Twenty-fifth June, Nineteen Seventy-Five, was a sweltering day, made more uncomfortable by the frequent power breakdowns at the Indian Express office at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Delhi’s Fleet Street. Since I covered the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) beat, the news editor, A.P. Saksena, universally addressed as Piloo sahib, had asked me to use my contacts in the Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking (DESU) to ensure that the power was set right before the printing presses rolled that night. The DESU deputy general manager assured me they were working on restoring the power supply to the entire street. When the lights came on by 8 pm, I left the office, oblivious of the fact that the blackout was just a dress rehearsal and that a coup was in the works a couple of kilometres away. The restoration of electricity was temporary—the newspaper would be in the dark for a long time to come.
The lead headline for the next morning’s edition was to be the anti-Indira Gandhi rally held that evening at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, with Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) as the main speaker. The Gandhian Sarvodaya leader, who had launched a campaign against corruption and misrule in Bihar and at the Centre, had given a call for ‘Total Revolution’, which had captured the imagination of the youth of north India, particularly in Bihar.
JP’s campaign against Mrs Gandhi had gained additional momentum on June 12. On that day, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court disbarred the prime minister as a member of Parliament (MP) for election malpractices, and from holding any elected post for six years. Mrs Gandhi had appealed against this ruling, but the vacation judge of the Supreme Court, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, had on June 24 refused to grant a complete stay to Mrs Gandhi on her petition. He ruled that she could continue as prime minister till the matter was decided by the Supreme Court, but she did not have the right to vote in Parliament. It was a decision that made Mrs Gandhi’s position very vulnerable.
The feisty Indian Express owner, Ramnath Goenka, a close friend of JP’s, was the media advisor for JP’s campaign. He was, in fact, an important strategist for the diverse political groups that had hitched their wagon to the JP movement: the Congress (O), the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD), the Socialist Party and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The Congress (O) was the faction of the party which had tried to expel Mrs Gandhi in 1969 and had then been largely marginalised by her. The BLD was headed by the dour peasant leader Charan Singh. C. Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party, which stood for free enterprise and free trade, had merged with Singh’s BLD that represented the farmers of north India. The Socialist Party was an offshoot of the socialist caucus of the Congress party. The Jana Sangh was a right-wing pro-Hindu party with close affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a voluntary social and cultural organisation whose members, in distinctive khaki short pants, wielded lathis at their morning shakhas and were perceived in some quarters as anti-Muslim.
When JP postponed his Ramlila maidan rally by a day, the schedule for mass arrests too was
delayed accordingly. (Photo: Hindustan Times)
A solid phalanx of humanity covered the historic Ramlila grounds on the night of June 25, endorsing the call for Indira Gandhi to step down. JP recited Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s evocative poem, ‘Singhasan khaali karo/ke janata aati hai (surrender your throne, for the people are coming)’, to thunderous applause. The crusty septuagenarian Morarji Desai from the Congress (O), who had come out of semi-retirement to spearhead the agitation to get rid of the corrupt Congress chief minister of Gujarat, Chimanbhai Patel, was on the dais. So was Raj Narain, the maverick wrestler-politician—it was he who had set the wheels in motion against Mrs Gandhi by filing a case against her in the Allahabad High Court for electoral malpractices in her constituency of Rae Bareli, where he had contested against her. The RSS pracharak (‘propagator’) and Jana Sangh strongman Nanaji Deshmukh and the Delhi Jana Sangh boss, Madan Lal Khurana, were also present.
The smooth-talking S.S. Ray had conceived of the idea of Emergency in January, when there was no pressing law-and-order problem
Earlier that evening, Subramanian Swamy, the Harvard-returned, newly elected Jana Sangh member of the Rajya Sabha, had been tasked to bring JP to the Ramlila Maidan from the nearby Rouse Avenue office of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, where JP stayed whenever he was in the capital, and they had had an interesting exchange. With the growing groundswell of support for the call to remove Mrs Gandhi, Swamy had ominously and (as it would turn out) presciently speculated: “What would happen if Mrs Gandhi introduced martial law?” JP laughed and dismissed his fears: “You are too Americanised! Indians would revolt.” Seeing the huge crowds that turned up to hear him wherever he addressed rallies in the country, JP believed he had unleashed a people’s movement which was unstoppable till it had achieved its goal.
