'There was an air of freedom in the country': Arun Jaitley on post-Emergency euphoria, in posthumously published book - LiveNow24x7: Latest News, breaking news, 24/7 news,live news

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Tuesday, 25 February 2020

'There was an air of freedom in the country': Arun Jaitley on post-Emergency euphoria, in posthumously published book

Arun Jaitley was a senior advocate of the Supreme Court and member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). From 2009-14 he served as Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha and from 2014-19, as Union Minister of Finance. With a foreword by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Juggernaut Books has posthumously published Jaitley's A New India: Selected Writings 2014 — 19. In it, he discusses the big political trends of the country, from the fissures in regional powers to the Congress' crisis. He also lays down arguments for the BJP's policies between 2014-19, from GST and demonetisation, to Kashmir. 

This excerpt is taken from chapter 14 — 'The Emergency and How Indira Gandhi Exceeded Hitler' — in which Jaitley recounts important the Emergency, drawing parallels between it and events in Nazi Germany. It has been reproduced here with permission from the publisher, Juggernaut Books.



The Emergency Revisited – Part 3: How It Ended
Posted on 26 June 2018

As the Emergency continued, there was one major pressure on Mrs Indira Gandhi. The international media and world leaders were aghast at the very suggestion that Pandit Nehru’s daughter had abandoned the path of democracy and turned dictatorial. She was always at pains to explain to her international audiences that this was a temporary phase and would not last forever. The party, however, was of the opinion that since the term of Parliament had been extended by two years, elections could wait till 1978.

Her political feedback and that of the intelligence agencies was that since there was no Opposition, she should immediately call for a snap poll, give the Opposition little time to prepare and the Congress could comfortably sweep the polls. The latter view prevailed and on 18 January 1977, she addressed the nation and announced a general election to be held in the month of March. The Opposition leaders were still in prison, the Emergency was still on and would continue. It was decided that a snap poll would take the Opposition by surprise, ensure her victory and give her government the legitimacy it needed.

Since the Tihar Jail was the centre of Opposition activities, all the political detenues met immediately after the announcement. There were two clear views. George Fernandes and CGK Reddy strongly argued that it would be a farcical election and hence must be boycotted. The others believed that they must use the election as a platform to campaign against the Emergency and for democracy.

This view was shared with senior leaders in other jails. JP, who had been released on account of ill health, took the first initiative and announced that he would participate and bless the coalition of the Opposition only if all the political parties in Opposition joined hands and formed a single party. The release of detenues started within a day or two. But some, like George Fernandes, Nanaji Deshmukh and those belonging to the RSS, were not released till the elections were over. Press censorship was relaxed but not removed.

I was released from detention on 25 January 1977. On 27 January, my ABVP friends, took me in a large procession to every college of the university campus. I had suspected that we would meet student audiences filled with fear and awe. But contrary to my expectations, we witnessed an aggressive participation of students wherever we went. Amongst the released political leaders of Delhi, some of us met in that evening at 7 Jantar Mantar, which eventually became the Janata Party headquarters.

On 30 January, Shri Morarji Desai and Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee were to address a rally. Unaware of the undercurrent, we initially sought permission to hold the rally at Chandni Chowk. The police declined the request due to the dangers of a stampede and the venue of the rally had to be forcibly shifted to Ramleela Maidan. The rally turned out to be a big success. The fear was cracking up. People were willing to speak and come out. After almost nineteen months, they were all restless and waiting to hear the Vajpayee oration. When Atalji stood up to speak at the Ramleela Maidan, he was cheered for several minutes with slogans. In his customary poetic style, he started with a couplet:

बड़ी मुत के बाद िमले ह दीवाने,
कहने सुनने को ह बत से अफ़साने,
आओ जी से दो बात कर ल,
ये आज़ादी कब तक रहेगी कौन जाने।

Events were happening very fast. On 2 February three Congress leaders, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy, resigned from the Congress party and formed Congress for Democracy. They decided to align with the Janata Party. On 6 February they addressed, along with other Janata leaders, a massive rally at Ramleela Maidan.

As a student leader representing the face of youth of this alliance, I was asked to be the first warm-up speaker at the rally followed by some other leaders till Bahuguna and Jagjivan Ram spoke. Unquestionably this was the largest ever audience I have ever addressed. Mrs Gandhi had accused Jagjivan Ram of betrayal. She charged him for not informing her during the Emergency about what was going wrong. A powerful and a crafty orator, Babuji responded at this rally by saying:

कै से बता देते? बता देते तो जगजीवन कही ं होते और राम कही।ं

The size and enthusiasm of this rally sent a signal in the entire country that a Janata wave was building up. VC Shukla tried a petty trick. Before the rally he announced that the popular film Bobby would be shown on Doordarshan at the time. But so powerful was the anti-Congress mood that people preferred to attend the rally rather than watch Bobby. To attend this rally, the crowd had to walk a few kilometres since the bus service was also suspended.

I got my first opportunity to participate in an election campaign. I toured north Indian states and went through the entire heartland of Uttar Pradesh spending the last one week entirely in Rae Bareli and Amethi where Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay were contesting. Campaigning through Rajasthan, I went till Mumbai and eventually Pune. Almost everywhere, we could see a mass citizen’s participation in the campaign. Both Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay lost their own seats.

When the results were announced, states in north India voted en masse for the Janata Party. In the entire north India and the Hindi heartland, the Congress could win one seat in Madhya Pradesh and one seat in Rajasthan. It lost all the seats of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Punjab etc. However, it managed to win some seats in the South where the atrocities of the Emergency were relatively less. The Janata Party got an absolute majority. Before resigning, Mrs Gandhi revoked the Emergency and slowly all the detenues were released from the prisons. There was an air of freedom in the entire country.

February 25, 2020 at 09:30AM

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