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While India marks 40th anniversary of the emergency, one debate that has always raged on was whether the communists tacitly supported the curtailing of civil liberties by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Here’s what the late chief minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu had once told me.
“There cannot be a bigger lie than this. This is absolutely rubbish. Those who level such charges should know that the Communists were the biggest victims of the Emergency. Don’t they know that our member of Parliament, Jyotirmoy Basu, was arrested along with thousands of workers? Such were the brutalities meted out to him that he died in police lock-up. If we were supporters of the Emergency, as alleged by our adversaries, we would not have extended support to Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement. The problem with journalists your age is that you were too young to be witnesses to the Emergency. Therefore, our political rivals easily succeed in misinforming you.
The emergency was the worst thing that could ever happen in India after Independence.
During the entire 19 months of emergency, while many of my colleagues remained underground, I was forced to carry on in total secrecy. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us. We utilised the ban on our public activities to our advantage. We started interacting with the people on a one to one basis. This helped us improve our rapport with ordinary people tremendously. That was perhaps one reason why we came to power in the very next assembly election — in 1977 — and have been continuing since.
As for the idea of an alliance with the Jan Sangh I had warned JP (Jai Parakash Narayan) not to align with the Jan Sangh. I told him they (the Jan Sangh leaders) would put you in an awful predicament, but he said there was no alternative in the given circumstances but to align with the Jan Sangh. I made my party’s stand absolutely clear that none of our leaders would ever share a platform where Jan Sangh leaders are present.
It was a shameful act on Indira Gandhi’s part. It only resulted in butchering democracy and depriving people of various liberties including their fundamental rights. Thousands of people were sent behind bars. But this could not suppress the masses as people came out on roads organising rallies against the Emergency. That Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 election was corroborative of the fact that the people did not approve of her decision. By voting her out of power, the people rightly gave the Congress a fitting reply for its sins that had wreaked havoc among the minds of ordinary citizens all through the country.
Indira Gandhi pronounced the Emergency on June 25, 1975, but Siddhartha Shankar Ray (the then Congress chief minister of West Bengal) had begun two years ago when his party assumed power in the state, by rigging the polls. We boycotted the assembly to protest the large scale rigging by the Congress party. Siddhartha Shankar Ray crossed all limits of inhuman acts. There was nothing we could do then. We had to shut down our offices in the state. Many of our senior leaders and workers were arrested and killed, others remained underground for months. That we have been in power since 1977 amply indicates that Bengalis have not forgotten the trauma of the Emergency.”
This conversation with the late Marxist leader had taken place at the then CM’s Kolkata’s Sal Lake residence in June 2000 on the eve of 25th anniversary of Emergency.