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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 28 New Delhi June 29, 2019

21st death anniversary of Nikhil Chakravartty - Select tributes from the Past / Writings on the Emergency Fortyfour years on

Saturday 29 June 2019

June 27 this year marks the 21st death anniversary of the founder of this journal, Nikhil Chakravartty. On this occasion we are reproducing the following article published in Mainstream (June 28, 2008). We we are also reproducing a letter from Mrinalini Sarabhai and a message from Justice P.B. Sawant, the former Chairman of the Press Council of India, published earlier in Mainstream and an article by Barun Das Gupta who had worked under N.C. as a journalist.

Nikhil Chakravartty: I Salute You

by V.R. Krishna Iyer

Nikhil Chakravartty was a great journalist, a clear thinker, an authentic socialist, a public figure beyond party purchase, and, above all, a noble human being whom ambition could not buy. I had known Nikhil for several decades at an intimate personal level. The finest virtue of a journalist is integrity, impartiality, freedom of thought and commitment to facts and principles. He possessed all these values in silent plenty. The professional glory of a media marvel is veracious functionalism without fear or favour, affectation or illwill. Nikhil Chakravartty was a paradigm in these plural dimensions; and so, his luminous pen, like it or not, never compromised even a wee-bit to please or placate, to wound or sting. Rarest of the rare is such a person whatever he his profession, and that is why Nikhil, who passed away ten years ago, still shines through his Mainstream editorials, lucid writings and splendid sample speeches. Mortality is an inevitability and, in this materialist sense, Nikhil Chakravartty left us a decade ago. But it is blaspheme to say that he is dead. He lives in moral lustre and intellectual sharpness in the minds and hearts of those with whom he had been cast during his lifetime, as friend or foe, or as a leader of the Left or fighter for a cause. So transparent he was that he commanded access to Prime Ministers and Presidents without sacrificing his principles. His scholarship and humour were fascinating and his likes and dislikes had an ethical neutrality and freedom from flattery.

He was my friend because we were of the same mental, moral ideological wavelength. So he agreed to inaugurate my campaign as a Presidential Candidate decades back, although both of us knew that, pitted against Rajiv Gandhi’s furious offensive and all-out campaign in favour of his nominee, my defeat was a tragic certainty and perhaps a national loss in the long run. The speech Nikhil made at Thiruva-nanathapuram opening my candidature was great, not because he glorified me—he did not—but since he revealed many facts about former Presidents which few but he did know. In that sense, Sri Chakravartty was very knowledgeable and was aware where Communist leaders were political deviants from ideology and where they failed the battle for socialist transformation to cling to power. His profound commitments attracted me. His truthfulness was so unblemished that he had no enemy. This journalist was beyond purchase by offer of office or honour or power politics. That was why when, on his death, a conference was held, leading editors of all shades of opinion and political convictions attended to do reverence to a man who commanded their admiration. Some of them did not appreciate his incorruptible individuality and blunt truths but none failed to respect him. I have a hundred personal anecdotes about him, but I am too old and ill to narrate them here. After all, anecdotage is evidence of dotage and should be avoided at my advanced age. You are ever my cherished comrade, Nikhil, and never my allergy even where we disagree.

I can never forget the affection with which Nikhil came all the way to Thalassery (Malabar) to inaugurate a seminar organised by the Sharada Krishna Iyer Memorial Society. More than the excellent speech he made it was the extreme sacrifice he suffered in consenting to travel long and honour the memory of my wife. This was in the early seventies. Again, what a wonder that Nikhil should decline Padma-bhushan, a State privilege which the Union Cabinet confers as a tribute on VIPs many of whom crazily seek to wear this gilt-edged ornament. Nikhil was made of a different stuff. Ambition never could eclipse his humility nor flattery ever become his frailty.

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, who passed away a few years ago, was a Supreme Court judge and the Law Minister in the first Communist Government in Kerala headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad.

A Letter

Nikhil Chakravartty in a letter after his receiving a journalists’ award wrote a few lines I would like to share with all those who mourn him.

A feel a sense of fulfilment on having been able to communicate whatever my thoughts maybe, to those who would be reading me.

