Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi's close aide RK Dhawan revealed that the then West Bengal CM Siddhartha Shankar Ray, not her, was responsible for the Emergency.Wikimedia Commons/McZusatz

Just days ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Emergency, declared from 1975 to 1977, Indira Gandhi's former personal secretary and confidante RK Dhawan made some revelations that put the then prime minister in a relatively better picture.

In an interview, Dhawan revealed certain details about the days before, during and after the Emergency that resulted in the arrest of several opposition leaders, including BJP veteran LK Advani, and also curbed civil liberties in India.

He revealed how Indira Gandhi was influenced by her cabinet ministers to declare the Emergency and that she was unaware of her son Sanjay Gandhi's campaigns during that period. It was also revealed that Sanjay's wife Maneka Gandhi knew about his activities and also backed him.

Indira Gandhi did not plan the Emergency

Dhawan revealed that the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray had influenced Indira to declare the Emergency.

It all started in June, when the Allahabad High Court issued an order barring Indira Gandhi from contesting Lok Sabha election. Dhawan was the one who conveyed the court ruling to Indira, who decided to resign after learning about it. In fact, she had got her resignation typed as well.

However, as claimed by Dhawan, under the influence of her cabinet ministers and Ray, who arrived there soon after the judgement was announced, Indira did not sign her resignation papers. Jagjivan Ram was the first senior minister to convince her against putting in her papers, Dhawan said.

In view of the "climate of hatred" that was prevailing against the government (UPA) even before the Allahabad HC ruling came, all the senior Congress ministers, led by Ray and "his group", had been pressing her to take some drastic action.

Ray's group included then Union law minister HR Gokhale, then Congress president DK Borooah and then Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee president Rajni Patel.

On 8 January, 1975, Ray had first written to Indira suggesting that a "drastic action" needs to be taken to control the situation prevailing that time. He was also the "architect" of the Emergency as it was his idea to declare one.

And, when the decision was finally taken in June, Ray personally drafted the proclamation acting on the directions of then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who had readily agreed to impose the Emergency.

On the morning of 25 June, Ray had himself gone to meet Ahmed to convince him to declare the Emergency. And, again in the evening, he, accompanied with Indira went to see the President. Dhawan said that Ahmed agreed, without a hint of hesitation, to declare the Emergency under Article 352(1) of the Constitution for "internal disturbance".

The stories about President Ahmed being in two minds when approached to declare a state of Emergency in the country and being pushed to do so are "false", Dhawan said.

Coming back to the declaration of Emergency, Dhawan said Indira wanted to consult her cabinet ministers before sending the proclamation to the President. But Ray interrupted her, saying, "The Home Minister has been informed about it and the Prime Minister and one minister comprises the cabinet, so there is no need for the whole cabinet to be here," Dhawan said.

When the cabinet was informed late, Soren Singh was the only minister who raised an issue on not being informed, while all others agreed to it.

All the while, Ray had been manipulating Indira to declare the Emergency.

Arrest list of opposition leaders were prepared days before declaration

Dhawan said that preparations to arrest leaders of opposition parties began a couple of days before the Emergency was declared on 25 June.

The chief ministers were asked to prepare a list of ministers to be arrested from RSS and others, and the same was happening in Delhi, Dhawan added. Orders to make arrests under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) were also issued in Delhi.

"The Emergency was well planned," Dhawan said.

 Sanjay Gandhi did many things during 1975-77 behind his mother's back

Sanjay was pampered by Congress ministers, including Bansi Lal Legha, who made him believe that he had more followers than Indira. They (Congress ministers) started taking orders from him, which encouraged him to take power in his own hands, Dhawan revealed.

But, Indira was unaware of the situation. She had little clue about how Sanjay was exercising his power. She also had no idea about the mass sterilisation and slum clearance campaigns that he was carrying out.

His wife Maneka, who is now with the BJP, was aware of everything Sanjay was doing during the Emergency. She often accompanied Sanjay to the campaigns.

"She (Maneka) should share his (Sanjay) guilt," Dhawan said.

Indira was not upset losing 1977 elections

General election was to take place after the Emergency was lifted in 1977 and Indira chose to contest it after taking cue from the Intelligence Bureau report, which stated that she would win the Lok Sabha elections with 340 seats. Indira's principal secretary PN Dhar had informed her about the IB report.

However, her party won only 189 seats and Janata Party took the power with 345 seats. The failure could be the result of all the hatred she brought upon her by declaring the Emergency.

Dhawan, however, believes she was misunderstood.

"History is being very unfair, the leaders are trying to denigrate her for their selfish reasons, she is a wonderful person and she was the nationalist to the core," Dhawan said towards the end of the interview.