Home / Politics / Policy /  The press also caved in to the Emergency

I remember there was a call from office; I was working with The Indian Express at that time. Somebody rang me up late in the night and said “the Emergency has been declared".

I said: “There is already Emergency"—because after the Bangladesh war, there was Emergency imposed due to the situation arising out of external circumstances. He said, “No, it is internal."

There was another call from the office and the person said, “they are not allowing the vans to take the papers out (for distribution)." I said “how can they do that?" I knew (former defence minister) K.C. Pant. I rang him up, he never came to the phone. I still did not understand what was going on. They took off power; it was switched off for the next two or three days for the whole of Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg (New Delhi’s media district). The Statesman newspaper came out once because they did not think of switching off power there. But then later, they did the same thing to The Statesman.

Later I came to know, it was (then West Bengal chief minister) Siddhartha Shankar Ray who convinced Mrs Gandhi that she can impose the Emergency. I remember—the following day, I was travelling to Calcutta; Siddhartha Shankar was sitting in the front row and I was in the next. He would constantly go inside the cockpit and come out. Later, I found out that he was trying to find out whether they have imposed the Emergency or not. So, no doubt, he advised. He and (Congress president) Dev Kant Baruah, the one who said, “India is Indira and Indira is India".

After all, Mrs Gandhi was, firstly, from the Nehru family. She had a Western upbringing. And then you are known to all the West. So, she didn’t want to take a bad name—that, “Look, I have imposed Emergency, censorship; I have detained people."

Once the Emergency was imposed, Sanjay (Gandhi) took over. When she was unseated, her election declared void by the Allahabad high court, she was on the point of resigning—that’s what I heard. Here, Sanjay came in and said, “How can she resign?" So he arranged a lot of rallies. She thought the people really wanted her to stay and that the court verdict was wrong. I went to meet Sanjay once after the Emergency was lifted. He said, “I was running the government." He also told me that he had asked her not to call elections in 1977. He was not sorry for the Emergency or anything. He said: “In my scheme of things, no elections for the next 30 years."

How did India deal with the Emergency? Well, the whole nation went silent, quiet. But later, they fell in line, nobody spoke.

I am sorry to say that the press also caved in to the circumstances. Because of fear. That’s what they said when I asked them. I asked “Why? Fear of what?"

“Fear of what can happen," one of my friends said. I said we can lose our job. That was very important, our fear that we can be detained without trial as it happened in my case.

I still remember one of my fellow journalists said: “Kuldip, what I am afraid of (in prisons) is the dry latrines."

I was detained in July 1975. I asked R.K. Dhawan (secretary to Mrs Gandhi) after I was released, “Why did you pick me up?" Dhawan said: “We wanted to put fear in the minds of journalists. So that they keep quiet." And it happened.

But I did write strongly against Mrs Gandhi during the Emergency. We were very close to each other once. But when she imposed the Emergency, when she started ruling dictatorially, I was very harsh. I was writing in The Indian Express; I said “How could you do this in a country?"

So they issued an order that Mr Nayar cannot write anything political. This was censorship. So I wrote one on the 4th of July. I wrote another on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. So, Mr Shukla (Vidya Charan Shukla, the information and broadcasting minister) who was a friend of mine, called me and said: “You think we are fools? We don’t understand? Kuldip, you are a good friend; if you do this, I won’t be able to save you, they might arrest you." So, there was a knock at the door!

After I was released by the court, I went to the Press Club. VC (Vidya Charan) was there, he was a good friend. He said “Kuldip, I am sorry. I couldn’t help." I said: “That’s all right." He said: “Sanjay (Gandhi) wanted it." Sanjay was running the government.

Here you must give credit to Ramnath Goenka, the owner of The Indian Express. Without him, we could not do anything. We did not have a blank front page, only two columns were left blank. That was because they said we would have to submit whatever we write for censorship. That was our protest. Not many papers did that—none at the time. We really fought at that time.

When in 1980, Mrs Gandhi came back and won elections, Ramnath Goenka called me and said “Kuldip, now I am at the end of the road. I don’t have the money; now I am going to make up with her." I said, “By all means." So, I gave my resignation. So, while Ramnath Goenka was a hero during the Emergency, the fact remains that he wanted to make up with Mrs Gandhi now that she was back in power.

I did not think she would call for elections, but Mrs Gandhi did. That was because I don’t think she was a dictator by nature. Then there was criticism from the West—this was something that worried her. Secondly, the Intelligence Bureau, for whatever reason, told her that their survey says she would win. I am surprised they said that. The undercurrent (of public sentiment against Mrs Gandhi) was there but even I was surprised it was so strong. Apart from Sanjay Gandhi, she was also defeated. I could not imagine, that Mrs Indira Gandhi, (Jawaharlal) Nehru’s daughter would be defeated at the polls. That means people took their revenge. And the revenge was against the fact that she imposed the Emergency and the excesses that were committed. After all, every policeman became a magistrate himself. So, everybody along the line settled his or her scores.

Mrs Gandhi’s re-election was because of the unpopularity of the Janata Party. There was open squabbling, the people thought they were not up to it. So, with all her limitations, she was accepted. But when she came back, she punished the people. Take for example the person who arrested her—I forget his name—he had once given me an interview in Amethi. I traced him in Allahabad somewhere. He said “Mr Nayar, you will do me a favour, not to call me again." I asked why. He said, “You have no idea what trouble I am having; so please, don’t call me again."

When I got out of jail, I too had problems—I couldn’t meet any officers; no one gave me interviews; in the establishment, I was treated like a pariah. It was like, ‘Not him’. Fellow journalists avoided me, because I was not in favour with the establishment. When I was in jail, no journalist went to visit my wife, they were all afraid.

Today, an Emergency cannot be imposed like that. The law, the Constitution doesn’t allow it. The Constitution has been changed. Now you need to have the prior permission of half the states and a two-third majority in Parliament. That is impossible now.

Kuldip Nayar is a veteran journalist.

As told to Elizabeth Roche and Srishti Gupta.

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