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Emergency and The Motherland

Emergency and The Motherland

Author: Arabinda Ghose
Publication: The Organiser
Date: June 25, 2000

The Motherland daily during its four and a half year of existence between 1971 and 1975 dial not have a large circulation, but was loved by all who cherished democracy and freedom and feared by the then establishment headed by Indira Gandhi. It was her wrath against this paper for the role is played in exposing most of her misdeeds, that resulted in its forcible closure on the night of June 26, 1975. It is not nostalgia, but the need of the hour, that one makes the suggestion that the Motherland be revived. And the 25th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency is the right occasion according to Arabindo Ghose, the then Chief of Bureaux of The Motherland for making this suggestion.

On February 5, 1971, the first issue of the Motherland daily, launched by Bharat Prakashan, Limited, appeared on the stands. The front page editorial entitled "This we believe" (see photograph of the issue) pledged the newspaper to "preserve and defend democratic values in the country and foster national integrity and political unity".

Since that day till its last issue (the dak edition dated June 27, 1975), the Motherland acted as the defender of democracy in the country and very soon, by 1972, it became virtually the only defender of democracy from among the media because Indira Gandhi had imposed an undeclared censorship on most newspapers through threats and inducements. For the Motherland, the Emergency began almost from the very beginning and every attempt was made to throttle our voice. Any corporate sector giant advertising in the Motherland was promptly pulled up by Umashankar Dikshit, the Prime Minister's right hand man since the Garibi Hatao election days.

Shri Dikshit was the Home Minister then and he used to call chiefs of bureaux of local newspapers every fifteen days at his residence. I used to be invited to attend these informal briefings and had found myself to be the only one making critical comments on the performance of the Government. Many of my colleagues in other newspapers used to pass on certain juicy stuff to the few special correspondents and reporters we had then, because they could not write those stories in their papers. We, therefore, had begun breaking the informal censorship Indira Gandhi had imposed on the media from almost the very beginning.

No wonder, when on the bight of June 25-26, our editor Shri K.R. Malkani was arrested and we tried to bring out the morning issue of June 26 with all the reports of arrests of not only Malkaniji, but also of Jayprakash Narayan, Chandra Shekhar, Krishan Kant, Charan Singh, Ram Dhan and others in Delhi and Atalji and Advaniji at Bangalore. The Police switched off the electricity connection at 3 am. sharp on June 26 just as we were about to flong the front page. We learnt the next morning that all other newspapers in Delhi too were prevented from being published.

However, we managed to cock a snook at Indira Gandhi the next afternoon. As soon as electricity was restored at about 10 on June 26 morning, we started preparations for bringing out a special supplement. In the meantime, the UNI teleprinter brought the news that censorship had been imposed and all copies had to be submitted to the Chief Censor De Penha for clearance. We tore to pieces the UNI tear-sheet, crushed the pieces under our shoes, and declared, "No censorship for the Motherland."

We did succeed in bringing out the special uncensored supplement priced at ten paise each, but we learnt later that since it was the only source of uncensored news, its price rose in the blackmarket. The Nepalese ambassador to India then, Shri Bedanand Jha, later told me (we were friends since my Kathmandu days) that he had to pay Rs. 14.50 to secure one copy of the supplement.

We were able to bring out the dak edition dated June 27 too, which had a strong editorial written by either Dr Jay Dubashi, Shri Sudhakar Raje or "Thakursaheb" R.P. Singh, our Assistant Editors. This copy was despatched by train to outside stations. The agents who received these copies, we learnt later, were hauled up and tortured by the police in those States or towns where -the copies were to be distributed. As We were preparing to bring out the late city edition of June 27, and were about to flong the first page at about 11.30 p.m., the Pahar Gunj police came, switched off the electricity connection once again, drove us out of the office, and locked up the Motherland. That was the end of the paper.

But before that our job had been to expose the many scandals the Indira Gandhi government indulged in. In this, we received help from many newspapermen and even anonymous letters were coming in helping us locate the source of the shady dealings. The Maruti scandal involving Sanjay Gandhi was one such issue. The Pondicherry Licence case was another.

However, the Motherland earned the utmost wrath of the Indira Gandhi government when we serialised the incidents leading to and following the assassination of the then Railway Minister Lalit Narayan Mishra in a grenade attack at Samastipur railway station in Bihar; the death, however, came at the Railway Hospital at Danapur near Patna where Shri Mishra had got himself admitted by about midnight on January 2/3, 1975. This serial made the Congress party bring out a booklet in which the writer of the serial (Arvind Ghose) was named as "not a journalist but a RSS worker of Nagpur since his childhood".

Much more than we the special correspondents and reporters, it was our editor Malkani who used to receive a large number of letters in which certain confidential information used to be passed on to the Motherland. Along with his sharp editorials, these news items written under innocuous by-lines, used to raise the blood pressure of Indira Gandhi every morning. No wonder, he was the first person to be arrested on the night of June 25/26 and kept in detention for full 19 months.

Sometime in 1972, the financial position of the paper came to such a pass that its closure was staring us in the face. At that crucial point, we journalist employees went in a body to Malkaniji and offered that we would neither demand annual increments nor bonus increments nor bonus and we would squeeze ourselves in the first floor of the Deendayal Research Institute building, giving up one floor in order to reduce the burden rent, but the paper need not be closed down. Malkaniji was extremely appreciative of this gesture and convinced the senior people to continue the publication of the Motherland.

As mentioned earlier, the Motherland was under an Emergency almost since its birth though it was of a different kind. But we all, former journalist and non-journalist employees of the that glorious newspaper, will consider the Emergency for The Motherland over only if its publication is resumed. The Motherland has a greater role to play in "defending democracy and national integrity" today than ever before. Those who used to inspire us and still do, know it much better than anyone else. So?

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