Biju Patnaik, BLD leader from Orissa, who had once been close to the Nehru-Gandhi family, was, like Swamy, also apprehensive about Indira Gandhi’s reaction. Two days earlier, at a conference of all the opposition parties supporting JP, which had been convened to work out the modalities of organising a national satyagraha on June 29, he had warned, “I know Indira Gandhi well. You must give her an exit route; if you completely corner her, then in panic she may overreact.”
At the rally on the night of June 25, JP declared that there would be non-violent demonstrations and satyagrahas to compel Indira Gandhi to resign. He asked those present to indicate if they were willing to go to jail for the cause. There was a sea of raised hands. JP then announced that Morarji would be the chairman of the Lok Sangharsh Samiti, the umbrella organisation formed by JP, which would coordinate the efforts of all the opposition parties; Nanaji would be its general secretary and Asoka Mehta of the Congress (O) its treasurer. But JP’s most significant statement that night repeated what he had said in the past: that the police and armed forces should not obey “illegal and unconstitutional orders”.
JP’s words were later quoted repeatedly by Mrs Gandhi to justify the Emergency. But, in fact, preparations for putting her political opponents behind bars and stifling all expressions of dissent were being planned for many months before the actual deed was done on the fateful night of June 25.
A handwritten note by the West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, which has come into the author’s possession, reveals that the smooth-talking Ray, who fashioned himself as a progressive liberal, had, along with law minister H.R. Gokhale, Congress president D.K. Barooah and Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee bagman Rajni Patel, conceived of the idea of an internal Emergency and mass arrests of political opponents back in January that year. Ray’s note of January 8, 1975, to Mrs Gandhi spells out the details of the plan to be put into operation.
We just finished the meeting at Barooah’s. I wanted to tell you something very urgently but you are at some state dinner. I am therefore sending you this hurried note.
Nothing has been done—no list prepared...nothing whatsoever. Some people here do not realise the seriousness of the situation in the country. But Barooah and Rajni were helpful and Ghokale [sic] will have a draft ordinance ready by tonight. We have decided on the guidelines and we are meeting again at 9 am (ugh!) at Ghokhale’s tomorrow. So that we can come to you with something.
I told Om to do this thing and I would want YOU to order Brahmananda Reddy [then the home minister] to do this thing immediately. A secret telex message should go at once to every chief minister (Congress) directing him to prepare a list of all prominent Anand Marg and RSS members in his state. He need not be told of any ordinance but he should have the list ready. The idea is to swing into action immediately after the ordinance is ready—and it has to be ready in 24 hours’ time from now. I hope the President will be readily available to sign the ordinance. Also a special Cabinet meeting should be called either tomorrow evening or night or very early in the morning the day after. (This is in case the ordinance takes more than 24 hours to be finalised.)
At tomorrow’s meeting you insist on the ordinance being ready by the evening. Also please ring up Brahmananda Reddy tonight and tell him about ‘x’. Prepage (sounds like a file noting!)
In case you want to talk to me I shall be at home.
The breezy, familiar tone indicates the close relationship between the prime minister and Ray. She had known him since childhood and their grandfathers, C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru, were close friends and fellow lawyers. Their friendship was renewed when they were both students in the UK. It is significant that at the time Ray wrote this note, there were no very pressing problems on the law-and-order front for him to advocate such extreme measures.
At a conference of opposition parties, Biju Patnaik had warned, “I know Indira well. You must give her an exit route; if you corner her, she may overreact.”
JP’s Total Revolution movement was not at its peak. The countrywide railway strike had been put down six months earlier. The student-led Navnirman movement in Gujarat had resulted in the stepping down of the unpopular Congress chief minister Chimanbhai Patel. The only noteworthy event was that five days earlier, on January 3, 1975, the railway minister Lalit Narayan Mishra, under attack in Parliament for serious corruption charges in granting licences, was assassinated in a bomb blast at Samastipur, Bihar. Mishra’s murder remains a mystery to this day. At that time the rumour mill talked of a Congress hand in eliminating an inconvenient minister who was giving the party and the government a bad name. On the other hand, Mrs Gandhi blamed JP’s campaign for creating an atmosphere that encouraged violence.
