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Revisting India's blackest hour

India's blackest era began on the midnight of June 25, 1975, when Emergency was promulgated. Most of the dramatis personae of the black tragedy have either pushed the daisies or sunk into oblivion, but history finds it hard to remind the world of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of internal security.

India's rendezvous with destiny has a predestined hour - midnight. While the world slept India awoke to anew challenges and independence on August 15, 1947. It heralded a self-government and democracy under the tutelage of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Exactly 28 years later, Indira Gandhi, Nehru's stern and domineering daughter, chose another midnight to smother democracy. She got President Fakruddin Ali Ahmed to sign a letter promulgating Emergency in the country. India's blackest era began on the midnight of June 25, 1975, a day everyone hates to remember even 24 years later.

Most of the dramatis personae of the black tragedy have either pushed the daisies or sunk into oblivion, but history finds it hard to remind the world of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of internal security.

If you go by circumstances, perhaps Emergency was waiting to happen - the country was too much in turmoil to live through it peacefully. Bad harvest had cursed many parts of the nation, the piqued Arab oil producers had quadrupled the price of crude oil and the nation's inflation soared to an incredible 25 per cent. Corruption, riots, strikes, lock-outs and general disorganization in some parts continued unabated. Up to 20,000 political prisoners were held in West Bengal between April and December 1974, Bihar saw 38 strikes, there was looting arson in Gujarat when cooking oil prices went haywire.

The last straw was the invalidation of Indira Gandhi's election of 1971. In a landmark judgment a sitting prime minister was debarred from office for six years.

But was there actual threat to internal security of the nation? Perhaps not. Emergency was tied more to the psyche of Indira Gandhi and her over ambitious son Sanjay, than to the political events. What they perceived as a threat to the nation was more a threat to their political career and power than to anything else.

Soon after the invalidation of his mother's election, Sanjay knew who to gag and where to hit - the opposition and the Press and we nt about tackling them. One the night if June 25, power was cut off to BahadurSahah Zafar Marg, the seat of all national dailies, so that the news could not be reported. The same morning all major opposition leaders including Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and Raj Narain were put behind bars.

The Cabinet ministers were woken a 6 in the morning for an emergency meeting. There was just one voice of dissent - that of defence minister Swaran Singh. He asked, " Why is Emergency necessary?"

The Emergency had its agenda, remarkable among them being wage freeze and press censorship. It was press censorship that needed an Emergency, all other criteria could have been met under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, generally referred to as Maintenance of Indira Sanjay Act. The heads of all news agencies had to resign after which they were banded together as Samachar, the official spokesman of the government that hated even n iota of criticism.

Those who survived the horrors still believe that the Emergency - despite its inherent flaws - could have been successful, had it not been for Sanjay, who literally took over the reins of the nation. Without an official position, he stalked all ministers. The education minister was instructed to prepare a list of anti-establishment teachers, while the Information and Broadcasting minister, IK Gujral, was asked to hand over copies of all news bulletins. When he refused, Gujral was sacked and replaced by drooling VC Shukla. The defence ministry also saw a change at the helm - Swaran Singh paid for asking that one-liner in the Cabinet meeting and was succeeded by Bansi Lal.

Parasites like Rukshana Sultana, a socialite, and Dumpy Ahmed, a rich fledgling politician grew around Sanjay and his new-found power. The trio mowed slums in the name of the beautification of the Capital and men were picked up from their homes for forced sterilizations. Even salaries hinged on hoe many one could shepherd to the operation table. Nearly 10 million people were sterilized during the Emergency, several others forcible evicted to make way for a more beautiful Delhi. The country went amock and Sanjay's might grew.

During this period Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, Sonia, preferred keeping to themselves, Sanjay's young skittish wife Meneka Gandhi partook of all that Sanjay did, supporting him vociferously.

If stories are to be believed, Indira Gandhi w as all set to withdraw the Emergency on August 15, 1975 when she heard of the killing of Bangladesh's prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his family members. Fears of losing power necessitated promulgation of Emergency, fear of her of her own life and that of her family members stretched it to forever.

There were other unexpected blows - Fakruddin Ali Ahemd, Indira's loyal supporter died; Jagjivan Ram, Indira's most important minister defected and her own aunt, Vijaylaxmi Pandit, walked out of the closet to campaign for the Opposition.

Indira was left alone with her fears and her sycophants.

That was the tragedy of Indira Gandhi, she could never separate herself from the nation - she thought she was India and even her personal fears and isolation got translated into national fear. And the nation paid by living in terror from midnight of June 25, 1975 to the morning of March 21, 1977.

What a price!

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