The experiences bestowed by Kanchi-Mahaswami — Part 22 : Mar 1977 reminded Aug 1947

(A humble translation of the original article by Sri S.Gurumurthy , as it had appeared in Thuglak Tamil Magazine) —

Kanchi Mahaswami
Original Author
Charan Singh
Chandra Shekhar
Jagajivan Ram
Mohan Dharia

Indira dissolved the parliament in Jan 1977 and dramatically announced the election between Mar 16–20. The opposition parties were stunned. State of emergency declaration was not withdrawn but (temporarily) suspended on account of the election propaganda. All leaders other than Nanaji Deshmukh, George Fernandes, and RSS leaders were released. With the surprise announcement of the elections, Indira was very confident of her victory because the opposition parties did not have time, preparation, and funds on their part. She was contemplating to centre her propaganda about the potential weakness of the discrete opposition parties to form a stable govt and the ability of the congress to provide a stable govt. Till then, there was no coalition govt in the centre. Even the coalition govt that were formed at the state level did not last beyond few months. People were fed up with the idea of coalition.

How the Janata party was formed

Indira predicted something. But something else had happened. Jayaprakash Narayan had announced on 19th Jan (the next day after the election announcement) that ‘he would provide support only if all the opposition parties unite themselves’. Congress(O), Jana Sangh, Bharatiya Lok dal (Charan Singh), socialist parties met in Delhi, decided to dissolve their party, and united to form the Janata party to oppose the totalitarian regime. Imprisoned congress leaders like Chandra Shekhar, Mohan Dharia decided to join the Janata party. To prevent India from slipping into dictatorship and to restore democracy, JP initiated the historic move. JP’s dramatic announcement made that possible within 24 hours.

Two able men were helping JP; one was Nanaji Deshmukh who was in the prison and the other was Ramnath Goenka. Both Nanaji & Goenka were very close to each other. Goenka narrated the then proceedings — “Guru, without the blessings of God and the efforts of myself, Nanaji & RSS, this move would not have materialized in 24 hours. The democracy would have perished”.

There were many who had wanted to boycott elections and imprisoned George Fernandes was also of the same opinion. They had a minimum agenda of forming a grand opposition alliance first. The majority of the leaders were of the opinion to take the election route to stop Indira from killing the democracy. As part of that, the Janata party was formed that included Jana Sangh, an organization backed by RSS. This was the first blow to Indira. The next blow was the separation of senior congress Jagajivanram (1st Feb 1977) from his parent congress party and merging with the Janata party, along with his followers. Both these moves created a huge perception change among people. Since the newly formed Janata party would not get a symbol immediately, it had decided to use the symbol of Bharatiya Lok dal.

Hidden Janata Wave that exploded

The leaders were worried to wake up the people, who were subdued due to draconian repressive measures during the state of emergency. Many suggestions had come. Door-to-door campaigns and numerous small public rallies were planned to highlight the contest between democracy and dictatorship. Vajpayee did not root for that idea, since it would be curtailed by the intervention of central & state govt. Rather, he wanted the leaders to conduct massive rallies converging lakhs of people. Such rallies cannot be stopped by the govt and it would remove the fear in people. The wave would emanate in the cities and would sweep the villages too. This game-changing idea was accepted by all and was mentioned by Goenka & Arun Shourie.

Side-by-side, the fear of not missing the public, who were trembling under the siege of emergency was rankling in their thoughts. They were worried that such mis-fire would get highlighted by the state-run Door darshan and would be part of Indira’s campaign to discredit them. On 7th Feb at Delhi, there was a debate on the 1st venue. They wanted to skip the sprawling Ram maidan grounds (filling up to the brim was a challenge) and move to a smaller venue, Chandini chowk. But this was rejected by the govt and the opposition had to stick to the original plan.

The govt took all possible measures to stop the rally — transport was suspended, movie “Bobby” was telecasted in DD. But such measures did not stop the arrival of the huge crowd at the rally. This rattled Indira. Then the opposition leaders had realized the efforts of the underground movement. The members of the 3rd eye movement had predicted the mentality of the people. Indira watched the rally secretly from a helicopter and was thinking of suspending the elections itself. But, this idea was not supported by the then-election commissioner, D.Swaminathan. since the election laws were not favourable. This was later shared with me by Iravatham Mahadevan, IAS. 1977 elections became a huge Janata wave against dictatorship.

Cho was against emergency. To make him a popular all-India level figure, he was invited to campaign in the Tamil areas in Delhi. Later he told me that he was able to sense people’s aggression coming from the bottom of their hearts and which became the Janata wave, further. Here, in the state of TN, the wave was against DMK due to the removal of MGR and the corruption scandals. Despite MGR’s alignment with the Indira Congress, there was no animosity against him. In the 1967, 1977 elections, I was working for Kamaraj and in 1977, for the 1st time, I was campaigning for DMK. I was travelling in a jeep with south-chennai contestant, Murasoli maran. Due to the atrocities met out to him in the prison, he was not able to stand properly. From then, our friendship grew. And, it helped to cement the ties between DMK-BJP in the 1996 & 1998 elections, when I was working along with Cho.

Flower shower on Indian express office

On 21st Mar 1977, the election results had started coming out. I was in Chennai. Unlike now, it took a longer time to know the election results. All India Radio was the first one to announce the results. I got a call from Goenka at 3 pm. He said, “Guru, God has blessed us. We won. Indira, Sanjay, and other ministers lost it”. He was hugely exalted. I could see the celebration in the background. Cho called me and mentioned that we would have a celebratory breakfast at the local hotel.

Indira, like a dictator, who was suppressing govt, party, parliament, court, the press was eventually defeated by the people. I was wondering whether it was a dream or a reality. On 21st Mar, some of the underground RSS leaders met at my place, prayed for the welfare of the nation, and started worrying about the extension of emergency. It turned out to be a false worry in the evening and led to jubilation. Goenka was proudly saying that people were thronging his office, showered them with flowers and money.

To counter the state of emergency, the Indian express staked itself at the altar and fought against the emergency. This gratitude was expressed in the form of flower & money shower. Such acts are unthinkable today. I have heard before about the celebrations at the time of Indian independence and was able to witness (by people who played their part like the squirrel in Ramayana) such celebrations in 1977.

Golden period in my Life

Through my contact with the Indian express and after the formation of the Janata govt in 1977, I got the opportunity to meet many important people. This 28 year old had the opportunity to work closely with senior leaders, scholars, elders, journalists & the common public. They all accepted me affectionately and accepted me as part of theirs. Due to my association with them, the gains in the areas of wisdom, self-belief, courage, intellectual advancement cannot be measured. That built the base for my social life. Achyut Patwardhan who fought in 1942 quit India movement had mentioned, “ You may attain greater heights in the life; but, this work with Goenka would be the golden period in your life”. I would add further that my years of association with Goenka between 1976–1991 was the golden period in my life. I will continue to share the relevant experiences in the coming weeks.

PS: Rahul had accepted that it was a historic blunder by Indira. The present-day younger generation may not be aware of the atrocities of that period. Then, the literacy rate was 35–40%. But, the common people had used their vote to overthrow the govt. If they had not done the act, we would have become a totalitarian state or would have got split. The educated ones were supporting the emergency and unlettered ones were opposing it. Illiterate villagers catapulted the Janata party towards the victory post. Attached above is the cartoon by Abu Abraham that was published on 22nd Mar 1977 in Indian express