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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 27

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Monday 25 June 2007, by C Raghavan


[(Remembering Emergency June 26, 1975)]

“Never trust your sons, nor treat them during your lifetime in an intimate manner; because, if the Emperor Shah Jehan had not treated Dara Shikoh in this manner, his affairs would not have come to such a sorry pass. Ever keep in view the saying, ‘The Word of a King is Barren’.”

Aurangzeb’s alleged will, given in Ankam i-Alamgiri (ascribed to Hamid-ud-Din Khan Bahadur, quoted in Sircar’s Short History of Aurangzeb, p. 390)
The din and noise of the election are over, the people have made their choice and given their verdict. And by the time this gets into print and is in the hands of the reader, the new Government would have been formed and the Sixth Lok Sabha would have met.

This election has been unlike all other previous ones of Independent India. Emergency and the events that preceded it, the twenty months of Emergency rule with all the panoply of powers, used and misused, the polarisation of forces and the actual election campaign, have stirred things up.

It has been like the stirring of the primordial oceans in our mythology—when the suras and asuras joined to churn the ocean in search of amrita (nectar). Before the nectar and other goodies came out of the ocean, the halahal visha or poison came out first. But there was Siva to gather it in his hand and swallow it and retain it in his throat (lest it go to his stomach and destroy the universe), to become Neelakantha.

There is no Siva around now.

And, ultimately, when the nectar did come out, the problem was how to keep it out of the reach of the asuras. Asuras, in Hindu mythology, be it noted, were not rakshasas or devils but really gods personifying power (or, if you like, our modern version of intellectuals without character and integrity).

In our mythology, there was Vishnu around, and he came in the garb of Mohini, the divine enchantress, who separated the suras and asuras, kept the asuras entranced by her beauty while ladling out the nectar to the suras (and made them immortal). And, thus, the asuras were ultimately defeated by the suras.
Well, there is no Mohini around either.

People, particularly in the North, vented their anger—it would be facile to blame it all only in nasbandi—and virtually rejected the Congress lock, stock and barrel. They have even inflicted the ignominy of a personal defeat on Smt Indira Gandhi.

Many politicians, and the public too, are gloating over it. But they might listen to, and follow, the wise words of Babu Jagjivan Ram: “Smt Gandhi deserves all care and consideration and we should not say anything or do anything which will hurt her feeling… There are always certain norms of democracy and, therefore, nothing should be done or said by anybody to denigrate anyone who has not done well in the elections. Nothing derogatory should be said about Smt Gandhi.”

Smt. Gandhi not onlydeserves “consideration” but compassion too. Even though I, like many others, am a victim of the Indira-Sanjay-Shukla rule, and even though all of what has happened now was the result of her own actions and was easily foreseen, I do believe Smt Gandhi deserves compassion when nemesis has overtaken her and her cohorts.

Emergency cannot make us judge her so harshly as to forget some of the good things she has done for this country in the past. No doubt, history will pronounce its verdict equitably; she will get credit for many things, though the role of her advisors cannot be forgotten. But she will also have to be judged for the overthrow of the legitimate Kerala Government in 1958, and the many other disastrous economic steps between 1966 and 1976 and after 1972, when she chose different advisors.

However, Smt Gandhi has now paid the penalty for confusing acquisition of power for doing public good—a laudable objective with which every politician starts—with acquisition of power for the sake of power. She mistook the mandate of 1971 for Garibi Hatao to be a personal mandate for herself, and became so arrogant that she flew into a temper when reminded of Jawaharlal Nehru and what he did or preached, and stridently she asserted: “I am the leader now.”

Could Indira Gandhi have done anything in these last few weeks or months to have retrieved the situation of disaster that became inevitable with the proclamation of Emergency?

In the course of the election campaign many came out with advice to her to lift Emergency and sack “the gang of four”. Some claimed their earlier private advice had not been heeded and they were now giving it publicity and appealed to her to do the right thing before it was too late (before polling day presumably!) or else “God alone can save her—we cannot”. We do not know who gave what advice and when.

