The national general secretary of the BJP, Arun Singh, announced recently that the party will observe 25 June, the 45th anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975, as a ‘Black Day’. Singh called on “BJP leaders to take an oath to uphold the principles of democracy by remembering Jayaprakash Narayan and his thoughts and his struggle” and asked them “to upload photographs on social media with the hashtag #DarkDaysOfEmergency”.
However, various organisations of the Sangh Parivar, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were neither unanimous nor monolithic in their opposition to the Emergency. Many of them were grateful to Indira Gandhi for breaking up Pakistan, and saw Sanjay Gandhi as a natural ally.
The relations between the RSS and the Congress were not always antagonistic. At the time of Independence, many of the top Congress leaders were sympathetic to the Hindutva ideology, and the RSS reached out to them to work together in the national interest.
A long history of RSS and Congress
Soon after Independence, the Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, proposed to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel that the Congress and the RSS should work together, writing:
“I have instructed all my swayamsevak brothers to be peaceful and I shall strive to see that between the Congress, which is capable of delivering goods in the political field and is at present the ruling party, and the RSS in the cultural field … there be no bad blood, there be only ever-lasting love, one supplementing and complementing the other, both meeting in a sacred confluence. I extend to you my hand of cooperation…”.
After Patel banned the RSS in February 1948 following the assassination of Gandhi, he negotiated with the RSS to merge into the Congress, writing to M.S. Golwalkar on 11 September 1948: “In this delicate hour there is no place for party conflicts and old quarrels. I am thoroughly convinced that the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavour only by joining the Congress….” Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stymied this move.
Since 1972, Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras, then Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, kept reaching out to Indira Gandhi to work together rather than be antagonistic. But a wary Indira Gandhi rebuffed all of Deoras’ overtures; she had inherited her father’s suspicion of the RSS. Deoras then sought to build bridges with Sanjay Gandhi, whose anti-Communist views were in sync with the RSS.
A new negotiation
In February 1974, a student agitation — the Navnirman Andolan — in Gujarat forced chief minister Chimanbhai Patel to resign. Inspired by their success, the student organisations Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of the RSS and Samajwadi Yuvajan Sabha (SYS) of the Samajwadi Party, began an agitation in Bihar against chief minister Abdul Ghafoor. However, the parent organisations of the ABVP, RSS and Jana Sangh, were not supportive of strikes and gheraos.
The Bihar Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti (BCSS) was formed in March 1974, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi, and Ram Vilas Paswan. Jayaprakash Narayan agreed to be associated with the BCSS — on the condition that the protests will be non-violent.
The anti-Congress sentiment was growing. All through the summer of 1974, Indira Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan tried to negotiate a compromise. Indira Gandhi’s negotiators were her principal secretary professor P.N. Dhar and my father H.Y. Sharada Prasad, who was her information adviser. JP’s chief negotiator was my maternal uncle, K.S. Radhakrishna, head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation. Sanjay Gandhi tried hard to sabotage these negotiations.
Indira Gandhi finally agreed to all of JP’s demands, except the dissolution of the Bihar assembly. Her team entreated JP to sort out his differences with her at the hustings since elections to the Lok Sabha were due before March 1976.
Saeed Naqvi published a report in the Statesman giving details of the secret negotiations between my father and my maternal uncle. As a result, these negotiations had to be abruptly aborted, just as they were on the verge of success.
It was only at this stage that some senior members of the RSS got involved, under the influence of Subramanian Swamy, then a Jana Sangh Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, and Ramnath Goenka, owner of The Indian Express.
Subramanian Swamy convened a meeting at the residence of Murli Manohar Joshi, to which he invited JP, Nanaji Deshmukh, K.N. Govindacharya, and Kailashpati Mishra. It was decided that the Bihar student leaders — Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad — would cede the leadership of their agitation to JP and Nanaji Deshmukh.
JP nominated RSS stalwart Nanaji Deshmukh as the general secretary of his Lok Sangarsh Samiti. However, Balasaheb Deoras and several other RSS leaders did not get associated with the JP movement.
On 4 November 1974, JP and Nanaji Deshmukh led a massive rally in Patna. The police beat up JP with lathis, breaking his collar bones, elbows and legs. Nanaji Deshmukh courageously threw himself over JPâ€™s unconscious body, absorbing further blows from the police. Public admiration for JP and Nanaji Deshmukh soared, and revulsion against Indira Gandhi reached an all-time high.
On 4 November 1974, JP and Nanaji Deshmukh led a massive rally in Patna. The police beat up JP with lathis, breaking his collar bones, elbows and legs. Nanaji Deshmukh courageously threw himself over JP’s unconscious body, absorbing further blows of the police. Public admiration for JP and Nanaji Deshmukh soared, and revulsion against Indira Gandhi reached an all-time high.
A crackdown on RSS
Indira Gandhi decided to crack down hard on the Ananda Marg, the ABVP, and the RSS, as well as other extremist religious organisations. She was even more antagonistic to the ABVP than she was to the RSS.
On 8 January 1975, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, chief minister of West Bengal and a noted barrister, law minister H.R. Gokhale, Congress president Dev Kant Barooah, and Rajni Patel, strong man of the Congress party in Bombay and a leading barrister, together planned the Emergency.
Soon afterward, the private secretary to the prime minister, R.K. Dhawan, the minister of state for home, Om Mehta, and the chief minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal, planned the arrests of members of ABVP, RSS and Ananda Marg.
