Saturday April 20, 2019
Home Opinion The night dem...

The night democracy died: Account of Emergency through the eyes of a journalist

0
//

indiraBy Arul Louis

In the summer of 1975, the anger against corruption and high-handedness that rippled across the northern half of India had built into waves of fury against a prime minister whose legitimacy had been shattered by an Allahabad High Court verdict unseating her.

Riding the crest of a mass movement that began in Gujarat and rolled across the northern plains, Jayaprakash Narayan – JP as he was popularly known – brought the spirit of the rebellion to the citadels of power in Delhi on June 25.

At the Ramlila Maidan, a spot hallowed by the annual enactment of the drama of victory of good over evil, JP thundered his call for Indira Gandhi to leave the prime minister-ship that she was clinging to with a temporary stay of the court verdict banning her from parliament.

The reporters and senior editors of the United News of India (UNI) news agency wrapped up the story of the day and headed home, leaving the desk to me and to Tarun Basu, now the chief editor of Indo-Asian News Service – both of us sub-editors with barely three years’ experience.

Just after midnight, disjointed, but ominous, dispatches from across Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh dribbled in. Police were stopping trucks out to deliver newspapers; power was going out at newspaper offices and plants. And some local opposition politicians were being rounded up.

A bureau chief from Chandigarh phoned in saying that police sources had told him that they had been asked to stop the printing and distribution of newspapers. A tip came from a Madhya Pradesh bureau, passing a rumor that “martial law” was coming.

We called the late G.G. Mirchandani, the fearless general manager and chief editor of UNI. He told us not to be intimidated and keep the dispatches flowing.

Sometime after 2 a.m. came the cryptic call, “JP giraftar ho gaye (JP has been arrested)”.

Our 10-letter bulletin went out:

F L A S H J P ARRESTED. UNI

Thus began the long night of the lathis and bullets; the 21 months of fascist terror, of censorship, of craven cowardice, of despair – and also of heroism, of faith in democracy, of unbending commitments, of idealism and hope.

I called Myron L. Belkind, the bureau chief of the Associated Press, and he got word out to the world before censorship struck.

We quickly wrote up a story while getting more calls of arrests before sprinting off from UNI’s office on Rafi Marg to the Parliament Street Police Station a few hundred yards away.

Outside the colonnaded building, the cops said nothing was happening and we should go. They hadn’t yet grasped the powers bestowed on them. Suddenly there was a bustle, and we saw the frail figure of JP being brought to one of the waiting cars. I asked him what was happening.

His bespectacled eyes, sad but not despairing, looked at us, his hands made slight wave of resignation, and he said feebly: “Vinaashakaale Viparita Buddhi.”

Krishna Kant, a Congress party dissident and supporter of JP’s movement who was under arrest alongside him, repeated louder for us the Sanskrit proverb which can be translated as, “Madness takes hold at the moment of disaster.”

JP was put in one of the tourist taxis and driven away.

We headed back to the UNI offices and filed a story with his quote that became a motif of the opposition to the Emergency.

The phones began ringing with news of more arrests – Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jyotirmoy Basu and many others.

But two names were missing from the arrested list: George Fernandes and Subramanian Swamy. Both had staged strategic disappearances to lead the resistance.

Answering our SOS, editors and reporters poured into the office in the middle of the night, to report on a tragic history in the making.

The office had been spared electricity and communications cuts as it shared the grid with many government offices and Parliament. In the cacophonous teleprinter room, the machines spewed copy on arrests and interdictions from the bureaus across the country, and some went silent when power was turned off or communications lines cut.

At around 7 a.m., Indira Gandhi came on the air to proclaim her Emergency and the rules of dictatorship.

Two government censors, drafted from the government’s Press Information Bureau marched in with rubber stamps, one for stories censored and approved for publication and the other for stories banned.

Mirchandani defiantly kept the reports flowing, till the censors, after hasty phone consultations with their higher-ups, delivered an ultimatum: Submit to censorship or the agency will be forthwith shut down permanently.

Mirchandani deferred, but with an order to the staff to continue to cover the news professionally and never to self-censor anticipating censorship. That was the censors’ job, not the reporters’, he said.

Therefore, many of the censored reports secretly made their way to underground bulletins.

