Friday, April 22, 2011

Indira's India and the KGB - 2/2

India was also one of the most favourable environments for Soviet front organisations. From 1966 to 1986 the head of the most important of them, the World Peace Council, was the Indian Communist Romesh Chandra, who denounced “the US-dominated Nato” as “the greatest threat to peace” across the world.

By the summer of 1975 Mrs Gandhi’s suspicions of a vast conspiracy by her political opponents, aided and abetted by the CIA, had, in the opinion of her biographer Katherine Frank, grown to “something close to paranoia”. In June 1975 she persuaded the President and the Cabinet to agree to the declaration of a state of emergency. Opposition leaders were jailed or put under house arrest and media censorship introduced. Thousands of people were arrested.

Reports from the Delhi main residency claimed exaggerated credit for using its agents of influence to persuade Mrs Gandhi to declare the emergency. But, according to Leonid Shebarshin, head of the Delhi main residency from 1975, both the Centre and the Soviet leadership found it difficult to grasp that the emergency had not turned Indira Gandhi into a dictator and that she still responded to public opinion and had to deal with opposition: “On the spot, from close up, the embassy and our (intelligence) service saw all this, but for Moscow Indira became India, and India — Indira.” Reports from the Delhi residency which were critical of any aspect of her policies received a cool reception in the Centre. Shebarshin thought it unlikely that any were forwarded to Soviet leaders or the Central Committee.

Though Mrs Gandhi was fond of saying in private that states have no constant friends and enemies, only constant interests: “At times Moscow behaved as though India had given a pledge of love and loyalty to her Soviet friends.” Even the slightest hiccup in relations caused consternation. During 1975 a total of 10.6 million roubles was spent on measures in India designed to strengthen support for Mrs Gandhi and undermine her political opponents. Soviet backing was public as well as covert. In June 1976, at a time when Mrs Gandhi suffered from semi-pariah status in most of the West, she was given a hero’s welcome on a trip to the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin, however, was worried by reports of the dismissive attitude to the Soviet Union of Indira’s son, Sanjay. It was reported that one of Sanjay’s cronies was holding regular meetings with a US embassy official “in a very suspicious manner”. Soon after his mother’s return from her triumphal tour of the Soviet Union, Sanjay gave an interview in which he praised big business, denounced nationalisation and poured scorn on the Communists. By her own admission, Indira became “quite frantic ” when his comments were made public. Sanjay was persuaded to issue a “clarification” which fell well short of a retraction.

The emergency ended as suddenly as it had begun. On January 18, 1977, Mrs Gandhi announced that elections would be held in March.

Press censorship was suspended and opposition leaders released from house arrest. To ensure success, the KGB mounted a major operation involving more than 120 meetings with agents during the election campaign. Nine candidates at the elections were KGB agents. Files also identify by name 21 of the non-Communist politicians (four of them ministers) whose election campaigns were subsidised by the KGB.

Agent reports reinforced the Delhi main residency’s misplaced confidence that Indira Gandhi would secure another election victory. Reports that she faced the possibility of defeat in her constituency were largely disregarded. In the event Mrs Gandhi suffered a crushing defeat. Janata, the newly united non-Communist opposition, won 40 per cent of the vote to Mrs Gandhi’s 35 per cent. One of the KGB’s bêtes noires, Morarji Desai, became Prime Minister. In Delhi, Mrs Gandhi’s downfall was celebrated with dancing in the streets.

Her relations with Moscow after she returned to power in 1980 never quite recaptured the warmth shown during her previous term in office.

Extracted from The Mitrokhin Archive, Volume II: the KGB and the World by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, to be published by Penguin on September 19 at £30, offer £27.

© Christopher Andrew and Estate of Vasili Mitrokhin 2005

Indira's India and the KGB - 1/2

A charm offensive against Mrs Gandhi, agents in the media and the government, attempts to buy influence in Congress — in the second volume of the astonishing Mitrokhin archive Christopher Andrew reveals how the KGB targeted India

INDIRA GANDHI NEVER realised that the KGB’s first prolonged contact with her occurred during her first visit to the Soviet Union, a few months after Stalin’s death in 1953. As well as keeping her under continuous surveillance, the Centre (KGB headquarters) also surrounded her with handsome, attentive male admirers. Two years later Indira accompanied her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, the inaugural Prime Minister of independent India, on his first official visit to the Soviet Union. Like Nehru, she was visibly impressed by the apparent successes of Soviet planning and economic modernisation exhibited to them in stage-managed visits to Russian factories. During her trip Khrushchev presented her with a mink coat which became one of the favourite items in her wardrobe — even though a few years earlier she had criticised the female Indian ambassador in Moscow for accepting a similar gift.