On the night of 25-26 June 1975, several ABVP and RSS members were arrested, while others managed to escape. RSS Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras was arrested at Nagpur on 30 June, and the RSS was banned on 4 July 1975.
On 27 June 1975, Indira Gandhi sent cables to several world leaders explaining why she declared the Emergency, wherein she stated: “…Jayprakash Narayan has aligned himself with the RSS, the organisation which instigated Mahatma Gandhi’s murder, and which is fanatically Hindu.…”
No solid resistance
The attitude of senior RSS leaders about the Emergency was divided: several opposed it staunchly, others apologised and were released, and several senior leaders, notably Balasaheb Deoras and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, sought an accommodation with Sanjay and Indira Gandhi. Nanaji Deshmukh and Madan Lal Khurana managed to escape the police and led the RSS resistance to the Emergency. As did Subramanian Swamy.
Others who led the resistance to the Emergency were Dattopant Thengadi, Madhavrao Muley, Moropant Pingle, Rajendra Singh, and Bhausaheb Deoras, brother of Balasaheb Deoras. However, these zonal RSS leaders also authorised Eknath Ramakrishna Ranade to quietly enter into a dialogue with Indira Gandhi.
Indira Gandhi had helped Ranade, who had been second to Golwalkar in the RSS hierarchy, in numerous projects to commemorate Vivekananda. She had nominated Ranade to the governing council of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and the two used ICCR as a facade to conduct secret one-on-one negotiations. But many of the RSS rank and file alleged that Ranade was being exploited by Indira Gandhi to sabotage the resistance.
Arun Jaitley, head of the ABVP in Delhi, was among the first to be arrested, and he spent the entire Emergency in jail. However, other ABVP leaders such as Balbir Punj and Prabhu Chawla pledged allegiance to Indira Gandhi’s Twenty Point Programme and Sanjay Gandhi’s Five Point Programme, in return for staying out of jail.
Betraying the resistance
From Yerawada jail, RSS Sarsanghchalak, Balasaheb Deoras, who was not part of the JP-Nanaji Deshmukh alliance, wrote numerous times to Indira Gandhi, Maharashtra chief minister Shankarrao B. Chavan, and Acharya Vinoba Bhave seeking a compromise.
Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani were arrested in Bengaluru, where they had gone for a parliamentary committee meeting. Vajpayee, who was in poor health, quickly reached an agreement with Indira Gandhi, and spent most of the Emergency under parole at his residence.
Subramanian Swamy, now a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP, had written in an article titled “Unlearnt lessons of the Emergency”, published in The Hindu on 13 June 2000: “…Most of the leaders of the BJP/RSS betrayed the struggle against the Emergency… RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras wrote several apology letters to Indira Gandhi from inside the Yerawada jail in Pune disassociating the RSS from the JP-led movement and offering to work for the infamous 20-point programme. She did not reply to any of his letters. Atal Behari Vajpayee also wrote apology letters to Indira Gandhi, and she had obliged him.”
After Nanaji Deshmukh fell into a police trap in South Delhi, and Dattopant Thengadi was captured, the morale of the RSS cadres plummeted. By September 1976, even those RSS activists who had been staunchly opposing the Emergency till then were ready to throw in the towel. The families of the 40,000 RSS members who had been jailed were in dire straits financially, and over 80 RSS members had died in custody.
Document of Surrender
In November 1976, over 30 leaders of the RSS, led by Madhavrao Muley, Dattopant Thengadi, and Moropant Pingle, wrote to Indira Gandhi, promising support to the Emergency if all RSS workers were released from prison. Their ‘Document of Surrender’, to take effect from January 1977, was processed by my father H.Y. Sharada Prasad.
In the last week of December 1976, Om Mehta, the minister of state for home and a key member of Sanjay Gandhi’s cabal, began talks with Biju Patnaik, Asoka Mehta, and H.M. Patel, to find a rapprochement.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was not invited for these talks, found out about them, and he visited Om Mehta. It is not known exactly what happened during these discussions, but it was strongly rumoured that Vajpayee had offered to sever his connections with the RSS, and reveal the whereabouts of Subramanian Swamy, Madhavrao Muley, and other RSS activists who were still underground. On his return from his meeting with Om Mehta, Vajpayee ordered the cadres of the ABVP to apologise unconditionally to Indira Gandhi. The ABVP students refused.
The RSS ‘Document of Surrender’, which my father described as ‘cringing’, was also confirmed by Subramanian Swamy in his article: “…I must add that not all in the RSS were in a surrender mode…But a tearful Muley told me in early November 1976 and I had better escape abroad again since the RSS had finalised the Document of Surrender to be signed in end January of 1977, and that on Mr. Vajpayee’s insistence I would be sacrificed to appease an irate Indira and a fulminating Sanjay….”
It is ironic that Arun Singh is now ordering “BJP leaders to take an oath to uphold the principles of democracy by remembering Jayaprakash Narayan”. The Jana Sangh betrayed their promise to JP that they would sever their connections with the RSS, and the Morarji Desai government fell on this issue in July 1979. The consequence of JP getting involved with the RSS is that the once-banned organisation became part of the political mainstream, even though it deserted him.
It is significant that a Sarsanghachalak of the RSS, K.S. Sudarshan, as well as VHP supremo Giriraj Kishore, highly praised Indira Gandhi during Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister, describing her as India’s best prime minister ever.
The author, an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon and IIT Kanpur, is a technology and security analyst. Views are personal.a