How PM Modi fought for democracy during Emergency

by IANS |

New Delhi, June 25 (IANS) 25 June 1975, marked the day when the authoritarian Indira Gandhi government imposed the Emergency on the world’s largest democracy.

Democracy was strangled and fundamental rights of the people were curtailed. It is the darkest chapter in the history of seven decades of independent India.

However, during this period Narendra Modi, a young RSS Pracharak in his 20s, marked by his exceptional organisational skills, played an extraordinary role in the fight against the draconian rule.

With most of the seniors jailed, the responsibility of coordinating the anti-Emergency movement fell upon young Modi’s shoulders, that too without getting caught. He was appointed the General Secretary for Gujarat of the Lok Sangharsh Samiti, led by Jayaprakash Narayan at national level.

He was entrusted with key responsibilities including publishing, printing and distribution of anti-Emergency literature, organising Satyagraha, logistics of national leaders travelling through Gujarat, ensuring well-being of families of jailed workers and more importantly, maintaining the momentum of the resistance.

Vishnu Pandya, a senior journalist from Junagadh, Gujarat remembers says: “In a meeting, myself, Narendra Modi, senior RSS Karyakartas Keshavrao Deshmukh,Laxmanrao Inamdar, Shankar Singh Vaghela, Nathalal Jhagda etc were present. In that meeting, all of us were assigned responsibilities related to literature, organisation, and the resistance. But, unfortunately, we all were arrested, except Narendrabhai and Jhagda. Responsibilities like coordinating publications, organising protests, and keeping the organisation afloat, fell on the shoulders of Modi. During the two years of the Emergency, Narendra Modi's organisational skills shone bright, despite of him being just 25 years old!”

Sardarji to Bhatukbhai - Disguises to evade arrest

Narendra Modi was given the direction by his seniors to continue active work, but while avoiding arrest, as a large number of Sangh workers were already being detained.

Kanti Bhai Vyas, an RSS worker from Navsari, Gujarat recalls: “During the Emergency, warrants were issued against almost every RSS Pracharak. Most of them including Narendra Modi went underground. But, most of the senior Karyakartas like Keshavrao Deshmukh, Laxman Rao Inamdar etc got arrested. Narendrabhai managed to evade arrest and roam around Gujarat, by adapting different guises including that of Sardarji.”

Many times he used to roam around in the guise of a Sadhu. Old associates of Modi recalls that it was difficult even for them to recognise him leave about the police.

Vishnu Pandya remembers that once Narendra Modi went the extra mile of visiting his colleagues in the jail.

“Myself, along with around 200 Karyakartas were imprisoned in Bhavnagar jail. On a fine day in September 1976, he entered the jail dressed as a Sadhu and spent almost one hour with some senior Karyakartas, having discussions about the struggle against emergency. No one could suspect that the person was Narendra Modi!”

Hiranbhai Murjibhai Khadni, from Kutch, shares, “During the Emergency, Narendra Modi used to visit us posing as an incense stick salesman, even dressed as a Pathan.”

Narendra Modi adeptly dodged the police many times, due to his presence of mind. Rohit Agrawal, whose father was a senior leader of the Jan Sangh in Ahmedabad, recalls an incident. During the anti-Emergency activities, Narendra Modi visited Ahmedabad and stayed at Agrawal's home.

On a particular day, just as Modi, dressed as a Sikh youth, was about to leave the house, a police team arrived, based on some information they had received.

“Narendra Modi ji was stepping out for somewhere, when the police team intercepted him and asked ‘Do you know if someone named Narendra Modi is residing here?’ Modiji remained calm and replied that he was unaware, suggesting that the police should search other houses in the area.The police continued their futile search, and Narendra Modiji, confidently maintaining his disguise, calmly walked away from the situation, escaping a narrow arrest,” says Agrawal.

Harish Raval, a senior RSS Pracharak in Gujarat, has in his memory an occasion when Narendra Modi was travelling in a rickshaw with anti-Emergency literature. A police team stopped the rickshaw, but a vigilant Narendra Modi immediately told the police officers that he worked at the local university and was on his way to deliver exam papers.

Modi advised the police to open the bundle and check, but since the question papers were confidential, they would need to go to the university and inform the university officials about this and clarify the reasons. The police did not touch the bundle and Modi had an easy escape.

Narendra Modi evaded arrest throughout the Emergency because of his alertness and smartness.

“During those days, the police was very vigilant. When Narendra Modi had to give someone a phone number, he did it covertly. Those days, phone numbers were only five digits long. Modi always instructed us to swap the last two digits when passing on a number,” recalls Devang Lakhia, an RSS associate from Ahmedabad.

