Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma
In the history of Independent India, there are many important dates – dates which can be aptly classified as eventful and historic. 26 November is one such historic day. This day is also known as Constitution Day. The Constituent Assembly of India adopted our Constitution on this day in the year 1949. To make this day ever significant, and to make the ethos of the Indian Constitution memorable, in 2015 the Narendra Modi Government decided to celebrate the day officially. Post-independence, the leaders of our great country firmly decided that the fruits of independence be enjoyed by all sections of society and should not be confined to a particular section. The result was universal adult suffrage and India emerging as the world's biggest democracy. To strengthen our unity amid diversities, establish a political system based on the strong edifice of democracy was the only priority at that time. The architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, once said, "Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of...social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life..." A journey into our history also shows India's persistent efforts towards the imbibement of greater democratic values. This democratic tradition of India was first infringed upon during British Rule. Secondly, it was planned to be dented by Congress during the time of Indira Gandhi. In this context, the following statement of Dr B.R. Ambedkar is so relevant and contextual when he says, "However good a constitution maybe if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad". This observation of Ambedkar was aptly vindicated when a national emergency was declared in India on the midnight of 25th June 1975. Today, in 2021, even after 46 years, we sorrowfully are reminded of the heinous attempt to murder our democracy and the democratic rights of its citizens.
The history of the world has witnessed many ups and downs about treatment of human values, racial and social discrimination, apartheid, war-time treatment to name a few. We have come across numerous instances where autocratic leaders, to cover their misrule, never took any backstep to crush their opponents who believed in democratic values. The strong democratic tradition of our country got badly browbeaten when Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi decided to send all opposition leaders to prison on the pretext of emergency. But this imposition of National Emergency was not done to thwart any attempt of political violence or sedition. It was a sheer manifestation of Smt. India Gandhi's anger and her pervert attempt to enjoying political supremacy. It was disappointing to see that the Congress Party, which committed itself to uproot the British Rule in 1947, to establish democracy in the country and subsequently gained the support of innumerable Indians, became a subservient tool in the hands of Smt. Indira Gandhi. It was at her direction that the government machinery was used to send opposition leaders behind the bars. After imposing an emergency, Smt. Indira Gandhi justifying her action stated, - "The deep and widespread conspiracy which has been brewing ever since I began introducing certain progressive measures of benefits to the common men and common women of India in the name of democracy, the plot sought to negate the very functioning of democracy. Duly elected governments have not been allowed to function, and in some cases, the force has been used to compel members to resign to dissolve lawfully elected assemblies". However, her statements left two obvious questions unanswered. First, immediately after the verdict of Allahabad High Court, why she had to clamp the emergency? Secondly, why the Congress government in power overriding the Allahabad High Court used force against the opposition leaders? Smt. Indira Gandhi's remarks conspicuously did not have the answers to these two basic questions.
Smt. Indira Gandhi's frustrations and her fear emanated from legal and political problems which resulted in her vengeance she took under the garb of national security. In the aftermath of the general elections of 1971, Smt. Gandhi's political opponent, Raj Narain filed a case in the Allahabad High Court. Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha was to give the judgement on 12th June 1975 and his pronouncement went against Smt. Gandhi mainly on two reasons. First, the judgement held Smt. Gandhi guilty of using the services of her OSD Yashpal Kapoor posted in PMO for electioneering. The second charge was using government machinery in Uttar Pradesh to construct a podium for India Gandhi's election rally and using government mike and electricity for that rally. The court held her guilty and declared her election illegal and deprived her of holding any government post for six years. Using government officials in electioneering is a serious offence. Many ministers, MPs and Members of State Assemblies, in the past, had been disqualified on this charge. In another incident, one of her colleague ministers from Andhra Pradesh, Chenna Reddy was compelled by her to step down because of poll-related corruption. However, in her case instead of obeying the court order, she preferred to cling to the power. As a sign of protest, the opposition leaders resorted to the civil disobedience movement. Smt. Gandhi raised the sedition charges against opposition leaders contrary to the fact that the civil disobedience movement was given the status of public protest by her father Jawaharlal Nehru and Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. Smt. Gandhi did everything to make democracy weak by curtailing all the democratic rights of the people. She also used her constitutional post to fulfil her vested interests.
Against whom did Smt. Does Indira Gandhi misuse her constitutional authority?
