The Emergency as a Seedbed of Separatism

The aftermath of the Indian Emergency birthed a frightening growth of separatist forces who acquired enormous political clout.
The Emergency as a Seedbed of Separatism

The Emergency of 1975 was an all-encompassing assault on the Constitution and democracy only superficially. In reality, it was a fatal invasion of the human spirit from which we will probably never recover. As horrid as it was, what happened after the Emergency is more significant: none of the central villains were punished for two main reasons.

The first, barring a handful of honourable exceptions, a majority of the men and women who briefly replaced the Congress government between 1977-80 had been weaned on the Congress-Communist milk. They were driven by a twofold motive: vindictiveness against Indira Gandhi and her Congress, and a desire to maximize their fulfilled lust for power, and not national service. And they lost both within three years. The epitome of this phenomenon is Charan Singh whose delusions of his own infallibility actually made him trust someone like Indira Gandhi.

The second is obvious. The first thing Indira Gandhi did after returning to power in 1980 was to undo everything that the Janata Government had done against her. But something else had fundamentally changed now. Some of the Emergency villains had now been replaced by hardened criminals handpicked from Sanjay Gandhi’s brigand-brigade of the “Youth” Congress. Their careers had soared overnight because they had now become cabinet ministers.

Indira Gandhi’s politics had singlehandedly created these monsters.

Observing this, a disgusted George Fernandes had wryly exclaimed, “they all got off the hook very cheap!” The same criminals who had tortured and brutalized countless men and women like Fernandes now had the last laugh.

This is the real-life implication of the invasion of the human spirit.

The Emergency was the dictatorial avatar of the Gandhian intolerance for any opposing views. Before Mohandas Gandhi hijacked and monopolized the entire Congress apparatus, there was a thriving and healthy culture of debate, dissent, and transparency in the party. People were not penalized for speaking their minds, for uttering blunt truths in the interest of the national good. Gandhi’s non-violent intolerance slaughtered that culture almost overnight. Not only did he monopolize the Congress party, he monopolized freedom struggle itself: you are a patriot and a freedom fighter only if you publicly swear and wear your unquestioned obedience to Prophet Gandhi. The similarities to Prophet Muhammad are eerie. A true Muslim is one who emulates the Prophet’s life one hundred percent. In this case, a true Gandhian was one who wore the Khadi, spun the Charkha, drank goat milk, professed non-violence, and went on fasts. The ultimate Hajj pilgrimage was a visit to the Sabarmati ashram.

But Indira Gandhi learned her lessons not from Gandhi but Nehru. The evil genius of Nehru had stapled the mouth of the Gandhian Collective by giving enormous largesse to any person or organization who begged in Gandhi’s name. To a large extent, Indira followed the same precedent until that Gandhian breed withered away on its own. But after she built her own durbar, she neither had use for Gandhi nor her own father.

Thus, when she split the Congress party in 1969, which party did she actually split? The Gandhi Congress or the Nehru Congress or both?

Such an inquiry at the level of the spirit and fundamental human impulses will reveal the unerring truth that Indira Gandhi’s Emergency wouldn’t have materialized but for the Gandhian dictatorship of the Congress. Mohandas Gandhi maintained his stranglehold by executing his dirty tricks through spineless stooges like Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Indira Gandhi used chief ministers and later, her own son and unscrupulous ruffians to do the same. The difference is only in methods and people, the nature of the skullduggery is the same.

However, the fundamental difference between Gandhian and Indira Gandhian dictatorship was this: she singlehandedly annihilated the ethical foundations of India by corrupting them at the very apex—in her own office and home. At the height of her power, it was commonplace to see scores of fat suitcases filled with hard cash in the Prime Minister’s house. Nobody batted an eyelid. Few if any, newspapers reported it. This phenomenon preceded the Emergency by several years. In Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s memorable words,

Every tactic that Indira Gandhi used, every political caper she launched only annihilated the ethical edifice of an ancient civilization and provoked the worst tendencies of human nature. In the Bharata of my time, she was the deadliest ethics-destroying force that ever arose.

The Emergency was simply the brutal climax, a desperate strategy to normalize this national downfall that she had singlehandedly inaugurated and mercilessly accomplished.