In order to evade arrest, Narendra Modi always maintained a different identity for himself and adopted different names. 'Batukbhai' was one.

Publication and distribution of anti-Emergency literature

Nationwide awareness against the Emergency relied mainly on anti-Emergency literature, as public meetings were impossible and the press was censored.

In such a situation, Narendra Modi coordinated the printing of anti-Emergency literature in Gujarat. He translated pamphlets published in English and Hindi to Gujarati. He go them secretly printed and ensured it reached villages across the state. BJP leader from Rajasathan Kirori Lal Meena recalls that he met Narendra Modi for the first time, when he went to Gujarat to collect such literature for distribution in Rajasthan.

Prakash Mehta, who worked closely with Modi during then says: “Narendra Modi was well aware of the fact that Ahmedabad was well-connected through the railway network to places outside Gujarat like Bihar, Kolkata, Madras, Uttar Pradesh etc. So he made use of railways to send booklets and pamphlets printed in Gujarat to other states.”

He even ensured that the literature even reached the hands of foreign leaders and journalists visiting India.

Hasmukh Patel, an RSS worker from Nadiad in Gujarat, reminisces that Narendra Modi instructed them to ensure that the literature reaches the maximum number of people.

“He suggested placing the literature in barber shops so that people coming there could read it. He suggested giving literature to local religious leaders and saints, who can distribute them among devotees who come to listen to their spiritual discourses.”

Underground arrangements for national leaders visiting Gujarat

Narendra Modi had the crucial responsibility during the Emergency to oversee the management of the visits of national leaders to Gujarat.Prominent leaders used to travel across the nation to gather strength for the anti-Emergency movement and many would make visits to Gujarat at regular intervals.

Coordinating their tours posed huge challenges as they were constantly under the radar of the police.

Leaders like George Fernandes, Nanaji Deshmukh, Dattopant Thengadietc visited Gujarat, whose arrangements in underground were made by Narendra Modi.

Prakash Mehta recounts, “Once Modi asked me to drop a person at an unknown location, on a scooter without asking any questions or knowing his name. As instructed, I dropped him off at the specified location. Later after many weeks, I came to know that the person I had dropped was Dattopant Thengadi, a Rajya Sabha MP and leader of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.”

Nagar Bhai Chavda, a resident of Anand, narrates his experience. He was given a peculiar task by Modi.

“Someone had visited Gujarat and he was on his way back. Narendra Modi asked me to accompany him on the journey to Mumbai, posing as his son. Narendra Modi had devised this entire plan. I traveled to Mumbai as the son of a prominent leader Makarand Desai, who later became union minister.”

Shoulder of support for families of jailed workers

A major challenge for Sangh was how to take care of the families of Karyakartas who were jailed, as many of them were sole earners of the family. This responsibility also fell upon Modi.

Vishnu Pandya explains: “There were many families for whom securing a single meal was difficult. Narendra Modi and Nathalal Jhagda were tasked to gather whatever resources they could and fulfill the daily needs of those families.”

To address this challenge, Narendra Modi sought help from affluent individuals. These people discreetly arranged for the distribution of provisions to the families of the incarcerated. This played a crucial role in maintaining the morale of the jailed activists.

Rajan Dayabhai Bhatt, a Sangh volunteer from Valsad, recounts Modi’s visits during that tumultuous period.

He says: “During the Emergency, I was quite young, and my mother was alone. Many volunteers used to come to our aid, but Narendra Modi specifically used to visit us. During those difficult times, he not only provided assistance but also boosted our morale, which is still vivid in my memory."

Lalitaben Oza, from Vadodara, mentions: “My father was in jail for 14 months. Narendra Modi used to visit us every other day and took care of us. He would ask if we needed ration or anything else, and he looked after us like a family.”

In Gujarat during the Emergency, there are numerous anecdotes of Narendra Modi personally looking after the families of the jailed activists. Once, the wife of a jailed worker made a difficult request to Modi that she wished to send home-cooked food for her husband. Narendra Modi went to all extent to get it delivered to the person.

Helping Sardar Patel daughter to organise protest

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's daughter, Maniben Patel, played an important role in the anti-Emergency movement. She organised a huge protest event in Gujarat and the responsibility for organising this event was also on Narendra Modi. A bicycle rally was also organised by Modi, which was flagged off by Maniben.

‘Sangharsh Ma Gujarat’ – Book on Emergency

After the Emergency, Narendra Modi wrote a book in Gujarati titled 'Sangharsh Ma Gujarat' (Gujarat in Struggle). In the book, he has documented in detail the struggles of anti-Emergency movement. The book was released in 1978 by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Babubhai Patel.

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