Ray, Barooah, Patel and Gokhale had come up with a plan as early as January 1975 (ostensibly) because Indira Gandhi was greatly rattled by Mishra’s violent death. She wanted to ban the RSS, the Anand Marg and the main activists in JP’s movement. But Mrs Gandhi backtracked later, after officials in her secretariat advised her that the Opposition would accuse her government of repression.
Now, with the Allahabad judgement putting a question mark over her own political future, Mrs Gandhi seemed to have discarded the scruples she had had earlier and decided to bring Ray’s plan out of cold storage. The actual execution of the Emergency followed Ray’s proposed plan to the letter.
On June 22, R.K. Dhawan, Mrs Gandhi’s additional private secretary, who was the man who issued instructions on behalf of his boss, rang up the Andhra Pradesh chief minister J. Vengala Rao and asked him to come to Delhi on June 24, when the Supreme Court vacation judge was expected to rule on the prime minister’s application for a total stay order on the Allahabad High Court verdict. Several Congress chief ministers were alerted on the morning of June 25 to take action against Opposition leaders once they received the green signal from the PM’s house that night. Rao, on his return journey to Hyderabad on an Indian Air Force (IAF) plane on June 25, was instructed to stop over at Bangalore and convey the instructions about the arrests and other contingency measures to the chief minister of Karnataka. Similarly, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister P.C. Sethi was instructed by minister of state for home Om Mehta to stop by in Rajasthan and alert chief minister Harideo Joshi.
Mrs Gandhi waited for JP’s rally as the pretext for executing her plan. The rally was originally scheduled for June 24, and on June 23 Dhawan informed the Delhi lieutenant governor Kishan Chand that a list should be prepared of the prominent politicians who were to be taken into custody. The list of all senior politicians was personally vetted by Mrs Gandhi, who removed and added names till the last date. When the rally was postponed by a day, the schedule for the mass arrests was delayed accordingly.
Indira, dubbed Gungi Gudiya, once told Dom Moraes, “I was always quiet, when I was younger people thought I had no fire in me. But the fire was always there.”
One Congress chief minister excluded from the advance preparations was H.N. Bahuguna, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP); he learnt of the developments only on the morning of June 26 while he was having breakfast with veteran Congressman Uma Shankar Dikshit. Mrs Gandhi was already suspicious of Bahuguna whom she perceived as too ambitious and close to the Young Turks—Congress MPs like Chandra Shekhar who had backed Mrs Gandhi against the party old guard but were now sympathetic towards JP. A few months later, he was removed as chief minister. Bahuguna’s fault was that he had shown his independence from Delhi on occasion.
The Haryana chief minister, the homespun but ruthless Bansi Lal, who had no qualms about using the police to lock up his opponents in his own state, was alerted ahead of other CMs about the plans for mass arrests. He was, in fact, an active conspirator along with Indira Gandhi’s younger son, Sanjay, in planning the strategy. The two had bonded ever since Sanjay had set up his small-car manufacturing unit, Maruti, in Gurgaon, Haryana, with the chief minister obligingly providing 290 acres of fertile land at a throwaway price after first acquiring it from the farmers at a much lower rate than the market price. He also ensured a government loan for the factory. Bansi Lal believed in strongarm tactics to deal with his opponents. Both Sanjay and Bansi Lal had been working overtime, planning reprisals, ever since the Allahabad High Court judgement.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter—once described as Gungi Gudiya (a dumb doll) by the socialist leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia—had fought a tough, no-holds-barred battle to become the unquestioned leader of the Congress party, and to dominate national politics. Mrs Gandhi once pointed out to writer Dom Moraes, “I have always been very quiet and when I was younger people thought there was no fire in me. But this fire has always been there, only nobody saw it except when it flared.” The prime ministership may have initially been handed to her on a platter because she was her father’s daughter and considered a pushover, but to retain her position she had convincingly bested her elderly male rivals, divided the grand old party and emerged completely victorious in the 1971 parliamentary election, with a stunning two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha.