For, it undoubtedly was true that until Jagjivan Ram resigned, and the people took courage into their hands, few of those who went to Smt Gandhi had the courage to speak plainly. Those who went to her, went for favours, and knew her to be a vindictive person. And in many cases till February 2, those who tried to see her were screened by Sanjay Gandhi or R.K. Dhawan.

And if anyone got beyond them, Indira Gandhi had also the habit of “freezing out” people who tried to speak on things other than what she thought concerned them. And by the time of first few months of Emergency, many knew the real side of Indira Gandhi—her ability to make use of people and throw them out (like a sucked orange) as soon as their usefulness to her was over.

After February 2, when Sri Jagjivan Ram’s walk-out virtually ended the fear complex in the country—one look at the Ramlila maidan rally of February 6 should have convinced anyone who had the eyes to see and the mind to judge—a few around her who know their positions and perquisites depend on her continuance in office, tried to run around to find solutions.

Solutions like “advising” her to lift Emergency or do some “cosmetic” changes like shifting Bansi Lal were considered by her advisers. None of these, of course, would have worked. The time for all these was long past.

If anyone had expected her to sack Sanjay, that, too, was asking for the impossible. No mother would sacrifice her children for her own sake, nor even for the sake of keeping oneself in power. This is the quality of maternal love. It was not for nothing that the Tamil bard spoke of a person who lost his money being spurned even by his own wife and children but not by the mother who brought him into the world.

There was only one thing that could have saved Smt Indira Gandhi and her Congress party: Sanjay. If, soon after Sri Jagjivan Ram had walked out raising the banner of public revolt, Sanjay had accepted, with folded hands, all the responsibility for his and his coterie’s actions, and literally renounced politics and business ambitions, and had (figuratively) gone off to Hardwar with a kamandulu, then perhaps Indira Gandhi and the Congress might have been saved the utter rout that overtook them in the North. She did get such an advice from a very responsible person.

No one, of course, advised her to quit power altogether, and voluntarily. She would have won hands down if she had done it in June 1975; she would have saved the Congress if she had done it in February 1977.

But, in any event, there was no one around him to give advice to Sanjay Gandhi to quit and go off to Hardwar. Instead, we had the Samachar (was it a very special correspondent?) that told us about the “advice” he had received from his Amethi constituents that they would certainly return him, and he, as the “national leader”, should go round the country and campaign for others.

Could Smit Gandhi have done anything at least to reduce the bitterness of those whom she had incarcerated or brought down the temperature of the campaign?

She could have, but chose not to.

WHEN she released some of the leaders, and announced the general election, Morarji Desai was reported to have suggested that the Janata Party should not contest the Rae Bareli seat, and in any event not field Raj Narain. This was perhaps uncharitably interpreted as a tactic aimed at winning public sympathy for the Janata and showing how Gandhian Morarji was.

Anyhow, some in the Janata suggested that, reciprocally, the Congress should not contest the seats of Morarji and Charan Singh. This quid pro quo move failed, as the Congress party interpreted it as a sign of weakness of the Janata and a move by them to free their leaders for the campaign.

But, after Babu Jagjivan Ram walked out, Smt Indira Gandhi did get some saner advice to defuse the situation and reduce the bitterness. One of her well-wishers, who throughout the twenty months had been going to her with unpalatable news and views (that she always ignored), again went to her with a piece of advice (on hearing about this earlier unsuccessful move).

He advised Indira Gandhi to ignore Babuji and his friends while attacking the Opposition during the election campaign. He also suggested a unilateral move by her to defuse the situation: her announcement that the Congress would not contest the elections of Jagjivan Ram and Morarji Desai, and say that while the Congress differed with them, it wanted them inside the Lok Sabha to have meaningful and useful debates in the House, rather than in the streets.

It was suggested that she should even invite Jayaprakash Narayan to come into the Lok Sabha as an elder satesman, to give his views and advice from inside the House. If she had done this, the rout of the Congress in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh would not have been so total, even though the Congress would still not have won a majority.

