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When Morarji was kept locked in a dark room…

Kuldeep Nayar, Senior Journalist
On 18 January 1977, Morarji habitually woke up in the morning and went for a walk, as had become a routine for the past several months. That day was like any other day. Even though the routine was boring, it was better than before. When he was first taken into custody, he was kept in a small, dark room with even the windows closed. If they protested, they would be allowed to walk in the campus after dark. Due to snakes and scorpions in the premises, he used to walk around his cot for exercise. Living in that dark room, he had no idea what was going on outside. Newspapers were not even given. When he was taken to a guest house in a city, newspapers started being received and visitors were also allowed to come. That day, on 18 January, he read the news that the Lok Sabha elections could be held by the end of March. He couldn’t believe it. He had some doubts of his own. When some senior police officers entered his room with little furniture, they looked at him without any interest. Police officials said that they are being released unconditionally. They have come to take them to their Duplex Road house. He had also brought a car with him.

Decision to release and hold elections

Till now all the people including the opposition leader had been released. The number of people imprisoned, which was once more than 1 lakh, has come down to about 10,000. After reaching his home, Morarji heard that Mrs. Indira Gandhi had decided to dissolve the Lok Sabha and hold elections. They weren’t surprised. She later told me, ‘I knew she would release me only if she wanted to contest elections.’

Many ministers were not aware

But there were others who were surprised. Among them were several cabinet ministers. He came to know about this when he was called in a hurry and was informed about this. Mrs Gandhi told him that a democratic government has to go before the voters from time to time. He recognized that she was taking a risk. None of the ministers said anything. Bansi Lal had already come to know about this. They looked troubled. Jagjivan Ram and Chavan remained silent. He was not consulted about elections. Just like it was not even asked while imposing emergency. But he, like other ministers, had some idea, because two days earlier at a public meeting in Bombay, Sanjay Gandhi had said that elections could be held soon. For some time he had realized that Sanjay knew everything. Everyone in Mrs. Gandhi’s family used to say that Jagjivan Ram should not be made a minister after the elections. Sanjay had his own opinion about who should go to Parliament and who should not. By now he also had a list ready as to who should get the Congress ticket, and most of the sitting members of Parliament did not have their names in them. There was no use for him to rebel and contest as an independent.

Names decided from Sanjay’s list

Even though the Congress High Command gave importance to the proposals and asked its state units to prepare a list of candidates, most knew that it was a dusting in the eyes. Sanjay had already finalized most of the names and as usual Mrs. Gandhi had accepted his names. The opposition parties were happy about the elections, but knew that they were in dire straits. All their leaders were in jail till a few days back and they had no contact with the people. Many of his workers were not released. He had very little time. But they didn’t want to waste any more time. Leaders of Congress (O), Jan Sangh, BLD and Socialist Party met Morarji at his house on the same day he was released. The next day they met again. By then Mrs. Gandhi had informed the country through radio that elections would be held.

Chaudhary Charan Singh’s disagreement

The problem before the opposition parties was not about the merger, their leaders had repeatedly discussed it in jail and came to the conclusion that only by forming a single party the chariot of the Congress could be stopped. This is what the opposition leaders believed in together and in separate discussions. In fact, Chowdhary Charan Singh was so annoyed about the merger that on July 14, 1976, he wrote to the Congress (O) President, Ashok Mehta, that the BLD was fed up. Hence, he has decided to go for election alone. In the merger, a question was put on hold that who would be the leader? At the meeting of opposition leaders on 16 December, when Morarji was still in jail, it appeared as if Charan Singh was leading the party. Morarji wrote from the place of his custody that he was interested in the merger, not the leadership. However, after the announcement of the elections, the manner in which Morarji showed in the meeting of the opposition leaders, left no doubt as to who the leader was. All the parties agreed to make him the president and Charan Singh as the vice-president. The four parties decided to come together and form an electoral party, a united front ‘Janata Party’ and contest the elections with an election symbol and flag.

(Hindi translation of ‘Emergency Retold’ by Late Nayar, ‘Inside Story of Emergency’, Publisher: Prabhat Paperbacks)

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