Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Looking at Internal Emergency in India in 1975 through Contemporary Literature

Tracing Similarities between the Struggle and Taming of 
Lady Catelyn Stark (Game of Thrones) and 
Two prominent Indian Rajmatas (Queen Mothers)

Life inspires Art: The Bard expressed the connection between the reel and real world when he said “All the world’s a stage and we all are mere puppets in his hand.” Many times it is said that the characters and events in the world of fiction are mere imitations of reality. At other times, one finds that resemblances can be drawn between works of literature and events of real life. Such works are said to be universal in their appeal because of the universality of their content which is based on something very primal or fundamental in appeal: human virtues and vices. 

In this article I try to draw your attention to one such contemporary and quite popular work of art and its adaptations and real events from the past. What makes it more intriguing and exciting for me is the difference between the geographic locations and genres of both the events.  There are many books, fiction and non-fiction written about the Internal Emergency imposed by the Congress led government in India in 1975.  Many Indian commercial and art movies have also been inspired and based on Emergency. (The latest attempts being Indu Sarkar and Baadshaho) Read more about them in my blog on Indu Sarkar on www.vidulabhyankar.blogspot.com But finding similarities between the struggle of two prominent Mother Queens and a completely fictional character of the popular American Tele series Game of Thrones was what encouraged me to share this blog with you all.

A word for all those who aren’t watching the Tele series: Game of Thrones is an adaptation of the book series titled A Song of Ice and Fire written by George R. R. Martin. It describes in seven parts the struggle of seven important Houses (which they call the Realm of Seven Kingdoms) to win the Iron Throne and rule as the King. Each house has its own history of virtues and vices to blame for its present status and struggle. The tussle becomes interesting as some houses are bestowed with supernatural powers, dragons and techniques to fight even the army of dead.

     Struggle of Lady Stark:
“I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods. ……I want to write an end to this. I want to go home and weep for my husband.” 
Lady Catelyn Stark

The character of Lady Catelyn Stark is shown to be born in the house of Tully, at River run far to the south, on the Red Fork of the Trident. She is married to Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, Lord of Winterfell and the King’s Hand: the man responsible for maintaining justice and running the show for the nasty King Robert who is his dear friend. 
Lady Stark’s perfect life at quiet Winterfell is suddenly distorted when King Robert is murdered by his wife: the ever-scheming Queen Cersei Lannister. Lord Stark is called a traitor and butchered by King Joffrey, Robert’s son in front of a mass gathering. Lady Stark’s two daughters: Sansa and Arya who were with their father are put under house arrest at King’s Landing. While Sansa accepts mental and physical torture from Joffrey and Cersei as she expects to be his Queen one day, Arya manages to flee from King’s Landing.
Lady Stark’s younger boys are left at King’s Landing to rule and guard their home castle with nearly no men and arms, she moves on with her eldest son Robb who seeks vengeance. Although Lady Stark is able to make the dwarf brother of Cersei a prisoner, she has to let him free. Her son manages to win over and make the other Lannister brother- lover of Cersei, Jamie a prisoner.

All that Lady Stark wants her son and the other Lords of North to do is to trade the Lannister boy for her daughters and call it a day. She tries hard to convince her son to do so. But once he decides to fight for vengeance, she is the first one to go and gather support from other important Houses.

1    1.     Why was Internal Emergency imposed in India in 1975:
The Internal Emergency was proclaimed at midnight of 25th June 1975 by the then President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under powers bestowed by Article 352 of the Constitution of India.  It was felt that there was extreme threat to security and life of Indian polity due to the malicious intentions of a few internal forces in Opposition parties.  Often known as the ‘darkest hours’ in the political history of India, this act was seen as a result of then Prime Minister of India Mrs Indira Gandhi’s personal insecurities and political ambitions. 

Some of the important reasons for imposing Emergency were:
a.      According to a verdict given by the Allahabad High Court in the case State of Uttar Pradesh vs. Raj Narain, Mrs Gandhi’s election (from Rae Bareli) was considered null and void due to use of malpractices such as fraud and misuse of government machinery for her victory in 1971 parliamentary elections. As a result, the court denied her the right to vote/ contest any parliamentary election for 06 years.
b.      On the same day, Jai Prakash Narayan, a freedom fighter and old family acquaintance of Nehru family, declared that he would gherao the Prime Minister soon. Over7 lakh people attended his Patna rally and above 5 lakhs were estimated to gather at Ram Lila Ground in New Delhi. 

As a result all civil liberties were curtailed. Censorship was imposed on press. All important leaders of the Opposition parties and allies of congress whom Mrs Gandhi and her younger son saw as probable miscreants/ competitors were arrested at the dawn of midnight and put in Jails. In the name of population control and eradication of poverty, common man had to undergo forceful sterilization operations and face the bulldozers if they belonged to a particular religion and their houses were anywhere near the Turkman Gate.

2    2.     What happened to the two Rajmatas(Queen Mothers):
      Prior to Independence, India was divided into many princely states which were ruled by the Maharajas and the Rajmatas, such as, the princely states of Jammu and Kashmir, Patiala, Baroda, Jaipur, Gwalior, Mysore, Hyderabad  and so on. Most of them had agreed to follow the democratic rule of government of India and also represented their people in elections and were elected by a thumping victory. Prior to Emergency, Mrs Gandhi’s government had already started their attack on such royal figures by passing acts to abolish the privy purses and other privileges of such ‘social butterflies’.
One such royal personality was the Rajmata of Jaipur: Gayatri Devi, one of the most beautiful and popular lady of her times, who had made it to the Guinness Book of Records by winning the Jaipur parliamentary constituency with the largest majority of any candidate in a democracy in 1962 elections. She retained her seat in 1967 and 1971.She was one the founder member of the Swatantrata Party and had bitterly opposed the abolition of privy purses and other privileges of royal families by Mrs Gandhi’s government in 1971. 
Prior to Emergency, the Income tax officers raided every piece of property that the royal family owned. In July, Gayatri Devi was arrested by the police and put in jail on the same day that she came to attend Parliament. Further to demean her and tarnish her social deeds, she was charged and arrested not for political activities but for smuggling and amassing wealth through illegal means. She, along with her stepson Major Bhawani Singh was housed in the Tihar Jail with other common thieves and thugs.  Suffering from a painful mouth ulcer she surrendered after a long struggle. She was released on parole on the grounds of ill health in January 1976.

The Rajmata of Gwalior, Vijayaraje Scindia’s family once formed part of the Scindia kingdom in Madhya Pradesh. She had played an important role in toppling the Congress government led by D. P. Mishra in Madhya Pradesh. As soon as Emergency was declared she let her son Madhavrao flee to Nepal and live with his in-laws, while she went to hide at a remote farmhouse at Terai. But after a month she decided to sneak to her Gwalior Palace and informed police to arrest her. After a month’s stay at an isolated bungalow turned into a prison for her at Madhya Pradesh, she requested for being transferred to a regular jail. Government froze her bank accounts too and raids were conducted at all her bungalows and properties. 

Madhavrao and her elder daughter Usha tried very hard to let Mrs Gandhi drop the case against their mother while their younger sister, Yashodhara was facing the raids of Income Tax officials alone. Madhavrao managed to convince Mrs Gandhi of his unconditional support for her leadership and the Congress Government’s cause of India’s development. He resigned from Jana Sangh and joined Congress. But he could not persuade his mother to agree to do so. The government wanted her to denounce the Jana Sangh before she was released, which she refused to do. After many months of torture in jail she was finally allowed to come out on parole.

     4.     Similarities and Differences between the struggle of Lady Stark and the Rajmatas:

Due to their royal upbringing and lifestyles, the Rajmatas were considered to be the most vulnerable personalities who would succumb to a little pressure by Mrs Gandhi. Surprisingly for Mrs Gandhi, both women displayed courage in the face of adversity. Both the ladies lived in constant fear and suspicion of being poisoned in the jail and their families informed that they had died a natural death. Gayatri Devi thought taking retirement from politics would be the best option to save her from the atrocious life of the jail and wrote a letter declaring her intention to surrender to Mrs Gandhi. As a result she was released on parole, but was forbade from travelling in public transport on her way back as government expected people to flock around to see her. Still, they did: nearly 600 people gathered to receive her at her palace.
 On the other hand, Vijayaraje Scindia was a passionate politician. She was a deeply committed member of the Jana Sangh and her Oxford University returned son Madhavrao (who had also joined Jana Sangh) was seen as a major threat to the young Sanjay Gandhi. As soon as Emergency was announced, she flee from Delhi on the advice of her friends but the thought of fleeing the country and letting down her followers did not appeal to her.

 Although she let her son flee to his in-laws house in Nepal, she stayed along with her youngest daughter at a remote bungalow in isolation for a month. But then, her courage forbade her from hiding after a month and she smartly sneaked herself into her own palace at Gwalior and then called the police to arrest her. Even the police were taken aback by the grit of this lady that they had to confirm from New Delhi whether the arrest was to take place or not.

 In the same manner, Lady Stark manages to sneak inside King’s Landing to tell her husband about the cause of her son Bran’s fall and warn him about Queen Cersei’s real intentions. She is about to be back at Winterfell just when the dwarf brother of the Queen recognizes her and her troubles start. She takes him a prisoner and wants to go back to Winterfell when she comes to know about her husband’s death. Now her only concern remains to be the safe return of her daughters.   

Similar to Lady Stark’s concern for her children, it was only her soft motherly concern for her children, especially her younger daughter Yashodhara, which made Vijayaraje Scindia to agree to resign from Jana Sangh. Also, in both the cases, it was the elder daughters who were pleading with the rivals to save their father’s/ mother’s lives. Vijayaraje Scindia’s elder daughter, Usha managed an interview with Mrs Gandhi to plead her to release her mother and she was told by a stern and obstinate Ms Gandhi that her mother was being tried for smuggling charges and not her political activities. On the other hand, Sansa begged to Joffrey to be merciful and save her father’s life and he behaved in a similar fashion by killing the man for not accepting the false crimes he was blamed for.

“I want you to be safe my son, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat. I want    you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son.”

 Lady Catelyn Stark

But there is a difference in the way they let their sons behave in the times of peril. While both the mothers did listen, support and stand by their sons, the way they did it was different. Vijayaraje Scindia allowed her son to flee from India and save his life and political career. But when he agreed to surrender and accept Ms Gandhi’s government and leadership and leave Jana Sangh to join Congress, she was destroyed. She was happy that all the charges put on him were removed and he was allowed to come back to India. But he could not persuade her to leave Jana Sangh. It was her motherly affection for her daughter which made her to agree to resign from politics. But till the end she did not leave/change her party and political principles. While Lady Stark too wanted her daughters’ safety, she had to stand beside her rebellious son Robb. As a result she mustered all the support that she could for her son from her father and many other powerful Houses. Unlike the Rajmatas, she did not let her physical and mental agony come in between the fight for justice raged by her son.

The Rajamatas too for a long time refused to renounce their own political parties and suffered in the Jails. In their own ways, the Rajmatas tried to influence the lives of their common erring jail mates. They arranged for some clothes and reading and writing material for the children of women inmates. Also, the daily recitals of cabaret songs by the prostitutes’ inmates were changed to bhajans and patriotic songs due to the constant pep-talks of the Rajmatas.

 Neither of the women: in fiction and reality were capable of displaying physical courage.

But their will power and moral courage made their struggle remarkable in reel and real life. One really feels the pain of loss of a dear one as Lady Stark’s destiny at the Red Wedding. In the same way, the Indian political stage lost its spark when these two passionate ladies moved away from active political scene.

     5.     Relevance of the events in today’s political/ literary times:

“A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” 

Eddard Stark tells his son while he explains how every leader has to undertake the hard task of killing the offenders one or the other day. One must not enjoy the task but still one must do it yourself so that one knows what it takes to be just and honourable.
Although these are the words of a fictional character, examples of real life figures echoing the same values will not be difficult to find.  The Rajmata Gayatri Devi did not return to politics after her stint during the Emergency. But the political battle of the Scindias family members entered the corridors of their Home Palace as the son and daughters of  Rajamta Vijaya raje Scindia parted ways to join rival political parties.  The Stark family of Game of Thrones never met each other again before the Final Season as some of them murdered, others crippled and some others struggled to survive. But they did survive and rule the North as well asthe King's Landing. And so have th Scindias. Ms Gandhi and her sons met the same end although not at the same time just as we saw Cersei’s children meet. Although Cersei goes on still to fight her vindictive wars and succeed to some extent but at what cost we all know.