29 Years
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Memories of pain and pride

Friday, June 24, 2011

When the Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975, Mohan Rajan was a callow 20 years, forced to watch as the father he admired and hardly understood was taken from home and jailed for his outspokenness. In this hard-hitting, very personal memoir, he reveals a little more about K R Sundar Rajan, journalist, activist, father, who was fearless about standing up for his beliefs.

Thirty six years after the Indian Emergency, at age 56, I am able to look back upon the that dark time both as a national event and a personal milestone for our family..

I am not going to put you through any drama despite the temptation. Drama there was, in the midnight arrest of my father K R Sundar Rajan. For those who don’t know who he was, he was a political journalist with The Times of India who fought the Emergency. At that time, very few journalists had his guts.

My mother Rukmini, brother Madan, I and Andy, our Doberman, all admired him. We were not wrong as can be seen by the history books which credit him for his courage and standards of journalism.

Throughout this piece I am fighting not to display any hero worship. My real feelings, in retrospect, are that of the trials and tribulations that the family of an activist goes through. The activist struggles, fights, is jailed, released, respected, but what of the family?

The historian Gopal, writing about his father Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,  acknowledges the fact that the old man was a bit of a rake. A difficult piece of objectivity from a son writing about his illustrious father, no doubt.  N. R. Narayana Murthy’s admiration of Singapore’s dictator - Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew - is well known. Despite the political path that the Singapore PM took, the businessman in Murthy acknowledges his contribution in building modern day Singapore which he ruled with an iron hand.

My father’s bête noire was the late prime minister Indira Gandhi. Yes, the Emergency was a dark era. The press was muzzled. The bureaucracy was spineless. Vinoba Bhave endorsed it, taking shelter under maun, J R D Tata and Khushwant Singh supported it.

Mrs Gandhi’s megalomaniac son Sanjay Gandhi forcibly sterilised people as per his lopsided Malthusian notions!

But whatever the negatives of the Emergency, which cannot be glossed over, what also cannot be erased is Mrs Indira Gandhi’s role in Indian politics and nation building. If the Emergency was the biggest blot on her character, then her brisk handling of the Pakistani problem that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh, when India was being threatened, right under the nose of watching Americans, must receive accolades.  If  Indira Gandhi were alive today, Ajmal Kasab would not be enjoying biryani in Arthur Road jail! She would have shown the same steely resolve in dealing with terrorism that she did in Bangladesh In my own humble way, as I am judging both my father and the crusading journalist, I have to wear many hats. Admire. Be impartial. Criticise. Be personal. For this I have to tell you what sort of a man he was.

In his first stint at the Times of India as a reporter, during the independence struggle, when Gandhi led the nation, he was prevented from reporting Gandhi’s meetings. Miffed, he walked across to the Bombay Chronicle (whose Benjamin Guy Horniman had earlier promoted the Indian freedom movement) near the famous Horniman Circle Gardens. The then editor of the Bombay Chronicle, also pro India, said that he would quite honestly welcome a nationalist, brave and ethical reporter like my dad. But he could only offer half the salary of the Times of India. My dad signed the letter of offer from the Bombay Chronicle without batting an eyelid.

When he went to collect his books and belongings (and his Sheaffer pen!) from the Times of India, the chief reporter, a beefy Anglo Indian, whose name I forget despite my father recounting this so often, chided him for his decision as not even being financially sound!. My dad barked back, “But they are giving me a chance to cover Gandhi, a natural instinct of any true Indian journalist that you have castrated!”

Despite the fact that he thought he was doing what his conscience told him, the Janata Party jokers, as he later called them in a fit of disillusionment, more specifically the triumvirate of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and George Fernandes,  manipulated him without him even realizing it for a long time. Dad said they were jokers because they frittered away the political opportunity of a lifetime despite coming to power with the so-called noble goal of giving India its second independence after 1947. Why do I say manipulated? Well, because, seeing that he was their best PR man from their point of view, they egged him on to do this and that against the Emergency. When Mrs. Gandhi, drunk with power at the end of the Emergency, announced elections and was trounced, the triumvirate dumped my dad.

Verbally they “promised” him a Rajya Sabha nomination. My poor father flew to Delhi even thopugh he was suffering from jaundice, because Morarjibhai Ranchodji Desai, the Prime Minister of the cobbled-together Janata Government, wanted to “interview” him for this.

