A Samuel Pepys of Emergency India

I have just finished reading an outstanding book of great historic importance called PMO DIARY - II, The Emergency by B N Tandon of the Indian Administrative Service. His most important assignment was a long stint as Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister's office during the fateful years of the rise and fall of Indira Gandhi from 1969 to 1976. Unlike in England or USA or many other Western countries, Civil servants in India usually do not maintain a diary or write their memoirs. Even when a few civil servants endeavour to do so, their accounts are full of imagined half truths, laced with egoistic self praise or filled with unabashed adulation of a few selected political leaders under whom they had the opportunity of working. Consequently we do not have authentic sources for understanding modern Indian history after our independence.

B N Tandon's book on the emergency is a spectacular exception to this general rule. This book by B N Tandon contains the diaries kept by him during one of India's most momentous periods. This volume covers the draconian days of emergency from 16 August, 1975 to 24 July, 1976. As a Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister's Secretariat, Bishan Tandon was witness to critical events of the time. His entries, which were made almost on a daily basis, trace the trajectory of the political crisis that overwhelmed the country following declaration of emergency by that shameless dictator called Indira Gandhi on the midnight of 25 June, 1975. This diary clearly brings out the authentic facts relating to the sequence of events leading to the massive preventive detention of political leaders like Jayaprakash Narain, Morarji Desai, Atal Behari Vajpayee in the opposition, closing down the newspapers and censorship of them and the asphyxiation of liberty by progressively more and more repressive legislation under the personal supervision of Indira Gandhi and her renegade son Sanjay Gandhi.

The whole of India owes a deep debt of gratitude to B N Tandon for having created an accurate record of the day-to-day events relating to the critical days of emergency. This diary will stand as a light house throwing informed light on the small mindedness, wickedness, immorality, immaturity and irresponsibility of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister during the days of emergency. 

B N Tandon rightly deserves the title of 'Samuel Pepys' of Emergency India.

Who is Samuel Pepys?

Samuel Pepys, (1633 - 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, famous chiefly for his comprehensive diary. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by hard work and his talent for administration to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under King James II. He was one of the first to apply methodical research and careful record keeping to the business of government, and his influence was important in the early development of the British Civil Service. The detailed private diary that he kept during 1660 - 1669 was published after his death and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a fascinating combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London. Quite like that of Samuel Pepys, B N Tandon's diary will have an abiding place in Indian history as one of the most authentic sources of accurate information relating to the misdeeds of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi in the treacherous times of emergency. We get an insight into the persona of Indira Gandhi and her working style. We get a fascinating glimpse into the character of petty political leaders and others who became powerful at that time in their true colors.

B N Tandon writes in his preface to his Diary with great humility and reverence: 'The Indian tradition regards that Satyam (truth), Shivam (auspicious), Sundaram (beauty) is the ultimate objective of literature. The Diary describes a stark reality of the times. Whatever has been written is nothing but the truth.... The Diary presents a clear picture of politico-administrative happenings of a particular period. The reader is quite free to come to his own conclusion about its beauty'.

After reading B N Tandon's gripping Diary, I can say with informed conviction that in his candid and courageous account we can see the combined splendor of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram. When he joined the PM's Secretariat (PMS) as Joint Secretary on 4 October, 1969, the staff strength in that office was 198, going up to 229 in 1977. In 1967, P N Haksar became Secretary to the PM. About him B N Tandon says: 'He was an extraordinary man and I have no hesitation in saying that in my entire career I have met only two or three other officials who could rank with him in dedication and accomplishment. All those who worked closely with him could easily feel the warmth of his personality, immense patriotism, wide intellectual and cultural interests, his fearlessness and fair mindedness. Without changing the structure of the PM's Secretariat, he raised its ability to advise and help the PM to a very high level. He also fostered a sense of spirit de Corps which is rare in government offices. This was the main reason why a handful of officials were able to convert a relatively small office into such an important and influential one. Later this was reinforced by the leadership of his successor, P N Dhar'. This splendid structure was brought down in one stroke by Sanjay Gandhi during emergency.

The facts relating to the sudden rise of Sanjay Gandhi to the position of an overriding, de facto Super Prime Minister are described graphically which bring no credit either to Sanjay Gandhi or to his mother Indira Gandhi. According to Tandon, Sanjay's interference in administration and government started with his Maruti project. The manner in which his mother Indira Gandhi allowed him to misuse her office and power has been recorded in the Gupta Commission's Report. The most glorious moment in India's administrative history was reached in 1975 when Sanjay Gandhi clearly told the officers working under the Union Law Minister, H R Gokale, that there was no law above him. He wanted his wishes to be fulfilled immediately and without question. To help him, Indira Gandhi attached one of her assistants to him and Sanjay's order and wishes were conveyed to different Ministries and officers through this assistant. This took the form of deciding appointments in the Ministries and departments that were of direct concern to Sanjay's project. Very soon this began to happen throughout the government. Pliable, corrupt, meek and convenient officials were appointed to important positions and gradually it became customary for all important appointees to be interviewed by Sanjay and the assistant. Even one or two ICS officers in their late fifties creeped and crawled before Sanjay for getting posts of their choice. Thus arose a coterie of what Tandon calls - Palace Guards. Indira Gandhi used to send her Ministers and senior officials to Sanjay for orders. The result of all this was that a DARBAR was held in the PM's house in the Prime Minister's absence where senior officials reported their actions to this coterie of Palace Guards and sought its orders. Is it not a matter of shame for all of us?