I strayed into journalism from teaching at the university. The searing experience of the Bengal famine tore me away from the classroom to the field to report that heartrending struggle between life and death. For me as a journalist, the sense of achievement comes when I find that I have been able to communicate.

My central prayer as I look up to the boundless sky every morning is ‘this above all is true’ (a reference to the title of my novel)—that I am here as just a particle of the wide universe and I must at best be true to myself. In the eyes of others, I may have played false at times, but in life’s journey. I have never tried to deceive myself.

Mrinalini Sarabhai
Darpana Academy of Performing Arts,
Usmanpura, Ahmedabad        
(Courtesy: The Asian Age)

This was a message sent after N.C.’s demise on June 27, 1998 and published in the Mainstream issue of August 29, 1998.

A Message

The condolence resolution passed by the Press Council of India on the 4th of this month (August) must have reached you by this time. In addition, the individual members expressed their own feelings and narrated their reminiscences of Dada who was also associated with the Press Council as its member for three years from 1995.

I had the fortune of having him as a senior member of the Council when I took over as its Chairman. I had never met him before that except through his writings. It was a case of friendship at first sight which grew more endearing and enduring with the passage of time. I remember distinctly his sage advice at the first personal meeting with him. He told me not to get bogged down in the routine work of adjudication of the complaints; there was other important work to be done, he said. The advice was after my own intentions and when thereafter the Press Council started undertaking non-routine activities, he supported them heartily by taking personal interest in them. His moral support, sober, mature advice and, above all, his weighty contribution to the deliberations in the Council brought solemnity to our work.

To me, he was more than a tower of strength. He had an unusual warmth of affection for me, and always words of experience couched in his grave but soft voice. To listen to him dwell on any subject, to his reminiscences of the past, his personal experiences with the big and the small in public life, his accurate analysis of the events, past and present, and of his intimate knowledge of the role played by many dominating the political scene in many crucial developments, was education by itself. One got clues to many events which no amount of literature on the subjects can provide. He was a living history of the past. I was hoping to have a long association with him and to learn more from him. But that was not to be.

His departure has created a void in my life which I am unable to describe in words. I feel that I am torn away suddenly from my near and dear one.

The world of journalism has, of course, suffered an irreplaceable loss. The likes of Dada are rarely born. He was first a gentleman and then a journalist. The rivalries, enmities and jealousies which are not unknown to the profession of journalism, never came his way. He was loved and respected in all quarters, and even those who did not see eye to eye with him on some issues had always a ready smile and esteem for him. He was Ajatashatru. The Press and the people will always miss him. His friends, like me, have now to find a solace in his writings and in memories of him which are, of course, ineffaceable.

Faridkot House

Copernicus Marg, P.B. Sawant

(Ground Floor) Chairman

New Delhi 110 001 Press Council of India

— -

If N.C. were Alive Today

Barun Das Gupta

June 27 this year marks the 21st death anniversary of Nikhil Chakravartty, the founder-editor of this magazine who was just ‘N.C.’ or ‘Nikhil-da’ to his vast circle of friends and admirers. To me he was Dada who had licked me into shape as a journalist.

N.C. was an indefatigable warrior in defence of democracy, secularism and freedom of expression. The freedom of the press to him was an imprescriptible right flowing directly from Article 19(a) of the Constitution that ensures “freedom of speech and expression”. The right and duty of the press is to put questions to the executive—not soft questions but hard and inconvenient questions—and to criticise the executive whenever necessary in public interest. A subservient press that does not question the powers that be but seeks to ingratiate itself with them, to curry favour with them, is not worth its salt.

When Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency in 1975, N.C. had excellent personal equations with many in the top echelons of the then government. He was also aware of the fact that Right-wing forces were consolidating against Indira. Open calls were being given to the Army to disobey orders that were “illegal” or “unconstitutional”. Even so, when the Emergency was declared and Indira made her younger son, Sanjay, the “extra-constitutional centre of authority” N.C. was uncompromising in his opposition.

Even when press censorship was introduced and open criticism of the government was virtually outlawed, he continued to send his message to the “perceptive readers” of Mainstream in subtle and pregnant language. When even that became impossible, he decided to fold up this paper rather than carry on with it for its own sake. His editorial “Good-bye to all that” in the December 25, 1976 issue of this journal was his taking leave of his readers. But the edit ended on a note of optimism.

...Today Mainstream closes its present chapter with the proud satisfaction of having tried to serve the right cause in the right spirit and with no dearth of dedication.

There is no room for depression. As winter has come, spring cannot be far behind. And with the first sproutings of spring shall Mainstream reappear.

We shall overcome.

To be sure it did, within a few weeks, (that is, on January 29, 1977) as Indira announced elections for the Lok Sabha in early 1977, and press censorship was relaxed and lifted.

Since I have mentioned Indira Gandhi’s name and the Emergency, one thing needs to be told clearly. Nowadays, the Emergency era is often recalled in the context of the “undeclared” emergency prevailing in the country today. The two situations are qualitatively different. Indira constantly felt insecure about herself. In 1975, when the Allahabad High Court declared her election to the Lok Sabha null and void, she was given time to appeal to the Supreme Court. She should have easily nominated anyone of her trusted senior colleagues, made him Prime Minister and appealed to the Supreme Court.

But she trusted none. So to keep herself in power, she declared the Emergency, threw all Opposition leaders behind bar, suspended the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and imposed press censorship to gag any criticism. But, and this is very important to bear in mind, there was no ideological drive behind her decision to declare the Emergency. Even during the worst days of that period, she never talked about changing the Constitution and turning India into a Hindu Rashtra, never gave any quarter to communal elements, never allowed lynching in the name of gau raksha. She never encouraged attacks on minorities and Dalits. She was only interested in retaining power and promoting her younger son. She did not seek to change the secular, democratic and socialist polity established by the Constitution. Herein lies the difference between Indira’s declared Emergency and Modi’s undeclared one.

If N.C. were alive today, what would he have done? He would surely have continued with his criticism—open or subtle as circumstances permitted—and fought for democracy and press freedom. He could be expected to address himself to the secular parties and organisations, urge them to close their ranks and carry on a sustained campaign against the rising tide of fascism, religious intolerance and bigotry, all passing in the name of nationalism.

And yes, he would have fought relentlessly the breed of pseudo-journalists who peddle ultra-nationalism and national chauvinism dressed as pure nationalism, who decry and denounce protagonists of secularism and derisively call them ‘sickular’, who decide who is a patriot and who is anti-national, who is a Pakistani dalal and who is an ‘urban Naxal’.

The main task of resisting fascism and communalism devolves on the Left. It is the Left which has to take the initiative for building the unity of all anti-fascist parties and individuals. But today, the Indian Left is struggling to survive. It has marginalised itself in national politics. Left sectarianism, the unwillingness of the Left to build bridges with the Congress and other secular democratic parties (except for purely electoral gains, devoid of any principled stand) has brought the Left to its present sorry pass. Sections of the Left are still engaged in a sterile debate whether the BJP is a “fascist” party or it is showing “some fascist trends”. What would be N.C.’s advice to the Left today? It may be recalled that N.C. gave up his membership of the CPI after the Emergency was over because he could not stomach his party becoming an ardent supporter of the Emergency.

During the Emergency of Indira, the press ‘crawled when it was asked to bend’ (L.K. Advani). But in the undeclared emergency of Modi which we are passing through, a large number of media and mediapersons have voluntarily chosen to become the foot soldiers of Hindutva. In 1975-77, the press did not have to contend with saboteurs of press freedom within its own ranks. Today it is facing that challenge every day.

The void created by the passing away of Nikhil Chakravartty is being acutely felt today. Those who believe in democracy, press freedom, secularism and a plural society, will have to carry on the battle as zealously as N.C. did all his life. 

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

o o

The following piece appeared in The Times of India in early 1990 following N.C.’s letter to the President politely declining the Padma Bhushan award conferred on him by the then National Front Government. —Editor

Bravo, Jessoda!

by P.M. Warrier

In their little den on Park Lane in Calcutta half-a-dozen young Malayalees, mostly clerks and typists, listened intently as a tiny bespectacled man in his early 30s read aloud a graphic account of how the city greeted India’s indepen-dence only a couple of days earlier. As the momentous hour approached, the multitudes of the hitherto riot-torn metropolis had poured out on to the streets singing, dancing, spontan-eously embracing one another and welcoming the dawn of freedom in near delirium. The young men of the den who had witnessed those glorious moments now relived them.

