Historical Reckoning: The Emergency, the RSS, and the BJP’s Political Narrative

The excesses of the 1975 Emergency and the current alleged 'undeclared emergency' reveal striking parallels. The real roles played by RSS leaders and the impact of their actions are scrutinized in light of contemporary political narratives

The speaker of Lok Sabha, Om Birla is mired in many controversies. When he started his 2nd term as Lok Sabha (Parliament) Speaker he read out a resolution against the Emergency imposed in 1975 by Indira Gandhi. The background of that emergency was the rising Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) Movement, led by Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP). The movement of students of Gujarat which began to protest against the rise in the bill, was soon joined by the students of Bihar. This spiralled into students requesting JP to lead the movement at the national level. JP gave the call to gherao (encircling) the assemblies and parliament. On 15th June 1975 in a huge rally in Ramlila Maidan, Delhi, he called the military and police to defy the orders of the Government. Mrs. Gandhi’s election was challenged and on flimsy grounds, she was disqualified by the High Court. The Supreme Court gave a stay on this on 24 June.

Seeing the growing turmoil in the country, Mrs Gandhi imposed the emergency using Article 352 of the Constitution on 25th June 1975. This lasted for 21 months, and she lifted it. Mrs Gandhi regretted the excesses during this period in a speech in Yavatmal on 24th January 1978. Even Rahul Gandhi offered apologies for the excesses during the Emergency. While the opposition leaders were arrested Lalu Prasad Yadav who was in jail all through an emergency, in a recent article along with a journalist (The Sangh Silence on Emergency, (i.e. June 29, 2024) wrote that though the opposition was arrested it was treated with dignity by Indira Gandhi. For many years BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has been observing the 25 June as the dark period of Indian democracy.

The first major change that occurred around that time was that Jaya Prakash Narayan, who was one of the tall leaders of the freedom movement, accepted RSS to be part of the agitation launched by him. RSS’s Nanaji Deshmukh, who has recently been awarded Bharat Ratna by the BJP regime, became the central organizer of the movement. It gave respectability to the RSS as it was under eclipse due to its trained ex-Pracharak Godse having killed the Father of the Nation. As some people pointed out to JP that RSS is a fascist organization, JP in his naivety or whatever went on to say, if RSS is fascist I too am a fascist!

JP’s call to the army and police not to obey the orders was very unnerving and this precipitated the intensification of agitations, gherao of Parliament and Assemblies. RSS had played an important role in the Sampoorna Kranti movement, which gave it credibility in people’s eyes. After the imposition of the Emergency, when many of its members were arrested, it started bowing to the ruling regime. Many of its members signed Mafinamas (Mercy petitions) and were released.

BJP’s effort is to project itself as the Hero of Resistance of Emergency. Prabhash Joshi, the eminent journalist brought out the real truth in his article in Tehelka Magazine, “Balasaheb Deoras, then RSS chief, wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi pledging to help implement the notorious 20-point programme of Sanjay Gandhi. This is the real character of the RSS… You can decipher a line of action, a pattern. Even during the Emergency, many among the RSS and Jana Sangh who came out of the jails gave mafinamas. They were the first to apologize. Only their leaders remained in jail: Atal Behari Vajpayee [most of the time in hospital], LK Advani, even Arun Jaitley. However, the RSS did not fight the Emergency. So why is the BJP trying to appropriate that memory?” Deoras’s letters were also published in a book, ‘Hindu Sangthan aur Sattavadi Rajniti’, authored by him and published by Jagruti Prakashan Noida. The same was confirmed by TV Rajeshewar who was Deputy Chief of IB.

Press censorship and excesses on the issue of vasectomy and the demolition of slums were painful parts of this period. On the contrary, for the last ten years, we have been witnessing the arrest of public intellectuals, participants in peaceful struggles, arrest of journalists, the mainstream media bowing to the regime, the opponents of Government policies being called anti-Nationals, the suspension of 146 members of parliament among others. The violations which took place during this period were aided by the foot soldiers of the patriarch of the ruling party, the RSS. The situation for the last decade has been worse than the declared emergency. This is what prompted the critic of the 1975 Emergency, Nayantara Sahgal to call the last decade an undeclared emergency, “Well, we have an undeclared Emergency; there is no doubt about that. We have seen a huge, massive attack on the freedom of expression. We have seen innocent, helpless Indians killed because they did not fit into the RSS’s view of India. … So we have a horrendous situation, a nightmare which is worse than the Emergency… It is a nightmarish situation which has no equal.“

And to cap it all the leader of BJP, Lal Krishna Advani also called the last decade an undeclared Emergency, “Today there is an undeclared emergency in the country. Even senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani hinted the same after the government was formed but after pressure from RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), he became silent…” While we look back to the period of Emergency 1975, we need to introspect and ward off the periods like undeclared Emergency which the country has been witnessing from the last decade.

Filing mercy petitions to the rulers is the norm with the Hindu right wing. Savarkar wrote five mercy petitions when he was in Andamans, Atal Bihari Vajpayee wrote on similar lines to get released during his arrest in the 1942 uprising stating that he had nothing to do with the ‘Quit India’ movement and during the emergency Balasaheb Deoras wrote to Indira Gandhi twice to patch up, and then requested Vinoba Bhave to ask Indira Gandhi to lift the ban on RSS. Also many BJP leaders like the late Arun Jaitley compared the Emergency period to Hitler’s regime. The crucial difference between the two is the encouragement of foot soldiers by the fascist regime. It was brown shirts in Germany, in India there are many vigilante groups which flourished during the last decade.

Ram Puniyani

The former Professor, IIT Mumbai is a social activist and commentator

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