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By Ishan Kukreti

Sadanand Panday has been associated with the esteemed Hindi daily Vir Arjun for more than 20 years. The daily, once a staple diet of nationalists and an unrelenting voice for freedom, had Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its editor at one point of time.

NewsGram talked to Sadanand Panday, associate editor of the newspaper about the situation during emergency and his views on Democracy and Dictatorship.

Ishan Kukreti- How was the experience of emergency by the media fraternity?
Sadanand Panday– Senior journalist Kuldeep Nayyar has often told me how during emergency power supply to the press area on Bhadur Shah Zafar Marg was withheld. The editors had to get their news stories pre-approved from Press Information Bureau. Because of this distribution of the papers suffered a lot during this period. It can be said that newspapers weren’t printed during emergency, only pamphlets were.

IK- What was the treatment meted out to Vir Arjun during emergency?
SPVir Arjun faced the atrocities of emergency, like the rest of the newspapers. The paper had to be discontinued because of the pressure from Mrs. Gandhi. K. Narendra, the then editor of Vir Arjun was given an option of either publishing pro government stories or facing closure. He chose the later. Vir Arjun broke down, but it did not bend.

IK- How was everyday life and ordinary populace affected by emergency?
SP– I remember, people were scared. Many of my teachers were arrested and treated with complete disregard for human and fundamental rights in prisons. They had to face a difficult time there. But, at the same time, there used to be a lot of intellectual people in the jails like journalists, politicians, lawyers etc and the kind of company one had there was very revolutionary.

I was told a very interesting incident by Mr. Arif Beg of BJP. The RSS members and the Muslim leaders who were locked up, although initially sat in opposite corners of the cell, by the end of it all, became close friends as they suffered similarly at the hands of the government.

Mr. M. Faruqi of CPI( Communist Party of India) told me that there was an unsaid understanding amongst all prisoners that Indira Gandhi had to be dislodged from power to maintain the democratic nature of India.

IK- Was there a sea change in the situation during and after emergency?
SP– People were quiet at that time, but they were angry. Although Vinoba Bhave called the period an ‘Anushashan Parv‘, it is completely wrong. Emergency was the decision of a weak and scared woman who feared losing her power. This was felt by everyone.

At that time a pamphlet used to be published called, ‘Ram aur Sham‘, which laid bare the atrocities committed during that time. It was widely read by people. They used to listen to BBC instead of AIR. Literate people liked the speeches of Richard Nixon where he criticized Mrs. Gandhi. Henry Kissinger was popular for his comments against Mrs. Gandhi. Although people could not express their anger openly, they pledged to punish Mrs. Gandhi in the next elections, and they did.

Some Congress members too could not express themselves freely because of the fear of top party officials. They tried to create a favorable image of the efforts/atrocities committed by Sanjay Gandhi force without being convinced or convincing others.

IK- Which were the sections that were most aggrieved by the situation?
SP– The lower classes, who had to face forced sterilization drive were too scared to openly say anything. But there was resentment in their hearts too. The Muslim section was completely against the Congress and Mrs. Gandhi as the period saw the demolition of Turkman Gate. I’d say all the sections were equally outraged by the imposition of emergency. Even many Congress members just paid lip service to the higher authorities in the party.

IK- Before the 2014 Parliamentary Elections, there was a section of people who believed that India needed a dictatorship to make it a superpower. Do you agree with this contention?
SP– No. Not at all. Dictatorship has never created a successful nation, and it never will. Democracy and freedom have their own charm and there is no substitute to it. I don’t think anywhere in the near or far future, Dictatorship can replace Democracy as a better model of governance.


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