Saga of a second freedom

`WHAT INDIA needs is a new icon,' feels M.G. Devasahayam, author of "India's 2nd Freedom - An Untold Saga", referring to the decadent state of politics and society today. It is partly in the hope of rekindling a nationalist spirit that he has written this book, based on the period of the Emergency, when from mid-1975 to `77, he came into close contact with Jayaprakash Narayan, the symbol of India's struggle against the totalitarian regime clamped by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

"On the night of June 25-26, 1975, Indian democracy stood extinguished," states the retired bureaucrat, who was the District Magistrate of Chandigarh then. "All fundamental rights were suspended. JP was arrested, and brought to Chandigarh on July 1, 1975. He was the number one enemy of the State, and he was the biggest threat to Indira - and more than her, to Sanjay. I kept a meticulous journal, and a copy of every document that passed through my hands," recalls the author, whose first person account includes chilling depictions like the "death drill" - code named "operation medicine" - elaborately planned for the last rites of the jailed leader without letting the news leak out to his followers.

Devasahayam, like hundreds of his fellow bureaucrats, was not only required to carry out the official agenda, but admits to believing, at first, that the situation in the country warranted imposition of Emergency. "I did my job meticulously. I did enforce draconian laws. I did arrest people under MISA. Initially we thought it was for the good of the country. But after a few months I developed a deep suspicion, as instructions came, as amendments were made to the Constitution to protect the PM."

He recounts how the Punjab Jail Manual was changed so that no one except a prisoner's father, mother, son or daughter could visit him, since JP had neither parents nor children. Indira Gandhi's refusal to let JP out on parole to help the suffering people of Bihar, reeling under devastating floods, despite his pleading that he would refrain from any political activity, was another sinister indication that she did not have the country's interests at heart.

While much has been written about the Emergency and Devasahayam has published newspaper articles on a range of subjects, he says, "Ninety nine per cent of what is written here is not written before." The book, brought out by Siddharth Publications, reflects his profound respect for Jayaprakash Narayan, with whom he interacted closely when JP was incarcerated in the special ward of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, an institution that had been temporarily notified as a jail, and where he also underwent medical treatment - a treatment regarding which Devasahayam expresses grave suspicion of malafide motives in the failure to diagnose JP's serious kidney condition.

Saga of a second freedom

"He was the most fiery leader we had. Most of the underground movement was directed by him. But for this man, I don't think we would have got out of Emergency. He is the second Mahatma."

As for recovering from the Emergency, the author is convinced that India is not yet out of its shadow. "Emergency is not just arresting a few people," he points out. "Democracy is not just voting. The institutions of democracy - Parliament, the legislature, the Election Commission, the High Court, Supreme Court, the Human Rights Commission, Union Public Service Commission and others - it is these institutions that have to exert themselves. The Emergency has very severely damaged these institutions."

Saga of a second freedom

By way of example, he cites the NDA Government's implementation of POTA, though its members had opposed it in its original form, MISA. "What is this POTA? Terrorists are going around attacking Parliament, nearly killing Chandrababu Naidu, but they are arresting Members of Parliament. What kind of democracy is this?"

Yet with India weighed down by poverty and illiteracy, and corrupt politicians manipulating the gullible masses, there seems to be little logic in calling this country the largest democracy in the world. In the face of such problems, "No one would have chosen democracy at all, but our founding fathers were true democrats. They said we will challenge the world. That is where I am very angry with Indira Gandhi." He feels that "with so many problems it would have taken several decades to overcome them, and it was gradually getting integrated into the social fabric. Then at one stroke it was destroyed."

Devasahayam, who feels his book is for all generations, to remember, understand or learn from the past, did his Post Graduation in Economics in the early `60s and was commissioned into the Army during the Chinese invasion. He also saw action during the Indo-Pak War of 1965, before joining the Haryana cadre of the Indian Administrative Service. He took voluntary retirement in 1985, and now runs an NGO committed to sustainable living. He counts his interaction with JP as among the biggest influences of his life, as also his "very close association with Mother Teresa", who, he promises, will be the subject of his next book. In an age of chrome and Perspex icons, we can look forward to this offering at the altar of dedication.

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