What An Emergency Actually Looks Like 

What An Emergency Actually Looks Like 

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Monday, June 25, 2018 05:10 PM IST
What An Emergency Actually Looks Like Indira Gandhi
  • The present cry by Old Media of ‘Emergency’ is an insult to those journalists who suffered in, and fought against, the actual Emergency in 1975

Suddenly the Old Media is talking about the days of Emergency. They compare themselves with those who fought for the freedom of press when the nation was gravitating towards fascism under the socialist leadership of the dynasty. Many brave souls fought and suffered irreparable damages in their personal lives. The fortunate among many students and youths lost their career, others, their lives after cruel torture. Yet they kept the flame glowing. Majority of them were not professional journalists or even cub reporters of the media. They were ordinary people who went to extraordinary lengths to save the freedom of press and expression.

Here we shall glimpses of those dark times for the Indian democracy.

Many brave souls suffered and have fought back…

Whenever one talks about Emergency and ‘freedom of press’, one of the iconic memories which come to mind for most Tamils who went through the travails of that era is the Tamil magazine ‘Thuglak’ run by actor-political satirist- ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy, who was not a professional journalist but rather a journalist by accident. When ‘Emergency’ was announced that fortnight the magazine simply carried a black cover.

Cho then was known as one of the harshest critics of the DMK government. However in the first issue of the magazine which came after the declaration of ‘Emergency’ Cho wrote:

Press censorship has come into operation. When I have been stripped off the rights to criticize the Central Government, to criticize the state DMK government (which the Press censorship allows), is nothing but stark naked double standard. So I vow not to criticize DMK until the Press Censorship is in place.

The content of the magazine and a study of subsequent issues reveal how exactly the ‘freedom of press’ operated during the Congress rule in1975. Here is a typical political report in ‘Thuglak’, dated 15 July 1975:

“Headline: ‘Resolutions passed at the DMK convention on 27-6-1975’

Content: ‘While the press censor official has given permission to publish the above headline, we do not have the permission to state whether or not the officials gave us permission to publish the content subsequent to the above headline.”

The dangerous war that Thuglak in Tamil Nadu was facing and fighting back with ingenious sarcasm, had been originally declared from the residence of the prime minister in New Delhi.

What An Emergency Actually Looks Like 

The first attack on press interestingly came on a magazine associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Consequently the first person to be arrested in Delhi was K.R.Malkani, the editor of Sangh-affiliated Motherland newspaper which had actually disclosed as early as 30 January 1975 that there was a plan to wage a war against the opposition in the press. The last complete issue of Motherland had described an Indira Gandhi rally thus:

The prima donna stood there on a makeshift dais, keeping the evening sun away by clutching an umbrella. She was the master of all she surveyed - the debris of the moral and political core of her regime.

A power failure was arranged on the night of 25-26 June, 1975, which prevented most newspapers from publishing the next morning. Motherland came out with its report on hundreds of arrests. Most newspapers in the capital meekly resumed publishing. 'But not the Motherland' reported Eric Pace of the New York Times, as it 'has been shut down by the Government because it refused to abide by the censorship and press guidelines that the Government rushed out hours after the crackdown began...'.

Eminent journalists like Minoo Masani and Y.D. Lokurkar fought brave legal battles for the freedom of press. Meanwhile the underground press was run by a nationwide network of volunteers from RSS. More than 7000 were arrested for the sole ‘crime’ of running the underground press and the punishment meted out to them was a cruel throwback to the days of colonial torture where, heavy printing roles were run over the thighs of the captured cadre crushing their muscles.

And many crawled …

However not all were that brave. Most editors meekly complied to use the news from two agencies - the Press Trust of India and United News of India - 'because censors sat in the offices of those organizations and approved dispatches'. Editors who sought to avoid submitting their editorials to censors observed the government guidelines and wrote on 'harmless subjects'. A submissive press 'crawled' and sang the merits of not just the Emergency and Indira Gandhi but also the then princeling, Sanjay Gandhi. Here is a sample piece:

Significantly and happily, Sanjay Gandhi today has lept out of the wings ... and raced to centre of Indian political theatre. He is ensconced today in a position of political leadership which comes naturally to him. … (India Today, Sept.1-15, 1976)

Journalists like Vinod Mehta meekly submitted to censorship and sent their content to the commissar before publishing. The contents were of course approved. Khushwant Singh, who was then the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India also supported the Emergency. When he was given pre-censorship for an article, he dutifully phoned Sharada Prasad, Indira Gandhi's press advisor and got his skin covered. Mr. Singh had pointed out that the offending article did not appear in his journal but in Femina.

One of the ironies of Indian society is that often the fruits of hard sacrifices are enjoyed by those who never left the comforts of their lives when situations demanded. Yet, the arm-chair establishment media has perfected the art of parroting the choicest words in the most eloquent manner in favour of the values they never care to save.

The present attempt by the establishment media barons to don for them the same glory that the fighters of the Emergency earned through their bath in the fire, demeans the sacrifices those youths did, the suffering they went through – expecting nothing but freedom for the nation.


After the Emergency was over and Indira was vanquished by the Janata experiment, the same Indira started shedding tears for freedom of press. A loyal section of the media started echoing her voice. Then a reader again asked Cho to comment and comment he did:

“Now there is enough freedom of the press that Indira Gandhi can scream about danger to the freedom of the press and a section of the press can shamelessly highlight it!”

Does it not feel like action replay?

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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