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Jayaprakash Naryan at a rally in Delhi in March 1975. Photo: Hindustan Times
Jayaprakash Naryan at a rally in Delhi in March 1975. Photo: Hindustan Times

The Emergency started long before 25 June 1975

Under Jayaprakash Narayan's leadership, the opposition rallied against Indira Gandhi's Congress from 1974 onwards

The most spectacular fallout of the Emergency was that for the first time a non-Congress government came to power and it was ushered in by the youth of the country.

The story of the Emergency did not begin on 25 June 1975, when it was imposed. It started after Indira Gandhi as prime minister won the Bangladesh war after sweeping the general election against the grand anti-Congress alliance. The slogan of “Garibi Hatao" was extremely catchy and, in early 1972, she was being likened to the goddess Durga.

The victory went to her head and within a couple of years, her son Sanjay Gandhi also started playing a dominant role in politics to help his mother and also to carve out a place for himself. This led to the lumpenization of the Congress, just as during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure it was safari suit-dominated politics. Under Sanjay Gandhi, old-timers in the Congress lost out and the personality cult became dominant with Gandhi junior playing a crucial role in key decisions.

By 1974, there were corruption allegations against the government. Prices were rising and the government had not been able to address the problem of unemployment.

It was because of these problems that the Navnirman Andolan started in Gujarat. By this time, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had won elections in Delhi University and Arun Jaitley was the president of the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU). It was in January 1974 that a national-level students’ union conference was organized in Delhi with an anti-Congress mood.

The anti-Congress feeling was dominant in students’ unions from Bihar as well and, as a result, in November that year, the ABVP and the socialists joined hands. Lalu Prasad was elected president while the general secretary was Sushil Modi. After the victory, the Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti was formed by the ABVP and the socialists. As part of the plan, on 18 March 1974, the Bihar Vidhan Sabha was surrounded by students and Lalu Prasad was arrested. The students were brutally beaten up by the police and curfew was imposed.

It was on 19 March 1974 that we first got in touch with Jayaprakash Narayan. He was furious with the students and even blamed them for violence which had taken place across Patna. It took him over 10 days to appeal to the government to lift the curfew.

JP finally agreed to take charge of the entire movement, but on two conditions—the movement will be entirely non-violent and his leadership will be absolute. A silent march was organized in Patna on 8 April, which was the first political stage for JP. It was an immediate success. A small committee, the Peoples Action Committee, was formed under the leadership of JP.

It was on 5 June 1974, during a public meeting in Patna, that JP first gave the call for “Sampoorn Kranti" (Total Revolution). Around this time, I got close to JP. We used to plan political activities before taking it to him. To take the movement forward, it was decided to form a Janata Sarkar (people’s government). This movement continued till August-September 1974.

With JP’s guidance, it was decided to call for a Bihar bandh during 2-4 October, and it was a tremendous success even though repressive methods were adopted by the government. After the success of the Bihar bandh, it was decided that we would again protest at the central secretariat on 4 November 1974. When JP came out to lead the campaign on 4 November, the government crossed all limits of brutality.

People were so agitated with the government that they came for the rally despite the crackdown by the government. We were not sure if people would come and JP too was worried about the political programme. When JP reached Gandhi Maidan, people started flowing in from all directions.

In an attempt to break the movement, Indira Gandhi alleged that JP was an American agent. JP was very upset with the allegations; he told us that he used to consider Gandhi as his daughter. In the month of November, Gandhi challenged JP, saying general elections were due in 1976 and people would vote for who they want as their leader. JP agreed to the challenge and conveyed to Gandhi in a public meeting that he would extend the movement to the entire country and not just restrict it to Bihar.

It was decided to meet in Allahabad to organize an all-India tour for JP. The meeting was held at the residence of Murli Manohar Joshi and was attended by JP, Nanaji Deshmukh, Subramanian Swamy, Kailashpati Mishra and me.

A March 1975 rally in Delhi helped consolidate opposition parties against Indira Gandhi. Chandra Shekhar was part of the young turks and tried to broker peace but it did not lead to any result. The aggressive group of the Congress party which was led by Sanjay Gandhi was not in favour of a peace deal.

After the March rally, the opposition parties again held rallies in Delhi in May and June—all led by JP. In June, after the verdict of the Allahabad high court, the only way forward for Indira Gandhi was to impose Emergency in the country and start a total crackdown against all political parties. On 25 June, she imposed the Emergency.

The crackdown by the police was so sudden that we decided to build an underground network of people in Bihar and later across the country to stay in touch. It was also decided to give code names to people.

With the imposition of the Emergency, we knew that the government would ban the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The government took this step on 4 July. In less than 10 days, all prominent political leaders were arrested and put behind bars. However, the government could not arrest RSS pracharaks or full-time members, who at the time numbered 1,500. Even after a crackdown which continued for more than a year, only 110 pracharaks were arrested.

It was also decided that from November 1975 to 26 January 1976, there would be a satyagraha in every district of the country and every week 11 volunteers would challenge the might of the state through non-violent means. Protesters used to be beaten up and arrested by the police but not a single week was missed.

Members of the RSS visited all the jails in the country to collect information about activists who were arrested, their age group and organizational affiliation. We used to send our representatives to jails by disguising them as relatives or family members of the arrested activists. The RSS collected information on 65,000 people.

Meanwhile, Subramanian Swamy managed to flee the country in August 1975 via Nepal and he started an organization in the UK called Friends of India Society. The idea was to spread the message against Emergency in every country. Coming under tremendous international pressure, there was talk in the Congress of holding elections to give legitimacy to the government. The Congress decided to announce elections on 19 January 1977.

The biggest setback for the Congress came when Hemwati Bahuguna and Jagjivan Ram resigned, which I consider one of the most crucial turns in the elections. Indira Gandhi had asked Eknath Ranade to mediate between the government and the RSS. The offer was that the ban on the RSS would be lifted. But Balasaheb Deoras did not agree to the deal.

When election results were declared, both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi had lost. It was only when JP intervened that all political parties agreed to support Morarji Desai as prime minister.

The author is an RSS leader and former BJP member.

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