Imperious, often icy, in her manner towards her colleagues, Mrs Gandhi was described as the ‘only man’ in the cabinet of ministers, and was dubbed ‘the Empress’ by The Economist. Now the iron lady was in danger of being eased out of the political arena because of electoral malpractices which her supporters indignantly claimed were mere technicalities that could be compared to minor traffic-rule infringements.
Justice Sinha had held Mrs Gandhi guilty of two malpractices out of 14 charges made by Raj Narain. The first was that Yashpal Kapoor, officer on special duty in the prime minister’s secretariat and an old family retainer, had handled Mrs Gandhi’s campaign in Rae Bareli from January 7, 1971, although he continued in government service until January 25, according to the official record. Government servants were barred by the electoral code of conduct from active participation in political campaigns. The other impropriety was that UP government officials had helped make the arrangements for her election meetings, including constructing podiums, arranging loudspeakers and electricity connections—a practice which admittedly was not uncommon, and to which the authorities generally turned a blind eye.
Sanjay and Bansi Lal had bonded ever since the Haryana CM gave him 290 acres for his
pet project, a Maruti plant.
Twelfth June was indeed an ill-fated day for Mrs Gandhi. Justice Sinha’s judgement had come like a bolt from the blue. Nobody had taken Raj Narain’s petition, which was pending for three-and-a-half years, very seriously. That was why a family loyalist with no great reputation as a lawyer was appointed as Mrs Gandhi’s defence counsel. On that same morning D.P. Dhar, a former minister and ambassador to the Soviet Union, who was her close confidant, had passed away. Later in the day Mrs Gandhi learnt that the Congress had lost in the Gujarat assembly elections to an alliance of Opposition parties known as the Janata Morcha, which was backed by JP.
Suspicious and manipulative, Indira Gandhi had a history of abruptly changing advisors. The triumvirate of Ray, Barooah and Patel were the current favourites among her Left-leaning advisors. But, at the same time, plain gofers who had no intellectual pretensions or ideological constraints, like Yashpal Kapoor, Om Mehta, Bansi Lal, R.K. Dhawan and the yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari, among others, also wielded influence. The ‘Punjabi mafia’, as it was nicknamed, had cultivated her son Sanjay to get ahead. In the crisis facing Mrs Gandhi, Sanjay had emerged as his mother’s most trusted confidant. Sanjay was then just 28 and attempting to manufacture a small car, despite the general scepticism about his ability to undertake such an ambitious venture and criticism from the Opposition over the blatant misuse of government machinery.
|It was from his shoulder that all the legal shots were fired, whether on press censorship or the 39th amendment H.R. Gokhale, Law Minister||An Indira sycophant like no other, he coined all the cloying phrases for her, including ‘Indira is India, India is Indira’ D.K. Barooah, Congress president|
|Part of the Left-leaning triumvirate around Indira along with Ray and Barooah, and the strongman in Maharashtra. Rajni Patel, Bombay PCC chief||Co-conspirator in planning Emergency strategy along with Sanjay. Adept at strongarm tactics, mustering crowds. Bansi Lal, Haryana chief minister|
|His handling of her Rae Bareli campaign despite being in govt service was one of the electoral malpractice charges on Mrs G. Yashpal Kapoor, OSD in PM’s secretariat||The home ministry was called the ‘Om ministry’ because he called the shots, not home minister Brahmananda Reddy. Om Mehta, MoS for home|
|Indira’s right-hand man and the person who issued instructions on the behalf of his boss. R.K. Dhawan, PM’s addl pvt secy||He had a mesmerising hold over the Nehru-Gandhi household. Sanjay travelled frequently on his 4-seater Maule M-5 plane. Dhirendra Brahmachari, Yoga guru|
Pupul Jayakar, a close family friend of the Gandhis, acknowledged that Sanjay grew up “a wild wayward youth, often in scrapes fiddling with cars, attracting questionable friends”. But his mother relied on Sanjay’s judgement. She knew he was totally loyal to her, whereas she could never be sure of the motives of her political colleagues. Since his return from England, where his apprenticeship at the Rolls Royce factory had ended abruptly, Sanjay had started taking a greater interest in government. He was keen to settle scores with those who had opposed his small-car project.
