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This article was first published 4 years ago  » News » 'I will not go unless I am handcuffed'

'I will not go unless I am handcuffed'

By Aditi Phadnis
November 19, 2019 14:01 IST
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Aditi Phadnis remembers the former prime minister on her 102nd birth anniversary.

IMAGE: Indira Gandhi on a visit to the US in March 1966. Photograph: Bettmann/Getty Images/Kind courtesy Juggernaut

India's sixth general election was held between March 16 and 20, 1977.

According to the late R K Dhawan, he was the one who broke the news to Indira Gandhi that she -- and the Congress party -- had lost the 1977 election.

She was then having dinner.

According to Dhawan, with a look of relief on her face, she said, 'Now I will have time for myself and the family.'

In the early morning hours after the election results had come out, she instructed the President to officially end the Emergency.

She then resigned.

For the first time in her life, she had no job, no income, no home.

On October 3, 1977, in a carefully orchestrated movement, the Central Bureau of Investigation came to her residence to arrest her.

It was 4.45 pm.

The attorney general and the solicitor general were unaware the government had plans for the arrest.

India Today magazine's account of the event is riveting.

Prime Minister Morarji Desai gave the green signal to Home Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, adding only one caveat: On no account was she to be handcuffed.

The CBI walked up to the door of 12, Willingdon Crescent.

They told Gandhi's aide that they had been ordered to take Indira Gandhi into custody and cited the various IPC laws (mostly relating to corruption) that she had violated.

Little did they know that the FIR, drafted by the home ministry, was the wrong one.

They were kept waiting for nearly two hours, time that Maneka and Sanjay Gandhi used to telephone all the foreign media available in Delhi.

At 6 pm Indira Gandhi came out.

Her lawyer Frank Anthony demanded a copy of the FIR.

He was told it was not necessary to provide him with one as the charges related to corruption, they were bailable offence and Indira Gandhi had been informed of them.

Then Mrs Gandhi said: 'Where are the handcuffs? I will not go unless I am handcuffed.'

The argument about handcuffs went on for nearly one hour.

Sanjay and Rajiv walked in and out of the house (the magazine noted that for some inexplicable reason, Rajiv had a set of pliers and a wrench in his hand the entire time the arrest drama was on).

In the meantime, party cadres had gathered outside the house, chanting and slogan-shouting was on.

Top party leaders including Brahmananda Reddy (who had already begun a campaign about a personality cult that would later bloom as a full fledged Congress split), Kamalapati Tripathi, Mohsina Kidwai and others watched ashen-faced.

Indira Gandhi finally got into a car and left, followed by Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi in their cars.

Charan Singh's fears about the wrong FIR proved well-founded.

When she was produced before the court the next morning, she was unconditionally released immediately, as there was no substance in the charges against her.

Later, the same day, Indira Gandhi went to a wedding: Beautician Shahnaz Husain's daughter was getting married at the Ashok Hotel, and Gandhi had been invited, but someone had called from Willingdon Crescent to let Husain know Gandhi had been arrested.

Husain couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Gandhi walk into the hall, clad in a maroon silk sari with a gold border.

She stayed two hours.

Ultimately, the Janata Party government had to invoke the Parliament's privilege to accomplish its objective of putting her behind bars (in Tihar jail for a week in December, 1978).

Indira Gandhi issued a statement after her arrest.

She said: 'I have tried to serve our people and our country to the best of my ability. No matter what the charge or charges now made against me, this arrest is a political one. It is to prevent me from going to the people. It is an attempt to discredit me in their eyes and the eyes of the world... We have offered our cooperation to the government in any programme for the welfare of the people. However, we cannot be silent spectators when we see suffering and injustice...'

The day she was taken to Tihar jail (December 19, 1978) two persons claiming to be members of the Youth Congress (I) skyjacked an Indian Airlines plane with 126 passengers and a crew of six while it was on a flight from Lucknow to Delhi, forcing it to land in Varanasi.

The hijackers's demand was that Indira Gandhi be released.

18,000 Congress workers were arrested in demonstrations all over India that day.

Little wonder then, that when Sonia Gandhi was asked to be personally present in court in the case relating to the National Herald, she said, 'I am the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi. I am not scared of anyone.'

In his book, former President Pranab Mukherjee says bureaucrats appearing before the Shah Commission blamed Indira Gandhi for the Emergency and the suspension of Fundamental Rights.

At the meeting of the Congress Working Committee that followed, her colleagues put the onus of losing the 1977 election on her.

Indira Gandhi blamed no one but herself.

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Aditi Phadnis
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