gfiles magazine

November 13, 2011

gfiles Magazine November Issue 2011

darkness of emergency
Great book and some food for thought
JP Movement Emergency
and India’s Second Freedom
by M G Devasahayam
published by Vitasta
Rs 495
IT is not every day that a book comes out with the rare gift of throwing new light on certain very important developments that took place three and- a-half decades ago. MG Devasahayam’s book contains that rare gift (though one gets no clue of it from the title of the book). The book is essentially about how Jayaprakash Narayan was released from Chandigarh during the middle of the dreaded Emergency and what role Devasahayam, as the custodian of JP in his capacity as District Magistrate of Chandigarh, played in it.
This particular aspect is very important on two counts: First, and Devasahayam has mentioned it too, the dark days of the Emergency and the terror associated with it is something not known to the younger generation. Second, it shows what a great role an upright officer can play even as a junior officer.
A lot of people blame the “system” for every malaise the country suffers from. But the system consists of individuals, and if only individuals played positive roles the system would not deteriorate to the level it has. When Devasahayam realized that JP’s life was under threat, he silently planned a build-up of pressure on Indira Gandhi, and it worked.
Had there been someone else as DM, a conduit of Sanjay Gandhi or Bansi Lal, he would not have played this role and JP’s kidneys could have been damaged much more. That could have prevented him from playing his historic role of uniting the Opposition, and Indian history could have taken a different course altogether.
The book reads like a thriller, and no point will be served by quoting from the book. It is a must-read. Through the pages, one gets a feel of the diabolical minds of the Sanjay coterie, and one shudders to think what would have befallen us if that man had become Prime Minister some day. The book also tells the saga of meek surrender of the elite before such dark forces. Of course, even then there was a Chandra Shekhar, an HR Khanna, and, of course, a Devasahayam. And, surely, many others like him. The silver lining was there at the edge of the darkest cloud, and that put pressure on the cloud itself. And there is no question of forgetting the common man, like the people of Chandigarh who, in the election after the Emergency was lifted, accepted money from Congress candidates to donate it to the “poor” Janata Party candidate who ultimately won (p 240).
Whether JP’s kidneys were deliberately damaged can never be proven but, as the author has described the chronology of events, it allows a sneaking suspicion into the mind of the reader.
Apart from “defying” the Delhi durbar, Devasahayam played an important unofficial role in keeping JP’s spirits high, and thereby rendered a great service to the nation. Such unsung heroes provide oxygen to democracy which in its essence not only means “rule of the majority”, but also “accommodation of the interest and opinion of the minority” to a very large extent. The way Indira tried to clamp down upon JP’s movement showed a blatant disregard for that second aspect of democracy.
The book reads like a thriller. Through the pages, one gets a feel of the
diabolical minds of the Sanjay (below) coterie, and one shudders to think
what would have befallen us if that man had become PM some day.
In the book, the author has time and again mentioned how this tormented JP. He was a simple man, as evident from the description of his departure from Chandigarh (p 224). Hence the torment. In reality, the movement was well within the parameters of democratic practice.
THE author, however, has tried to evoke a parallel between those days and the present time. Here, a thinking mind begs to differ on certain aspects. First, now there seems to be a concerted effort to put the blame on the Congress and replace its government with another one. However, it is known that at the given moment the only alternative to the Congress is the BJP. Even in his days, JP was aware that the Jan Sangh was a communal party and had to be checked. Now that it leads the opposition force, there is no one to put a check on it. Even an internal check is out of the question in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s absence. So, under the circumstances, making way for the BJP to come to power (which on its own the party would not be able to do) is fraught with dangerous consequences for democracy. The BJP, as we have seen in the past, stands for intolerance and disregard for human rights. But this is not highlighted.
Second, the gravest threat to our democracy is emerging from the continuation of poverty, insecurity of earning a living, and the insensitivity of the rulers to this. When the author talks of an organization called Youth 4 Democracy and enumerates “we stand for”, there is no mention of this point. Third, corruption is a threat, but who in this country is not corrupt? Who pays and receives bribes? Who takes and gives dowry? Who has made arrangements for a short and special queue for darshan in the temples in exchange for money? The list can be endless.
Corruption is a social evil and has to be fought at the social level. Legislation and institutions are important, but ultimately it all depends upon the character of the people who will implement the laws and defend the institutions. It calls for a social change that will make corruption taboo. Otherwise, can we really expect much from an initiative which is political in nature?
Ultimately, it all depends on individuals. The threat was always there. If Lal Bahadur Shastri really said that had he known of Nehru’s wishes, he would not have become Prime Minister, it shows he too was a sycophant. So the seed of deification was there in the Congress from the very beginning. And it did not end with worshipping the Mahatma. Unfortunately, there is no secret mantra that can produce upright men like Devasahayam. Under the circumstances, drawing a quick parallel with the past may often be misleading. g

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