21 May 2019
New Delhi: Former President Pranab Mukherjee, who worked closely with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, says the imposition of Emergency in 1975 could have been avoided as it curbed the rights of people.
"The Emergency is noted in the context of certain misrules. Emergency, in generic terms, is a constitutional provision. Articles 352, 353, 354 to 356 are provisions that deal with an emergency situation," Mukherjee says in an interview published in a new book titled ‘Defining India: Through Their Eyes' authored by NDTV's Sonia Singh.
The book is a compilation of interviews with various leaders from different fields.
According to the book, Mukherjee gave the interview on November 2018.
Mukherjee, a veteran Congress leader who rose to become the President in 2012, said the impact of the declaration of Emergency by Parliament curbed the fundamental rights of the people to some extent.
"That was the adverse impact. Freedom was affected. So, when we talk of the Emergency, we refer particularly to the abuse of emergency powers that curbs freedom," the Bharat Ratna awardee said.
The former union minister, who worked closely with a number of Prime Ministers in the Congress governments, said when the BJP says Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in June 1975, they mean during the Emergency for 13 months, there were a lot of curtailments of people's rights.
"When the Congress talks of an ‘Emergency-like' situation today, they mean that without declaring Emergency, the rights of individuals are being curbed. But this is a political battle in which I do not want a part.
"In hindsight, yes, the Emergency could have been avoided. It would have been better if it could have been avoided," Mukheree said.
He also spoke about the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her security guards on October 31, 1984 and said it was "the greatest challenge" he has lived through. He said it brought about an unprecedented crisis for the nation.
"India had never faced a situation like this before," the former Congress leader said.
Mukherjee also recalled the day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi called him up for his consent on India's highest civilian honour "Bharat Ratna" and why he kept it a secret till the official announcement.
"Prime Minister Modi called to ask for my acceptance at 6 p.m. on the January 25. He told me the normal practice is for him to come personally and take my consent, but he was busy with the visit of the South African president on the eve of Republic Day. However, the prime minister wanted the Bharat Ratna to be announced on that same evening, for Republic Day and he needed my assent before he could advise the President to issue the notification.
As the President was waiting for his (Modi's) call with his approval, he gave his consent.
Mukherjee said his daughter, Sharmishta was very angry with him as I didn't even tell her.
"I said, I was waiting for the formal notification," recalled Mukherjee. To this, Sharmishta shot back, "What is a notification, why did you need to wait, surely if the prime minister of India calls you, there is no doubt."
He also recalled when Modi proposed Atal Bihari Vajpayee's name for the Bharat Ratna in 2015, he, as the President, agreed and suggested that someone else also should be given the award, perhaps posthumously.
It was then that Madan Mohan Malviya's name was proposed, which he accepted, Mukherjee recounted.
He referred to the days when Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister and scrapped the ‘Bharat Ratna' awards calling it "bunkum".
When Indira Gandhi returned as the Prime Minister, she restarted it and sought his suggestion.
"I said there is no time to shortlist names for the Padma awards before Republic Day. We can, however, choose a Bharat Ratna but it must be a person who is most distinguished," Mukherjee suggested to Indira Gandhi.
"We discussed some names, then finally I said, why not Mother Teresa? Indira Gandhi jumped at it, saying, 'What a good idea," he recalled
He said after officials confirmed that Mother Teresa was an Indian citizen, her name was finalised which was a choice that was welcomed across the board.