You, still in your teens, were a newcomer in the den. When the account was over you asked the reader, “Did you write that?” “Me?” the reader said, shocked. “No. Maybe in another three lives I can write like that. This is by Nikhil. Can’t you see the Oxford touch? Nikhil writes for the People’s Age. I merely typed this for him.” The den got People’s Age regularly. You read and reread the Nikhil report in it. You liked the way he wrote. You became a fan.

Suddenly People’s Age stopped coming. The Communist Party of India had been banned. One day the head of the den brought a young man home and introduced him to you as Jessoda. Jessoda was an underground communist looking for couriers. On an impulse you enrolled yourself. “For our purposes you are Paul from today,” Jessoda told you. He gave you letters and packages to be delivered to unknown entities at street corners or in public parks. You identified them by Jessoda’s description: White shirt, curly hair, horn-rimmed glasses, Amrita Bazar Patrika under left arm. You spotted your counterpart and asked something like “Can you tell me the way to Howrah Bridge?” You got your code answer, exchanged packages and got quickly lost in the crowd.

This went on for over six months. Then you had to leave Calcutta. On the eve of your departure you learned that Jessoda was none other than Nikhil. You felt a faint thrill. Many years and cities later you moved to Delhi where you learned Jessoda was publishing a weekly journal from the Capital.

You arranged to get it and read it regularly. Your respect for Jessoda grew.

You had had a fairly good life, but like many of your contemporaries you slowly became disenchanted with men and things. You were never an angry young man, but now you were an angry old man. You respected none any more but still had a soft corner for some, particularly men like Jessoda. Why? You didn’t quite know. Maybe they were doing some of the things you would have liked to do yourself but didn’t ever get to doing.

The blow was a sudden and hard. “You too, Jessoda,” your cried out in anguish as you looked at his picture in your paper alongside this year’s Republic Day Honours list. You had nothing against anyone being honoured, but a vague resentment stirred in you at the very thought of Jessoda receiving an official award.

Later, when you read about how Jessoda had turned it down, you nearly choked with gratitude. “Bravo, Jessoda!” You muttered. “We need more like you.”

[SOME WRITINGS ON THE EMERGENCY - Fortyfour years on]

From N.C.’s Writings

The Roots of the Emergency

As years pass by, one after the other, the past recedes more and more into distant memory. There are certain events in the life of a nation, as of individuals, to which distance does not lend enchantment to the view. Rather the ugly visage falls into the pattern of historical evolution and lives on as such. One such event in our lifetime, and in our very land, was the Emergency which was promulgated on June 25-26, twenty years ago.

Twenty years is but a short space in the vast canvas that is the history of this land, and objectivity may be difficult to attain in dealing with it, because the turmoil it set still evokes ripples of excitement and the dark, sinister character of that great misadventure is often lost in recolllecting those nineteen months of bizarre politics in this highly political country. To understand the enormity of that episode one has to take into account the events that preceded it as also the fall-out that came in its wake, and only then can one comprehend in full measure what enormous damage the Emergency inflicted on the democratic fibre of this country.

The Emergency was essentially a product of Indira Gandhi’s approach to the question of power and her method of wielding it. Objective factors no doubt formed the bedrock of whatever happened; at the same time a very important factor behind the decision to snuffing out of democratic functioning was her very own greed for power, and with her, the worthy son she was then promoting.

