June 25 marks the 30th anniversary of the Emergency since its imposition by Indira Gandhi in 1975. And it’s a tragedy that the BJP is the only political force left which is still interested in reminding the nation of the Emergency.
They were a minor force then. Led by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), the real forces of resistance were the socialists, followed by the Lok Dal, the CPM, Congress (O), and then, in that order, the Jana Sangh (now BJP). The Jana Sangh was not a political force at that time. All they could provide was infrastructure because the RSS had decided to back JP. But there was always a lurking sense of suspicion, a distance, a discreet lack of trust.
The RSS and Jana Sangh were keen to participate and make their position acceptable in mainstream politics. JP told them, open your doors, let the Muslims enter. The RSS kept this in abeyance and ultimately did not accept it. The fact is that the BJP celebrates the Emergency because the Emergency opened the doors for them to enter the mainstream. And the truth is that Balasaheb Deoras, then RSS chief, wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi pledging to help implement the notorious 20-point programme of Sanjay Gandhi. This is the real character of the RSS.
Whenever there is a ban on the RSS, it has always tried to save its skin instead of facing the government’s wrath and go for a compromise. When the British in 1942 passed an order that no voluntary organisation will be allowed to do semi-military activities, the RSS happily accepted it. Guru Golwalkar, then sarsanghchalak (RSS chief), demolished the military department of the RSS and the status quo remains till this day. The RSS or the Sangh Parivar never participated in the freedom movement. They did not join the Quit India movement. After Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, Sardar Patel banned it. Golwalkar immediately compromised: we will do ‘constructive work’, he said. In 1975, Mrs Gandhi banned the RSS, despite Deoras.
You can decipher a line of action, a pattern. Even during the Emergency, many among the RSS and Jana Sangh who came out of the jails, gave mafinamas (apologies). They were the first to apologise. Only their leaders remained in jail: Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani, even Arun Jaitley. But the RSS did not fight the Emergency. So why is the BJP trying to appropriate that memory?
JP was disappointed that nothing was happening in terms of political movement or resistance when the Emergency was imposed. Do you remember his famous statement? “Ganga will be on fire and the people will not tolerate it!” But that did not happen. Fighting a real, anti-establishment struggle is not in the RSS character. They are not a fighting force and they are never keen to fight. They are basically a compromising lot. They are never genuinely against the government, and this happened during the Emergency as well. Their cadre did not revolt. The Emergency went unchallenged. That is why, Mrs Gandhi said, “When I imposed the Emergency, not even a dog barked.”
Despite this, JP understood the inner political dynamic. 1977 marked a watershed because this was the first time, in silence or otherwise, that there was a strong public opinion polarised against the Congress all over India. From 1947 to 1977, it was Congress domination in Indian politics. After 1977, the disintegration of the Congress began. It lost its sustainable strongholds and large sections of the Indian society went against it. This process was decisively unleashed after 1989: the Mandal-Kamandal politics.
Who were the main actors during the Emergency? The socialists, young and old. They fought it, went to jail, faced torture. George Fernandes was a protagonist of rebellion: the dynamite case is a clear example. JP clearly said that this struggle is like revisiting the 1942 movement: when the freedom struggle’s leaders were arrested, the people of India rose in revolt; in dozen places people even established their own government. The socialists fought the Emergency, the RSS did not.
The saddest post-Emergency development is the decline of the socialist forces. George Fernandes is a pathetic figure today. These days when he gives interviews he never faces the camera. He talks as if he can’t survive without the BJP. He is trapped in his own politics; he can’t survive without the BJP. Since 1989, Mandal and caste politics have been crucial in the Hindi heartland, especially in Bihar. If George has to stay afloat he has to take the help of Laloo Yadav or Nitish Kumar. Laloo left him long ago. And Nitish knows that George can’t be elected without his support-base, Kurmis, etc. That is why George wants to balance this dilemma by keeping a close liaison with the BJP, which keeps him floating.
Sharad Yadav used to be the socialist blue-eyed boy during the Emergency. He was the first Janata candidate elected from Jabalpur in 1974 from a non-caste, non-sectarian platform. Now, he too is a BJP ally.