Soon, assorted spineless politicians, businessmen, trade unionists and self-styled civic activists lined up with press releases swearing fealty to the dictator and denouncing the people’s movement.

And in the media, as in all other sectors, many lived up to BJP leader L. K. Advani’s description of their cravenness: “Some who were asked to bend, chose to crawl.”

That was a time when fascism tried to rule India. Let no one, least of all the Congress party, now talk of fascism. Except for the BJP, the Marxists, the assorted socialists now scattered in different parties, the DMK and the courageous independents, the others lost their moral ground that day 40 years ago.

The long night of the Emergency was undone 19 months later only by the hubris of the Gandhi family that believed their censored untruth.

“Vinaashakaale Viparita Buddhi” is its fitting epitaph.

(IANS)

Next Story

US President Donald Trump Declares Emergency to Fund Border Wall on Mexican Border

While government was under a shutdown with all but the essential services operating and 800 government employees under temporary layoff, Trump scaled back his idea of a wall to a series of metal slats along the border

0
USA, Corruption
U.S. President Donald Trump is seen through his transparent teleprompter as he speaks during the Missile Defense Review announcement at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 17, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump declared a State of Emergency on Friday to fund his campaign promise of building a wall on the Mexican border after the Congress resolutely refused to give him the money he wanted.

Trump backed away from his threat to again shutdown the government if the legislature did not vote $5.7 billion for the border wall and approved the bipartisan funding bill without the allocation, and instead resorted to the Emergency.

He cited the drug-smuggling problems and the “15,000” people who came to the border in convoys from Central America and are camped there hoping to cross the frontier, as reasons for his Emergency.

Unlike in India, an Emergency of the type that Trump is planning does not bring sweeping powers or allow suspension of civil rights and arbitrary arrests, but only enables limited action in government operations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party’s leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, declared that imposing an Emergency would be “a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency”.

Pelosi said that challenging the Emergency in court was an option.

Trump
President Donald Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans, Jan. 14, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Announcing the Emergency at the White House, Trump said that he expected a cases to be filed in a federal court with judges favouring the Democrats which he would lose and a subsequent appeal, but would ultimately prevail in Supreme Court.

Trump also called on the Democrats to work with him on broad immigration reforms that would include ending immigration of relatives of citizens, but move towards a merit-based preference for immigrants.

Congress passed the bill on Thursday with $1.375 billion for a 55-mile fence, nowhere near the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded for the wall along the Mexican border that he had promised during his election campaign.

The measure was hammered out by lawmakers from both parties after Trump allowed the government to reopen after a 35-day shutdown in a showdown over the wall funding.

Trump had threatened to veto any bill without the money he demanded for the wall, but is now agreeing to it while making good on his threat to impose an Emergency to get money for the wall.

Calling the Emergency a “presidential over-reach” and “a dangerous precedent”, Democratic Party Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi said: “The Constitution maintains that only Congress has the power of the purse and may appropriate funds. This is not a Constitutional power any President has.”

Pelosi said a legal challenge was “an option and we’ll review our options”.

Several lawmakers from Trump’s own party were against an Emergency declaration. Republican Senator John Cornyn called it a “dangerous step”, saying: “The President is going to get sued and it won’t succeed in accomplishing his goal.”

Trump, U.S.
Donald Trump. VOA

He added that if Pelosi introduces a resolution against the Emergency, it will split the Republicans.

According to media reports quoting the White House officials, Trump plans to spend a total of $8 billion on the border barrier. While there is $1.375 billion allocated in the spending bill, he wants to make up the rest by diverting money from the military construction budget and funds seized from drug smugglers and dealers.

Also Read- With Ovarian Cancer Deaths Set to Spike by 67%, AI to Rescue: Study

Trump had said during his election campaign that he would make Mexico pay for the border wall – an unrealistic claim that has continued to haunt him as he sought funding in the US budget.

While government was under a shutdown with all but the essential services operating and 800 government employees under temporary layoff, Trump scaled back his idea of a wall to a series of metal slats along the border.

Having had to back down from his funding demand with Pelosi standing firm amid growing opposition to the shutdown, Trump sees the Emergency as the only way for him to build his barrier and save his credibility among his most steadfast supporters. (IANS)