25 June 1975 (the importance of freedom)

Indira Gandhi proclaimed that
“food is more important than freedom”, JP had thundered: “Freedom…freedom of the human personality, freedom of the mind, freedom of
the spirit. This freedom has become a passion of my life and I shall not
see it compromised for bread, for security, for prosperity, for the
glory of the state or for anything else.”

It is said that freedom must not only be earned but every generation has to prove themselves worthy of freedom all over again. A good thing to remember as the threats to freedom are growing once more, this time from the right field.

No surprise, Indians today have mostly forgotten the darkest hours of the democracy that happened because the people in power wanted absolute power over the people, even to forcibly remove their ability to have children. Many people were thrown into prison simply on the basis of suspicion and hearsay (similar to the blasphemy accusations of today) and were tortured.

The lesson of 1975 is clear- the nation must try to (re)discover and stay true to her moral core. The people who protest against injustice are for the most part good people. They take enormous risk in doing what  they do, often against the wishes of their near and dear ones. They often suffer grievously at the hands of state-sponsored dacoits. The tendency to crush dissent and punish dissenters (and whistle-blowers) has to be curbed.

MG Devasahayam, first in the Army and then in the Administrative Service (IAS), provides a valuable eye-witness account of what really happened on and after June 25, 1975. Two things are very clear- evil grows when good people stay quiet, and evil can be destroyed by peaceful means as well. It is true that we do not have, right now, moral giants such as Jay Prakash (JP) Narayan, but then we must not lose hope. The hour will always produce the (wo)man.

Large portions of South Asia is presently drowning in orgies of violence, it is the need of the hour that we find ways to become better neighbors (as people, as communities, as nations) so that we can all join hands in the fight to eliminate poverty (while not compromising on freedom), which must surely be the greatest evil of them all.

On the midnight of June 25, 1975, prime minister Indira Gandhi nearly
destroyed India’s democratic framework with a piece of paper that
proclaimed a state of emergency.
It was carried by her private secretary
to the President, who meekly signed it. The mis-governance that followed
extinguished freedom, suspended fundamental rights, fettered the press,
suppressed dissent. More than one lakh citizens were illegally
Draco­nian laws followed. Democratic governance collapsed.

At that time, I was the district magistrate of Chandigarh, a Union
Territory governed by the Centre. The home ministry and the PMO were
directly monitoring my “eminent prisoner”, Jayaprakash Narain, India’s
tallest leader after Mohandas Gandhi, and now Enemy No. 1 of the state.

He’d been arrested by the district magistrate of Delhi and sent to me
for safe custody. So I had a ringside view of the Emergency, right from
the corridors of power in Delhi to the streets of Chandigarh. Everyone
could see the Emergency drama around them, but I—a member of the elite
IAS, but primarily a freedom-loving citizen—had the opportunity to
witness, feel and be a part of the intense struggle of JP, the
“revolutionary in chains”.

In my own humble way, I initiated certain moves for reconciliation
between JP and Indira Gandhi so that the Emergency would be lifted and
democracy restored at the earliest. I’d even roped in Sheikh Abdullah
for the purpose through the good offices of Punjab chief minister Giani
Zail Singh. These efforts were repeatedly sabotaged by an
extra-constitutional authority at Delhi’s pinnacle of power.

Mysteriously, starting early November, the health of JP, who was lodged
at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in
Chandigarh, began to deteriorate sharply. I had every reason to suspect
that a conspiracy was on to incapacitate JP by damaging his kidneys and
put him out of harm’s way if not eliminate him. Probably, Delhi durbar
felt that JP was the only person of moral stature who could challenge
the dynasty. Later events proved me right.

By divine grace, I could defeat the conspiracy by playing hardball
with the Centre with a pointed poser: “What if JP dies in detention?”
That sent shivers in the PMO, for just a few weeks earlier,  sleuths had
rehearsed a “death-in-detention” drill. Within a week, JP was released
on unconditional parole. In defiance of Delhi durbar, I commandeered
seats on a flight and sent JP to Jaslok Hospital in Bombay with his
brother Rajeshwar Prasad and friend Minoo Masani. We were just in time
for his kidneys to be saved. JP lived for four more years, albeit on
dialysis twice a week. 

For this audacity, I did incur the wrath of the
‘dynasty’ scion and his minions. But I had the honour of JP calling me
“the son I never had” and Dr Manmohan Singh complimenting me, saying,
“Deva, you did not merely save JP, you saved Indian democracy.”

In the 1977 election, JP led the Janata combine and threw the
Congress out of power. Needless to say, the conspiracy to damage JP’s
kidneys was never fully investigated and the Alva commission set up by
Janata government was wound up under intense pressure from vested
interests still owing allegiance to the Congress dynasty.

