23 March 2016 | 5:40 pm : Dr. Prabir Purkayastha, who as a JNU student was arrested during the Emergency and spent a year in jail thereafter delivered the third lecture titled Freedom and Emergency, in the ‘Azaadi’ series conducted by JNUTA. A comparatively smaller crowd turned up at the talk as JNUSU had simultaneously organized a protest at MHRD against the manhandling of students and teachers by Telangana police in HCU.
Purakayastha, an engineer by training, who specializes on issues like energy policies, telecom, and climate was arrested on 25th September 1975 outside the School of Languages (SL) mistaken for being the JNUSU president. Consequently, he spent the entire period of emergency in the jail.
In October last year, Prime Minster Narendra Modi invited Purakayastha along with many others who had been arrested during the Emergency for a gathering to ‘honour’ them. In a letter refusing the invite, Purakayastha addressed the PM, “What you have done is as bad as what emergency was like and unless you are willing to deal with this there’s no point [of this invitation]. You have no right to honour us.”
Purakayastha began his talk by congratulating the students of JNU. He said, “When we think about JNU, we always think that ours was the best time. We were the most politically active, we did the best of everything. But when I really look at [it] objectively, I have to concede that you guys have really done far more than we actually did.”
He added that in his time the faculty stayed serious and never “came out” except on the event of his arrest. This time, however, the JNUTA had been “quite vibrant and active” he mentioned. “It is the unity of the campus that has been the striking feature and the maturity with which the students and the teachers have met the onslaught on JNU and various other parts of the country,” he shared.
“The fact that universities have been chosen to be the focal point of the attack [like in the emergency] is because that’s where the resistance of the youth comes from. The university is a place where the young can meet, there is an exchange of ideas and new thoughts and new movements spring up from universities. That’s why universities are thought to be dangerous places for the establishment”, he said.
Purakayastha gave a detailed account of what took place in JNU during the Emergency. “The phase we are entering has certain similarities with what happened then … Mrs. [Indira] Gandhi won a massive victory in 1971 on [sic] the Garibi Hathao slogan (with). Within three years, she started losing the people… students’ movements cropped up like the anti-reservation movement… call for a total revolution by Jay Prakash Narayan against the corruption of the government… a railway strike, which was a “watershed” because the working class also came out against Indira Gandhi. Subsequently she felt that there was a threat to her government [and] to herself. She declared emergency on June 25th . People were taken to jail and all forms formal democracy disappeared.”
It was largely police oppression that characterized the period of Emergency, he mentioned. “The university also fell in line very quickly… students’ union meeting passed a resolution to protest against this move. A three-day strike was called and on the second day… some students were standing in front of SL including Maneka Gandhi [who] wanted to go to her class but was not allowed to. The Shah Commission report suggests that she went back to complaint to her husband Sanjay Gandhi, ‘who was running the country’, and he ordered the arrests of the protesting students.”
He then moved on to distinguish the present times, “The police and Vice Chancellor’s action is similar, but the physical violence by the allied organizations of RSS was absent then. Today, any faculty of JNU who goes to speak anywhere is attacked [and] if JNU’s name is being used in a meeting those meetings are being attacked…. Events in JNU have united a large section of the public from liberal to left. The challenge now is how we can enlarge it.”
On being asked why Modi’s government is showing desperation despite India’s economy showing positive signs of improvement, he mentioned that taxes collected by the central government have increased but industrial and agricultural production has dwindled and thus a fear of joblessness is looming. The second question that was posed to him was on the role of RSS during the emergency. He said that many BJP-RSS workers were arrested and put behind bars during the emergency but unlike the communists, a section of RSS like Murli Mahohar Joshi (who was in the same jail as he) were willing to “compromise” with the Congress if they were let out of jail.
Purakayastha ended his talk by commenting that he has “not seen any government that has lost its popularity as quickly as Modi’s government. The nationalism debate was something they were preserving for the elections and they have shot their arrow too fast and this is not sustainable for too long.”
Gargi Binju is an MA student at CFFS and works for the News Pool of The Informer.