A few minutes before midnight on 25 June 1975, the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, proclaimed a ‘State of Emergency’ under Article 352 of the Constitution. I was in Calcutta for my Rajya Sabha election, scheduled for 26 June, and got to know of this development on the morning of the 26th. Indira Gandhi asked me to return to Delhi as soon as the election was over and meet her at the earliest. D.P. Chattopadhyaya— who was then the Minister of State for Commerce and also in Calcutta | for the Rajya Sabha election—told me he had received similar summons from Delhi.
I got to the assembly building at about 9.30 a.m. It was teeming with state legislators, ministers and political leaders, some with questions and others with conspiracy theories. Some went to the extent of suggesting that, a la Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi had abrogated the Constitution and usurped power for herself, with the army in tow. I corrected these prophets of doom, saying that the Emergency had been declared according to the provisions of the
Man behind the mess: Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on the advice of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then West Bengal chief minister
Constitution rather than in spite of it. I argued that if the Constitution had indeed been abrogated, why would the Rajya Sabha election take place at all? The logic worked and people started to see reason. Around 11 a.m., Siddhartha Shankar Ray—the then Chief Minister of West Bengal- returned to Calcutta from Delhi and called me to his chamber. I met him there alongwithD.P. Chattopadhyaya and a couple of state ministers, one being Abdus Sattar, and discussed the developing scenario. Siddhartha babu briefed us about the happenings in Delhi the night before.
It is believed that Siddhartha Shankar Ray played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency: it was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it. In fact, Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the constitutional provisions allowing for the declaration of a state of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance, particularly since a state of Emergency had already been proclaimed as a consequence of the
Emergency was perhaps an avoidable event
The Emergency was a crucial phase in our parliamentary democracy. The declaration, its operation and, finally, its withdrawal had a profound impact on India’s political structure as I have mentioned earlier. Those who had been sceptical of a parliamentary democracy succeeding in India became gleeful at the thought that they had been proven correct. Those who had bought into the idea of democracy and were enchanted by the Constitution of India and the successful execution of electoral democracy since 1952 were rudely shocked.
I will discuss the impact of the Emergency on domestic politics in the subsequent narrative. At this point in the book, it will be sufficient to say here that many of us who were part of the Union Cabinet at that time (I was a junior minister) did not then understand its deep and far-reaching impact. While there is no doubt that it brought with it some major positive changes—discipline in public life, a growing economy, controlled inflation, a reversed trade deficit for the first time, enhanced developmental expenditures and a crackdown on tax evasion and smuggling—it was perhaps an avoidable event. Suspension of fundamental rights and political activity (including trade union activity), large-scale arrests of political leaders and activists, press censorship, and extending the life of legislatures by not conducting elections were some instances of the Emergency adversely affecting the interests of the people. The Congress and Indira Gandhi had to pay a heavy price for this misadventure.
No laughing matter: Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (centre), the home minister who signed a letter seeking the president’s assent for imposing internal emergency, with Maharashtra Congress leaders in 1977
Indo-Pak conflict in 1971.
According to Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s deposition before the Shah Commission (set up by the Janata government to investigate the ‘excesses’of the Emergency), he was summoned to Indira Gandhi’s residence on the morning of 25 June 1975. He reached 1 Safdarjung Road and met Indira Gandhi, who said that she had received a slew of reports indicating that the country was heading into a crisis. She told him that in view of the all-round indiscipline and lawlessness, some strong corrective measures needed to be taken. Siddhartha babu told the Shah Commission that Indira Gandhi had, on two or three previous occasions, told him that India needed some ‘shock treatment’ and that some ‘emergent power or drastic power’was necessary. He recalled to the Shah Commission that on one such occasion (before the announcement of the Allahabad High Court judgement on 12 June 1975), he had told her that they could
take recourse to the laws already on the statute books, and cited to her the success with which he had tackled the law and order problems of West Bengal within the framework of the law. According to Siddhartha babu, Indira Gandhi then read out intelligence reports of Jayaprakash Narayan’s public meeting scheduled for that evening. The reports indicated that he would call for an all-India agitation to set up a parallel administration network as well as courts, and appeal to policemen and those in the
Deposing before the Shah Commission, Siddhartha Shankar Ray ran into Indira Gandhi in the Commission Hall and tossed a sprightly remark: ‘You look pretty today/
‘Despite your efforts/ retorted a curt Indira.
armed forces to disobey what were supposed to be illegal orders. Indira Gandhi, he maintained, was firm in the understanding that India was drifting towards chaos and anarchy. Siddhartha babu then asked Indira Gandhi for some time to consider the possible courses of action, and returned later that evening, at about 5 p.m., to tell her that she could consider,
…if she so desired, Article 352 of the Constitution for the purpose of imposing internal emergency [whereupon] she asked Shri Ray to go along with her to the President immediately…She gave to the President a summary of what she had told Shri Ray with regard to the facts, that the President heard her for about twenty minutes to half an hour and then asked Shri Ray as to what were the exact words in the Constitution, that the President then told the Prime Minister to make her recommendation…
Siddhartha babu had been very close to Indira Gandhi ever since the days of the Congress split in 1969, and was at one point regarded as one of her most influential advisors. Indira Gandhi would seek his advice on diverse matters. As a member of the CWC and the Central Parliamentary Board, Siddhartha babu had considerable influence over the decisionmaking process of the organization and administration. His voice was prominent at the meetings of the National Development Council and at the conferences of chief ministers. He had a say in Congress policies at the national level from the early 1970s till the end of 1975. In matters relating to West Bengal, his was the decisive voice. So, it is not surprising that he was privy to considerable information, as the following incident indicates.
Man for all seasons: Mukherjee, then minister of state for finance, addressing Income Tax commissioners during the ‘raid raj’ in 1976
At the AICC session at Delhi in
through the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme as well as the number declarers. He was particularly virulent about my ‘high-handedness’ and ‘vendetta’ against Maharani Gayatri Devi who had been arrested during the Emergency. I was further accused of multiple misdemeanours—from beingthe author of the ‘raid raj’during the Emergency, to being responsible for removing the SBI Chairman, R.K. Talwar, because of his alleged refusal to give Sanjay Gandhi a loan, to even conducting a raid on Baroda Rayon merely to recover some incriminating documents. Raised by private members, these allegations were allowed to go on record, undenied, as the ministers who were in possession of the facts (as custodians of government files and papers) did not bother to provide the correct and full information. It became clear that some of us would not get any protection either from the government or from our own party. I did occasionally try to defend myself through my interventions in the Rajya Sabha or through the media, but was not always successful.
In the House and lobby, I was avoided by almost everybody, apart from two CPI Rajya Sabha members, Bhupesh Gupta and Kalyan Roy, both good friends, and Congress leaders A.R. Antulay, Saroj Khaparde and Pratibha Singh. I became a common sight in the lobby as I whiled away time alone, smoking my pipe. To each his own share of woes.