To trace the roots of the Emergency one has to go back to the crisis that the Congress faced after the debacle of the 1967 general elections, in which the party was dislodged from office in a number of States. She realised that apart from other factors, the direction of her policy stand at that time was regarded in general as having been dictated by the World Bank authorities and was therefore a misfit in Indian conditions. She promptly changed her stance and her team and very neatly turned the tables on her critics within the Congress leadership whom she branded as conservative and holding back her urge to push radical reforms. Bank nationalisation, for instance, did not come at the crest of a massive movement but as a means by which to edge out Morarji Desai. There was an outburst of popular enthusiasm at the radical postures Indira Gandhi took, and with this, she managed to isolate the old guards of the Congress branding them as conservative, she alone to be regarded as radical progressive. Riding this radical chariot, she could mobilise the support of a good section of liberal Left-of-Centre opinion in the country and thereby split the Congress itself, holding out hopes that the Congress she would be rebuilding would be a paragon of democracy and radicalism. The climax was her coining the slogan Garibi Hatao with which she could win the 1971 elections and soon after her intervention in the Pakistani civil war that led to the birth of Bangladesh, which in turn brought her further electoral victories in 1972. The poll success made her dizzy with success, little realising that the spell of election promises does not last long; rather she had roused people’s expectations without the least efforts at implementing the promises.

This provoked a new round of strident action, led mainly by the youth and backed by the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan. Gujarat was engulfed by the Nav Nirman movement which reached its peak in 1974-75 that led to the calling of the mid-term poll in which the Congress was badly trounced. Followed the equally powerful mass upsurge in Bihar directly under the leadership of JP. And from Gujarat and Bihar, the stormy winds of mass discontent reached Delhi just at the very hour when Indira had suffered a setback as her own election to the Lok Sabha was nullified by the Allahabad High Court. By that time she had already groomed her second son who was given a free hand to run the party and interfere without authority into the affairs of the state.

Meanwhile, tampering with the normal institution of governance was also undertaken. The concept of ‘committed’ bureaucracy was widely broadcast to mean that the officers running the administration have to be totally subservient to the dictates of those in power even in matters which undermine the system. Side by side the judiciary was also sought to be made subservient by means of browbeating—for instance, the supercession of senior judges in the matter of appointment of the Chief Justice in 1973 which was widely resented.

So, when Indira Gandhi faced the dual crisis—threat to her regime because of the growing unrest in the public, and to her personal position because of the adverse judgement by the Allahabad High Court—she gave up the democratic path and resorted to personal aggrandisement. One is reminded of the outburst of the sycophant Congress President of the day: “Indira is India, India is Indira”. As for the government, there is good reason to believe that among the contingencies discussed at that time, the question of temporarily scrapping the Constitution and arbitrarily installing her as a virtual dictator was also considered; however, legal experts in her camp hit upon the idea of declaring Emergency within the precincts of the Constitution on the plea that there was a threat to the established order by those campaigning against her regime. By clamping the Emergency, all the Opposition leaders were hauled up and those who could not be immediately caught were soon hunted down. The press was gagged and civil liberties were withheld. There was no consultation with the party leaders and no move to explain the reason behind the imposition of the Emergency. In fact, there was no election within the party under Indira.

Right from the moment the Emergency was clamped down, the party organisation was assigned no role, and Indira did not care that the party at all levels was confused and rattled and slowly forced into irrelevance, while Indira’s son Sanjay took over with his gangster methods. That was the point when Indira finally buried the possibility of running either the government or the party along democratic lines. In fact, the party was put out of action and was virtually reduced to a cheer group for Indira and Sanjay. As for the government, it was concentrated in the hands of a few who were in the coterie of Indira and Sanjay. It was by all counts a dictatorship. Large numbers of Congressmen, including some of those holding important positions today, resented in private this emasculation of the party and government and the acquisition of power by a coterie round the Prime Minister, in which her son had the whip hand. This time the Emergency was sought to be dressed up by the “progressive” 20-Point Programme which was meant to blur the real face of the Emergency authoritarianism.

While the democratic structure was sought to be crushed, the democratic spirit of the people could not be stifled with all the gags imposed and news stifled through censorship. The hiatus between the ruling establishment at the top and the common people was widened with the result that even today it could not be bridged. It was in such a hot-house environment that Indira Gandhi groomed her son to succeed her. It needs to be noted that even with the emasculated Parliament she was not prepared to face the electorate. So, Parliament’s life was extended from five to seven years. However, after the sixth year, she banked on the calculation that all opposition against her regime had been smothered and she felt it safe to go in for election, little expecting that the imprisoned leaders with all their differences would join hands to face the electorate together. Side by side, two major defectors, Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna, came out of the Congress and joined other Opposition leaders for a common campaign against her regime. This was how the Janata Party was born.