B N Tandon says that Indira Gandhi failed to take substantive advantage of her successes during 1969-71. On 13 March, 1971, Jayaprakash Narain wrote congratulating her and said that - You have been given an unprecedented mandate to serve the people. I hope you will face the present challenges after serious consideration. I did not approve your conduct during the Presidential election even though I knew that it was a matter of political survival for you. Now that you have got so much power, I pray to God that He will give you good sense. The whole world now knows that Indira Gandhi proved herself to be incapable of it from 1971 to 1977 when she was thrown out by the people. This will be clear from what she told Kuldip Nair, the journalist: 'You see here is a question of whom the party wants and whom the people want. My position among the people is uncontested'. Her pride and arrogance reached their climax during the period of emergency. The sharp decline of moral values in politics and administration that took place in Indira Gandhi's time had never been witnessed before.

Here is an entry by B N Tandon dated 28 May, 1976: 'Gopal gave another instance of how the PM can stoop to any level to achieve her political aims. The only family member left of Kamaraj is his aged sister, who is a very poor lady. Malaviyaji had thought that to help her, she could be given an LPG Agency. The PM stopped this. The reason is that Kamaraj's sister is still with the Congress (O) and shows no sign of wanting to defect to the Congress (I). At any rate, the PM will not easily reconsider this case'.

When Mahatma Gandhi helped Rt. Hon'ble Srinivasa Sastri to settle the Annamalai University students' strike in 1940, Rt. Hon'ble Sastri cabled the Mahatma: 'Magnanimity! Thy name is Mahatma Gandhi'. It would have been in order if only Kamaraj's sister had sent a cable to the PM: 'Meanness! Thy name is Indira Gandhi'.


B N Tandon has trenchantly observed in his introduction to PMO DIARY-II The Emergency: 'The emergency has been the most despicable misdeed in the post-independence period. To keep just one individual in power the entire Constitution and electoral laws upon which a democracy is placed were set at naught without any hesitation. No more heinous crime can be imagined in the context of democracy on which the country prides itself. In short, the Emergency made politics and political processes the hand-maid of a power hungry individual and engulfed the administration in human cruelty. Its terror reached uncivilized limits. THE DIARY contains relevant facts. Indira Gandhi was the main culprit in all this but others cannot be forgiven for supporting all this. In fact at the root of the tragedy lies the devaluation in our values and weakening of our moral-fiber.'

A disgraceful Attorney General of Mrs. Gandhi's government made an outlandish statement before the Supreme Court to the effect that during the Emergency a citizen loses his basic right to live. According to B N Tandon this was an insult to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers of the Indian Republic. This slavish mentality gained in strength during the Emergency with the result that unbridled oppression had a field day. Sanjay Gandhi was the de facto dictator and Indira Gandhi, the de jure dictator. It was a moment of private glory for both of them and monumental shame for the people of India as a whole.

Indira Gandhi used the might of the State for engineering political defections. Here is an entry by B N Tandon in his diary on 20 August, 1975: 'Madhav Rao Scindia's leaving the Jan Sangh increases neither the government's prestige nor its trustworthiness. The residences of the Gwalior Royal Family have all been raided and searched. It is through threats that he has been forced to leave the Jan Sangh. Madhav Rao can be held out no carrots in the form of offers or wealth. So the stick of retaliatory action has been used. Saam-Daam-Dand-Bhed!' It will be patently clear that Indira Gandhi was guilty of the worst form of political blackmail. She used institutions like the IB, CBI, Income Tax, Customs and Central Excise Departments as guided missiles against her political adversaries. Those whom she could not defeat either politically or democratically, she tried to demolish them through these State institutions with any compunction.

The Communists have always been traitors. Their record of treason during the days of our freedom struggle has been fully documented for posterity by Arun Shourie. In 1975, a delegation of Communist women told the PM after declaration of emergency that there was no indication of any dictatorship in our country. Beginning from 1966, Indira Gandhi's political strategy quite like that of Goebbels in Nazi Germany was based on false propaganda and during Emergency she acquired complete control over all media. She brought in a new terrorist regime in which her government could send any citizen to jail at will without disclosing any reasons. It has been rightly said that dictatorship begins when the Rule of Law ends.

