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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Illuminating the darkness

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Divya A depicts some case studies from an era in independent India which illustrates what terrible woes can befall a nation when democracy is snuffed out, as unveiled by the author.

On June 25, 1975, a presidential proclamation declared a state of Emergency in India. Former Prasar Bharti chairman A Surya Prakash's latest book offers some case studies from an era in independent India which illustrates what terrible woes can befall a nation when democracy is snuffed out.

The book - comprising 14 chapters - builds on the premise that even as our basic freedoms were curtailed during the Emergency, its history is largely hidden from the younger generation. It looks at the arrests of political activists, media censorship, sterilisations, police atrocities and other such events that took place during the 21 months when Internal Emergency was in force.

Prakash has made it clear at the outset that his account is based on testimonies recorded in the Shah Commission (set up afterwards to look into the "excesses"), official records and his own experiences as a journalist (he was working with The Indian Express's Bangalore bureau at the time). In a chapter titled 'Ministry of Coercion', perhaps, the most scathing in the book, he comes down heavily on the high-handedness of the-then Information & Broadcasting Minister, VC Shukla.

Prakash talks of how even Kishore Kumar, one of India's most versatile musical icons, was coerced into singing pro-government jingles. In January 1976, the I&B Ministry decided to rope in film celebrities to do short films eulogising the Emergency.

It also wanted playback singers to sing jingles in praise of the government and its many schemes. When the I&B Ministry team heard from filmmaker GP Sippy that Kumar was not ready to be associated with the initiative in any manner, it was ordered that all his songs be banned for All India Radio and Doordarshan. Even the sale of gramophone records of his songs were to be frozen.

Shukla is said to have testified himself before the Shah Commission that "action was taken against Kishore Kumar because film artistes and producers had not responded to the government in the manner expected". The ministry's plan to teach Kumar a lesson worked as they soon received a letter of co-operation from him.

In the chapter titled 'The Drama in Prime Minister's House', Prakash elucidates the tense events of the day preceding the announcement. The then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray told the Shah Commission that the PM had told him that "India needed a shock treatment", referring to the situation in the country and an intelligence report on Jaiprakash Narayan's impending mass movement. Ray had later suggested to her that she could invoke Article 352 if she so desired.

Ray's deposition also offers insights into the relationship between the PM and her son Sanjay and the kind of grip the latter seemed to have had on her. According to Ray, it wasn't the PM's idea, but Sanjay's to cut electricity to newspaper offices and to order the closure of high courts.

The book also carries copies of some original documents pertaining to the Emergency, including Indira Gandhi's letter to the President on the night of June 25, 1975, the proclamation signed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the minutes of the two Union Cabinet meetings held on June 26 in which it was approved and press censorship was clamped, and, finally, the presidential order signed by acting President BD Jatti, revoking the Emergency on March 21, 1977.


The reviewer is a journalist.The write-up has appeared on www.indianexpress.com

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