Days before she imposed the Emergency in 1975, prime minister Indira Gandhi approved a "takeover plan" to assume the presidential powers as the supreme commander of the armed forces, reveals a new book throwing a fresh light on the dark chapter of the Indian democracy.
Indira's son Sanjay Gandhi and his confidant Bansi Lal had hatched the plot days before the Allahabad high court judgement disqualified her from contesting elections for six years; however, she changed her mind after a meeting with the-then West Bengal chief minister Siddharth Shanker Ray, who suggested she instead impose internal Emergency, says the book "Behind Closed Doors: Politics of Punjab, Haryana and the Emergency" written by veteran journalist BK Chum.
The book recalls the nocturnal meetings in the prime minister's house in the run-up to the Emergency. Masterly in sweep and meticulous in detail, Chum's book recounts the events and players that shaped the history of Punjab and Haryana since the 1950s, which he reported extensively for different dailies such as the National Herald, Times of India, and Indian Express.
Basing his racy narrative on his diligently-kept diaries and razor-sharp memory, Chum chronicles how in the 1980s, the Akali as well as the Congress leaders used fundamentalists in their fight for power, pushing Punjab into turmoil and terrorism that consumed more than 30,000 lives. The book also brings into a focus the role of Giani Zail Singh in promoting extremist elements.
HT reproduces exclusive excerpts:
The takeover plan that didn't take-off
Days before the Allahabad high court judgment was announced (on June 12, 1975), Indira Gandhi was presented a two-phase plan for implementation even before the announcement. It envisaged: a takeover by the prime minister as president by virtue of the latter being the supreme commander of the armed forces, abrogation of the Constitution and suspension of fundamental rights, abolition of the Supreme Court and high courts, and retention of central and state ministries and also of Parliament and state assemblies.
My sources informed me that the other steps that were (allegedly) proposed to be simultaneously taken included house arrests of the President, the union agriculture and irrigation minister, Jagjivan Ram, the union oil minister, KD Malviya, and the minister for external affairs, YB Chavan… apparently, the PM was not in favour of such radical measures. But under pressure from her son and his coterie's hard-core member Bansi Lal, she reluctantly approved the takeover plan at 2.30pm on June 25, 1975.
The Indian army chief, TN Raina, was taken into confidence and troop movements were to take place in anticipation of a takeover. Duties were assigned by Sanjay Gandhi to the PM's loyalists to mobilise all chief ministers in her support. Some of the CMs were brought to Delhi in Indian Air Force planes.
Flirting with fundamentalists
It all began with Giani Zail Singh promoting Sikh fundamentalists to weaken the Akalis.
In mid-August 1978 (When Giani Zail Singh was out of power), the Dal Khalsa, then an obscure fundamentalist body, held a press conference in a Sector-22 Chandigarh hotel, where I was also present. It was addressed by the Dal Khalsa chief, Gajinder Singh. The bill for the conference was paid by none other than Onkar Chand, Zail Singh's right-hand man and once secretary of the Punjab Congress Bhawan Trust.
Encounter with Bhindranwale
Accompanied by the Indian Express' Amritsar-based staff correspondent Sanjeev Gaur, I met Bhindranwale during my visit to that city on November 1, 1983. Then 36, the tall and wiry Bhindranwale, surrounded by his armed guards, spent the better part of the day sitting on his charpoy (cot) on the roof of Guru Nanak Niwas… He was quite a bully, too. He humiliated his followers in public.
Journalists found him domineering and not willing to be interrupted or contradicted. And at the end of each interview, he asked the interviewer invariably: "Has anyone given you a better interview, so far?" I got the impression that he was an intolerant egoist. He presented himself as "the saviour of the Sikhs", shutting his eyes to the fact that a large number of those killed by his armed motorcycle riders belonged to his own religion.
Longowal's view of Rajiv Gandhi
In my meeting with (Sant Harchand Singh) Longowal at Gurdwara Cambowal, I asked him whether he was convinced about Rajiv Gandhi's being sincere about solving the Punjab problem. His answer was unambiguous: "After I met him for 35 minutes on July 23, 1985 (a day before the Rajiv-Longowal accord was signed), I found Munda maan naalon takra hai, hausle wala (the boy is bolder and more courageous than his mother (Indira Gandhi)). He wants to solve the Punjab problem."