Any political system including democracy functions well not on the basis of the Constitution and laws but trust. It is the most prized treasure in the hands of the politician. The tragedy of “independent” India is the fact that not one member of the Nehru dynasty had earned the trust of the Indian people but got it unasked by millions of naïve Indians. The full credit for breaking and repeatedly, criminally breaking this trust solely goes to Indira Gandhi. She broke India’s ethical foundations by breaking this trust and debased the entire nation. We wonder how many decades we will take to fully recover from the aftereffects of the ongoing Indira Epidemic.

Bansi Lal with Indira Gandhi
Bansi Lal with Indira Gandhi

The Emergency was a prolific crime factory that prolifically generated and empowered the worst dregs of the society. Some names are well-known but none is more notorious than Bansi Lal, the four-time robber-baron Haryana Chief Minister. Chief among his qualifications included throwing lavish parties for Sanjay Gandhi’s “relaxation” at the opulent Pinjore Gardens. News archives of that period narrate in a hush-hush manner that Bansi Lal took the extra precaution to click pictures which revealed exactly what transpired at those parties. He took the same precaution by recording all telephone conversations with the Deshi ki Mata’s crown prince. Like other racketeers and criminals, Bansi Lal had quickly grasped the truth that Sanjay Gandhi was the golden key that unlocked Indira Gandhi’s corrupt durbar. In fact, he openly boasted about the powerful hold he had on Sanjay: “I have taken possession of the Calf and naturally the Cow is always at my beck and call.”

This man was elevated to the position of India’s Defence Minister during the Emergency. What he did in that crucial capacity is a story for another day.

Bansi Lal was never punished.

Nor was his close chum, V.C. Shukla, Sanjay Gandhi’s personal Goebbels.

Or Pranab Mukherjee, another right-hand man of Sanjay Gandhi who raided our nationalized banks by intimidating their chairmen or shunting them out.

Or D.K. Barooah of the infamous “India is Indira.”

Or Rukhsana Sultana, the “ruler of Delhi,” and “Nasbandi head” who had once described Ambika Soni as “a woman who wormed her way up from bed to bed.”

Or Ambika Soni who carried out a record 13,000 forced sterilizations at Dujana House in less than a year.

Or D.P. Chattopadhyaya, who plundered State Trading Corporations to the tune of ₹ 500 crores in the 1970s.

Or Yashpal Kapoor, who used the official machinery for Indira Gandhi’s campaign. He started a lucrative racketeering business by founding a “National Forum of Journalists.” Scores of senior editors, correspondents, and reporters were bribed to write “positive” stories about the notorious 20-Point Programme.

Or R.K. Dhawan, one of the biggest land-mafia sharks in Bansi Lal-ruled Haryana.

Or P.N. Haksar once described by the USSR as “our man in the PMO.” The Congress Party’s split was strategized in his office. And it was Haksar who seeded the tyrannical precedent of using Government power to crush Indira Gandhi’s political dissenters. It was Haksar who fashioned the RAW as her private spy agency.

Or the arms-dealer “Yoga guru,” Dhirendra Brahmachari who had built a lavish Xanadu of sin and deal-making in Kashmir, his own private kingdom.

Or Rajni Patel, the extortionist fund-collector of the Congress party: evil capitalists had to pay up or face an IT raid. Amisha Patel is his granddaughter.

Or N.D. Tiwari, the U.P. Chief Minister and Sanjay Gandhi’s prime masseur.

Or Navin Chawla, the infamous butcher of Turkman Gate.

If anything, most of these villains were rewarded, not punished for their Emergency excesses. N.D. Tiwari remained a formidable force for several years. Navin Chawla was elevated as the Chief Election Commissioner in the Sonia regime. Ambika Soni became the I&B Minister. R.K. Dhawan returned to his former power after a brief eclipse under the Rajiv Gandhi government. Pranab Mukherjee became Finance Minister, Defence Minister, Commerce Minister, External Affairs Minister, and finally, the President of India. We can close this partial list here because the villains are too numerous to count.

The corrosion of the human spirit and the corruption of India’s ethical foundations that the Emergency symbolized had other obvious consequences as well. The political splinters that it left in its wake eventually acquired frightening power on their own. These are the infamous “regional” parties for whom the Emergency was a great inspiration, and they have now morphed into barely-disguised forces of separatism.

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