Soviet attempts to cultivate Indira Gandhi during the 1950s were motivated far more by the desire to influence her father than by any awareness of her own political potential. Moscow still underestimated her when she became Prime Minister. In her early parliamentary appearances she seemed tongue-tied and unable to think on her feet. The insulting nickname coined by a socialist MP, Dumb Doll, began to stick.

But her political genes were soon to show their worth. Following a split in the Congress Party in 1969, the Communist Party of India (CPI), encouraged by Moscow, swung its support behind her. At the elections of February 1971, Mrs Gandhi’s wing of Congress won a landslide victory.

In August she signed a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union. Both countries immediately issued a joint communique calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. India was able to rely on Soviet arms supplies and diplomatic support in the conflict against Pakistan which was already in the offing.

Despite diplomatic support from both the United States and China, Pakistan suffered a crushing defeat in the 14-day war with India.

For most Indians it was Mrs Gandhi’s finest hour. A Soviet diplomat at the United Nations exulted: “This is the first time in history that the United States and China have been defeated together!” In the Centre, the Indo-Soviet special relationship was also celebrated as a triumph for the KGB. The residency in Delhi was rewarded by being upgraded to the status of “main residency”. Its head from 1970 to 1975, Yakov Prokofyevich Medyanik, was accorded the title of “main resident”. In the early 1970s the KGB presence in India became one of the largest outside the Soviet bloc. Indira Gandhi placed no limit on the number of Soviet diplomats and trade officials, thus allowing the KGB and Soviet intelligence as many cover positions as they wished.

Oleg Kalugin, who became head of Foreign Counter-Intelligence in 1973, remembers India as “a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government”. He recalls one occasion when the KGB turned down an offer from an Indian minister to provide information in return for $50,000 on the grounds that it was already well supplied with material from the Indian foreign and defence ministries: “It seemed like the entire country was for sale; the KGB — and the CIA — had penetrated the Indian government. Neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realising their enemy would know all about it the next day.” The KGB, in Kalugin’s view, was more successful than the CIA, partly because of its skill in exploiting the corruption that became endemic under Indira Gandhi’s regime. Suitcases full of banknotes were said to be routinely taken to her house and one of her opponents claimed that Mrs Gandhi did not even return the cases.

The Prime Minister is unlikely to have paid close attention to the dubious origins of some of the funds that went into Congress’s coffers. That was a matter she left largely to her principal fund-raiser, Lalit Narayan Mishra, who, though Mrs Gandhi doubtless did not realise it, also accepted Soviet money. Short and obese, Mishra looked the part of the corrupt politician. Indira Gandhi, despite her own frugal lifestyle, depended on the cash he collected from various sources to finance her party. Money also went to her son and anointed heir, Sanjay, whose misguided ambition to build an Indian popular car and become India’s Henry Ford depended on government favours.

When Mishra was assassinated in 1975, Mrs Gandhi blamed a plot involving “foreign elements” — doubtless intended as a euphemism for the CIA. The Delhi KGB residency gave his widow 70,000 rupees, though she doubtless did not realise the source. Though there were some complaints from the Communist leadership at the use of Soviet funds to support Mrs Gandhi, covert funding for the Congress Party of India seems to have been unaffected. By 1972 the import-export business founded by the CPI to trade with the Soviet Union had contributed more than 10 million rupees to party funds. Other secret subsidies, totalling at least 1.5 million rupees, had gone to state Communist parties, individuals and media associated with the CPI. The funds that were sent from Moscow to party headquarters via the KGB were larger still. In the first half of 1975 they amounted to over 2.5 million rupees.

India under Mrs Gandhi was probably the arena for more KGB active measures than anywhere else, though their significance appears to have been considerably exaggerated by the Centre, which overestimated its ability to manipulate Indian opinion.


