Saturday, 25 June 2005

Remembering 1975

This is an absolutely fantastic piece that appeared on the edit page of Business Standard on 25 June 2005, the thirtieth anniversary of the Emergency.

The Family and the Emergency
T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan / New Delhi June 25, 2005
If Nehru can be assessed, why not his daughter and grandson?

D D Kosambi is perhaps India’s finest historian. He wrote in 1964 that ancient Indian history was like a fine mist. “In India, there is only vague popular tradition, with very little documentation above the level of myth and legend.”
But for once he got one detail wrong. It is not just ancient Indian history that is as described by Kosambi. Even modern Indian history—very modern Indian history, indeed—is like that as well.
We have seen an example of this recently over the Jinnah debate, which, oddly, has had the effect of getting people to scrutinise Nehru’s responsibility for the partition! Perhaps that was what L K Advani intended all along, which, if true, is really quite cunning of him.
But even closer to us lies another event, now mostly forgotten even by those who suffered hugely because of it. Without prodding by one or two newspaper columnists, how many people would have remembered that, 30 years ago at midnight this day, the Congress party imposed the Emergency, which took away all our basic freedoms?
Indira Gandhi proclaimed a national Emergency merely because she had been unseated from her parliamentary seat by a court verdict that held her guilty of electoral malpractice? How many recall that she did so merely in order to maintain herself and the Gandhi family in power?
How many people realise that it was her Congress party which introduced the notion of “a mere technicality” even for major infringements of the law by politicians? How many remember that she amended the Constitution in such a way that the Prime Minister could not be accused even of murder?
Indeed, how many Indians have any idea at all of what the Emergency meant for India, and under what circumstances it had been imposed?
My sons, who are 21 and 17, know exactly what happened on January 30, 1948, when, and how. But they have no clue at all of what happened on June 26, 1975, and why. Nor, indeed, do their cousins who were born during the previous five or so years. That whole generation has been kept in the dark.
The Emergency, infamous as it was, is a black hole in the collective memory of the country. Even the RSS and the BJP have forgotten it, so much so that, in the true Hindu tradition described by Kosambi above—in which history is reduced to mythology—even the head of the RSS thinks that Indira Gandhi was great.
But should he not actually be asking: If the RSS is being held guilty of the murder of Gandhiji, why do we not hold the Congress guilty of the murder of democracy? If it is not enough for the RSS to express regret over what Nathuram Godse did, why is it enough for Indira Gandhi (and last year, Sonia Gandhi) to express similar “regret”?
I am not writing this article to “rake up the past”, which is how reminding people of the uncomfortable things done by the Congress is described by the Congress. (What others did, of course, is proper history.)
I am writing this merely to remind ourselves of the narrow escape India had in 1975-77. If Sanjay Gandhi had had his way India may have become mightily prosperous. But, have no doubts, it would at the same time have become like a Latin American dictatorship.
The ironies are also worth recording. The very same Communists, who are now in bed with the Congress, had been jailed in large numbers by Indira Gandhi (barring some major exceptions like Jyoti Basu. I explored this point in an article last year).
How have these fellows, with their long memories of “historical forces”, forgotten the tortures suffered by their party colleagues? Clearly, like Henry Ford, Indian communists also think that “history is bunk”.
And you know what the supreme irony is? Kosambi was of the Marxist intellectual persuasion and a mathematician, a lone brilliant star in a sea of mediocrity.
Historians can be very influential, even more so than economists because they alter the way we view the past and therefore the present. For instance, properly speaking, we should remember Indira Gandhi for imposing the Emergency.
Instead, what do we remember her for? For lifting it, because reams have been written by official family historians, mostly of the Marxist persuasion again, about how democratic she was. Why, a couple of years ago one of them even published a whole book saying that the blame for the Emergency should be shared at least half by JP because he challenged Mrs Gandhi.
The truth about what actually happened between November 1974 and June 1975 was brought out two years ago when the diary of B N Tandon, who was a joint secretary then in the Prime Minister’s secretariat (as it was then called) looking after political affairs, was published. I translated it from the original Hindi. The diary makes for extraordinary reading because it was maintained on a day-to-day basis.
But when it was published, 28 years after it was written, the reactions were typical. Far from trying to cross-check what Mr Tandon was saying, most reviewers attributed motives to him. The pack was led by no less a person than R K Dhawan, who said Mr Tandon was peeved because he had been denied promotion.
Dhawan can be forgiven, but what about the others? What excuse did they have for ignoring the facts and attacking the author? One reviewer even had nasty things to say about me!
The second volume of the diary, covering the period from July 15, 1975, to July 24, 1976, when Mr Tandon left the Prime Minister’s secretariat, will soon be published. I should add that I have not translated it. It throws even further light on what went on.
But to what extent will it alter the way we view the Gandhi family? Even if we concede that the sins of the grandmother should not be visited on her relics, surely the time has come to re-assess the role of this family in the country’s fortunes? If Nehru can be re-assessed, why not his daughter and grandson, if not yet his grandson’s wife?
Not to put too fine a point on it, it is time the family went out of politics. Many young Congressmen think so too (and the mother of one of them has already been punished because the son said so openly.)