One of the most interesting timeframe of post-independent India is the era of emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi of Congress party between 1975 & 1977. The very fact that the freedom of press was curtailed during that timeframe makes it the most mysterious era for historians & sociologists due to the lack of sufficient news items & information.
Every news article had to undergo scrutiny and approval of Govt before it could be published in newspapers. Except for articles which were in praise of Govt & Indira Gandhi, every other article would be censored (hence rejected) by the Govt and citizens were denied their basic right to real news. The censorship on press & media had reached such an extent that an editor of a popular newspaper (Indian express) had left the editorial section blank in order to protest against the emergency, its excesses including gagging media.
For today’s youngsters (especially born after 1980s), thanks to the tight control of text books by Govts (which were ruled by Congress), emergency is literally unheard of because even Congress itself has been embarrassed by it. In my case, the very first time I read about emergency and its follies was only after my graduation when I started reading books related to Indian history & politics.
Throughout my schooling, I had no idea about the details of emergency, its atrocities & excesses. Thanks to the internet, it came as a shocker to me when I read about how some of the popular leaders (opposition & rival parties) were arrested for no valid reasons.
Most of the political leaders & non-Congress party workers had gone underground or disguised themselves to remain out of the police radar. For example, Dr Subramanian Swamy & Narendra Modi had disguised themselves as Sikhs.
It evoked my curiosity to find out more about this mysterious timeframe. I had a series of interactions with my elders who had witnessed emergency first-hand and each of them carried nostalgic (but not so good) feelings/experiences about it. Believe it or not, some of my elders were on the verge of breakdown while discussing about it because they were victims of its atrocities for no fault of theirs.
One of my friends’ father explained me that censorship & spying was so high that a spy from Congress party would be within a stone throw distance of any citizen at any given point of time and get suspicious elements arrested in the name of internal security . He recounted an incident in 1976 when a passenger in a bus exclaimed that Indira Gandhi was like a buffalo, a spy from the Congress party sitting behind him immediately took him to task and within an hour, this passenger was behind bars under the MISA act.
Another senior citizen who spoke to me passionately about emergency for almost 3 hours explained me that the AIR (All India Radio) had become a propaganda machine of the Congress party which never reported any of the tragedies during emergency due to which, most of the Indians had referred to AIR as “All Indira Radio” (suggesting that it had become a radio to praise Indira all the time). Some of the clever youngsters with athletic bodies would climp up trees (for better signals) and tune their transistor pocket radio to BBC to get “real news” of India. It was an irony that one had to listen to British news media to follow Indian current affairs.
During one such conversation, a senior citizen suggested me to watch the banned movie titled “Kissa Kursi Ka” produced in 1977, which inspite of being presented as a parody, was actually a true reflection of the events during emergency. The movie had infuriated Sanjay to such an extent that he actually destroyed several reels of the movie when it was still in editing stage in the studio. (After the reels were burnt, the move was re-shot)
Here is an article from India Today reviewing the movie:
The very fact that the movie had infuriated Sanjay Gandhi (which subsequently led to his imprisonment) was sufficient to evoke interest in it, and surprisingly, that movie was already available on the internet. Here is the YouTube link to the complete movie:
I will not go into the details & plot of the movie because doing so will be like a spoiler for interested viewers. All I can say is that the movie is a masterpiece and mere words are not sufficient to describe the efforts of the scriptwriters & directors in presenting it as a spoof while still retaining the essence of emergency. The reason I am including this in “Documentaries” section is because the movie is not just a political spoof but actually an information treasure house. Every comical act in the movie which induces laughter into audience is actually a real event.
For example, in one of the scenes of the movie, the Govt declares “Rat” as the nation’s enemy and blames all the national disasters including poverty, rotting of granaries, missing files, inefficiency of bureaucrats etc on none other than rats. As a solution to this “problem”, the Govt initiates a scheme in which citizens who catch rats & “submit” them to the nearest Govt office (collection points) are rewarded. Yes, it sounds funny but it was true. Catching mice had become a “nation service”. A decade later, Jaspal Bhatti, who was renowned for his satires on Govt & bureaucracy, produced an episode for his popular TV series Flop Show based on this issue of “Rats being national enemy”. Following is a link to the episode which tickles the funny bone, but unfortunately that was how the bureaucracy had worked during emergency:
After watching the movie “Kissa Kursi Ka”, I talked about most of the events with elders and was surprised to find that all of them were indeed true. Such was the sad state of political affairs during the mid 1970s which had witnessed death of democracy and logic/sanity had taken a backseat. The whole nation was at the mercy of Indira Gandhi (and her son) with their psychopaths going to extreme levels to show their loyalty.
It is a must watch movie for every Indian and especially youngsters mainly because the events during emergency are never taught (not even mentioned) in schools (youngsters are kept in dark), but it is actually one of the most important timeframes in our history which helps us give an idea of the prevailing conditions. Also, being aware of such a historical timeframe might not only help us make better decisions while choosing our leaders, but also helps us remain vigil & question the authorities if at all they choose to embark on the dictatorial path followed by Congress party during mid 1970s.
Link to the complete movie: