He spent three months behind bars during the Emergency. “I was arrested without prior notice – it stupefied me,” veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recalled, as he spoke about the days of emergency in 1975 and the fear that gripped the press, in an exclusive interview to thestatesman.com, ahead of the 40th anniversary of Emergency in India.
Nayar was an Urdu press reporter when Emergency was imposed. “103 journalists signed and passed a resolution on 28 June 1975 to condemn press censorship, but fear over took them and they caved in,” he said.
“What surprised me most when I came out of the prison was, no journalist supported me to fight against the press censorship. The fear among the journalists was so strong that nobody was ready to speak,” the former Rajya Sabha member said.
“I was a member of the Press Council. I raised the issue but it led to nowhere. The fourth estate of democracy, the press suffered immensely during the Emergency,” he said.
When asked whether it was more challenging to confront the Emergency than the Partition, Nayar said, “Because Partition was forced by other forces, Emergency was imposed by our government. Our system collapsed, the media shackled, politicians were jailed, and people killed, but were nowhere reported.”
“Emergency was a curse. People were killed, but their families were not given any recognition. Riot victims got some claim, but what about widows and children who were left orphan, nobody even talk about their grievances,” Nayar recalled sadly.
“People fought against the dictatorship of Gandhi to save our democracy, it was no less than Independence,” the senior journalist said, adding, “What I can conclude is that the Congress party monopolized the title and they do not want anybody to be seen as victims of the Emergency.”
Explaining the Allahabad High Court judgment, Nayar, who has authored 15 books, including Between the Lines and India after Nehru, said that there was a time when Indira Gandhi thought of stepping down till her exoneration, making Jagjivan Ram or Kamlapati Tripathi, the Prime Minister. “But her son, Sanjay Gandhi, knew her mother’s weakness. He, with the help of Bansi Lal, the then Haryana Chief Minister, hired a crowd and paraded her ‘supporters’ outside the prime minister’s residence.
Indira Gandhi was then convinced that people wanted her and only a few disgruntled elements in politics were against her. Moreover, Sidharth Shankar Ray, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, proposed to Indira Gandhi to impose an “internal emergency” and that was the point when morality was removed from politics.
Commenting on the present political scenario, the veteran journalist said, “The Congress party need to come out of the Dynasty politics, if you leave Rahul Gandhi then people are turning toward Priyanka Gandhi. Dynastic politics does not go well with democracy.”
On the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) role during Emergency, Nayar said, “The RSS was providing cadre, motivating people and was not creating any communal problem at that time.”
Comparing the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then PM Indira Gandhi, Nayar explained, “Both believed in one-man rule, concentrated power to themselves and at both times, the PMO was supreme. Modi is no different than her and can be called this era’s Indira Gandhi.”