On the steps of Parliament, my dad said, Morarji Desai accused journalists of drinking. No one can dispute the fact that my father looked him in the eye and told him, “Mr Prime Minister, not everyone shares your infatuation for the liquids produced by the human body and journalists being mortals do like their chhota pegs. I am sure you will not begrudge journalists this little fall from grace.” He lost the Rajya Sabha nomination.

The Emergency in our family was hardest on my mother Rukmini. One of 13 children who confided in me, that being the last child, she always got hand-me-downs, she was a 3rd standard failed student. She had umpteen flaws but she stood by her husband like a rock. Unlike Hillary Clinton,  Rukmini did not have to defend a disgraced husband. With whatever politics she had picked up during her conversations with my dad over the years, she too had learnt some journalistic ropes. Her fault was she was blind to my father’s political affiliations. If he liked Nehru, she liked him too. If he disliked Mrs Indira Gandhi, she disliked her too.

Maybe if my mother was better educated, she would not have followed him blindly into the hurly burly of Indian politics.

She paid a price for this. She had a nervous breakdown following days when the Enforcement Directorate would call her and, Gestapo-like, fix a horrible light in her eyes and ask her, “Do you know who Antony Howard is?” She knew my father’s politics but had not matured enough to know that this gentleman was the editor of the New Statesman of the UK, for whom my father contributed continuously throughout the Emergency, sometimes in his own name and at other times, to avoid recognition, in assumed names. Foolish or admiring she might have been, but it takes something from a woman, who otherwise is educationally qualified only to cook idlis, to stand up to harassment and display devotion, that could even border on the misguided, to a husband.

I have deep affection for my father, his caring, despite the criticism of some relatives who say he was so involved in himself that he ignored the family and was never there. To them I say if our family can ever  boast of a place in Indian history, then it is solely because of the hard work and will power  of K R Sundar Rajan. We did suffer financially because of his political views, in that he even lost his job. 

In the final analysis, my father  belonged to the nation. Autocratic in some ways, he was also extremely democratic. He allowed me to smoke at age 20 when I sought his permission. Only he was pretty surprised that I started keeping a packet with me saying he thought his permission was for an occasional single cigarette. When I fell for the charms of a teenager, he ensured that even my mother did not crush this feeling. He allowed me to marry the girl of my choice, no questions asked, only mentioning that he would be grateful if I invited him for the wedding.

The Emergency has left a horrible scar on my psyche for the reasons above.  I have to confess that it has made me dislike politicians of all hues so much that I have never been able to get myself up to register as a voter and vote. I know a person like me is someone who the Greeks would call an idiot. I do not mind it one bit.

My father died on October 13, 2009. He is definitely  in heaven, or if he is anywhere else,  he will be crusading for free and fair elections there and end up democratizing the place. What would he think of my piece? Would he be hurt that it is not flattering or sycophantic? Would he consider this sacrilegious? Not in the least bit. From wherever he is,  he must be chuckling and saying, “Bloody chip of the old block.”

Mrinal Gore
Mumbai’s paniwali bai, pioneer, visionary, staunch, lifelong socialist
It was the darkest hour of independent India. Almost everyone who opposed Indira Gandhi’s decision to impose Emergency in the country was arrested and lodged in jail under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), 1971. Those who managed to escape were under the scanner. I went underground and avoided arrest for 7-8 months. After that, perhaps somebody tipped off the police that I was hiding in Bandra area, and one day, while I was walking on the street near the Bandra seashore, the police arrested me. I was imprisoned for about 13 months in three different jails. We were never given compensation for hardship.  Of course, I have never demanded any compensation ever, because we were just fighting for our right to freedom.

N D Patil
Senior PWP leader and freedom fighter
Indira Gandhi paid for imposing the Emergency.. Now after so many years there is no point in discussing a subject which was a blot on our democracy. What is more important is ensuring that it never happens again. This is a democracy.  Any type of suppression here will not  be tolerated. 

Inder Malhotra
Political commentator, author of a biography on Indira Gandhi, in a column for rediff.com
I would be lacking in objectivity if I fail to take note of how the perspective on the Emergency has changed over the 35 years that have elapsed since then. This process may have been gradual but its outcome was brought home to me vividly at the time of Indira Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary on October 31 last year (2009).

Julio Francis Ribeiro
India’s Supercop, once  Mumbai Police Commissioner
I was with the Central Reserve Police (CRP) and posted in Hyderabad during the Emergency. I was asked to help the state government with the situation. However, we were not officially involved in anything as CRP always has a secondary role to play in the police. The most interesting part, I remember, is that the jawans never wanted to go on leave during this time.

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