It was midnight on 25th June. Jayaprakash Narayan after the days of hard work was taking a rest at Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi. Frail because of old age, was spearheading a movement against corruption. Police reached Gandhi Foundation to arrest him. Before that, addressing a rally during the day, he had demanded Smt. India Gandhi's resignation following her conviction by Allahabad High Court. A member of the Foundation telephoned a journalist to convey the information about the arrest of Jayaprakash Narayan. But little did he know that by then electricity supply was cut down to all the newspaper offices. Smt. Gandhi herself used this draconian control to subvert the voice of the fourth pillar of democracy. Not only in Delhi but publications of newspapers from other places of the country were also stopped. Such was the highhandedness of the police that they did not even wait for the septuagenarian socialist leader to wake up. Jayaprakash Narayan was arrested in the middle of his sleep. Veteran journalist Kuldeep Nayar in this regard expressed Jayaprakash Narayan's impression towards Smt. Gandhi in this manner: "For long he (JP) had an uncle-niece relationship and he called her Indu. But over the years, especially the previous two, they had drifted apart. He considered her the fountainhead of corruption and the destroyer of basic values. And after the Allahabad High Court judgement, he said that she had no moral right to continue as Prime Minister. She should quit office immediately. Her clinging to the office was "against all public decency and democratic practice". Although Jayaprakash Narayan was a compatriot of her father, Mrs Gandhi did not even think twice to send him to jail for her selfish interests. Jayaprakash Narayan put it in his soliloquy- 'Vinesh Kale Viparit Buddhi'.
Besides Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai was also arrested. A staunch follower of 'non-violence' Morarji Desai embraced the detention gracefully. Two days earlier, when a journalist from Italy had spoken about the possibility of his arrest, Morarji Desai had commented, - "She will never do it. She'd commit suicide first". But to his dismay, when police arrested Morarji Desai, he said, "When God wants to destroy people, he first makes them mad".
Smt. Indira Gandhi was on the lookout for an opportunity to gag the voice of the opposition leaders and the press. She was taking preparation as instructions were sent from the PMO to arrest different leaders in the states. A list containing the names of the leaders to be arrested was vetted by her. RAW was also used for this purpose and a detailed preparation was made to arrest the leaders under different Acts and Sections. Consequently, the Maintenance of Internal Secretary Act (MISA) was amended.
However, during this amendment, the government in the Parliament assured that this Act will not be used for political vendetta against the opposition. However, contrary to its commitment in the Parliament, the Indira Gandhi government used the Act to arrest the opposition leaders. Chief Minister, Haryana, Shri Bansilal advocated for keeping the leaders in Haryana who were arrested from Delhi. He even told Smt. Gandhi- "I have made a big modern jail in Rohtak."
Like Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Ashok Mehta, leaders from Jana Sangha Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani also attracted the wrath of Indira Gandhi and were arrested. As per the list prepared, till the morning of 26th June, all the leaders were sent to jail. The government's list showing the number of detainees featured 676 arrests. The arrest of Jayaprakash Narayan and banning Jana Sangha was a long-drawn plan of Smt. Indira Gandhi. West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Sankar Roy also proposed a ban on RSS through an ordinance.
A total ban was implemented on the publication and circulation of a weekly newspaper Panch-ajanya published by Jana Sangha along with their publication and circulation of news daily Tarun Bharat and a monthly magazine Rashtra Dharma. The attack on the fourth pillar of democracy was so obvious that some of the police personnel without any search warrant entered into the offices of these publications, kicked out the employees and locked the offices. Even the lawyers were intimidated not to try cases for the publishers. Those who defied the government's gag order to help the publishers were also arrested under National Security Act.
In Assam also, the then Congress government arrested several leaders who opposed Smt. Gandhi and put them behind bars. Renuka Devi Borkataki, Debeswar Sharma, Khagen Gogoi, Purnanarayan Singha, Dulal Baruah, Golap Barbora, Nibaran Bora, Ramani Barman, Lakheshwar Gohain, Bhubaneswar Barman, Indreswar Goswami are prominent among others.
Democracy and its virtues were trampled during those fateful years. Eminent journalist K.T.J. Menon branded Smt. Indira Gandhi was the first woman autocratic leader of the world. Every year, on 25th June, we remember this black chapter of Indian Democracy. On this day, we should all resolve to take steps to avert a repetition of such mindless and draconian acts unfolded by the Congress against RSS, opposition leaders and the fourth pillar of democracy. Let us come forward and take a firm resolution on this day of 25th June to remain committed to the Indian Constitution, its values and democratic ethos.