(Memorable night of 9 September 1975 in Kolkata)
On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court found the then Prime Minister of India Smt. Indira Gandhi guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years. Indira Gandhi instead of resigning from the post of Prime Minister decided to bring democracy to a ‘grinding Halt.’ President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed a ‘rubber-stamp’ appointee who she had got elected earlier on, declared a State of Emergency upon her advice, as the Prime Minister, on 26 June 1975. Almost entire leadership of Non-Congress, Opposition Parties was arrested at mid-night. Leaders of CPI and CPI (M) were the only exception. JP was also arrested. Before his arrest JP or Jaiprakash Narayan declared Nanaji Deshmukh as head of Lok Sangarsh Samiti to lead and continue the movement. It was, as we know, an underground movement.
I was asked to carry on the movement in Odisha. Soon letters from Nanaji as head of Lok Sangarsh Samiti reached us. The letters meticulously explained in detail how emergency was declared and how to encourage people to raise their voice against imposition of emergency suspension of democratic freedom. Today those who have not experienced those dark days of emergency will find it very difficult to properly appreciate the environment of those days. It is more difficult for people like me to explain to the post emergency generation what type of fear psychosis prevailed then.
All newspapers were being strictly censored. Media dared not to publish any word against the government and the ruling party that is Congress. Even in public places like Buses and Trains people were afraid of talking about emergency and its impact. Communists and Congressmen were the only exception and both were moving freely.
Nanaji Deshmukh also was arrested within a couple of days and Robi Roy took charge of Lok Sangharsa Samiti thereafter. After Robi Roy’s arrest Dattopant Thengadi took charge of Lok Sangarsh Samiti. Thengadi ji, a man of principles, resigned from Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh as its General Sectary and started touring throughout India to organise movement against imposition of emergency. To avoid arrest he remained underground. Government announced an award of rupees fifty thousand to anybody giving information to secure arrest of Thengadi ji.
I got a message to meet Thengadi ji on Kolkata in 9 September 1975. Accordingly I arrived at the appointed place taking full care. In a house in central Kolkata, the venue for the meeting, we ten to fifteen persons assembled at night. Thengadi ji arrived there at 9 p.m. It was a most memorable night. We first started reporting and narrating incidents and arrests made by police. Prevalence of the atmosphere of fear all-around was the common to all submissions. Desperation was so dominant that someone expressed that Indira Gandhi will not lift emergency as she was getting full support from government employees and her henchmen. She was a dictator whom no one could challenge, was the refrain. All opposition parties too declared Indira Gandhi to be a dictator during that period.
Thengadi ji after listening patiently replied in an unbelievable optimistic manner. He said that this govt. would last for sixteen months only. He gave it a grace period of thirty more days at the most and predicted that at the end of seventeen months no trace of this government would be there.
“Is it astrology” I asked?
“No” replied Thengadiji.
“Observing the functioning of a government carefully it can be easily ascertained when it will come to a grinding halt” Thengadi ji continued. “Moreover though Indira Gandhi was acting like a dictator she lacks the basic attributes of a dictator which at her age now she could not inculcate. Dictators execute their actions through most trusted persons around them which Indira Gandhi did not have. She trusts none and no one trusts her. So this exercise was bound to fall”, explained Thengadi ji.
Thengadi ji was prophetic. Exactly after seventeen months Indira Gandhi led govt. collapsed in March 1977. Such a keen observer was Dattopant Thengadi. He was un disturbed in most disturbing situations.
Saroj Mitra is a National Co-convener of Swadeshi Jagran Manch