The city and the declaration of Emergency

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch L.K. Advani’s recent remark on the Emergency, that “forces that can crush democracy have become stronger in India” stirred a hornet’s nest. While that comment by the octogenarian may reflect his views on present-day politics, Mr. Advani’s tryst with the declaration of the Emergency, on the night intervening June 25 and 26, 1975, was rooted in the then Bangalore.

In fact, several senior BJP leaders now, including the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr. Advani and socialist leaders such as Shyam Nandan Mishra and Madhu Dandavate, were arrested in Bangalore on June 26, where they had arrived to attend a meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (dealing with a proposed law against defection).

While all of them were lodged at the Bangalore Central Prison, Mr. Vajpayee was shifted to Tihar jail in Delhi a little after a month. Mr. Advani was among several others who remained in the Bangalore Central Prison for 19 months.

Several leading political leaders, who opposed the Emergency, including former the Chief Minsters Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel, the former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, socialist leaders M. Chandrashekar, S. Venkataram, Bandagadde Ramesh, Michael Fernandes and Lawrence Fernandes, were also arrested in the city under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA).

With so many leading figures in the same jail, Bangalore became an important point in the movement to oppose Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “In fact, there was a strong exchange of views among leaders from starkly contrasting ideologies, but together opposing the Emergency,” says P.G.R. Scindia, JD(S) leader, who was also arrested and lodged in the same jail.

He even argues that “it was in the jail that seeds were sown for the nationwide Janata movement and coming together of leaders such as Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani from the Jan Sangh, and those firmly rooted in socialist movements”.

On June 26, BJP leader S. Suresh Kumar recalls, how he saw a huge protest at the Mysore Bank Circle. “I cycled my way there and I met [P.G.R.] Sindhia. Handing over the responsibility of organising the protest, Mr. Sindhia left for the Jan Sangh office to fetch flags. Over 100 activists took out a protest march.”

While much may have changed for the city and the country in the last 40 years, many leaders say that the 40th anniversary of the declaration of the Emergency, is time to introspect into the state of democracy and civil liberties now.

Cultural and literary side of the protests

Like in many parts of the country, in Karnataka too writers, academics and cultural icons spontaneously joined the protests against the Emergency. Renowned poet Gopalakrishna Adiga wrote several satirical poems such as Ninna Gaddage Neeru (Water to your fields). Jnanpith recipient K. Shivarama Karanth returned his Padma Bhushan as a mark of protest. Writer and poet Chandrashekar Patil, who was arrested and spent 26 days in jail, brought out a collection of poems on the theme.

Samudaya emerged as the first radical theatre movement in Karnataka against the Emergency and performed many street plays under the guidance of noted theatre personality C.G. Krishnaswamy and others.

Jnanpith recipient the late U.R. Ananthamurthy wrote in his autobiography, Suragi, “We friends were perplexed when the Emergency was declared. Writing and teaching became totally meaningless for us. Any act other than opposing the Emergency seemed unethical to us.”

Press censorship

Though a tough press censorship was imposed, the press in Karnataka did not feel as much heat as other States since State Censor Officer Renu Ananda Rao was once a journalist, according to retired Information Officer C.S. Padmanabh. At times, editions were delayed because of change of news. Accreditations of journalists were not withdrawn, unlike in other States. “I remember rejecting cartoons on Indira Gandhi by noted cartoonist Hublikar,” he said.

However, noting that the 21 months of Emergency was the “darkest period” in the history of Kannada journalism, veteran journalist S.V. Jayasheela Rao said, “Owners were not in a position to defy the government. It was not easy to pass the copy by hoodwinking censor officers.”


Siddaramaiah, Chief Minister: L.K. Advani might be of the opinion that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is behaving like a dictator. He did not indicate that the Emergency would be imposed on the country again. He was clear that Mr. Modi was functioning like an authoritarian. Being a veteran leader of the BJP, Mr. Advani has all the right to hold that opinion.

Suresh Kumar, BJP leader:

People, including those who were imprisoned then, have forgotten the Emergency. Political parties have a responsibility to create awareness among people about situations which can create a power that can overpower the democracy.

M.C. Nanaiah, former Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs: Institutional mechanisms are failing in the country. Glimpses of the Emergency can be traced in the way the Narendra Modi government took ordinance route to push the Land Acquisition Bill.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 7:32:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/the-city-and-the-declaration-of-emergency/article7350868.ece

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