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Why Indira Gandhi withdrew the Emergency

By Archana Masih
June 25, 2010 15:38 IST
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Indira Gandhi may have thought she was invincible after reducing India to a dictatorship under the Emergency, but she had to pay a heavy price for the excesses of those 19 months of autocracy.

The Congress party was wiped out in North India making way for the first non-Congress government to govern India, though for a short time.

Mohan Dharia, a minister of state in Indira Gandhi's government, resigned in 1975 when Mrs Gandhi refused to engage in a dialogue with Jayaprakash Narayan, who was then spearheading the anti-Indira Opposition.

Dharia, who was imprisoned for 17 months during the Emergency, spoke to's Archana Masih about the possibility of another Emergency.

Part I: The man who defied Indira Gandhi

Who, in your opinion, were the main villains of the Emergency apart from Indira Gandhi?

Mr D K Borooah (then the Congress president), Siddhartha Shankar Ray (then the West Bengal chief minister), H R Gokhale (then the Union law minister), Rajni Patel (then the Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee president) and the Communist leaders. She was surrounded by them.

Rajni Patel was a master at collecting funds. Her government was corrupt. There was corruption earlier, but the major push came from her during the Emergency.

Before the imposition of the Emergency, Borooah had called JP a traitor at Bordi. I told him he was a great patriot and not a traitor and left the meeting.

People like S S Ray wanted to remain in power and please Mrs Gandhi. H R Gokhale had no base at all in the whole of Maharashtra, but he was in the Cabinet. All these people played their role including I K Gujral (then the minister of state for broadcasting), Om Mehta (then the minister of state for home), my own colleague...

Did you feel betrayed by colleagues like Om Mehta?

Of course! They went to the extent of defending Mrs Gandhi. Except Nanasaheb Goray (the socialist leader) no one raised a voice why Mohan Dharia, Chandrashekhar were arrested, on what offence?

What provoked Indira Gandhi to suddenly end the Emergency?

In the world she was being described as a dictator and she wanted to prove she wasn't. Her own department did a survey and told her if she held the election during the Emergency she would return to power.

But the people played their historic role and threw her government out even though the Emergency still existed. The Emergency was withdrawn immediately after her defeat in the Cabinet meeting she convened to submit her resignation.

She didn't want to be affected by the Emergency because had it continued then the Janata government could have put her behind bars under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) (laughs).

What kind of a leader was JP?

I have seen Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Acharya Kriplani, Nehru, Patel and many leaders, but never seen one like JP. He was so crystal clear in his thoughts, lovable, a man of understanding, commitment to the people and a real leader.

In my whole life I have had no guru or accepted anyone as my leader -- there were those who were leaders of my party but they weren't my leaders. Had there been a situation where I had to choose a leader or a guru it would be JP.

What damage did the Emergency do to Indian democracy?

After the damage inflicted by the Emergency, the damage was done by the Janata Party. If they had governed the country well perhaps we would have seen a different country today.

Later the policy of looking at the USA and following a free market economy has done great damage to India.

We look at 8 to 9 per cent growth. The number of people living below the poverty line is not 28 per cent, but more than 45 per cent.

After 62 years if 30 crores (300 million) of our people are illiterate, is this freedom?

Can the Emergency happen again?

I don't think so. If the government fails in rendering social justice, militants and Naxalites may grow. There were 7 districts dominated by the Naxalites, now there are 145. This is because of poverty, social imbalances and atrocities on Harijans, Adivasis.

If this continues the government in power may impose an Emergency, I don't know. But I don't think it will happen now.

What are your impressions of Sanjay Gandhi?

I never met him personally, but he played the most destructive role as far as Indian politics is concerned.

For a country that had struggled against the British -- how was it that Indira Gandhi could suspend civil liberties, bypass Parliament, dissolve state legislatures, gag the press, coerce the judiciary, arrest opponents, subjugate democracy -- without much resistance?

My friends and relatives weren't prepared to come to my house for fear of being arrested. Even those who sent wedding invites used to say they would understand if we didn't come so in effect they meant don't come (laughs).

When I was in Nashik jail there were two police vans with 20 cops each outside my house and people were afraid to visit us. Under those circumstances it was not possible for people to rebel.

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Archana Masih