By: Arun Anand
As Indira government imposed emergency in India at midnight of June 25-26, 1975, the role of foreign press became important as most of the Indian newspapers and magazines had become victim of the ruthless censorship for the next 19 months.
It was left to a large extent to the foreign press to highlight the pro-democracy movement which stood against the draconian measures taken by Indira government. Interestingly, the dispatches from foreign journalists posted in Delhi repeatedly highlight the role played by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) in the movement to restore democracy.
The Economist wrote on January 24 1976 in an article titled, “Yes there is an Underground, “In formal terms the underground is an alliance of four opposition parties: the Jana Sangh, the socialist party, the breakaway fraction of the Congress party and Lok Dal. But the shock troops of the movement come largely from the Jana Sangh and its band affiliate RSS which claim a combined membership of 10m(of him 80,000 including 6,000 full-time party workers are in prison).”
It further mentioned specifically that two of the top four leaders that were running the Underground movement from RSS and Jana Sangh. They were –Dattopant Thengadi, a senior RSS Pracharak and Dr Subramaniam Swamy from Bharatiya Jana Sangh. “ The day to day activities of the movement are directed by a four man committee which meets three times a week sometimes in Delhi, sometimes in Bombay, Madras, or Ahmedabad and sometimes on a train in between the cities. The top man on the committee is Ravindra Verma, a former Congress member of parliament from Kerala who is now a member of the opposition Congress. The other three are DP Thengadi, a trade union leader, SM Joshi a former socialist MP and Subramanyam Swamy, a Jana Sangha member of the upper house.”
In another dispatch, The Economist wrote : “The underground campaign against Mrs Gandhi claims to be the only non-left wing revolutionary force in the world disavowing both bloodshed and class struggle. Indeed it might even be called right wing since it is dominated by Jana Sangh and its banned cultural affiliate the RSS but its platform at the moment has only one non-ideological plank- to bring back democracy to India.”
It further added, “ The truth of this operation consists of tens of thousands of cadres who are organised down to the village level into 4 man -cells. Most of them are RSS regulars…. the other opposition parties which started out as partner in the underground have effectively abandoned the field to the JanSangh and RSS. The function of the RSS cadre network…. is mainly to spread the anti Gandhi word. Once the ground is prepared and political consciousness raised, so the leaders are ready, any spark can set off the revolutionary Prairie fire.”
Bursting the propaganda of Indira government against the RSS, J. Anthony Lukas wrote in an article titled “India is as Indira Does” in The New York Times Magazine on April 4, 1976, “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, commonly known as the R.S.S. are a tightly disciplined band of volunteers between the ages of 12 and 21, but they can hardly be called “troops”.Picture of material seized from the R.S.S. offices after the Emergency primarily show long wooden staves and wooden swords. I asked Om Mehta, a Minister of State in the Home Ministry, about this and he replied vaguely. “There were
some metal swords too. ” Even with some metal swords, I asked, how could boys with staves pose much of a threat to a superbly equipped army of about one million men, the Border Security Force of about 85,000 the Central Reserve Police of about 57,000 and some 755,000 state policemen. ” Well, ” Mehta said,” there were undoubtedly some rifles, ” Did you seize any?” I asked. ” No,” he said. ” too But.” they probably kept them at home. Don’t underestimate these people’s capacity for mischief. ”
Many RSS workers had gone underground and crossed over the border to Nepal to evade arrest in India. The Guardian wrote in an article titled, “The Empress Reigns Supreme”(2 August,1976), “Reports from Kathmandu say that the Nepalese government has rejected appeals from the Indian police to arrest and intern members of the Indian underground.”
It added, “A source close to the Nepalese embassy said that Kathmandu will never hand over to the Indian government members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS)..banned by the Gandhi regime shortly after the promulgation of the emergency….”
Quoting the then Indian Home Minister about his views on the RSS, The Guardian said in same article, “The RSS continues to be active all over India,” Brahmanand Reddy ,the Indian Home Minister said recently… “It has even extended its tentacles to far off Kerala in the South.”
Commenting on the role of Communists, the same article said, “…Pro-CPI (Communist Party of India) journals in India are being given some latitude by the censors because the party is in favour of even stronger measures to suppress the non-communist opposition.”
The New York Times reported on 28 October, 1976 in an article titled, “Senator Wheeldon(Western Australia) in Australian Parliament, “The only political parties which are supporting Congress Party of the government in the actions that it is taking are the Communist Party of India, the pro-Moscow Communist party and the Moslem League.”
(The article was first published in ‘The Print’ on 25 June, 2020)