How 1975 Emergency Ensured Prophecy Of Indira Gandhi’s 11-Yr-Rule 

Retired Indian diplomat Vivek Katju goes back in time to relive the days leading up to the Emergency of 1975.

Updated26 Jun 2020, 02:58 PM IST
Blogs
4 min read

Indira Gandhi surprised and shocked the country by imposing an internal emergency on 26 June 1975, exactly forty-five years ago. She once again surprised and shocked it by announcing Lok Sabha elections on 18 January 1977.

I was in Delhi those days as a probationer in the Indian Foreign Service. I read about the development in the next morning’s newspapers. Soon, a memory surfaced. And, involuntarily, I muttered to myself “gyarah varsh ka raj”.

Indira Gandhi Was No Longer the ‘Durga’ Who Had Vanquished Pakistan in December 1971

Sometime in the autumn of 1973, a lawyer came to see Father in our home in Allahabad, now Prayagraj. A camp follower of Indira Gandhi, he was somewhat known to the family. I was with Father, and Mother also came out to meet the visitor.

Soon the conversation turned to politics, the city’s obsession. Allahabad prided itself in giving India all its prime ministers till then — Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. Seldom was a discussion in any group, on any occasion, without a reference to the political goings-on in Delhi. It was also generally well-informed.

Father and Mother spoke little, but I quizzed the lawyer on political developments. Opposition to Indira Gandhi was growing throughout the country. She was no longer the ‘Durga’ who had vanquished Pakistan in December 1971. Economic troubles had driven away that image from people’s minds.

Against this backdrop, Indira Gandhi’s political future naturally came up in the conversation. The lawyer said, with great conviction, that she would face no danger for some years to come.

He justified it not by an analysis of the current political currents. Instead, he recalled what his Guruji had told him when Indira Gandhi became prime minister in January 1966. “Gyarah varsh ka raj hai,” the guru had said.

Some thoughts came to my mind but I held back, and the conversation turned to other matters. In retrospect, I wish I had quizzed him further.

Exit Of Three Veteran Congressmen From Indira’s Party Revealed Public Sentiment

So that January morning in 1977, the “gyarah varsh ka raj” prediction came rushing back. But one’s memory can play tricks. So, I decided to check with Mother if I had remembered that conversation correctly. I scribbled a brief letter to her and her reply came about ten days later. She confirmed my memory but cautioned against going by astrological predictions or the predictions of an unknown guruji.

No one in the family took astrology seriously. It was, although, sometimes a conversational point in social gatherings. “Kya dasha chal rahi hai”? That question could sometimes be heard. It was more by way of what was happening and why so, rather than a reference to astrology.

As January gave way to February and the elections drew near, the opposition to Indira Gandhi gathered together. Political forces following different ideological persuasions joined hands. She received a big jolt when three veteran Congress leaders suddenly left her. They were, the stalwart Jagjivan Ram, along with Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy.

Their departure indicated the way the wind was blowing. This was so especially in the northern states.

Indira Gandhi’s public meetings in these states received a lack-lustre public response. Her famous popular connect was simply missing.

Yet, most officials and political commentators could not conceive that Indira Gandhi would lose the elections. Most people thought that she would come back with a reduced majority. This seemed logical too, because the Opposition did not have much time to do work with the masses.

‘Gyarah Varsh Ka Raj’ – Did ‘Guruji’s’ Prophecy Come True For Indira?

All through these interesting weeks the words “gyarah varsh ka raj” sometimes came to mind. I kept them to myself and pushed them away but they kept surfacing from time to time.

A few days before the country went to the polls, I was invited to a farewell dinner hosted by a senior officer for a cousin who was posted abroad as Head of Mission abroad. It was a relatively small affair with other senior people as guests. Predictably, the only point of conversation was the elections. No one said that Indira Gandhi would lose. I don’t know if this was what they really felt, for the Emergency had brought in a culture of caution.

During a lull in the conversation I piped up. “She’ll lose,” I said. They looked at me startled by my audacity to speak among such seniors. Also, by my bald statement. And then I added “gyarah varsh ka raj tha”.

Then some of them pulled my leg: “Is the foreign service giving astrology lessons”? I kept quiet.

On Counting Day, a few of us met at a colleague’s home for a get-together. We were glued to Doordarshan. For a major part of the evening its focus was only on the Andhra Pradesh results which the Congress was sweeping.

To get a full picture, we went to Bahadur Shah Zafar marg. The atmosphere was electric. Newspaper boards were displaying results and trends.

It was evident that Indira Gandhi was being completely swept aside by the northern states.

“Gyarah varsh ka raj,” I said to myself.

Indira Gandhi returned to power. So, Guruji, whoever he may have been, was not completely correct!

(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 26 Jun 2020, 02:55 PM IST

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