The Rediff Special / Kuldip Nayar
January 18, 1977
No editorials appeared in any of the national newspapers. No rallies were organised. Saturday was just another day, even for those who participated in the events of twenty years ago.
Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the day when Indira Gandhi defied conventional wisdom and did the unpredictable. After 19 long months of fear and loathing, she finally revoked the Emergency, called a general election and gave India another chance to assert itself as the world's largest democracy .
In his memorable account of the Emergency and after, The Judgement Kuldip Nayar
recalls the memories of another day.
On 18 January 1977, Morarji had risen early as was his habit.
He went for his morning walk, his daily routine for the past many
months. It appeared to be like any other day.
Though a dull routine, it was better than what it had been when
he was first detained at Sona. Then he was confined to a small,
dark room, with closed windows. Following protests, he was allowed
to walk around the compound after nightfall. Because of snakes
and scorpions in the compound he decided to walk around his cot
for exercise. He was literally kept in the dark and had no idea
of what was going on outside. He had no access even to newspapers.
Only when he was shifted to a canal guest house, not far from
Sona, was he allowed newspapers, and later interviews. That day,
18 January, he had seen a news item in the Indian Express that
elections to the Lok Sabha might be held by the end of March.
He did not believe it; he had his own doubts.
He looked up without interest when some senior policemen entered
his sparsely-furnished room. They told him that he was being released
unconditionally and that they would take him to his house in Dupleix
Road. They had brought a car along.
By now the Opposition leaders and most others had been released.
The one-time figure of more than 100,000 detainees had come down
to nearly 10,000.
On arriving at his house Morarji heard that Mrs Gandhi had decided
to dissolve the Lok Sabha and have fresh elections. He was not
surprised. "I always knew that she would release me only
when she wanted to go to the polls," he told me later.
But there were others who were surprised. These included several
Cabinet ministers. They came to know of the decision only that
afternoon when they were hurriedly summoned and informed about
it. Mrs Gandhi told them that in a democratic system the government
had to face the electorate periodically. She admitted that she
had taken a risk.
No minister said anything. Bansi Lal, who knew of it earlier,
was visibly disturbed; Jagjivan Ram and Chavan kept quiet. They
had not been consulted about the elections, just as they had not
been consulted about the imposition of the Emergency. But they,
like other ministers, suspected that they were coming, after Sanjay
had particularly told a public meeting in Bombay two days earlier
that elections might be held shortly. Over the period, they had
come to accept the fact that Sanjay knew best.
What they did not know was that most of them had been written
off. Everyone in Mrs Gandhi's house said that Jagjivan Ram should
not be made a minister after the elections. Sanjay had his own
views on who should be in Parliament and who should not. By then
he even had a list of who was to be given the Congress ticket
-- and most of the sitting members of Parliament were not in it.
It would be futile for them to rebel and stand on their own.
Although the Congress party high command went through the motions
and directed its state units to prepare their lists of candidates,
most people soon knew it was only an eyewash. Sanjay had finalised
most of the names and Mrs Gandhi had as usual approved what he
The Opposition parties were happy over the elections but they
knew they were at a terrible disadvantage. Their leaders had all
been in jail till a few days previously and were out of touch
with the people; many of their workers were not yet released.
They were pressed for time.
But they did not want to lose more time. The Congress (O), Jana
Sangh, BLD and Socialist leaders met at Morarji's residence the
day he was released. The discussion was exploratory. They again
met the following day, by which time Mrs Gandhi had told the
nation in a broadcast about the elections and the opportunity
to "reaffirm the power of the people".
The Opposition leaders had before them a JP letter which S M
Joshi, a Socialist leader, had brought from Patna. JP had said
that if they did not become one party he would dissociate himself
from the elections. He had telephoned a similar message earlier.
The problem before the Opposition parties was not that of merger;
their leaders had discussed and rediscussed this in jail and had
come to the conclusion that one party was the only answer to the
Congress juggernaut. The Opposition leaders had felt the same
way in their separate and collective discussions.
In fact, Charan
Singh was so disgusted with the merger talks that he had written
as far back as 14 July 1976 to Ashok Mehta, the Congress (O) president
that the BLD 'is now fed up; even its motives have been doubted.
So, it has decided to go it alone, free from the thought of any
duty in this regard -- except one, viz if and when the three
parties dissolve or decide to dissolve themselves in order to
form an organisation based, by and large, on the programmes broadly
indicated by the Father of the Nation, the BLD will make haste
What had really stalled the merger was the question: Who should
be the leader? In the Opposition leaders's meeting on 16 December,
when Morarji was still in jail, Charan Singh looked like heading
the party. Morarji had written from his place of detention that
he was interested in merger, not leadership.
However, the way Morarji handled the discussions at the Opposition
leaders's meeting now, after the announcement of the poll, there
was no doubting the leadership. The parties agreed to have him
as the chairman and Charan Singh as deputy chairman.
The mere instinct to survive had forced the four parties to come
together and constitute an electoral party, a joint front ---
the Janata Party, with one symbol for the election, and one flag.
It was not possible to dissolve their individual entities without
holding separate meetings of the parties; but that would take
time and they had no time to lose. They knew that if they lost
heavily, Mrs Gandhi and her son would take it as the people's
mandate for dictatorship. But if they could get enough of their
men returned to form a substantial group in Parliament, she might
not be able to claim a convincing mandate.
Excerpted from The Judgement, by Kuldip Nayar, Vikas, 1977,
Rs 8.50, with the author's permission.