We are now 40 years away from that unfortunate event. There is a vast literature written on Emergency and its effects and after-effects. But hardly any honest, impartial writer has ever credited the organization which had a very important role in forcing Indira Gandhi to withdraw Emergency and restore democracy in India. The, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The exemplary courage displayed by, and heroic role the RSS swayamsevaks played in this ‘battle of nerves,’ as the then RSS Chief Balasaheb Devras used to say, deserved better mention in the literature on emergency. But, those who are enjoying the freedom of expression today including freedom to criticise the RSS, have not shown this magnanimity of recognizing its contribution.
Twenty years after 1975, the Times of India, Bengaluru, ran a series on Emergency under the caption Emergency Remembered in which the paper published 11 articles of noted columnists but hardly anybody recognized the contribution of RSS in the struggle.
However, The Economist on December 12, 1976, wrote:
“The underground campaign against Mrs Gandhi claims to be the only non-left wing revolutionary force in the world, disavowing both bloodshed and class struggle. Indeed, it might even be called right wing since it is dominated by the Hindu communalist party, Jan Sangh and its ‘cultural’ (some say paramilitary) affiliate the RSS. But its platform at the moment has only one non-ideological plank; to bring democracy back to India. The ground troops of this operation (the underground movement), consist of tens of thousands of cadres who are organized to the village level into four men cells. Most of them are RSS regulars, though more and more new young recruits are coming in. The other underground parties which started out as partners in the underground have effectively abandoned the field to Jan Sangh and RSS.”
RSS, the main target
The main target of Indira was not the political parties and their leaders but RSS because she believed that it was the RSS that provided all the logistic support to the movement launched by JP in Bihar and Gujarat. Therefore, even before Emergency was declared, she was planning to ban it. In January 1975, S S Ray had prepared a draft to ban RSS and sent that to Indira Gandhi. But somehow that was leaked to the media and the plan was postponed. The emergency was then used to crush the RSS.
Soon after the emergency was declared, large number of RSS leaders and cadres were arrested. The then RSS Chief Balasaheb Devras was arrested at Nagpur railway station and incarcerated in Yerwada Jail near Pune. The jails of the country were flooded with RSS swayamsevaks. According to “The People Versus Emergecy: A saga of Struggle” the number of RSS swayamsevaks detained under MISA was 23,015 including 22938 male and 77 female activists. The number of RSS activists arrested for offering satyagraha during Emergency was 44965 while only 9655 people of other parties offered satyagraha.
The strength of RSS
The capacity and strength of RSS can be gauged from the confession of Indira Gandhi. In spite of all the efforts to suppress the RSS Indira Gandhi had to admit, “We were not able to capture even 10 per cent of the RSS workers. They all have gone underground and the RSS did not disperse even after the ban, on the contrary it was striking roots in new areas like Kerala”. (The People Versus Emergency: A Saga of Struggle, 1991, pg 21)
Editor of Modern Review M C Subramaniam wrote:
“Among the groups which carried on this work with heroic persistence the RSS group stands out for its special mention. In organizing satyagraha, in maintaining the all-India communication network, in quietly collecting money to finance the movement, in arranging distribution of literature without any bottleneck and in offering help to fellow prisoners even of other parties and other faiths, they proved that they constitute the nearest answer to Swami Vivekananda’s call for an army of sanyasins to take up social and political work in this country. They are a constructive force who has won the admiration of fellow political workers and respect of even their erstwhile opponents.” (Ibid)
Dr Shivram Karanth, too, said:
“When elections were announced the one anxiety that filled my mind was , who are the persons who will carry the message of freedom to the people and make them aware of the things at stake? The workers of RSS came forward in thousands and my anciety was set at rest. Even prior to elections the main burden of the struggle was borne by them. It is they who had kept up people’s morale. More than 80 per cent of the fighting cadres had been drawn from the RSS. I have personally seen thousands of their youngmen solely inspired by a spirit of idealism, without any desire or expectation in return, plunging into the struggle. Often they had nothing to eat, no place to rest, but their zeal remained unabated.” (Ibid)
The Satyagraha and RSS
The RSS defied the ban and offered satyagraha. It was a great irony that those who claimed their inheritance from Gandhi and his values, openly defiled them while the RSS that was accused of violence successfully adhered to the Gandhian path. Thousands of RSS swayamsevaks offered satyagaraha, distributed anti-emergency literature to the people, and collected funds to support the families of those who were behind the bars.
The RSS planned a stayagraha from Novemebr 14, 1975 to January 14 1976 demanding removal of emergency and restoration of democracy; lifting press censorship; releasing all the arrested leaders and lifting the ban on RSS. The response to RSS satyagraha was tremendous. Over 1.5 lakh people offered satyagraha at 5349 places. Of them 80 thousand were RSS swayamsevaks. 44965 of them were arrested under DIR and MISA. The arrested included 2424 ladies also. 87 RSS swayasmevaks were martyred during the emergency.
Opposing the dictatorship of the Emergency became the natural duty of the RSS. RSS did not confine itself to getting the ban lifted but took upon it the herculean task of restoring the democratic polity. It also even rejected a conditional proposal from Indira Gandhi on lifting the ban. The restoration of democracy was given utmost importance. Even more than getting the ban on RSS lifted. The 1977 elections were thus viewed as the best available opportunity for this. With the initiative of Sangh and guidance of JP, the non-Congress opposition parties came together forming Janata Party and the RSS threw its weight behind it.
The third RSS Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Devras aptly summarised the role RSS played in this struggle against emergency. Regarding a World War II incident involving Hitler and his army it is said: “One man Churchill and 20 miles of English channel stood between Hitler and his victory”. Similarly regarding emergency Devras said: “One man Jai Prakash and the RSS stood between the dictatorship and democracy”.
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