On 29 August, 1975, there was a conference of Chief Secretaries. Indira Gandhi presided over the conference. She spoke hypocritically and said: 'Senior officers have a special duty to give advice in a fearless manner. Promotion should be based on competence, capability and integrity.' Almost every officer knew that the Prime Minister did not mean a word of what she said. No officer dared to display his fearlessness in the matter of advice or say anything frankly to the Prime Minister because every one knew that it would not be liked by her, and that he would only attract her raging fury for retaliatory action. To quote B N Tandon's words: 'But today they Palace Guards are merrily appointing incompetent and corrupt officers to high positions. All this talk of Prime Minister about Merit and Integrity is purely for purposes of record and publicity. Expediency is the corner stone of her political style.'

Indira Gandhi was a very small minded woman and in many situations she behaved like a rattled mother-in-law. Shanti Bhushan, the senior advocate, was a standing counsel for ONGC. As a lawyer he had absolute freedom to choose his clients. Since he was appearing in a political case on behalf of Raj Narain, Indira Gandhi got annoyed and directed Malavya, the Petroleum Minister, to see that ONGC stopped giving legal work to him. After 1971, she devoted more time to such inconsequential trifles than to major national problems affecting the lives of millions in India.

As regards Indira Gandhi's direct promotion of corruption in Congress-ruled States, B N Tandon has recorded in his diary on 30 January, 1976: 'When it comes to corruption, Bihar is easily the leader. Even the Congressmen themselves admit this. In the last six months or so, I have lost account of how many reports I have put up to the PM on Bihar. Last week, the IB sent a very extensive report to the PM, but no action has been taken at all in Bihar. Apart from this, the government is unhappy with the officers who have dared to criticize the Bihar government. Sometime back Rustumji (IB) was regarded as an excellent officer. Apart from Law and Order, there were great many issues on which the PM sought his advice. But ever since he criticized the Bihar administration, about six months ago, and gave a note on this to the PM, he has fallen from grace. About these officers, the PM has got a favorable description that 'Oh! Mr. so and so cannot understand the political realities and the political intricacies.' The PM looks on all matters purely from the point of view of political cost and benefit and desires that every officer should make the same calculation. Those who cannot do this, she declares, they are not OBJECTIVE.' I can say from my limited experience as a non-entity in the Indian Administrative Service for 29 years that every politician in India wants every government servant to function as an unofficial member of his/her political party displaying the same supreme dedication shown by a regular card holder to the supremo of the party. Those public servants who declare their allegiance to the Indian Constitution and the President of India are treated like known traitors. This is the tradition which the Congress party established during the days of Indira Gandhi and today it has reached its zenith in the UPA government. The clear message of all these politicians to all public servants has been: 'Be corrupt and comfortable. Never be honest and get harassed through the CBI at the Centre and the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Directorate in the States.'

Anyone can see from even a cursory study of B N Tandon's Diary that Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi provided the protective umbrella of the government of India in the realm of corruption. It was Indira Gandhi who reduced action against corruption to the status of a political tool. Here B N Tandon gives the instance of Haryana under Bansi Lal. Corruption reached Himalayan heights there and more than 100 MPs and MLAs gave a petition to Indira Gandhi against Bansi Lal. A Group of Ministers was asked to conduct the enquiry. Even Mohan Kumaramangalam, who was a very capable Minister, found it necessary to recommend that a regular judicial enquiry should be conducted in regard to the allegations against Bansi Lal. Likewise, the allegations against Devraj Urs in Karnataka were not baseless either. In respect of these cases, the PM was not ready to take any action and consequently the relevant files remained with her for months in a state of coma. She always took particular care never to send back such files to the office which had initiated such files. However, she took action on a war-footing to appoint a Commission of Inquiry against the Akhali Dal Ministers in Punjab. This technology inaugurated by Indira Gandhi has been perfected by all the Dravidian parties in Tamilnadu without any exception.

On 13 February, 1976, B N Tandon has recorded: 'When the file was received from the Finance Minister, his minute was on a pasted note sheet, clearly indicating that the original note was different. This is an example of corruption, even though Malavyaji has himself has not received any illegal gratification in doing all this. The PM's house has used its pressure so that the Maruti can be benefited. The government has suffered a loss because it could have bought these vehicles with cranes at a cheaper price from elsewhere.'

Indira Gandhi wanted a committed and dependent judiciary taking orders from her and her son and his coterie. When the Chief Justice of India proposed the elevation of Rajendranath Agarwal, an Additional Judge of the Delhi High Court to the post of a Permanent Judge, Indira Gandhi made it clear that she would never accept that proposal. To quote B N Tandon in this context: 'This is the second such case in this month. Lalit's case (Bombay High Court) was the first. The PM is annoyed with Rajendranath Agarwal because in Kuldip Nair's case he not only gave a judgement against the government but also criticized the government.' On 29 March, 1976, B N Tandon's entry in his diary is this: 'The PM's lies are continuing to increase. She now does not hesitate to spout lie even in very small matters.'

The biggest casualty of Indira Gandhi's assault on democracy has been the sharp fall in the moral standards of everyday life in our country. She had a deep and enduring relationship with corruption. Everyone knows that she so honored and exalted corruption that it became an integral part of the texture of our national life. In short she made unabashed corruption an authentic badge of government-sponsored greatness in India.


More by :  V. Sundaram

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