New Delhi: While not many can imagine this today, a socialist leader and a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak once met at a clandestine place with great warmth and deep concern for each other’s well being, and then congratulated each other for the work they were carrying out for the ‘common cause’ of saving democracy, under extremely adverse circumstances.
The two leaders were George Fernandes and Narendra Modi and the meeting took place during the Emergency.
Fernandes, who passed away in January 2019, was known as a firebrand leader and later held important portfolios in non-Congress governments. Modi, meanwhile, became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001 and has been the Prime Minister of India since May 2014.
A detailed account of the meeting is present in a first-hand account of the Emergency, written by Modi in his first book. Titled ‘Sangarshma Gujarat’, the book is in Gujarati and was published in 1978 after the Emergency was lifted.
Then prime minister Indira Gandhi had imposed Emergency in India at midnight on 25-26 June 1975, which lasted for 19 months.
The Opposition was put in jail and the RSS, which led a movement against the Emergency, was banned. Its leaders and thousands of cadres were put into prisons.
However, several pracharaks evaded arrest and went underground to carry forward this struggle to save democracy. Modi, who was stationed in Gujarat at the time, was one of them.
Modi detailed Gujarat’s underground movement in his book and also gave interesting anecdotes about his own role.
He worked closely with leaders like Fernandes, helped provide support to the families of those arrested and played a key role in the printing and dissemination of banned literature against the government and Emergency in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
In his book, Modi mentioned that he used a pseudonym and was on the verge of being caught by the police several times, who were constantly looking for him.
He had to adorn different looks such as a saint or that of a Sikh to hide his real identity from the police and establishment.
Dramatic meeting with Fernandes
Describing his dramatic meeting with George Fernandes, who was a key leader of the underground movement at that time, Modi writes: “A yellow Fiat car stopped near the door. A person came out of it. He had a huge physique, was wearing a wrinkled kurta, had a green bandana on the head, a printed tahmat and a watch with a golden chain on the wrist. He was dressed as a Muslim mystic with a heavy beard on his face, and was called ‘Baba'”.
He added: “With this Fernandes came in. In those days it was also a joyous occasion to meet the colleagues associated with the struggle. We hugged each other and we congratulated each other for carrying forward the struggle with persistence. I shared with him the information about Gujarat and other provinces that was available with me.”
After this, Modi further noted, “I was in constant touch with Mr. George, I also got him to meet Nanaji (RSS’ senior pracharak Shri Nanaji Deshmukh).”
Nanaji was a key leader of the movement against the Emergency. He was the secretary of Lok Sangharsh Samiti, a joint forum of all those who were opposing the Emergency.
At the time, the government was trying to desperately find both Fernandes and Nanaji.
Describing the early days of the agitation, Modi wrote: “The Sangh office used to be the abode for us pracharaks. On July 4, the Sangh was banned and its offices were occupied by the government. Therefore, both me and the Sangh’s Prant (provincial) pracharak, Shri Keshavrao Deshmukh, used to stay with Shri Vasantbhai Gajendragadkar (a senior functionary).”
In Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, underground literature that was being distributed against the Emergency was primarily printed in Gujarat.
Elaborating on how this was done, Modi wrote: “Shri Kishanbhaiya, an underground pracharak of the Sangh, came to Ahmedabad from Rajasthan to publish literature on behalf of the Rajasthan Lok Sangharsh Samiti. …this task of getting two lakh copies of a magazine printed in Hindi and sending them to Rajasthan was quite a challenge.”
“The organisation secretary of Jana Sangh, Shri Nathabhai Jhaghda, and I started looking for a suitable press for this work. It was difficult to find such a press in Gujarat that could print such a huge amount of literature in Hindi language. ..after two days of continuous research, a press owner agreed to this work. We heaved a sigh of relief and thought that once these copies get printed, then we would decide the future course of action,” he added.
“The copies started being printed. Two lakh copies got piled up. After these copies were ready, they were carefully stocked at four different places in Ahmedabad,” Modi further wrote.
After this, two workers from every district in Rajasthan came and carried these magazines in their empty holdalls. When the printed copies were being distributed in Rajasthan, the police kept conducting raids across the state to find the press where these copies were printed.
Referring to another episode, Modi wrote about how some of the pracharaks got arrested due to these raids.
“Shri Navinbhai Bhavsar, one of our associates in the underground movement got arrested. Police raided Mr. Navinbhai’s house as soon as some important letters related to the underground struggle arrived by post. Along with them Mr. Parindu Bhagat, Mr. Govindrao Gajendra Gadkar and Mr. Vinod Gajendra Gadkar were also taken into custody. All were thoroughly interrogated. The name of the sender written on the letters was ‘Prakash’. (Prakash was my pseudonym). The government also came to know about the holder of this name,” he wrote.
“Now all the people who were arrested were given various kinds of threats to get more information about the sender of these letters,” added Modi.
The police tried many tricks but these people did not give any information to the police.
Interestingly while the foreword of the book has been written by Dattopant Thengadi, an RSS stalwart, Modi has written about a page and a half talking about the book at the end in Appendix 4.
In this write up, Modi said: “This is my first book. I have written this book not as an author, but as a soldier of war, as a key to some difficult questions about the underground struggle that have remained unanswered so far.”
(The writer is a research director with Delhi-based think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on the RSS. Views expressed are personal.)
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