During the brief Janata Party interlude, there was a spate of exposure of the Emergency and plenty of literature on the subject came out. But the Janata Party leaders had no idea of her determination and her mendacity. Every bungling, every shortcoming of the Janata Party Government was exploited by her camp, so much so that her people played an active role in breaking up the Janata Party and put up Charan Singh for a few months to be the Prime Minister.

When Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1980, the only lesson she seemed to have learnt from her Emergency debacle was to take advantage of the Opposition division rather then rebuilding the party which was left in a state of neglect. When Sanjay died in an air crash, she did not call upon any senior leader of the party to be groomed as her successor, but blatantly brought into politics an unwilling Rajiv Gandhi to succeed her. The party was reduced to a machinery for electioneering—nothing more; while the government was run virtually as a one-man show by the Prime Minister. That tradition was continued by Rajiv Gandhi despite the promise at a moment of forgetfulness that he would rid the party of power-brokers. Incidentally, Indira Gandhi cancelled the reports of all the probe committees set up by the Janata Party Government, except one—that was the Mandal Report.

The Emergency was thus a landmark in the annals of independent India insofar as it sought to destroy the democratic fibre of the leading party, turning it into a signboard organisation to render service to the leader and her progeny chosen by her to succeed her. On the political side, the Emergency destroyed the democratic fibre of the leading political formation, namely, the Congress, which since the Emergency has never cared to adhere to any form of transparency in its functioning. A real landmark this, the Emergency whose impact will long be felt both in the attitude and functioning of the ruling establishment vis-a-vis the vast multitude that constitutes the overwhelming majority in our democracy.

[Mainstream, July 1, 1995; an abridged version of this article appeared earlier in The Pioneer]

Lest We Forget

Fortyfour years ago on June 26, 1975, the Emergency was proclaimed throughout the country as the ruling leadership bared its fangs nakedly displaying its dictatorial proclivities. We present here write-ups and poems that bring back the nightmare of those dark days when our freedom was sought to be snatched away and our voice throttled. —Editor

Emergency: What it meant

by Amiya Rao, B.G. Rao

Not a leaf stirs in my kingdom without my leave. See how quiet my people sit. —Atahuallpa the Inca

To those whose only preoccupation in life is to survive, June 26, 1975 was like any other day in oppressive June—the sun cruel, the wind searching, the dust blinding. But to some at least of those who heard the Prime Minister on the radio that morning, had no paper to read before they went to work, and learnt about the midnight arrests only by way of rumour, June 26 looked ominous, terrifying. And to some whose homes had been visited by Mrs Gandhi’s police at the dead of night and a son or a brother or a husband taken away to some unknown place for unknown reasons, June 26 was the end of the world.

As the day advanced one saw the police everywhere—in street corners, at bus-stands, in market-places and shopping centres; armed police guarded important road junctions, carrying walky-talky sets, the Border Security Force stood by the Secretariat and other Government offices. Who were they guarding and against whom? What news could they be passing and against whom, one wondered. And whom are they watching and for what? “It could be me”—that would be the creeping, gnawing fear—for something one had said, something one had written, some remark one had passed, some meeting one had attended when the country was free. Many went underground, not for hatching plots to destroy Mrs Gandhi and her family but out of sheer panic. Life became one long dreary monotony. One avoided one’s friends—who knows who is an informer? Visits became few; telephones were not safe to use. Conversations which used to add zest to one’s life became halting. The radio blared forth one stupendous lie after another. And the newspapers gave no news which had not been censored.

Strict censorship had cut up the country into innumerable bits, each insulated from the rest against spread of news. One lived in a silent island of one’s own, not knowing what was happening in another part of the city. Then there was the omnipotent MISA. Was the son alive, the father whisked away by the police for indefinite detention? Are they being tortured? When will they be produced in the court? Vital questions, but one had lost the right to know the answer. June 26, 1975 introduced a new era, not merely of human suffering and pervasive fear but also of an awareness of the loss of all human rights and human dignity, and all because of one individual’s lust for power.

