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Recalling Emergency: How news published in 'Ranbheri' became a source of information for foreign media

Jayprakash Narayan
By Nachiketa Desai*
The imposition of Emergency on the night of 25-26 June 1975, suspending the fundamental rights of the people, became instrumental in converting me, a social activist, into a journalist. I was the national convener of the Tarun Shanti Sena, a youth organization founded by Sarvodaya leader Jayprakash Narayan (JP) who headed the movement for Total Revolution.
The Allahabad High Court had disqualified Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a member of the Parliament after holding her guilty of malpractices in her election campaign. JP had held a massive rally in Delhi, attended by all major non-Congress opposition parties to demand Indira Gandhi’s resignation.
Instead of resigning she recommended to the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, to promulgate a state of Emergency in the country.
In a mid-night swoop, Indira Gandhi had ordered the arrest of JP, opposition party leaders and all social and political activists opposed to her. I was in train returning to Varanasi from Bihar. I reached the Varanasi City railway station at the crack of the dawn on June 26 and learnt from newspapers about the declaration of Emergency and mass arrest of JP and other political leaders. 
"Ranbheri"
I lived in the campus of the Sarva Seva Sangh, the apex body of the Sarvodaya movement, at the confluence of the rivers Varuna and Ganga. Surely father Narayan Desai, who was a close associate of JP, would have been arrested by now and our campus placed under police surveillance, I suspected.
On reaching home, mother told me that father had left for an unknown destination that same night. She advised me to also do likewise. Around midnight, there was a knock on the door. We thought it must be the police looking for me.
But to our surprise, it was my friend Lal Muni Choubey, a prominent youth leader from Bihar. He told me to accompany him immediately. He had planned to go to his home town Bhabhua in Bihar, load his jeep with dynamite sticks and blow up all the bridges that linked Bihar to Uttar Pradesh. But before we could execute the plan, he was arrested the very next day from near his hideout next to the campus of the Banaras Hindu University. I escaped with my close friend Ashok Mishra to Gorakhpur on the border of Nepal.
We returned to Varanasi after a week and decided to publish a hand-written, cyclostyled news bulletin to mobilize public opinion against the Emergency. I broke the lock of the main office of the Sarva Seva Sangh, stole the cyclostyle machine and took it to Ashok Mishra’s village Chandpur, some 20 km from Varanasi, situated on the bank of the Ganga river.
Nachiketa Desai
We brought out 6,000 copies of the news bulletin, titled ‘Ranbheri’ (clarion call) every week throughout the Emergency from Chandpur. The two-page news bulletin was distributed largely in UP and Bihar while some copies were sent to Kathmandu. As the dispatches of all foreign correspondents based in India had to be subjected to censorship, most of them shifted their base to Kathmandu. News published by us in our underground bulletin became one of the source of information to the foreign media.
Thus, it was during the Emergency that my tryst with journalism began in 1975.
---
*Senior Gujarat-based journalist

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