The Scope of Happiness

By Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

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Chapter 1: Emergency

‘In June 1975 my daughter Nayantara and I had come to London from Padua where we had gone to attend the wedding of her son to an Italian girl. We spent the night at the Y.M.C.A. Indian Students’ Hostel. Next morning, as I was getting breakfast at the cafeteria, a young man next in line to me said, ‘I wonder if you know that about a dozen press people are waiting to meet you in the lounge? They say an emergency has been declared in India.’ Breakfast no longer mattered and I went to meet the assembled journalists. They had no details, only the bare announcement by the Prime Minister that ‘the Government was forced to act because of the deep and widespread conspiracy which has been brewing ever since I began introducing certain progressive measures of benefit to the common man and common woman of India in the name of democracy.’

I told the journalists I could not comment on a situation of which I knew nothing. Comment in any case should come from the High Commissioner, but I was greatly distressed. I phoned India House and found they did not have too much information but that news was coming through all the time. Later in the day we went to the High Commissioner’s residence and learned that Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, and hundreds of others had been arrested at 2 A.M. and detained under MISA. It was reminiscent of the midnight knock of forty years ago in Hitler’s Germany. Civil liberties were being suppressed and censorship had been rigidly imposed on the press. The approach of High Commission officials, however, was jovial. ‘What’s all the fuss about? Everything is fine in India.’ My obvious disapproval dampened the carefree atmosphere, and after an uncomfortable half hour my daughter and I left.

The English newspapers next morning reported that total censorship in India prohibited quotations and extracts from even the writings of Gandhi, Tagore, and Nehru, particularly any references to freedom. One report also said that the press response to censorship was to leave blank spaces for editorials and feature articles, but that these blank spaces had also been censored! We had meant to spend a few weeks in England visiting friends but now we decided we must return home immediately. If the country was to become a prison camp and all civil liberties were to be denied, our place was obviously there.

On the journey home my mind went over past events. The Emergency should not have come as a shock because it was the natural culmination of the shape things had been taking through the last few years..’

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