(From The Press She Could Not Whip: Emergency in India as Reported by the Foreign Press, edited by Amiya Rao and B.G. Rao)

The Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream (June 28, 1975) after the promulgation of Emergency and the imposition of press censorship appeared as follows:

Tagore for Today

Somewhere in the excitement of National Emergency, the editor has lost his notebook. However, Rabindranath Tagore has, in the abundance of his generosity, lent him his own notebook:

Freedom from fear is the freedom I claim for you, my Motherland!—fear, the phantom demon, shaped by your own distorted dreams;

Freedom from the burden of ages, bending your head, breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoning call of the future;

Freedom from shackles of slumber wherewith you fasten yourself to night’s stillness, mistrusting the star that speaks of truth’s adventurous path;

Freedom from the anarchy of a destiny, whose sails are weakly yielded to blind uncertain winds, and the helm to a hand ever rigid and cold as Death;

Freedom from the insult of the dwelling in a puppet’s world, where movements are started through brainless wires, repeated through mindless habits; where figures wait with patient obedience for a master of show to be stirred into a moment’s mimicry of life.

June 27                   N.C.

An Eye-witness Account

Published in The Morning News—Sunday Times Service (London) on July 3, 1975. An introduction to the article read:

“An uncensored account from Jonathan Dimbleby who was in Delhi last week for the Thames Television programme: ‘This Week’. He filed his report from Addis Ababa to avoid censorship.”

This was included in The Press She Could Not Whip: Emergency in India as Reported by the Foreign Press. —Editor

The famous Indian journalist sat in his silent office surrounded by notes for an article he would never write and said without melodrama, “You will remember this day because it marks the end of democracy in India.”

The most awesome day in the history of India since Independence was uncannily normal. Soon after Mrs Gandhi’s radio broadcast announcing the state of Emergency, Delhi’s jingling flotilla of bicycles set off for work as normal. No angry crowd gathered. Shops and factories opened as usual. Beggars begged. The sleek race horses of the rich had their daily exercise and across the road from them and as ignorant as they, one of India’s millions of untouchables tottered by clasping an emaciated baby to his neck.

Only the intelligentsia were aroused. At first bewildered, by the evening they were echoing in dismay each other’s epitaphs for freedom. Shielding behind anonymity for the first time in their lives, distinguished political commentators were unanimous. Mrs Gandhi has taken steps that she would never retrace: “I never realised what freedom meant until today when I lost it,” said one of them. “I do not expect to find it again.”

The Government’s operation was faultlessly efficient. In the first hour of Thurday morning a neatly timed power cut stopped the presses of Delhi’s most prominent newspapers. By 5 a.m. hundreds of Opposition leaders had been plucked out of their beds and whisked away into detention. By this time Mrs Gandhi declaring the state of Emergency was on the radio speaking solemnly of the “deep and widespread conspiracy” which threatened the nation and the “forces of disintegration” which had apparently brought India to the abyss were safely silenced.

By the afternoon, as journalists sweltered in office, still without power, the Government issued the details of the Press ‘guidelines’. All ‘unauthorised, irresponsible or demoralising news items’, anything ‘likely to bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection towards the Government’ and ‘any attempt at denigrating the institution of Prime Minister’ is now censored.

As her supporters frequently proclaimed last week: “India is Indira, Indira is India.”

Trying to take in the magnitude of what had happened, bewildered by the harshness of the measures, Delhi’s Gandhi-watchers sought to comprehend her actions on the assumption that she was not merely trying to keep hold of her political power at all counts. They failed. Only that handful which believes that without Mrs Gandhi India would disintegrate found themselves able to swallow her conspiracy theory without indigestion.

Mrs Gandhi spent much of the last week on a makeshift rostrum in the road outside her house, sometimes standing in the rain, always composed and elegant. Pledging to innumerable rallies of her supporters that she would abolish poverty, create socialism and—in or out of office—serve her people as she always had.

Her critics pointed, instead, to the fact that one of the most convincing displays of devotion to Mrs Gandhi last week came from 500 Delhi businessmen who left their airconditioned offices to stand at her gate and implore her to remain Prime Minister.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted