JP and Emergency: A personal reminiscence

JP and Emergency: A personal reminiscence

By M.G. Devasahayam | 24 June, 2017
Jayaprakash Narayan
During Emergency, imposed on 25 June 1975, administration was subverted, servility to the leader and son reached unsurpassable levels, citizens were reduced to subjects.

The word “Emergency” brings two important names to mind—Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her principal adversary, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP). The former had depicted JP as the villain of the piece and put the entire blame for the declaration of Emergency on the movement led by him. The booklet titled “Why Emergency?” a “white paper” on Emergency presented to Parliament on 21 July 1975, barely a month after its proclamation, brings this out.

This document opens with the Goebbelsian lie of depicting autocracy as democracy: “The declaration of Emergency and the various actions taken by the Government to restore discipline, order and stability in the country have been welcomed by people from various strata of Indian society. The Prime Minister has said that the attempt of the Government is to put democracy ‘back on the rails’ and to ensure that the activities of an organised anti-democratic minority did not lead to the end of the very institutions of representative Government which the nation had evolved over the years.”

Listing the events leading to Emergency, the “white paper” says that on 25 June 1975, in the evening, a rally was held at Ramlila Grounds, Delhi, under the auspices of Janata Morcha and was presided over by Morarji Desai. In his address to the rally, JP said that a “grave situation” had arisen. Continuing, he said: “Friends, this civil disobedience will be of varied types. A time may come, when, if these people do not listen, it may be necessary to de-recognise the government. They have no moral, legal or constitutional right to govern; therefore, we would de-recognise them; we would not cooperate with them; not a paise of tax shall be given to them.”

The document accused JP of warning the country against the “threat of fascism posed by Shrimati Gandhi’s actions”. He called upon the Army, the police and government employees not to obey any order, which they considered wrong: “You have not sold your conscience and honour for the sake of your bread.” He challenged the Home Minister to try him for treason.

JP urged upon Chief Justice Ray not to sit on the Bench to hear the Prime Minister’s appeal, as he was “obliged to the Prime Minister for appointing him”, thereby holding the entire judiciary to contempt. The rally adopted an agitational programme. All these, according to the “white paper”, were meant to create chaos and anarchy, and justified the Proclamation of Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution to preserve peace and order and promotion of public good.

Forty-two years after the Emergency, which turned a democratic Republic into a dictatorial fiefdom, there is something bizarre in the political firmament. The present head of this very “democratic Republic” was an important government functionary active in implementing Indira Gandhi’s Emergency agenda.

In the run-up to the Presidential election in 2012, Ram Jethmalani made this charge against Pranab Mukherjee: “During the scandalous Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 and the resulting suspension of human rights of all citizens and the virtual demise of democracy, you were a very loyal supporter of the Emergency. You fully supported it and participated in its misdeeds…Throughout the Emergency, you acted like a loyal servant of the Gandhi family and what is worse, you were a complete collaborator with the main criminal of the Emergency i.e., the late Sanjay Gandhi.”

The charge made no difference to the election. Pranab Mukherjee convincingly defeated Purno Sangma, former Lok Sabha Speaker and a prominent tribal face. The irony is that the present head of government (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) was at the opposite end of Emergency, when it was imposed and he was the “go-to-man” of the anti-Emergency resistance in Gujarat.

The reality of Incredible India is that the Prime Minister and President, who were at opposite ends of the Republic four decades ago, are now doing a jugalbandi. On assuming office, Modi proclaimed JP as his icon.

Political hypocrisy of the post-Emergency period is epitomised by the fate meted out to the Shah Commission report, which had exposed the Stalinist agenda. It revealed how a system of administration was subverted, how servility to the leader and her son reached unsurpassable levels, and how citizens were reduced to “subjects”. Democratic governance collapsed and has not recovered till date.

No action was ever taken against the perpetrators of Emergency and its excesses. Instead, they kept scaling new heights. Pranab Mukherjee is the typical example. He had the rare distinction of serving at different times as Commerce, Foreign, Defence and Finance Ministers and just missed out becoming Prime Minister. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2008. He finally reached the pinnacle of office as the President of India. Another Emergency acolyte, V.P. Singh, became Prime Minister, edging out Chandrasekhar, who spent the entire Emergency period in jail. Of course, we all know about the Jagmohans and the Sanjay clan.

