasping an emaciated baby to his neck.

Only the intelligentsia were aroused. At first bewildered, by the evening they were echoing in dismay each other’s epitaphs for freedom. Shielding behind anonymity for the first time in their lives, distinguished political commentators were unanimous. Mrs Gandhi has taken steps that she would never retrace: “I never realised what freedom meant until today when I lost it,” said one of them. “I do not expect to find it again.”

The Government’s operation was faultlessly efficient. In the first hour of Thurday morning a neatly timed power cut stopped the presses of Delhi’s most prominent newspapers. By 5 a.m. hundreds of Opposition leaders had been plucked out of their beds and whisked away into detention. By this time Mrs Gandhi declaring the state of Emergency was on the radio speaking solemnly of the “deep and widespread conspiracy” which threatened the nation and the “forces of disintegration” which had apparently brought India to the abyss were safely silenced.

By the afternoon, as journalists sweltered in office, still without power, the Government issued the details of the Press ‘guidelines’. All ‘unauthorised, irresponsible or demoralising news items’, anything ‘likely to bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection towards the Government’ and ‘any attempt at denigrating the institution of Prime Minister’ is now censored.

As her supporters frequently proclaimed last week: “India is Indira, Indira is India.”

Trying to take in the magnitude of what had happened, bewildered by the harshness of the measures, Delhi’s Gandhi-watchers sought to comp-rehend her actions on the assumption that she was not merely trying to keep hold of her political power at all counts. They failed. Only that handful which believes that without Mrs Gandhi India would disintegrate found themselves able to swallow her conspiracy theory without indigestion.

Mrs Gandhi spent much of the last week on a makeshift rostrum in the road outside her house, sometimes standing in the rain, always composed and elegant. Pledging to innumerable rallies of her supporters that she would abolish poverty, create socialism and—in or out of office—serve her people as she always had.

Her critics pointed, instead, to the fact that one of the most convincing displays of devotion to Mrs Gandhi last week came from 500 Delhi busisnessmen who left their airconditioned offices to stand at her gate and implore her to remain Prime Minister.

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