Memories of another day

The declaration of Emergency on June 26, 1975, marked the coming together of the Left and the Right. PRASHANTH G.N. pictures the political scene then, in the light of the present.

THE EMERGENCY, imposed on the country on the night of June 25, 1975, evokes images of police clamp-down, midnight arrests, torture, incarceration in decrepit jails, custodial deaths, and everything that runs contrary to the notion of democracy. Twenty-eight years later to the day, one is tempted to record how the State mowed down dissent during this dark period. What also comes to mind, however, is an interesting aspect of politics — a period when the Left and the Right came together, perhaps for the first time, in post-Independent India. The Emergency, from this perspective, presents "a harmonious" picture of politics where there was a rare consensus across the opposite ideological spectrum. It also throws up another question: would the Left and the Right come together again, given the present polity?

Bangalore's experience of the Emergency was not very different from other cities. Its imposition was followed by arrests of activists from the extreme Left to the extreme Right and prohibition of all public meetings. Two incidents, of negligence and repression, are forever etched in public memory: Snehalata Reddy, a chronic asthmatic who was arrested for being in touch with George Fernandes and not given adequate care in the prison, died soon after her release; and Lawrence Fernandes, the brother of George Fernandes, was tortured for the same reason.

Michael Fernandes, brother of George and Lawrence and trade unionist, points out that both the A and B class of prisoners were looked after well and that the Devaraj Urs Government had ensured basic facilities at the Central Jail. CPM members, trade unionists, socialists, Congress (o) workers, members of the Jan Sangh, RSS, and Jamaat-e-Islami, were all jailed in barracks. Important political figures such as Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, R.N. Mishra (from the Jan Sangh), S. Krishnaiah, J.H. Patel, Madhu Dandavate, and S. Venkatram (the Socialists), Gundachar, Venkoba Rao, and Doreswamy (from Sarvodaya), Veerendra Patil, Ramakrishna Hegde, and Deve Gowda (from the Congress (o), Ananda Margis such as P.R. Sarkar, CPI (ML) members, one of whom was an RBI employee, and members of the Swatantra Party were all in the Bangalore jail.

Prisoners from different ideological strains spending time together in jail was not the only interesting aspect of the Emergency. Also unusual was the camaraderie it brought about, and eventually the alliance — between the Left and the Right, and the Right and the Muslims.

Memories of another day

The camaraderie was particularly striking among the RSS members and Jamaat-e-Islami cadres. "RSS members would learn Urdu from the Jamaat and be curious about the Quran. The Jamaat members would participate in yoga conducted by the RSS. They would exchange sweets during Hindu and Muslim festivals. They would celebrate Independence and Republic Days. And food was common to all," recollects Mr. Michael Fernandes.

All of them, across the board, agreed on one point — the need for a viable, unified alternative to the Congress. "The common experience of the lack of freedom, the repeated return of the Congress, its dictatorial tendencies, Indira Gandhi's style of politics, and the fear of her return prompted leaders from different sections to oppose the Emergency," says Mr. Fernandes.

Eventually, the Congress (o), the Socialists, the communists, and the RSS, in the form of the Loka Sangarsha Samithi, which was part of the Jan Sangh, merged into the Janata Party with the sole objective of defeating the Congress. It may appear surprising, but the basic resistance to the Emergency came from the RSS, a highly organised network. A former CPI(M) member, Ramesh, says: "The RSS fitted in naturally as it already had underground experience." It used its experience to the hilt to fight the Emergency, and confident of its capabilities and objective of national interest, it had no reservations in aligning itself with forces radically opposed to its ideology.

Memories of another day

RSS functionary Chandrashekar Bhandari observes: "The Emergency was against democracy. We had to fight it. Though there were political differences with many sections, the Emergency provided a ground to come together." He adds: "RSS workers stood as guarantee for Muslim prisoners who went on parole. We even provided maintenance for their families because they suffered as much as Hindu families did. We organised blood donation camps. Human relationships are different. We don't oppose a Muslim just because he or she is a Muslim. The fight was against the Government, and for democracy. There was goodwill about the RSS then."

The Janata Party achieved its goal in the 1979 elections after Emergency was lifted. But what happened after that — the break-up of the Janata Party, and the return of the Congress, in 1981— was not entirely unexpected. The Right and the Left differed on dual citizenship, an issue that involved the question of nation and nationalism. Then the Congress began to dissipate by the late '80s, and with it, the earlier sense of camaraderie and alliance between the divergent ideological forces. The sense completely disappeared in the rise of the Right in the Nineties. One wonders if such coming together would be possible in a context where the Right itself is in power? In the present scenario, the only context one sees where the two articulate similar concerns is globalisation. Both are apprehensive about economic reforms affecting indigenous economy and culture. Interestingly, there seems to be a common forum on the economic plane. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, a union affiliated to the Right, works with unions affiliated to the Left, like CITU, over a wide range of economic issues. This, however, does not translate into a common cultural-ideological-political platform.

Talking about the future, Mr. Bhandari observes: "In politics, anything can happen. For us, there is no question of distinction between Left and Right. We work with anyone who works for the national interest. We will certainly oppose anyone from any quarter working against national interest. We may be articulating issues on globalisation that the Left too is articulating. It's true that the BMS co-exists with other unions. Those are on purely economic issues. But that does not mean that we and the Left are on a single forum."

Clearly, only very specific circumstances bring opposing forces together. In that sense, the Emergency is really an interesting springboard to analyse such possibilities of politics.

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