While the Emergency-minions and peddlers went up and up, those who genuinely opposed it and assisted the Shah Commission at arriving at the truth, were down and out. Teams that probed demolitions in Delhi and censorship, were shunted out of Delhi when Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. P.V. Rajagopal, an MP-cadre IPS officer and secretary to the Commission, was shunted out to an innocuous position.

My experience was different and it related to Emergency’s blackest spot of arresting the ailing 73-year-old JP in Delhi and detaining him in solitary confinement at a ward in PGI, Chandigarh, notified as jail. As, district magistrate of the union territory, I was his custodian. During this period, I developed a humane and warm relationship with JP, which sustained after the Emergency and lasted till the architect of “India’s Second Freedom”, passed away in October 1979. In the event, I had the privilege of being called by JP as his “friend” and a “son” he “never had”.

Let the distinguished civilian T.N. Chaturvedi, Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh during the second half of Emergency, who went on to become Comptroller & Auditor General of India, Member of Parliament and Governor of Karnataka speak about those momentous days: “...In 1975 Devasahayam—a young and dynamic officer—was Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate, Chandigarh…During my stint from 1976-78 as Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh, I found Devasahayam to be a diligent, dedicated, composed, and efficient officer, who upheld the rule of law, and was fair in his dealings with all, however high or low they might be. It fell on the shoulders of this young man to be the jailor of JP…

“…Besides his duties as a civil servant Devasahayam did something more…He met JP on an almost daily basis and interacted with him intensely. He treated JP as a man who had inspired millions of Indians to take up the cudgels for their rights. He looked upon him as the living connection with, and embodiment of the ideas and ideals that Mahatma Gandhi instilled in those who fought for our freedom. He treated JP with the respect due him…

“...From a low point JP gradually recovered his old self, and in spite of his ill health, determined to right the wrong that has been done to India i.e. defeating Emergency. Devasahayam brings JP to life in all the glory of his integrity, moral fervour, and gift of the fight against all odds. Devasahayam was not just a jailor, but also an interlocutor, and then a tireless facilitator of a rapprochement between JP and Indira Gandhi…”

In the process, I breached the barriers of civil service and saved JP’s life twice. First in August 1975, when JP decided to go on a fast unto death if Emergency was not lifted immediately and wrote to the Prime Minister. After near-two hours of wordy-duel, I dissuaded JP from taking this extreme step. Distinguished barrister and parliamentarian M.R. Masani records this in his book JP: Mission Partly Accomplished (Macmillan): “It seems that Mr. Devasahayam, who was a competent and patriotic young officer, went and pleaded with JP not to risk his life and give up the idea of his fast. After lot of persuasion, he was able to make JP change his mind. This certainly shows that JP treated him like a friend and that Devasahayam had by his behaviour towards his distinguished prisoner earned his confidence. This incident also shows that not all officials of Government had lost their values and their decent instincts during the Emergency.”

Next was when JP took seriously ill in early November, 1975, which was life-threatening. Suspecting serious foul-play, I initiated a “pincer movement” to pressurise the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office, got JP released and sent him post-haste to Bombay’s Jaslok Hospital, just in time for his kidneys to be treated and life saved. JP lived for four more years, rallied the democratic forces and defeated Emergency.

JP acknowledged this in his letter date 3 November 1977, written in Hindi to Union Home Minister Charan Singh and Haryana Chief Minister Devi Lal. Translated, it reads: “When I was a prisoner in Chandigarh Sri Devasahayam, while strictly adhering to his official duties and responsibilities dealt with me in an extremely humane manner. For his many acts of kindness towards me I shall ever be grateful. Even leaving aside this personal affection, I was deeply impressed by his exemplary qualities of administration and governance. He is a deeply patriotic, strong-willed and dedicated officer.”

Coming from India’s “Second Mahatma”, who returned India to democracy, this is a great honour and distinction. Good enough for me to fade into the sunset quitting the IAS 15 years before time. So be it!

M.G. Devasahayam is a former IAS officer.

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