According to KGB files, by 1973 it had on its payroll ten Indian newspapers (which cannot be identified for legal reasons) as well as a press agency. During 1972 the KGB claimed to have planted 3,789 articles in Indian papers

Friday, April 1, 2011

Emergency: The Darkest Period in Indian Democracy

History bares testimony to the fact that great nations face grave crises. In 1933, the United States was struck by the great depression, which exposed the fallacies of the market economy. A few years later the military might of Japan was crushed by the United States during the Second World War. At the start of the last decade of the millennium, the fragilities of Socialism were exposed and it led to the eventual demise of the Soviet Union.

India’s strength has always been its vibrant democracy. Ours is perhaps the only country where people from contrastingly different castes, creed, religion and race live together in peace and harmony. The other hallmarks of our country are a strong judicial system and a free press. The imposition of the emergency in 1975 struck at the very core of these ideals, which constitute our democracy. It was perhaps the darkest period in the history of independent India.

The Reasons

On 25th June 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in the country. Fundamental Rights stood suspended, censorship was imposed on the press and prominent political leaders were arrested. So what prompted Mrs. Gandhi to take such a drastic step? Could the emergency have been avoided? What role did her son Sanjay and his cronies play during this crucial period? Were there any personal motives? There are just some of the questions that we will try to answer.

In many ways the foundation for the emergency was laid when the Allahabad High Court set aside Indira Gandhi’s re-election to the Lok Sabha in 1971 on the grounds of electoral malpractices. This verdict, which came on 12th June, was later challenged in the Supreme Court, which on 24th June 1975, granted a conditional stay to Mrs. Gandhi, thereby allowing her to remain a member of parliament but disallowed her to take part in parliamentary proceedings. However, this was just the first step. The other, more significant reason for the imposition of emergency was the “JP movement”. Many regard Jayaprakash Narayan as “the Gandhi of Independent India”. In his entire political career he never contested an election. After the Allahabad High Court verdict, “JP”, as he was better known, gave the call for a “Total Revolution” and also demanded the resignation of Mrs. Gandhi. In fact on June 25, 1975, he announced a plan of daily demonstrations, not merely in Delhi, but also in every State capital and district headquarters until Indira Gandhi threw in the towel. He also appealed to the Army, the police and the bureaucracy “to refuse to obey Indira” and “abide by the Constitution instead”. His associate Morarji Desai went a step further. In an interview to an Italian journalist he said, “We intend to overthrow her, to force her to resign. For good…Thousands of us will surround her house and prevent her from going out…night and day.” Incidentally, Desai was once Deputy Prime Minister in her government.

Many argue that the emergency was the inevitable outcome of social, economic and political crises resulting in “systematic failure” One of them is Prof. P.N. Dhar, Secretary to the Prime Minister and her chief official advisor during this period. In his book “Indira Gandhi, the emergency and Indian Democracy”, he states that it was largely because of the opposition pressure that she was forced to resign. He says “Even before she could file her appeal, to which she was enticed, a delegation of opposition leaders from the Congress (O), JS, BLD, SP and Akali Dal called on the president and presented a memorandum to him saying that “a grave constitutional crisis had arisen as a result of Mrs. Gandhi continuing to occupy the of office of the prime minister despite a clear and categorical judicial verdict.” Apart from Dhar, there were others who supported the Emergency. One of them was prominent writer Khushwant Singh, who at the time was the editor of “The Illustrated Weekly of India”. He says “By May 1975 public protests against Mrs. Gandhi’s government had assumed nationwide dimensions and often turned violent. With my own eyes I saw slogan-chanting processions go down Bombay thoroughfares smashing cars parked on the roadsides and breaking shop-windows as they went along. Leaders of opposition parties watched the country sliding into chaos as bemused spectators hoping that the mounting chaos would force Mrs. Gandhi to resign.”

From the above arguments it is clear that Mrs. Gandhi was a power-hungry woman who imposed the emergency to safeguard her own political and personal interests. And the only beneficiary of this unfortunate period was her son Sanjay Gandhi.