Smt Indira Gandhi, of course, spurned all this advice and insisted on setting up Sanjay as a candidate from Amethi (making it crystal clear to the people that given a chance she would again bring her son into a position of power). She also spoke derisively and bitterly about Babu Jagjivan Ram, without naming him, and spoke about “desertion” and “stabbing in the back”.

Even more. The official media kept up a daily barrage of attacks on Jagjivan Babu on the Radio and TV and through Samachar; and there were those Congress MPs (of the Rajya Sabha) who produced a daily dose of statements, dished out at the Congress party headquarters and dutifully circulated in full by Samachar.

The inevitable happened. The electorate has given its answer and even Rae Bareli has rejected Smt Indira Gandhi. But, unlike those who feel sorry for her personal defeat, I believe she has been spared the agony of having to sit in the Opposition benches and lead the party inside the Lok Sabha, and being called upon to pay the price of Emergency she had imposed.

This last cannot be avoided and should not be avoided. Many misdeeds of Emergency have to be corrected and their perpetrators identified or punished—not from a spirit of vengeance but to have a cathartic effect on the body politic and act as a warning to any future government or its officials against such misuse of power.

While many carried out orders or complied under fear or because they could do nothing else, there were some who revelled in the sadistic use of that power. There were officials who got on to the coterie and advanced themselves into positions from where they not only carried out the behests of the coterie but showed they could do still better. Without its being turned into a witch-hunt, some of these top officials have to be purged.

And apart from other legacies, there is the Maruti empire, including the various agencies for transnationals. There is also a long list of business tycoons, headed, of course, by Sri K.K. Birla, who have built even bigger empires in the twenty months, and that by using Emergency machinery to take action against rivals. Fortunately for the Congress, and very unfortunately for the Janata, the Birlas and others are already flocking to the new ruling party.

The Congress might show its repentance and plan to return to its path of old by cooperating with the Government, and prodding it, in ending these legacies.

ANYWAY, the people are watching, and they will not forgive the Janata if it behaves just as the Congress did. And the Janata and its allies, while taking power, should remember and realise that what brought the Congress into disfavour was not merely nasbandi or the rigours of Emergency, though these did dominate.

The Janata leaders now trooping into the Capital, at least some of them, seem to think that the people have positively voted for them. The people have voted in anger against Indira Gandhi, against Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie rule, and against the Congress that betrayed their trust repeatedly.

No one in the Janata should be under any illusion that they collectively or even any of them individually, had persuaded the people to do this. Not even JP can claim this credit, notwithstanding the Sant honorific he has already picked up.

JP is a politician as much as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was. The fact that JP does not want to exercise power through office, does not make him less of a politician. And, the moment Congressmen made Gandhi a Mahatma in his lifetime, or an object of worship after martyrdom, that moment they began disregarding his principles. JP will meet the same fate when the Janata starts making him a Sant as some of them have already started. Only Jagjivan Ram and some of his CFD colleagues seem more aware of this and of the roused expectations of the common people.

The warning to the Janata Party becomes essential, not because of its complexion—Janata has as many progressives or reactionaries as the Congress—but because already the chamchas and sycophants who used to crowd around Congress leaders, have begun to flock at the houses of the Janata leaders. And if sycophants destroyed Indira Gandhi, they can do a faster job of the new ruling party. These creatures have now acquired that expertise.

The same journalists and columnists and editors who praised Indira, Sanjay or Shukla, are now seen slowly trying to edge their way into Babu Jagjivan Ram’s or Morarji’s or other houses. Those who appeared on Radio or TV before to praise one or the other aspect of Emergency or talk about discipline and codes, are now probably trying to appear on the same media, if they have not already done so, to denounce what had been done in the past.

I hope, however, everyone has understood that the people are not such fools and in the northern belt they do not even have too much patience. If Indira Gandhi had her Ides of March, others will get theirs, too.

(Mainstream, March 26, 1977)

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