Be that as it may, a ‘secret’ IB report leaked on June 11 lists me
among ‘eminent persons’ who are part of an anti-national, foreign-funded
“Superior Network of pan-India NGOs”, including Greenpeace and People’s
Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). These NGOs are allegedly “taking down
development”, impacting GDP by three per cent and endangering “national
economic security” by articulating people-centric issues. 

Is that not
the sort of language used during the Emergency? The PUCL, founded by
that great patriot JP, responded that the report was an attempt to
intimidate and kill dissent from those who raise an often lonely voice
against life- and livelihood-destroying development programmes.

Indeed, I have been speaking up against big-ticket,
forest-destroying, coast-ravaging and livelihood-killing proje­cts such
as Vedanta and Posco. Also against  resource-guzzling, secretive and
extremely expensive nuclear projects such as the 2,000 MW Koodankulam
plant (to be expanded to 6,000 MW) and the 2,800 MW Gorakhpur plant (in

I oppose the Koodankulam project because it has devastated the
southeastern seabed and would rob lakhs of fisherfolk of a livelihood.
It could also hang like a sword of Damocles over millions of
project-affected people because of unsafe equipment. As recently as May
14, six personnel were seriously injured at the Koodankulam plant
because of malfunctioning valves. 

I oppose the Gorakhpur project because
the 320 cusecs of Bhakra canal water allotted to this plant would
deprive 1.4 lakh acres of farmland of water. The region is
semi-arid and the cotton, wheat, pulses and oilseeds grown here depend
on irrigation from the canal. Farming supports the lives of about a
million directly engaged in it here. Villages here are also the habitat
of blackbuck (a “near-threatened” species) and the project will cause
the animals immense harm. 

Another reason I oppose nuclear reactors  is
because post-Fukushima, they raise great worries about being a threat to
life itself. Nuclear energy, which generates just one per cent of the
country’s needs, is not the answer to India’s electricity problems. It
is also very expensive, if all costs—capital, construction,
commissioning, operation, decommissioning and safe storage of
spent-fuel—are honestly factored in.

This ‘development’ model is anti-poor. Opposing them, in fact, is in
consonance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governance agenda,
unveiled in the President’s add­ress to Parliament on June 9. It swears
by ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ or inclusive development and goes on to
say: “…my government commits itself to the goal of poverty

With a firm belief that the first claim on development
belongs to the poor, the government will focus its attention on those
who need the basic necessities of life most urgently. It will take
necessary steps to provide security in its entirety to all citizens,
through empathy, support and empowerment.” 

It is precisely these
people-centric issues that the ‘listed’ individuals and NGOs are
advancing. Intriguingly, the IB report was leaked the very day after
this speech. Is it to scuttle Modi’s pro-poor agenda? The jury is out!

Back to the Emergency. Even after four decades, this dark era continues to haunt the nation. Writing in Outlook
in June 2010, Arundhati Roy wrote: “June 26 is the 35th anniversary of
the Emergency. Perhaps the Indian people should declare that this
country is still in a state of Emergency.” When the UPA government
threatened Maoist sympathisers with imprisonment under the Unlawful
Activities (Prevention) Act, rights activists retorted: “We consider
this as an attack on civil society reminiscent of the Emergency era.”
Anchoring CNN-IBN’s Face the Nation debate on the censorship of Prakash Jha’s movie Raajneeti,
Sagarika Ghosh’s poser was, “Are we under Emergency?” What now, with
some top guns pushing for a harsher POTA and the decimation of ‘Maoists’
by deploying the military?

Despite the fact that the Emergency is remembered and recalled
whenever any blatantly unlawful act or excess is committed, people at
large, particularly those of the younger generation, have no idea as to
what it was all about. On the eve of the 36th anniversary of the
Emergency, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar wrote: “The new generation
must understand that today’s non-governance or misgovernance is the
fallout of what Indira Gandhi had done 36 years ago by destroying an
established democratic order…. How do you make the new generation
relate to the Emergency imposed some 36 years ago this week? I have been
asked this question many a time…I do not have an answer.” Nayar’s
anguish is proof enough as to how this crucial part of India’s
freedom-killing post-­independence history has been pushed under the

At the peak of the Emergency, when Indira Gandhi proclaimed that
“food is more important than freedom”, JP had thundered: “Freedom became
one of the beacon lights of my life and it has remained so ever since.
Freedom…transcended the mere freedom of my country and embraced
freedom of man everywhere and from every sort of trammel—above all it
meant freedom of the human personality, freedom of the mind, freedom of
the spirit. This freedom has become a passion of my life and I shall not
see it compromised for bread, for security, for prosperity, for the
glory of the state or for anything else.”

According to some accounts, JP was Modi’s guiding beacon during his
long sociopolitical journey. Will Modi—who worshipped at the ‘temple of
democracy’ before entering it—honour his icon’s freedom agenda or let
petty minds belittle it? This is the billion-people question for Modi!


Link: http://www.outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?291101



Brown Pundits