On the 48th anniversary of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi [June 25, 1975-March 21, 1977] we are witnessing once again the farce of RSS claiming that it opposed it with full might. PM Modi described it as the “darkest period” in Indian history in his weekly radio talk, ‘Mann ki Baat’ on June 18, 2023. A senior RSS functionary who also happened to be a former Vice-President of India claimed: “The RSS played an important role in organising protests against the Emergency. These developments highlight the importance of active citizenship and grassroots movements in safeguarding democracy and advocating for the rights and freedoms of all citizens.” [https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/m-venkaiah-naidu-writes-lessons-from-emergency-we-must-not-forget-8682989/]
Present day RSS-BJP rulers boast that RSS fought against the Emergency not due to any compulsion but as article of faith in democracy. How RSS cadres ruling India today love democracy is to be seen and believed. The Indian jails which were supposed to incarcerate anti-social elements are packed with young activists ranging from brilliant school/university students (large number of them being girls) to leading intellectuals and senior citizens in 70s and 80s with serious ailments. According to reputed world studies on the status of global democracy, “India ranks 108th in the Electoral Democracy Index of the Democracy report 2023 released by V–Dem Institute. The country ranks way below countries such as Tanzania, Bolivia, Mexico, Singapore and Nigeria. India has also been named in the top 10 autocratising countries in the last 10 years in the report. India’s ranking dipped from the 100th position in 2022 to 108th this year in the report’s Electoral Democracy Index (EDI).”
On the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) (3rd May), the World Press Freedom Index 2023 was published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). India ranked 161st among the 180 countries with a score of 36.62. In 2022, India’s rank was 150.
In fact, totalitarianism is in the veins of RSS cadres who are fond of rule by IRON MEN. Democracy and RSS are antithetical is not what critics of the Hindutva politics highlight but is what the most prominent ideologue of the RSS, MS Golwalkar, also known as ‘Guru of Hate’ [whom PM Modi credits for grooming him into a political leader] decreed while addressing the 1350 top level cadres of the RSS in 1940 declared,
“RSS inspired by one flag, one leader and one ideology is lighting the flame of Hindutva in each and every corner of this great land.”
[Golwalkar, MS, Shri Guruji Samagar Darshan (collected works of Golwalkar in Hindi), Bhartiya Vichar Sadhna, Nagpur, nd., vol. I, p. 11.]
We must evaluate the RSS claim of fighting the Emergency with the contemporary RSS documents. The 3rd Supremo of RSS, Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras wrote the first letter of praise to Indira Gandhi within two months of the imposition of Emergency. It was the time when state terror was running amok. In letter dated, August 22, 1975 he began with the following praise of Indira:
“I heard your address to the nation which you delivered on August 15, 1975 from Red Fort on radio in jail [Yervada jail] with attention. Your address was timely and balanced so I decided to write to you”.
[Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras, Hindu Sangathan aur Sattavaadi Rajneeti, Jagriti Prkashan, Noida, 1997, 270.]
Indira Gandhi did not respond to it. So Deoras wrote another letter to Indira on November 10, 1975. He began his letter with congratulating her on being cleared by the Supreme Court of disqualification which was ordered by the Allahabad High Court,
“All the five Justices of the Supreme Court have declared your election constitutional, heartiest greetings for it.”
It is to be noted that opposition was firmly of the opinion that this judgment was ‘managed’ by the Congress. In the course of the letter he declared that
“RSS has been named in context of Jaiprakash Narayan’s movement. The government has also connected RSS with Gujarat movement and Bihar movement without any reason…Sangh has no relation with these movements…” [Ibid, pp-272-73]
Since Indira Gandhi did not respond to this letter too, RSS chief got hold of Vinoba Bhave who supported the Emergency religiously and was a favourite of Indira Gandhi. In a letter dated January 12, 1976, Deoras begged that Acharya should suggest the way that ban on RSS was removed. [Ibid, pp-275-77] Since Acharya too did not respond to Deoras letter, the latter in another communication without date desperately wrote:
“According to press reports respected PM [Indira Gandhi] is going to meet you at Pavnar Ashram on January 24. At that time there will be discussion about the present condition of the country. I beg you to try to remove the wrong assumptions of PM about RSS so that ban on RSS is lifted and RSS members are released from jails. We are looking forward for the times when RSS and its members are able to contribute to the plans of progress which are being run in all the fields under the leadership of PM.” [Ibid, p. 278]
[All these letters written in Hindi are reproduced from a publication of the RSS at the end of this article.]
Balraj Madhok, a senior ideologue of the RSS who died as pracharak [whole-timer] of RSS in 2016 in his autobiography without mincing words wrote that Sarsanghchalak Deoras was fond of good living and when was held under MISA, “wrote two letters on August 22, 1975 and November 10, 1975 to Indira Gandhi for reconsidering her attitude towards the Sangh and lifting the ban from it. He also wrote a letter to Shri Vinoba Bhave requesting him to try to remove from Indira Gandhi’s heart anti [Sangh] feelings.” [Zindagi Ka Safar –3: Deendayal Upadhyay Ki Hatya Se Indira Gandhi Ki Hatya Tak (Journey of Life-3: From the Murder of Deendayal Upadhyay to the Murder of Indira Gandhi), Dinman, Delhi, 2003, p. 188-189.]
It is to be noted that former President of the Indian Republic, Pranab Mukherjee was invited by the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat as the chief guest at the graduation ceremony of its new recruits in 2018. It would be naïve to believe that Bhagwat did not know that Pranab Mukherjee was indicted as one of the top leaders of Congress for Emergency excesses.
It is shameful that despite these facts thousands of RSS cadres continue to get monthly family pension for the persecution during Emergency. The BJP ruled states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra decided to award a monthly pension of Rs 20,000 to those who were jailed during the Emergency period for less than 2 month and Rs 10000 to those who were jailed for less than a month. This rule took care of the financial interest of those RSS cadres who submitted mercy letters completing only one or two months’ jail term. For securing such a fat pension there was no such condition that the beneficiary should have been in jail for the whole period of the Emergency.
The Nation needs to remember that the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was withdrawn by her on March 21, 1977 and her party lost next general elections. However, RSS-BJP oligarchy continues to rule with an iron fist and relying on anti-terror laws without imposing an Emergency; it is the new NORMAL under Modi as PM.
Shamsul Islam is a retired professor of Delhi University
Link for some of S. Islam’s writings in English, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and video interviews/debates: