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Recalling Emergency: How democratic society, under excessive pressure from above, defeated its very purpose

By Suneet Chopra*
It is 43 years since the emergency was declared on June 25, 1975. I was at the Delhi Party (CPI-M) Office and got the news from a journalist friend of Kerala at about 12.30 pm that the Prime Minister had declared emergency and stopped the presses.
I ran to warn Major Jaipal Singh, our party state secretary, upstairs from 14 Vitthalbhai Patel House, where our UP Students Federation of India (SFI) leaders were meeting, as I had sensed the situation and had called my team to discuss what we were likely to expect.
This saved some of them from arrest, but I could not warn Com Major, as the police got there moments ahead of me. Then I ran to warn two Bengal comrades, who were underground and later became MPs. Then I went to the house of Surendra Moha, Socialist Party leader, who was in Bihar. He got the message from his wife and went underground.
In the morning I kept the office open, sent my comrades to go underground, informed both Haryana and UP, went to the party press and brought out a leaflet informing of Com Major's arrest and got it back to the office. Later I too went underground, but as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) comrades asked me to come to the university,/I went there. 
But the university was attacked by 1200 armed police and I was able to escape when a Japanese student hid me in his room and locked me from outside. Then I came to the party office and informed them that some 68 students had been arrested.
I was asked to go completely underground and did so till the end of the emergency. My main task was to edit and print our SFI journal "Chhatra Sangram" regularly for UP, Haryana and Delhi underground. We planned many actions and I took over guidance of Muzaffarnagar CPI(M). 
I remember attending the rally of Jagjeevan Ram and HN Bahuguna in the Ramlila grounds. Later I participated in the election campaign, especially in the defeat of Bansi Lal by Chandravati in whose house we stayed, which had a police station in front of it that was constructed by Bansilal to keep an eye on her.
Suneet Chopra
I remember how a policeman called me aside. He said I have seen you somewhere. I said no. Then he told me that before he became a policeman, he had heard me speaking in Karnal Court with handcuffs on my hands. He said, "My heart was with you then and it is now too." What should we do now? I told him to protect the votes and not allow rigging. Later I joined a team of two each on motorcycles with guns to protect our votes.
The main lesson I learned was that a democratic society suffering from too much pressure from above revolts and the social structure cracks up from top to bottom, defeating its purpose completely. As a result, I found hiding places in the home of a former Congress minister, daughter-in-law of Diwan Chaman Lal, founder President of All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Mehmood Butt in Lucknow, and other close relatives of mine. 
I also spent nights in the house of Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, poet and dramatist, Dr Naeem Ahmed and Com Wizarat Husain in Aligarh, doctors in All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Maulana Azad hospitals. I hope some day to write about them all and the help they gave me.
The emergency threw up a number of people best forgotten. The first is Siddharth Shankar Ray, Chief Minister of West Bengal, who was responsible for my uncle Shanti Swaroop Dhawan, who was then Governor there, leaving the state as he wanted mass arrests and a blood bath of his own people. Rather than allow it he left the state. I later participated in the election of HN Bahuguna in Pauri.
Also I remember a cousin, who was in charge of Delhi during the emergency, warning me to leave for two weeks or I would be arrested. He took a great risk to take me away from a book shop me met in to give me the message. So the best and the worst people come out at times like these. 
A repeat of the same tactics will be more disastrous for its perpetrators, as the people of India today have more confidence, self-respect and will to fight such attempts to suppress them. Events in Saharanpur, Tamil Nadu, Mandsaur, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir give us hope that such things will never happen again so easily.
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*Joint secretary, All-India Agricultural Workers' Union. Source: Author's FB timeline

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