The Man And His Mission

One of the most controversial figures in Indian politics, Sanjay Gandhi has often been accused of being the mastermind behind the atrocities committed during the emergency. It is widely believed that, through his associate Jagmohan, he ordered the demolition of Slums in Delhi’s Turkman Gate area. To make matters worse, both Sanjay and Indira Gandhi developed a Twenty-Point program which advertised the “salient features”.

However, the most controversial agenda was the implementation of a family-planning programme. This programme was a result of Sanjay Gandhi’s so-called “vision” to contain population growth in this country. Officially, this exercise was supposed to be a voluntary one for both men and women. However, there were reports that government officials were forcing young unmarried men, the poor and in some cases even political opponents.

That Sanjay had a dictatorial streak in his personality is evident, as he frequently used to order Cabinet ministers and other government officials. In one famous case I. K, Gujral, the then minister for information and broadcasting, was forced to resign after he refused to obey Sanjay Gandhi’s orders. Inder Malhotra remarked, “His ways were rude and crude. He had a knack of attracting riff-raff and roughnecks to him. But none of this prevented Congressmen, high and low, from fawning on him and swearing “eternal loyalty” to his mother and her family.”

However Khushwant Singh calls him a “lovable goonda”. He says “In some ways he epitomised the slogan he had coined: Kaam ziyaada, baatein kum – work more, talk less. He was a young man in a hurry to get things done. He had no patience with tedious democratic processes and red tape, no time for long-winded politicians or bureaucrats. The fact that he had no legitimacy for imposing his fiats on the country besides being the son of the prime minister was of little consequence to him.”

The fact that till today his name evokes fear among the public shows the notoriety in his personality. Also from the above the analysis it is evident that he showed utter contempt towards democratic institutions and would go to any extent to subvert them. In fact, it is said that Sanjay Gandhi was “furious” when Indira Gandhi decided to end the Emergency.

However, inspite of all his fallacies there is one contribution that Sanjay Gandhi gave to the nation: the Maruti car. It was envisioned as a cheap, affordable and indigenous car that the middle class could afford. Today it is India’s leading automobile company. However, even this car project had its share of controversy. The manner in which the land was acquired was questionable and there were serious doubts that the project might be shelved after the test version of the car failed.

The Impact

In addition to the common man, the judiciary and the media bore the maximum brunt of the excesses of the emergency. The Constitution, which is the most sacred document of any functioning democracy, was subverted in the most ruthless manner possible. Indira Gandhi ensured that all proclamations and ordinances were not subjected to judicial review. She amended the Representation of the People Act and two other laws in such a retrospective manner to ensure that the Supreme Court had no other option but to overturn the Allahabad High Court verdict. As senior advocate Arun Jaitley laments “The judiciary which had already been made pliable by the super cessions in 1973 was the main victim. The Supreme Court by a majority of four to one held that a person could be arrested or detained without legitimate grounds and there was no remedy in the law courts since all Fundamental Rights were suspended. The attorney-general of India argued for the government that a citizen could be killed illegally and no remedy was available since there were no Fundamental Rights of the citizen any more.” She misused Article 356 to dismiss the opposition governments in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

The fourth estate of democracy i.e. the media was also not spared. Censorship was imposed on newspapers and barring a few, like The Indian Express, no other newspaper had the courage to defy the censorship orders. When the Delhi edition appeared on June 28, The Indian Express carried a blank first editorial and the Financial Express reproduced in large type Rabindranth Tagore’s poem “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” concluding with the prayer “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

In fact, Ramnath Goenka, the daring proprietor of the newspaper, explains the ordeal in his own words. “The government, acting under the personal directions of Indira Gandhi, abused its authority and subverted lawful processes to liquidate me and my group of companies economically and make me an object of public ridicule and shame. One of the prime minister’s first acts on 26th June 1975 was to remove her mild-mannered and democratically inclined Information minister I. K. Gujral and replace him with Vidya Charan Shukla, who she thought would better serve her Goebbelsian design.”

This censorship also had its lighter sides. Vinod Mehta, who edited the sleazy girlie magazine Debonair from Bombay, was asked to have his articles and pictures cleared before they were sent to the printer. The censor looked over the pages. “Porn? Theek hai! Politics no.” Most of it was soft porn. It was quickly cleared!!

