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28 June, 2012

The Emergency: Where were you?

“Where were you when America was attacked?” asks an American website

It is a site which "exists to gather the thoughts and emotions of people to the events on and after September 11, 2001," the day terrorists brought down the World Trade Center.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Indians to record their experience of the Emergency?

I was in Srinagar, staying at the Circuit House, at that time. On arrival there as chief of the UNI bureau, the Jammu and Kashmir government had allotted me a government bungalow, to which I was entitled as an accredited correspondent. One night when I reached home one of two men who were hiding in the dark pounced upon me. After the attack which resulted in a week’s hospitalization, I gave up the bungalow and moved into a room in the Circuit House.

Correspondents of the national media usually began their working day with a visit to the India Coffee House in the heart of the city, where they would hang out for an hour or two. Since there was nothing much to do before the 10 a.m. Coffee House rendezvous – there were no newspapers to read as there was no English newspaper in the state and the Delhi newspapers did not arrive until noon – I generally got out of bed only after listening to AIR’s 8 a.m. bulletin, which was my primary source of information on what had happened around the world after I left my office the previous night.

On the morning of June 26, 1975, as usual, lying in the bed, I switched on the transistor to listen to the news. The bulletin began without the customary opening words, “This is All India Radio. Here is the news.” Also, the news reader did not give her name. “A state of Emergency has been declared,” she said.

I suddenly realized the voice was Indira Gandhi’s, not that of any AIR news reader. I was listening not to a news bulletin but to the Prime Minister’s broadcast to the nation announcing the proclamation of the Emergency.

UNI’s Srinagar bureau, like most other state bureaus, remains closed from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. As soon as the Prime Minister’s broadcast was over I got ready and left for the office to be there when the teleprinter line opens and the news flow begins.

The day’s transmission began with repeat of a series of flashes about the declaration of the Emergency, clamping of press censorship, arrests etc, which the Delhi office had sent out after 3 a.m.

Soon several friends dropped in to get the latest information. Among them was Shamim Ahmed Shamim, the young editor of Aina and Srinagar MP. Around 10.30, Blitz editor R K Karanjia came in. He and his wife were holidaying in Gulmarg. On learning of the Emergency he decided to cut short the holiday and return to Bombay. He stayed with us until it was time to leave for the airport to catch the Delhi flight.

With Karanjia and Shamim around, there was animated discussion on the dramatic developments.

While Central government officers were designated as Censors all over the country, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, whom Indira Gandhi had installed as Chief Minister the previous February after a gap of 22 years, persuaded her to let the state government handle press censorship in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mrs. Gandhi offered the press the option of self-censorship on the basis of the guidelines the government issued but the Indian and Eastern Newspapers Society, the organization of newspaper owners, chose to submit to official censorship

Since UNI’s Srinagar bureau did not release any material to newspapers directly I decided not to submit any report to the state censors for clearance. I informed UNI’s Delhi Desk, which edits and releases material filed by the Srinagar bureau, accordingly. I suggested that if they had doubts about any report and wanted it to be cleared by the authorities they should send it to the censors in New Delhi.

On the first Friday after the Emergency proclamation, I received a phone call from a Deputy Director of Information, who was also a censor. He told me the speech Awami Action Committee Chairman Mirwaiz Mohammed Farouq was to deliver that day had been censored.

Maulvi Farouq, who was Sheikh Abdullah’s chief political opponent in the Valley, made all important pronouncements while addressing the Friday congregation at the Juma Masjid.

I told the officer that I did not consider his directive a valid order from the censor. Maulvi Farouq was yet to speak. His order had no legal validity as it was issued without any knowledge about the contents of the speech. Any court would quash it saying it had been issued without application of mind.

The Maulvi usually spoke in high flown Urdu. I had, therefore, made it a point to talk to him directly and get a gist of his major pronouncements. I called him and asked whether something important could be expected from his speech that day. He said he planned to condemn the Emergency and welcome the Prime Minister’s 20 point programme.

After the Maulvi had spoken at the Juma Masjid I called him again. He confirmed he had condemned the Emergency and welcomed the 20 point programme.

I filed a report which highlighted his welcoming the 20 point programme. His condemnation of the Emergency was mentioned in the second paragraph.

AIR in its afternoon bulletin made the Maulvi’s speech a headline item. It said he had welcomed the 20-point programme. It did not mention his condemnation of the Emergency.

After Sheikh Abdullah inducted Mohammed Sayeed Malik, Patriot's Special Correspondent, as Director of Information, the journalists had the satisfaction of having one among them as the Chief State Censor.

In 1976, the Emergency regime forcibly merged the two English news agencies, PTI and UNI, and two Hindi news agencies, Samachar Bharati and Hindustan Samachar, and formed Samachar. Two senior journalists of PTI were named No. 1 and No. 3 in the new organization and two senior journalists of UNI were named No. 2 and No.4. PTI’s Srinagar bureau chief, C.P. Maniktala, was moved to Delhi. UNI’s Deputy General Manager, V. P. Ramachandran, was shunted off to Ranchi as Industrial Correspondent. Two PTI journalists close to Sanjay Gandhi played a key role in the placements.