While Indira Gandhi claimed, for public consumption, that she would resign if the Supreme Court verdict went against her, Sanjay was adamant that there was no question of his mother stepping down because of a pettifogging judge. Sanjay swung straightaway into action on June 12 itself when he heard of the court judgement in the afternoon, after returning home for lunch from the Maruti factory. He indignantly vetoed Barooah’s self-serving proposal that he (Sanjay) assume the prime ministership temporarily and Mrs Gandhi take over as president of the party....
To protest the censorship of the press, the June 28, 1975, edition of the Indian Express
left its editorial space blank.
The Opposition, meanwhile, had stepped up the agitation, calling for Mrs Gandhi’s resignation. Even the media by and large urged Mrs Gandhi to respect the court’s verdict and bow out of office gracefully.
Those who saw Indira Gandhi regularly during this period observed that she was severely rattled and frequently lost her temper. Her supporters were conscious that she could be betrayed and let down by her own party members, and so they acted with speed and determination. By the time the Congress Parliamentary Party met on June 18, most of the doubting Thomases had fallen in line. At a specially convened meeting, the entire gathering reaffirmed its faith in her. The MPs all signed a loyalty pledge which stated, “Mrs Indira Gandhi continues to be the Prime Minister. It is our firm and considered view that for the integrity, stability and progress of the country, her dynamic leadership is indispensable.” The resolution was proposed by Jagjivan Ram and seconded by Y.B. Chavan, the two senior ministers in her cabinet who were suspected of nursing ambitions of stepping into Mrs Gandhi’s shoes. Five members did not attend: Chandra Shekhar, Krishan Kant, Mohan Dharia, Lakshmi Kantamma and Ram Dhan. They objected to the use of the word ‘indispensable’ in the loyalty pledge. D.K. Barooah, the rotund sycophantic party president, described contemptuously by Sanjay as a ‘joker’, declared ‘Indira is India and India is Indira’, a refrain which sounded ominously similar to the Nazi slogan ‘Germany is Hitler and Hitler is Germany’.
People from all walks of life, including leading industrialists, professionals, chambers of commerce and various federations and associations, were encouraged to sign the loyalty pledge, which was drafted by P.N. Haksar, her former principal secretary, now relegated to the sidelines in the Planning Commission. Some dramatically signed the pledge in blood.
It was Sanjay’s coterie that went into overdrive to protect his mother’s position. Between June 12 and 24, daily pro-Indira Gandhi demonstrations, rallies and public meetings were held, the usual rent-a-crowd shows organised by Congressmen keen to win brownie points from the party bosses. The crowds were often also mustered through strongarm tactics. Navin Chawla ordered all public utility services, including the ndmc, desu, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and the Delhi Milk Scheme, to contribute manpower and transport. J.R. Anand, traffic manager of the dtc, confirmed that most of the buses were booked on orders over phone from Chawla. The LG’s aide gave instructions on the number of buses required, unconcerned to how it would affect the city’s normal bus services.
On June 13, the entire fleet of 983 buses plying on Delhi routes was diverted to bring the crowds to No. 1, Safdarjung Road, the residence of the prime minister. People from the neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and UP were similarly transported in vehicles commandeered by their respective state authorities. Some participants carried banners of the unions of the public sector undertakings with which they were affiliated. Factories in Faridabad were viewed as a fertile catchment area by Bansi Lal, whose officials were ordered to muster crowds from there.
The crowds would usually assemble at the Safdarjung Road traffic island outside the prime minister’s residence. I was one of the reporters sent to cover these ‘solidarity’ rallies. We used to jokingly refer to Mrs Gandhi’s standard diatribe as the ‘They-are-out-to-get-me rant’. The crowds were frenzied, almost hysterical, a number of the women thumping their chests and screaming, in chorus, ‘Indira, ham tumhare saath hain (Indira, we are with you)’. The obsequious court jester Barooah composed a couplet for the benefit of the rank and file: ‘Indira teri subah ki jai, Indira teri shaam ki jai/Tere kaam ki jai, tere naam ki jai (Indira, we salute your morning, your evening, your name and your work)’. Several times a day, Indira Gandhi would emerge from her bungalow and make an appearance for a few minutes for the gathering of the faithful. Holding her sari border tightly over her head and standing on a footstool, she would address the motley crowds in a high-pitched voice, with her eyelids twitching with a nervous tic. Invariably, her message was: I shall serve my country till my last breath. “The real issue is not whether Indira stays or goes. It is whether the country will follow the socialist policies that we launched four years ago,” she would declare. An effigy of Justice Sinha was burnt by some of Mrs Gandhi’s overzealous supporters.
