The former Indian Express and Hindustan Times editor B.G. Verghese has just released his memoirs, First Draft (Tranquebar). This excerpt, carried by HT last week, captures the declaration of Emergency and the introduction of press censorship by Indira Gandhi‘s regime in 1975.
By B.G. VERGHESE
A little before 2 am on June 26 , the phone rang in my bedroom. It was Abhay Chajjlani, editor of Nai Dunia from Indore. Was anything happening in Delhi, he asked anxiously? I asked why he thought so. He said his premises, like those of other newspapers in Indore, had been raided, the presses stopped and all newspaper bundles seized. Political leaders had been arrested.
I said I would find out and call back if I could.
Another call followed immediately thereafter from Romesh Chandra of The Hind Samachar, Jullundur, sounding a similar alarm. I rang Romesh Thapar, who exclaimed, “My God, so it’s happened!”
I called the HT. The city edition was still in the midst of its first run. I asked the news editor to summon the bureau chief, chief reporter, photographers and all possible hands to scour the city and to alert our state correspondents and be prepared to run a new late edition or a special supplement. I would be coming over immediately.
…I got to the HT by 2.30 am by when one or two others had trickled in. We added a ‘stop press’ insertion to the late city edition under printing. We also prepared to bring out an early-morning supplement, to hit the streets as soon as possible with whatever news we could gather, and with whatever staff was available, as many sub-editors, compositors and press workers had gone off the night shift.
A reporter rang to say the Cabinet had been summoned for an urgent meeting at 6 am at the prime minister’s residence…. The promulgation of the internal Emergency was conveyed to a subdued Cabinet on the 26th morning with only Swaran Singh raising a mildly questioning voice.
Meanwhile, the first posters went up in the HT press noticeboards stating that the editor and a clique of anti-people journalists could not put the livelihood of the press workers and staff in jeopardy. By now the management was astir and had summoned the watch and ward to bar us from entry to the press, and shut it off.
With great difficulty we managed to get, maybe, a couple of hundred copies of our June 26 Emergency Supplement printed before the rotary ground to a halt. We collected those precious copies and carried them out for selective private distribution by journalist staff.
I retained a copy. It is probably now a collector’s item.
Photograph: Femina editor Vimla Patil interviews Indira Gandhi, with H.Y. Sharada Prasad, then the prime minister’s press secretary, in the background, in 1974 (courtesy Vimla Patil)
Also read: A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall
Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975
H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira
People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India