A committee headed by G. Kasturi, Editor of The Hindu, was set up to manage Samachar and Wilfred Lazarus, who had earned a name as PTI’s correspondent in Egypt and Congo in times of crisis, was appointed Chief Editor. But effective control was in the hands of Mohammed Yunus, a Nehru family hanger-on, and K. N. Prasad, an IPS officer from Bihar, who was Additional Secretary in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Lazarus issued a circular asking all UNI correspondents to report to the local PTI bureau chief who would be head of the integrated Samachar bureau. I telephoned him and said I would not report to the PTI bureau since, after Maniktala’s departure, there was no one there who could claim to be senior to me. He told me since I was the seniormost person I would be in charge in Srinagar and asked me to go to the PTI office and take charge immediately. I told him not to expect me to go to PTI office and stage a coup. If he wanted me to take charge of the Samachar bureau and operate from the PTI office he should issue instructions to that effect.

While the Emergency led to denial of basic freedoms elsewhere in the country, in Kashmir the situation was quite different. With Sheikh Abdullah, who had been heading the opposition, back at the helm, there was near-normalcy in the state after a long period.  

When the Tribune’s correspondent, Makhan Lal Kak, a Kashmiri, was detained by the Haryana government, the Srinagar press corps urged Sheikh Abdullah to intervene. The Sheikh spoke to Indira Gandhi and she accepted his request to shift him to a Srinagar jail. On transfer to Kashmir, he was released on parole.

The IENS was publishing a journal, named Indian Press, at the time. Its Editor, S. Venkat Narayan, asked me for an article on I and B Minister V.C. Shukla’s claim that censorship would improve the quality of the press. In the article, I said censorship was a prophylactic device and it could not make any difference to the quality of journalism.

When the government promulgated the Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matters Ordinance, I wrote another article in that journal. In it I argued that PPOMO was an obnoxious measure and should be allowed to lapse and not enacted as PPOMA.

During the Emergency, I made it a point to visit the Indian Express office on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg every time I was in New Delhi and spend some time with the Editor, V. K. Narasimhan, who was bravely standing up to the Emergency regime. “This is a solidarity visit,” I would tell VKN, who was an Assistant Editor in The Hindu when I worked there as sub-editor in the 1950s. After Kuldip Nayar was released from jail and started attending office again, a call on him also became part of the solidarity visit. It was Kuldip Nayar who had recruited me in UNI a decade earlier.

I once asked VKN how he was able to get away with the things he was doing. He said before being eased out of the Editor’s chair, S. Mulgaonkar had written to V.C. Shukla seeking clarifications about press censorship. Shukla, in his reply, said the purpose of censorship was not to cut out criticism but to protect national interests. VKN opened a draw, took out Shukla’s letter and said, “I am holding on to this.”

Kuldip Nayar paid a handsome tribute to VKN in an article in Deccan Herald last April. “An editor like him should have been honoured in public for the service he rendered to the press,” he wrote.

On one visit, VKN asked me: “Babu Bhaskar, do you still have your Samachar job?” The question was prompted by the Indian Press article criticizing PPOMO.

I gathered from N.N. Omchery, a senior I and B official and censor, that he was asked to scrutinize that article. He suggested that since the article appeared in a professional journal which did not reach a wide circle it was best to ignore it.

When the 1977 Lok Sabha election results came in, the state government was functioning from the winter capital, Jammu. The outstation correspondents, who were camping at the Circuit House, gathered at the office of the Director of Information to follow the election results flowing in on the new agency printer. There were loud cheers as news of the defeat of the Emergency regime was received. It was followed by a Flash which read: CENSORSHIP LIFTED.

I walked up to Sayeed Malik, gave him my accreditation card which had not been renewed after 1975 and said, “Now that you have ceased to be Chief Censor, I want to submit this for renewal.”

“You did not renew it all this time?” he asked   

“No,” I said. “I didn’t want to carry a card issued by the Chief Censor.”

1 comment:

BHASKAR said...

Mohammed Sayeed Malik has provided the following additional information about the working of press censorship in J and K during the Emergency: "VC Shukla specially flew into Srinagar to wrest censoring authority from the state (me) to pass on to Jagan Nath Azad, then PIB chief here. Sheikh was furious and when I cautioned Shukla he had second thoughts. Governor LK Jha and Chief Secretary Sushital Bannerji also endorsed my line. We opted to retain the unenviable authority after convincing Shukla that word-of-mouth was a more powerful device in Kashmir than printed matter--censored or uncensored. Chief Censor at Delhi, Harry D'Penha, was more responsive to the opinion that freshly concluded Kashmir Accord with Sheikh needed to be protected against the fallout of 'encroachment' on Sheikh's 'autonomous' authority. Funny logic but so very valid in those days."