Monday, April 16, 2012

How the Army stood­ by Democ­racy durin­g the dark days of Emerg­ency…­

A communication from Ex-Major M. G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd) to: Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief The Indian Express

SUBJECT: Shekhar Gupta has always been anti defence. This time he has peaked. Alas…

Dear Shekhar Gupta,

I recall the days when I was the District Commissioner of Chandigarh in the mid-seventies and you were a cub reporter with THE TRIBUNE. You then had idealism with fire in your belly. I had taken you as my younger brother and had presided over your registered marriage, the only time I performed this duty which is delegated to Executive Magistrates. You then rose fast and became a celebrity in the media. Except for odd telephonic conversations there was no contact between us. Even this contact was lost when you became a super-celebrity and I could not even reach you over phone.

Be that as it may, after reading the special story written by you in today's Indian Express insinuating coup attempt by the Indian Army led by a fine soldier called VK Singh, all I can say is that I am ashamed of having ever known you. I would not depart without reproducing a brief passage below :

The critical role played by the Indian Army in protecting and defending India's democracy during the dark days of Emergency (26th June, 1975 – 21st March, 1977) has been candidly brought out in the Book "JP Movement, Emergency and India's Second Freedom' (Publisher VITASTA, ISBN 978-93-80828-61-9, October 2011 – Author M. G. Devasahayam)", which was written in the context of the  National Emergency and the role played by Jayaprakash Narayan (who was my prisoner for nearly six months) in restoring democracy. Herewith are some of the extracts :
"During the 20 months of active Emergency, people moved in hushed silence, stunned and traumatised by the draconian goings on. Across the nation, grovelling academicians, advocates and accountants vied with each other to sing paeans of glory to the Emergency rulers, some signing pledges of loyalty and servitude in blood! Whisky-swilling and pipe-smoking social climbers and sycophants chanted in unison, "Discipline is preferable to democracy," just because trains were running on time and they got a parking lot at the Connaught Place ! The bulk of the Civil Service crawled when asked to bend. The higher echelons of the Judiciary bowed to the dust and decreed that under the Emergency Regime, citizens did not even have the "Right to Life". Politicians of all hue and colour, barring honourable exceptions, lay supine and prostrate. There was gloom all around and it looked as if every thing was over and the world's largest democracy was slowly but surely drifting into dictatorship."
What changed the tide is best described in a long investigative article titled "Ruler of 600 million and alone – Indira Gandhi is unmaking a democracy 'to save it' and looking to exchange moral authority for bread" in the TIME magazine of August 11, written by Claire Sterling, regular columnist for Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post and International Herald Tribune, who had recently visited India.
"Indira Gandhi is perhaps more powerful than ever before, but she is also more alone. There is no one left to share with her the blame of the regime's failings, no one of any stature to partake with her the task of running her vast benighted nation.
So desperately isolated has she become, so driven into new repressions that cut off her line of retreat, that the dynamics of staying on top may well push her into becoming a real dictator. And, though she is not the woman to make India anyone's satellite if she can help it, her increasing dependence on Moscow and the Communists could send the country lurching into the Soviet orbit. Neither development is likely to leave the Indian Army unmoved. And that is perhaps the crux of the situation.
India's standing Army of nearly a million men has been resolutely non-political since Independence . But it is also sensitive to the smallest slight to its honour, dignity and military independence, not to mention the nation's sovereignty; and it is steeped in loyalty to constitutional principles. It was altogether her Army when she enjoyed unquestioned legitimacy of constitutional rule. It may not be should its ranking officers conclude that she has become something else. More than ever now her fate hangs on the Army’s loyalty."
Taking a direct hit at Indira, the author concludes : "Someone once told me, as I was travelling around India , that the one thing worse than trying to govern the country by democratic persuasion would be trying to govern it by force. Yet that is how Indira is trying to do it now. Depending on how fast and how far she goes in changing from a traditional Prime Minister to the one-woman ruler of a police state, the Indian Army – the one group with the power to stop the process – could intervene. If it were to do so, it would almost certainly be not to replace her with a military dictator, but to restore the institutions (of democracy) it has been drilled into defending since birth."
You have insinuated that such an Army had attempted a coup. Can there be a worse form of betrayal? God alone knows what your motives are? Yet may God bless you.

With anguish in my heart, I am copying this to some of your colleagues and some others for whatever it is worth.

M. G. Devasahayam

Sent by Sudhir Batra

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