Penguin Random House India hosted Coomi Kapoor for the launch of her new book, The Emergency, at Taj Mahal Hotel on 26th June, Friday. The guest of honour for the occasion was Mr Arun Jaitley, Hon’ble Finance Minister of India. Mr Jaitley and Commi Kpoor were in conversation with Kuldip Nayar and Anil Divan, and Swapan Das Gupta moderated the discussion.
The event was attended by key figures from various ministries, representatives of foreign ambassadors and organizations, authors and academic researchers, media and members of the general public.
It started with the opening remark by Mr Swapan Das Gupta, who said that this was a gathering of pensioners. And he explained why. There is no account of The Emergency is our history books and the modern generation is unaware of the depth and scale of the events that ensued after Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency in June 1975.
Those were the dark days of Indian history, he said, and The Emergency by Coomi Kapoor, though a book on her personal experience of its full fury, resonates with our experiences as well as the country’s.
Coomi Kapoor’s journalist husband was imprisoned, then on flimsy charges under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act, and her brother-in-law, Jana Sangh MP Subramanian Swamy, was on the run to evade arrest, while her family faced constant threats and harassment from the security forces. The price of freedom, she said, was constant vigilance.
While Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and his coterie unleashed a reign of terror that saw forced sterilizations, brutal beautification dives that left thousands of people homeless overnight, and the press firmly muzzled under strict censorship rules, Arun Jailtly was a student leader who stood up against the increasing restriction and the detention of his many friends and other innocent people.
He recounts the story of how he met a newspaper hawker during his time in jail who had no idea what all this chaos was about and yet he was charged and prosecuted under the distribution of seditious literature.
There were many such instances, he said, and Indira Gandhi did not realize what popular opinion was, and that it was against her.
During his time in jail, Arun Jaitley and George Fernandez worked together to overthrow the Gandhis. Jaitley believed that another election could be used as a platform to win over the emergency as he was well aware that public opinion would back their cause. But George Fernandez believed that the elections could potentially be rigged by the Gandhis and decided to boycott it altogether. An election did happen in the end and in 1977 Indira Gandhi was defeated. Had it not been for this election, scholars and politician agree alike, there would have been a severe unsettling of India. The new government made a 44th amendment to the constitution to restore it and repel all of the draconian laws that Indira Gandhi had produced in the 42nd amendment.
It is easy to forget that there was then a quiet revolution happening in private rooms wherein lawyers gathered to offer what help they can and assist those who has been arrested. One of the notable figures is Anil Divan. Donning his lawyer cloak again, metaphorically, he appealed to the gathered audience to make Emergency years part of the school curriculum. He then asked the members on the dais to do what their best to get the reports and statements of the then leaders out to the knowledge of the common public, to release the evidences.
He also stated that, and rather jokingly, that it was not Indira Gandhi’s suppressive rule, the lack of freedom for the press, and the many detentions she ordered, but her fight against a more elemental force that brought an end to her rule – the sterilization act she carried out.
The Gandhis may have won several election post that, perhaps more to do with the in-fighting in the BJP party than it has to do with the revival of Congress. Nonetheless, it was agreed The 1977 election was a conclusive end to the Emergency Years.
The Emergency by Coomi Kapoor is an eyewitness account of the Emergency years and vividly recreates the drama, the horror, as well as the heroism of a few, during those nineteen months, forty years ago, when Indian Democracy was derailed.