When Kuldip Nayar announced 'The End of the Emergency'

When Kuldip Nayar announced 'The End of the Emergency'

The End of the Emergency

IT HAD JUST STARTED TO TURN A BIT NIPPY IN EARLY November 1977. I was coming out of a social function in Delhi when a police officer from my state, Punjab, tapped my shoulder and whispered that the Emergency was being lifted. Unbelievingly, I looked at him. I had met him before but I could not recall his name. My instinct told me that he was telling the truth. But I had also heard that a fresh crackdown was in the offing because the criticism of the government was increasing every day. Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, the extra-Constitutional authority, were the target. Looking at my astonished face the police officer added: ‘We have been told to assess what the chances of a Congress candidate in Delhi will be, if elections are held within the next three months.’

He was obviously from the Intelligence Bureau. But he could also have been from the Research and Analysis Wing, RAW. Mrs Indira Gandhi had begun using RAW – meant for espionage activity abroad – to crosscheck all the information she got from the IB.

The Emergency, imposed on 26 June 1975, was eighteen months old. The fear was still there but far less than what it was initially. The press was still gagged but the number of rumours had increased. The nation, which had been in a state of shock, was slowly coming out of its stupor. The worst part was that tyrants had sprouted at all levels – tyrants whose claim to authority was largely based on their proximity to the seat of power. The attitude of the general run of public functionaries was characterized by a paralysis of will to do the right thing. There was no opposition worth the name.

Yet Mrs Gandhi was riding a tiger and it was difficult for her to climb off unless something like elections were to take place so that people could decide what they wanted. How to check, much less confirm, the information given by the police officer was my predicament. This was the type of story where one could not afford to go wrong. I had to be doubly cautious: one, because the government had imprisoned me at the beginning of the Emergency for about four months, and two, the Indian Express, where I worked, was in the doldrums, definitely not in any shape to take more government onslaughts. If the story proved wrong, Sanjay Gandhi could even use it as a pretext to close down the paper.

I began the exercise of checking the lead with Kamal Nath. He was a close associate of Sanjay Gandhi and in the know of things. Kamal Nath was a member of the Express board which had been reconstituted during the Emergency with K.K. Birla of the Hindustan Times in the chair. I had a nodding acquaintance with Kamal Nath since we would run into each other at the Express building when he came to attend the Board’s meeting. He had once offered me the Express editorship on the condition that I toed their line. Even my emphatic refusal had not spoilt our relations.

I knocked at Kamal Nath’s residence around 7 a.m. He was still asleep. His wife was sitting in the veranda having tea. She offered me a cup. Hardly had I finished it when Kamal Nath emerged from the bedroom. He was surprised to see me. As he settled in a chair and asked for tea, I put him a straight question: From where was Sanjay Gandhi contesting elections? He was somewhat taken aback. His immediate reaction was: ‘Who told you?’ Before I could reply, he hurriedly added that ‘nothing had been decided yet’.

‘Who told you?’ The words gave Kamal Nath away. Whatever Sanjay Gandhi’s constituency, the one thing that lodged firmly in my mind was that the elections were definitely around the corner. I did not know why Kamal Nath had more or less confirmed the polls. He was probably sure in his mind that someone from his group had already tipped me off and, therefore, it was no use hiding things.

I asked him whether he would be contesting. He said yes, he would be contesting from his old constituency in Madhya Pradesh. What was the hitch, I enquired? He explained that someone had gone to Chandra Shekhar, the young Turk (later India’s eighth prime minister), presently detained in Ahmedabad, to persuade him to contest on the Congress ticket. I was amazed at their optimism. How could they even think that a person whom they had kept under detention for more than eighteen months, would join hands with them?

I wanted to know when the elections were being held. Kamal Nath’s reply was that it all depended on Chandra Shekhar’s reply. Even if he said no they would go ahead because Mrs Gandhi was very keen to have elections in a month or so. My guess, that Mrs Gandhi wanted to dismount the tiger of authoritarian rule, was correct. I changed the subject lest Kamal Nath said something to undermine my growing conviction.

I knew that I should check the story from some other source. But coming from Kamal Nath was like getting it from the horse’s mouth. Who else could tell me more? After working for many years in the field you develop an instinct for weighing the authenticity of the information you get. I was sure in my mind that the story of elections was correct. I thought of informing the chief editor because the story had a lot of repercussions but what if he asked me to get confirmation from some other source? I decided to go ahead.

I waited till 11 p.m. before I sent the story to the desk and the different centres from where the Indian Express was published. I deliberately delayed the story lest some rival paper should come to know about it and use it as a rumour to finish my scoop. I wrote a straight story to suggest that elections were being held and the Emergency was being lifted within a fortnight. (The Emergency was relaxed not lifted). Political prisoners would be released to enable them to participate in the polls. Naturally, it was the first lead, a thick banner, in all the editions of the Indian Express.

It was a little after midnight when Ram Nath Goenka, the owner of the Express, rang me up from Bombay. He always saw the first morning edition before going to bed. His query was simple: whether the story was true. He had suffered so much at the hands of the government that he was at the end of his tether – and his resources. If the story was correct, his days of troubles were over. I assured him that the story was correct and the announcement would be made soon. However, elections could be two or three months later, even if the announcement was made now.

After that I went straight to bed. In the early morning there was call from Chief Censor Officer D’penha. We had worked together at the Press Information Bureau (PIB) in Delhi when I was in the government. He told me that the story was mere kite flying. He said, if such a thing had been true, he would have known. Subsequently, he rang me up to convey the government’s warning that I could be jailed again. He said that Information Minister V.C. Shukla was furious and had threatened to send me back to prison. I told him that imprisonment was like virginity. After losing it you develop an attitude where it does not matter how many times you are ravished again. I had undergone the rigours of prison and I could bear them again.

Nothing happened to me or to the Indian Express.

Elections were announced within a few days of my story.

Reproduced in arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers India Private Limited from the book Scoop authored by Kuldip Nayar and first published by them © Kuldip Nayar, 2006. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying is strictly prohibited.