For the press, the emergency was a cruel reminder that the State can snatch its freedom arbitrarily. Hence, soon after the emergency ended, the Press Council of India was formed whose main aim was to safeguard the freedom of the press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country.

The emergency was a 19-month ordeal, which finally came to an end on January 23rd 1977; Indira Gandhi called for fresh elections and the release of all political prisoners. It was a courageous decision, considering the fact that she was under no visible compulsion to do so. It was a decision that would start a period of darkness for herself, her son Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie. However, this period would be short-lived as she staged a spectacular comeback in 1980.

The Aftermath And The Comeback

Soon after the withdrawal of the emergency, general elections were declared in the country. The Congress was reduced to just 153 seats in the Lok Sabha and the Janata Party led by Morarji Desai came to power. It was the first time a non-Congress government that assumed leadership of the country. Both Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay lost their seats. Thus began the darkest period in Indira Gandhi’s political career.

The government constituted the Shah Commission to probe into the excesses committed during the emergency. It recorded that highhanded and arbitrary actions had been carried out with impunity during the Emergency. In its report the commission recorded “Without the awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong’”. Indira Gandhi herself was arrested on a number of charges including misuse of her official and another case related to deriving illegal benefits in connection with procurement of jeeps for election purposes. The arrest of Indira Gandhi was a dramatic affair to say the least. The officer in-charge at that time, Mr. N.K. Singh in his memoirs “The Plain truth”, records that he and his team had to take her to Badhkal, a tourist resort on the outskirts of Delhi, fearing that there might be a backlash in Delhi. However, this phase in her life would come to an end soon as the courts acquitted her. And in 1978, she re-started her political journey by contesting a by-election from Chikmanglur in Karnataka. Meanwhile, the weaknesses of the Morarji-Desai government were being slowly exposed. The basis of the formation of the Janata Party was only one: to remove Indira Gandhi from power, whatever the cost. It was this very factor that led to its break-up and their subsequent ouster from power.

by Avneesh Arputham

India's Most Infamous Day - 25th June, 1975 - Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi Imposes Internal Emergency

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

25 June 1975 will go down in the history of the Indian Republic as a most infamous day and a black day when the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who headed the Congress Party as its dynastic head imposed an Internal Emergency in India for reasons which had no bearing to the internal security of the country.

The Emergency was declared by PM Indira Gandhi to suppress the widespread political unrest and agitation generated by her refusal to submit to her unseating from power in a judgment by the Allahabad High Court on an election petition charging her with electoral corruption in her Lok Sabha General Elections. Rather than to submit gracefully to the verdict given in the Court judgment the Congress Prime Minister by political subterfuge decided to continue in office.

The political agitation against the Congress PM was not led by any run of the mill Opposition political party leader. It was led by one of India's most venerated Gandhian and Sarvodaya leader Shri Jaya Prakash Narayan who stood for high moral values in political office and political life. He was a freedom fighter of Indira Gandhi's father's generation and he could have assumed a high political appointment after Independence. But seeing the emerging trends in the closing stages of India's freedom movement he opted to be a crusader for morality in public life and of India's political leaders.

The Emergency was declared post- midnight with Congress PM Indira Gandhi virtually forcing a pliant President Fakhruddin Ahmad to sign the Proclamation imposing the Internal Emergency. Placed in office as a pliant President, by Indira Gandhi, he did not even question the reasons from the Prime Minister for such a grave measure.

Overnight, hundreds of political Opposition leaders and activists were arrested and put in jails all over India. The Indian media was strangled and put under stringent censorship. Human rights and freedoms were brutally suppressed by the Indira Gandhi regime. India's Supreme Court judiciary was interfered with. Some reports indicate that as many as eighteen Supreme Court judges were changed including a Chief Justice. There was talk of a committed judiciary. Even from within the Congress Party, the Young Turks MP�s led by later PM Chandra Shekhar were also put behind bars for questioning Indira Gandhi�s policies earlier.

Pliant bureaucrats were positioned in important appointments and were given sweeping powers to stifle all opposition to the Government and they really went on a rampage. Some of them occupy high Constitutional positions today under the present Congress Government.

