The Masters of Disguise During Emergency

When Indira Gandhi put her foot down during the Emergency, the resistance played dress-up.

3 min read
The Masters of Disguise During Emergency

In the run up to the 22-month long period of Emergency, Indira Gandhi fought an organised political opposition, a call to mutiny, drought, a global oil crisis and a near stagnant economy and relentless strikes.

Indira Gandhi ruled with an iron will. There was no room for detractors.

(Photo Courtesy: Guruprasad’s Portal)

JP, Morarji, Advani, Vajpayee and Asoka Mehta were the poster boys of the resistance – therefore, fastidiously thrown in jail for their activities. But the resistance didn’t rest solely on their esteemed shoulders.There were others who operated underground, feeding the heroic images of the headliners.

To avoid arrest, they sometimes had to don a disguise. Perhaps the most famous among them was our very own Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

(Photo Courtesy:

Yes, this bearded, turbaned, Rayban-wearing, theatre-loving Gujarati was all of 25 when “Indira became India and India became Indira”. Young Modi was in charge of co-ordinating all the underground activities of the RSS in Gujarat. This covert turbanator would don a variety of disguises as he ferried forbidden literature to Delhi, met other Jan Sangh leaders in jail and escorted senior leaders like George Fernandes to safehouses.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/IndiaHistorypic)

Indira Gandhi called him a “Santa Claus with unrealistic ideas”. Quick on the heels of an arrest warrant with his name on it, Subramanian Swamy, disguised as a Sikh, escaped to Chennai, then Sri Lanka – and finally to the United States where he became a spokesperson for the Jan Sangh.

The maverick mathematician came back to India only when he stood the chance of losing his Parliament seat. He slipped into Parliament – but remain quiet he did not. While the Speaker was reading out the Obituaries, Swamy famously said

I have a point of order. There is no obituary reference for democracy. It has also died.
– Subramanian Swamy

Technically, he should’ve been arrested on the spot. But everybody was too stunned to react. He exited the Parliament as deftly as he’d arrived. He drove a distance, changed into a kurta and wore a kada to resemble a “Youth Congress thug”. He then fled to Nepal, subsequently to Bangkok and finally to America to do what he does best – haunt the Congress High Command.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@IndiaHistorypic)

George Fernandes was 45 years old when Emergency was declared. The trade union leader who was responsible for the famous 1974 Railway strike discovered his skills as a master of disguise in the 22 month-long period of Emergency. He was constantly on the move, rarely stopping at one place for more than a few days.

In Gopalpur, Odisha, he wore a lungi to resemble a fisherman. Later, he grew his hair and beard long and passed off convincingly as a Sikh. Alternatively, he would wear a saffron kurta and a lungi and manage to escape notice as he moved around the country as a sadhu.

(Photo Courtesy:

Nanaji Deshmukh was a close associate of Jayaprakash Narayan and a founding member of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. He played a key role in raising funds for the anti-Emergency resistance.

At one of the processions, lathicharged by the police, Nanaji Deshmukh is believed to have thrown himself on JP to protect him from the blows. Nanaji Deshmukh would change his spectacles and hairstyle, and ditch the kurta for a suit to look more like a businessman.

Nanaji did not fight any election but remained engaged in social activities till he passed away in 2010 at the age of 94.

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Topics:  Emergency   1975 Emergency 

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