Indira was convinced the CIA was out to get her. So much so that Opposition leader Piloo Modi once wore an ‘I am a CIA agent’ badge to Parliament to mock her.
She believed a conspiracy was being hatched by self-serving Opposition politicians who were hand in glove with foreign interests. The CIA was the favourite bogeyman of the Congress party in those days. So much so that the Opposition leader Piloo Mody once sported a badge in Parliament, which said ‘I am a CIA agent’, to mock Mrs Gandhi’s oft-repeated charge.
The most spectacular show of strength by the Indira camp was at the Boat Club lawns on June 20, where the dependable Bansi Lal outdid himself in mustering numbers. He had ordered all police stations in his state to commandeer trucks and buses to transport men and women from their respective areas. In addition to the Haryana contingent, Congress cheerleaders were lugged in by train from all parts of the country. There were an estimated one million people at the rally that day.
In her speech, Indira Gandhi thundered that powerful vested interests were at work not only to oust her but to liquidate her physically. These vested interests, she claimed, had the backing of the press and enjoyed a unique freedom to distort facts and spread lies. “The question is not whether I die or live, but one of national interest.” In a display of family solidarity, both her sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, and daughters-in-law, Sonia and Maneka, sat with her.
On the afternoon of June 25, all arrangements for the impending arrests of political leaders were discussed in Dhawan’s room in the presence of Bansi Lal, Om Mehta and the superintendent of police of the Crime Investigation Department, the SP (CID), Delhi administration, K.S. Bajwa. Subsequently, Lt Governor Kishan Chand called a meeting at 7.30 pm at which the chief secretary J.K. Kohli, the inspector general (IG) of police, Bhawani Mal, and dig (Range) Bhinder were present. The chief secretary visited Tihar jail an hour later and checked on the accommodation there. He informed the superintendent of the jail that 200 ‘Naga prisoners’ could be expected by the next morning.
Sanjay Gandhi and his cohorts were impervious to constitutional and legal niceties in making arrests. The outspoken Bansi Lal advised Mrs Gandhi, “Behenji, give them to me and I will set them right.” It was clear that Sanjay had a strong hold over his mother. While Mrs Gandhi was in conference with the officials, Sanjay used to interrupt her frequently. “Mummy, come for a moment,” he would say, and Indira Gandhi would quietly leave the room to confer with her son. Sanjay was in regular touch with the chief ministers from north India.
All-India Railwaymen’s Federation prez George Fernandes organised the ’74 rail strike, and was arrested in ’76.
But, unlike Sanjay and Bansi Lal who declared that Mrs Gandhi was being too soft in dealing with her opponents, the prime minister was anxious that her draconian plan be clothed in legal cover. She turned to her legal expert, Siddhartha Shankar Ray. The Oxbridge-educated Ray was a distinguished lawyer who could be relied upon to present his arguments with polish and sophistry. Although chief minister of West Bengal, Ray in those days came to Delhi practically every week. And after the Allahabad judgement he had been summoned to the capital to be on hand to provide expert legal advice.
On Jun 25, Tihar was told to expect 200 Naga prisoners next morning.
Mrs Gandhi explained to him that the country needed ‘shock treatment’ and extraordinary powers were required by the government to keep the threat at bay. She had advance information that JP at his rally would be calling for a mass movement all over India. She feared India was drifting towards chaos and anarchy. Ray promised to study the relevant sections of the law and recommend the best course of action. He borrowed a copy of the Constitution from the Parliament House library, and later claimed he was shown Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports on the serious law-and-order problems facing the nation. (In fact, the IB had not submitted any report to the home ministry between June 12 and 25, 1975, suggesting that there was a problematic situation on the law-and-order front.)