The Indian democracy stood subverted by Congress Party Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and India was to be under a draconian siege till the 1977 General Elections. Till then the unquestioned writ of Indira Gandhi and her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi as an unconstitutional power centre plagued India. The Emergency imposition was to impose a "shock and awe" effect on the Indian polity and the Indian public for their temerity to agitate against the existing political set-up.

In a manner of speaking the Emergency rule in India imposed by Congress Party Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was no different from the military dictatorship regimes of Pakistan.

It was ironic that an Emergency was imposed in India for reasons of political survival by the daughter of India's most admired democrat and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was more tragic that Indira Gandhi who also joined the freedom struggle for India's freedom struggle alongside her father should in 1977 stoop to suppress the very same freedoms and democracy that were fought for in order to continue as Prime Minister. The self-proclaimed high political morality of the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty stood compromised.

It was also ironic that the vast majority of Congress Party political leaders with the exception of the Young Turks did not raise even a whimper of protest against their dynastic political leader for the subversion of democracy. They supinely went along and many of the senior Congress Party leaders stooped low even to touch the feet of the young dynastic heir apparent.

Another 25 June came and went past without India even pausing to recall this infamous black day thirty two years ago. The Congress Party could not be expected to recall the political misdeed of an earlier dynastic head. The Bharatiya Janata Party which fought against the Emergency in its earlier avatar as the Jan Singh seems to be politically frozen today by political inertia. This was an occasion which should have been highlighted on a massive scale by it all over India. It was only in the Punjab Legislative Assembly that Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal made special mention of the excesses of the Emergency despite vehement protests by Congress MLA's. Many would not know that the Akalis under the leadership of Badal spearheaded a massive protest against the Emergency rule. More than 40,000 Akali workers were put in jails.

The bulk of the Indian media controlled by industrial houses close to the ruling Congress Party, did not highlight this infamous day. If for nothing else they could have emphasized that India's democracy should never be allowed to be subverted by self-seeking politicians.

Against such a background, the only redeeming feature that strikes the mind is that the people of India did no hesitate to strike back in 1977 against Congress Party Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for her subversion of democracy and the Emergency excesses. They unseated her from power. Though she came back to power again, not because of any new found political popularity but because of the internal squabbles of the Janata Party, politically the things were never the same again for her. Her image took a dive.

In this lie many lessons for the India of today stretching from attempts to put into Rashtrapati Bhavan once again a pliant political non-entity as President by the Congress Party President, to the questioning of Supreme Court judgments on unconstitutional legislation passed by the Parliament by political leaders and contriving dubious legislative measures to perpetuate in office those unseated as happened in the Office of Profit controversy.

India's middle class in1977 was small and yet they along with the rest of India unseated Indira Gandhi for her political transgressions and subversion of democracy. Today India's burgeoning middle class is over 300 million strong and they must politically empower themselves not only to correct the distorted electoral arithmetic imposed by casteist political leaders and custodians of minority vote banks, but also to act forcefully as sentinels of Indian democracy.

Never again should the people of India ever allow another Internal Emergency to be imposed on India by self-seeking Indian politicians, however charismatic. It is well said that Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty and every Indian citizen should be alive to it.


Emergency -- Darkest hour in India's judicial history

V R Krishna Iyer

KOCHI, JUNE 26: Courts and judges played a significant role in the history of the Emergency. Two judges -- Justice V R Krishna Iyer and Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha -- were crucial to the imposition of the Emergency. Justice Sinha's (Allahabad High Court) verdict on June 12, 1975, declared Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha as void. Justice Iyer, then a vacation judge in the Supreme Court, decided on Indira's appeal. On June 24, Justice Krishna Iyer gave a conditional stay allowing her to remain a member of Parliament, but disallowing her to take part in the proceedings of the Lok Sabha. Indira Gandhi acted fast, the Emergency was declared on June 26. Justice Iyer, who is active in espousing public causes in his retired life in Kochi, looks back.

The era of Emergency, which was inaugurated by Indira Gandhi on June 25/26, 1975, was the darkest chapter in the democratic history of India (1991 to 2000 A D is the darkest economic decade). Several people are under the erroneous impression that my judgment in the stay petition following upon the invalidation of the Prime Minister's selection by the Allahabad High Court, is the `causa causans' of the mid-night proclamation of Emergency.Merely because one event follows upon another, you cannot read the former as the reason for the latter, that is the fallacy of linking up my refusal to grant unconditional stay of the High Court's order.