So how did the BJP grow? After the Janata disintegration post-Emergency, Indira Gandhi fought the 1980 elections on the slogan: Vote those who can rule. Garibi Hatao and socialism were dumped. We must realise that till now all elections were ideologically oriented. For the first time she fought with such a brazen stance: to get power, at any cost. Now, all kind of politics was only for political power. This was the end of ideology.
In 1971, Mrs Gandhi fought on the garibi hatao plank. Earlier, Nehru always fought on ideological issues. There was always a socialist current in their political positions. In 1977, there was the alternate dream to the Congress dream. Ironically, both dreams were demolished.
That is why 1977 marked a watershed in post-Independence India. Ideology became extinct. Pursuit of power became the only goal. Mrs Gandhi used the Hindus in Jammu against the Muslims in the Valley to win the elections. She used the Akalis versus extremists clash to hold on to Punjab. Bhindranwale was her creation. She became a victim of her own politics.
After her death in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won by a huge vote. The RSS helped him; or else the nation would break, they said. Rajiv followed his mother’s politics. The Shah Bano case and the opening of the Babri Masjid locks totally exposed him.
That is why, 1980 to 1990 was the decade of competitive communalism — one kind of communalism pitched against another. The BJP gained in this experiment because they were the original communal party. Hence, from two mps in Parliament in 1984, they rose to 84 in 1989 and peaked to 182; but then, the Kamandal became outdated in 2004.
The Emergency marked two things: the death of ideology and the gradual destruction of the basic parameters of Indian politics which was grounded by the values of the freedom movement when socialism was a dream. Swami Vivekananda said, “You should serve the daridranarayan.” God was manifested in the poor. The South African experiment of Gandhi happened in 1906. Hind Swaraj was written in 1909. He said, “The last man should be the first man,” adapting from Emerson. The Russian revolution occurred in 1917, but pro-poor ideas were founded in India much before the freedom movement. 1977 shattered all that.
After that, reactionary forces took over, including Kamandal and Mandal. Narasimha Rao initiated the capitalist reforms. The socialist dream of the freedom struggle was thrown out. This changed the face of Indian politics. Idealism was finally killed in mainstream politics. That was the decisive contribution of the Emergency.
As for RSS chief KS Sudarshan praising Indira Gandhi last week, it is predictable. Sudarshan praised her for ‘winning’ the 1971 war because Mrs Gandhi split Pakistan — for them that is more important than anything else she did. The RSS has always appreciated firm regimes, that is why they appreciated Emergency. They liked it that Mrs Gandhi had the will to go against popular sentiments and the RSS was never popular in India, it could never become a mass movement. She is their heroine (Durga etc,) because she broke Pakistan into two.
Come to think of it, their Hindu nationalism is equivalent to Muslim nationalism, they feed on each other to increase their bargaining stakes: both helped the British when the Congress and others were fighting against imperialist forces. Savarkar pleaded to toe the British line. Jinnah in 1946 called for ‘Direct Action’. Both were basically making deals with the British. Indeed, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was a ploy for ‘deal-making’ with the establishment, and finally becoming the establishment. That is why they call it the ‘freedom movement of the Hindus’.
They say this because demolishing the symbols of Mughals/Muslims was more important for them than to fight the British empire. The RSS is not against the Two-Nation theory, despite the Akhand Bharat slogan. For them, Muslims were always the Internal Enemy Number One, not the British. For them, we were under ghulami (slavery) of Muslim/Mughal rule for a thousand years. Hence, they did not join the freedom movement or fight the British. They can never fight the ruling establishment. For them, survival/compromise is the principle of their existence.
Hence the praise for Mrs Gandhi and the vehement criticism of Nehru, even Gandhi. This is because Nehru founded the Republic of India on liberal, democratic, secular, pluralistic, socialist principles. And the RSS abhors these values.
For you and me, the fight against the Emergency is a fight for the people’s right to freedom and fundamental rights. Not for them. For you and me, Emergency symbolises the struggle against an authoritarian regime, for civil rights of a democratic civil society. For them it does not matter. This is the basic difference. The truth is the RSS does not believe in democracy.