This was Ray’s defence later before the Shah Commission (which was set up by the Government of India in May 1977 to inquire into all the excesses committed during the Emergency). But the letter he wrote to Mrs Gandhi on January 8, 1975, indicates that he had conceived the idea of an internal Emergency and jailing political opponents much earlier. His claim that the idea of imposing an internal Emergency was conceptualised in the few hours given to him to study the Constitution on June 25 was simply to cover up his own role as the initiator of the sinister move.
Ray’s proposal was that although Emergency laws already prevailed ever since the 1971 war with Pakistan, these related to an Emergency imposed due to an external threat. He recommended imposing a second Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution, to deal with an internal threat. Mrs Gandhi asked Ray to accompany her to meet President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. She repeated to the President what she had told Ray about India drifting into anarchy, and he asked her to make her recommendations.
Subramanian Swamy (left in pic) had asked JP what if Indira clamped martial law?
Mrs Gandhi had an additional query for Ray. Could she recommend a decision to the President without first consulting her cabinet? Ray obligingly looked up the Business Rules and came to the conclusion that she was empowered to act on her own under Rule 12 and depart from the normal convention of first consulting her cabinet. (This suggestion is also mentioned in Ray’s January 8 letter.)
After helping Mrs Gandhi draft her speech for broadcast the next day, Ray left the room and bumped into Om Mehta, who informed him that orders had been passed to lock up the high courts and cut off electricity connections to all newspapers. Ray was perturbed and cited a law under the Emergency that no action could be taken until rules were framed. He insisted on meeting Mrs Gandhi again. While he was waiting, Sanjay met him in a highly excitable state and ticked him off rudely, saying he did not know how to run the country. The no-nonsense Sanjay disliked Ray, whom he considered a pseudo-communist. Ray tried to pacify him, stating he should not interfere in what was not his sphere. Later when he met Mrs Gandhi, he thought she looked red-eyed. She assured him the drastic measures suggested by Sanjay would be stopped. Sanjay, however, had his way regarding the disconnecting of electricity supply to newspaper offices.
Brahmananda Reddy, formerly chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and a power to reckon with in his home state, felt humiliated and sidelined as home minister in Delhi. Nobody had bothered to consult him. The joke in the government was that the home ministry was referred to as the ‘Om ministry’ because it was Om Mehta—who was part of Sanjay’s coterie and had earned a reputation as a tale carrier—who called the shots.
Sanjay told S.S. Ray that he did not know how to run the country.
Reddy was summoned to the prime minister’s residence at round 10.15 pm on June 25 and informed that there was a deteriorating law-and-order situation in the country and it had become necessary to impose an internal Emergency. He pointed out that since an external Emergency was already in place, the powers were sufficient. When Mrs Gandhi replied that it would be wiser to go for a second Emergency, he did not argue the point. He said she must do what she thought fit. He signed a letter to the President, referring to the conversation between the prime minister and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed earlier in the day, and appended the draft proclamation of the Emergency for the President’s assent along with his letter. The letter was on a plain sheet of paper and not even on the letterhead of the home minister of India.
The President’s secretary, K. Balachandran, would later confirm (before the Shah Commission) that a Top Secret letter from the prime minister to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was received at around 10.30 pm that night. It referred to the discussion the prime minister had had with the President earlier in the day. She asked that if the President was satisfied, a proclamation under Article 352(1) of the Constitution be declared. When Balachandran was shown the letter, he suggested to the President that it would be constitutionally wrong for him to act in the manner suggested as he had to act on the advice of the council of ministers. He pointed out that the letter was worded in a manner to indicate that the decision to declare the Emergency was that of the President. The President seemed to agree with his argument and called up the prime minister. But after Ahmed spoke to Mrs Gandhi, his reservations melted away. After all, he owed her an enormous debt of gratitude for installing him as President. In the brief intervening period, the ubiquitous Dhawan called on the President and delivered the draft of the proclamation of the Emergency for his signature. Ahmed signed the document around 11.45 pm and returned it to Dhawan, who recalls that, contrary to Balachandran’s claim, Ahmed did not demur in the slightest at the wording of the ordinance when it was shown to him.
The proclamation of the Emergency was brief and read as follows:
In exercise of the powers conferred by clause 1 of Article 352 of the Constitution, I, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, President of India, by this Proclamation declare that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbances.
New Delhi 25th June, 1975