I gave the highest priority to the petition for stay, heard it without break on June 24 from 10 am to 5 pm and pronounced judgment the very next day at 3 pm. Simultaneously, I made copies of my order available free to every person who desired a copy. The Supreme Court staff did a blitz job in making a few thousand copies in the wee hours of the 26th morning. I refused the Prime Minister the right to vote in Parliament, I referred to the dharma of politics and insisted that equal protection of the law could not make a difference in favour of the Prime Minister, the great proposition being ``Be you ever so high, the law is above you.''

(Nani) Palkhiwala appeared for her and much later he told me when I met him as Ambassador in the US that Smt. Indira Gandhi was furious that I refused unconditional stay. A judge has to face crises and discharge his duty courageously. I did that and no more. Dharma and law, in the Indian context, have a common content. Being unhappy about the right to vote, the indignant prime minister apparently wanted to silence criticism or upheaval of opposition and in her myopic wisdom proclaimed Emergency, suspended Fundamental Rights and deprived the judges of even the highest court the power to protect the citizen against official violence and violation. Large numbers of people were taken into custody and detained in unknown places.

The Supreme Court heard arguments against the Emergency but the Attorney General Sri Niran De went to the extreme extent of justifying the Emergency. Even when a police officer maliciously shot dead an innocent man, the court had no power to interfere even in such a blood-thirstyoutrage. Alas, except Justice (H R) Khanna, the other four judges of the Bench upheld the Emergency with all its macabre implications. That was the darkest hour of the Supreme Court.

In the course of the arguments I was not on the Bench I happened to meet prime minister Indira Gandhi to request her to preside over the first V K Krishna Menon Memorial speech. She declined but agreed to sit through the speech of Jenney Lee, who came from England. I presided and in my address severely condemned the despotism implicit in the lawless proclamation. Some members in the audience later told me that she turned pale. In fairness, I must say that she sat through the meeting and made a brief speech without any critical reference to my condemnation of the eclipse of people's freedom. Later, I had occasion to criticise, by implication, the Emergency in my address at the Gandhi Peace Foundation which was well-received and copies of the speech went around the world.

In fairness to Indira Gandhi, I must say that when I met her for inviting her to preside (over the function), I told her how shocking the Attorney General's argument was that a man could be shot and the Court was impotent because of the Emergency. If the Dred Scctt case decided by the US Supreme Court upheld slavery, our court was in soulful company when upholding the Emergency. I reminded the Prime Minister about the mounting national tension and mentioned about Mujibur Rehman being assassinated in Bangladesh. I told her about the reckless detentions in Kerala and she told me she had a telegram from K N Raj to the same effect.

In the evening Om Mehta, the Home Minister, came to my residence at the instance of the prime minister to collect the names of persons who were unjustly detained. I gave the names of a few, including Kunjananthan (who worked in my chambers at Tellicherry and later was private secretary of EMS). I also mentioned the name of Gopalan Adiyodi, who was a simple lawyer and had a surgery just a week before. I later learnt that he was a RSS Sanchalak. Anyway, she complained against the unnecessary detentions in Kerala, and all the names I gave were set at liberty without delay.

Another shocking episode: Jayashuklal Hathi, a leading Congressman and Governor of Punjab and Haryana, mentioned to me how a chartered bus carrying professors for a seminar was diverted to a hospital and all the learned participants in the seminar were forced to undergo vasectomy despite their protest. These were orders perhaps from Sanjay Gandhi. The Governor was against it. Many women from villages fled to the hills for fear of the police carrying away people for sterilisation by force. There was a sense of terror throughout the country.

However, I did visit the Cannanore Central Jail during the Emergency and met the detenues. Few would have dared to do that at that time. Long later, when Indira Gandhi lost her election, I happened to meet her and she defended her son. I did not care to take part in that discussion because I felt that the court has blessed the Executive's order and the judges had nothing to be proud of vis-a-vis human rights.

A fitting finale of the Emergency was the stab on the independence of the High Court judges who were moved helter-skelter across the country. Perhaps out of vendetta but curiously with the concurrence, so I am told, of the Chief Justice of India.

Courtesy : Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.