In his Interview to Arnab Goswami, Rahul Gandhi had referred to the arrest of Indira Gandhi during the Janata Reign of 1970’s. Actually there were two arrests during this year. The first of these on Oct 3rd, 1977 was an extremely farcical affair. An exerpt from the Book: “All the Janata Men” by Janardhan Thakur (Pages 69 – 71)
Charan Singh seldom smiles, but that morning, a little smile played on his lips as he sat in the glare of arc-lights and flashing bulbs. He looked triumphant, on the top of the world. The Home Minister was addressing a Press conference in the Shastri Bhawan, the morning after Indira Gandhi’s dramatic arrest. Not many congratulatory telegrams had reached him yet, but it appeared from his answer that he was expecting a truckload of them. The CBI was very efficient, he was telling the Pressmen, with a sense of satisfaction, “Any country can be proud of such an organisation”. Charan Singh had made a name as an efficient administrator in UP, as one of the most hardworking and thorough Ministers. He must have done his homework well, some thought. But there were others who had their doubts, what if the charges against Indira Gandhi failed? Would he resign? “Why should I resign?” he said smugly, confident that nothing could go wrong.
A huge crowd had gathered at the Tis Hazari Court. Word had got around that Indira Gandhi was going to be produced there. Instead, she was driven from the Officer’s Mess in the Police Lines, where she had shared a room in the night with Vinobha’s disciple, Sushila Deshpande, to the Magistrate’s Court on the Parliament Street. Barricades had been put up all around the barrack – like courts. Riot policemen with wicker shields stalked the roads. Onlookers had gathered, and there were slogans and counter-slogans “Hang Indira,” “Long Live Indira.”
Tear gas shells were lobbed outside as the lawyers argued. She got some of the gas in her eyes as she stood in the dock. “Get me some water” she said and Sanjay rushed out to get it. She soaked a handkerchief in the water and dabbed it on her eyes.
Almost an hour late, she was a free woman, released unconditionally, because the magistrate could find “no reasonable grounds for detention of the accused. Overnight she had become a martyr. The case had been bungled all the way down the line.
“Even Mummy herself couldn’t have written a better scenario” a jubilant Rajiv Gandhi told a foreign correspondent that evening. Indeed it seemed as though Charan Singh had just followed the dictates of the lady. She had been itching for just this kind of a break. It was a god send. “Political prisoners” commented Le Monde, “are often regarded as martyrs in India, where prison, as was once the case for the majority of members of the Desai’s Government, can be an antechamber of power.”
The impetuous Charan Singh had played into her hands. He had been goaded by the cronies at his court, who had told him day in and day out, that the Shah Commission was stealing the thunder that was his by right. “What is this Shah Commission?” one of his close supporters had incited him, “isn’t that your creation? And yet, it is getting all the credit. Have her arrested, and the country will be at your feet. You will be the nation’s hero”
For weeks, Charan Singh had been announcing from the house tops that the net was “closing in on bigger fish.” People close to him knew several days in advance that Indira Gandhi would be arrested on 2 October, the birth anniversary of Gandhi. While there is no doubt that Indira Gandhi had been tipped off about her impending arrest (she had even kept her cyclostyled statement ready), there are two versions about how she got to know of it. According to one, it was one of her loyal officers in the CBI who informed her, according to another, the information was passed on her to by a Tantrik having connection in both camps.
She had been given the chance for just the sort of dramatics that she excels at.
“Handcuff me!” she shrieked at N K Singh, Superintendent of Police (CBI), when he reached 12 Wellingdon Crescent around 5 PM on 3rd October 1977. “I will not go unless I am handcuffed,” she roared. Sanjay Gandhi was already making frantic telephone calls to his hoodlums around the city. From another phone, R K Dhawan was making calls to Congress leaders, and news paper offices. One reporter got a call from Maneka Gandhi’s Surya, telling him if he rushed to Indira Gandhi’s residence, he might get a good story.
“Where is the warrant of arrest and the FIR report?” Indira Gandhi asked N K Singh.
The CBI officer seemed to be in a blue funk already, as though he was the accused. “It’s not necessary for the CBI,” he mumbled, “to serve a copy of the FIR or a warrant of arrest”
“That’s Charan Singh’s new law” interjected Indira Gandhi’s lawyer, Frank Anthony.
“I’ll not budge until you handcuff me” repeated Indira Gandhi in rage, “Bring the handcuffs and take me.”
She took her own time, almost three hours to get ready. The CBI Officials told her she could be released, even at her house, if she would furnish a personal bond. “Why should I?” she shrieked, and disappeared inside again.
Before she finally came out to go with the police, her former Defence Minister Bansi lal, button-holed some of the correspondents, and requested them to put some questions to her so that her departure could be delayed a little. He said that she had desired that some reporters should “engage her in conversation.”
She looked glum and uptight as she came out, but the moment the cameras flashed, she brightened up. For once, she was really welcoming the milling crowd of correspondents around her. She was more than willing to answer any question. In fact, she waited for questions. It was not until 8’o Clock that she was ready to leave. Perhaps that was the auspicious time suggested by her pundits. By then, the storm troopers had gathered, and it was a rowdy caravan taht followed her on the journey towards Badhkal lake. Followed the farcical scene at the railway level crossing, with the former Empress of India sitting on a culvert, and refusing to go outside the territory of Delhi.
A more inept handling, from beginning to end, could not have been imagined, and yet, Charan Singh was defending it as “fully justified.” The consideration shown to Indira Gandhi, he said was the offshoot of his respect for her. “I regard her as own sister” he said a few days later. “She had been Prime Minister for 11 years, she is the daughter of a person who had ruled the country for long” As though all this could cover up his rash and clumsy action.
He had convinced the Prime Minister and some of his other colleagues that there were “foolproof criminal cases” against Indira Gandhi and there was simply no chance anything can go wrong. He had been so cock sure that he did not even consider it necessary to consult the Law Minister of the legal aspects of the case. A Single action, which was meant to turn him into a great hero, had exposed the myth of his administrative ability and thoroughness.
The second time she was arrested was in Dec 1978. This arrest lasted for a week. Janardhan Thakur’s book does not cover this period as the book was in written earlier in the same year. Katherine Frank covers this part in less than 100 words (Page 436 of Indira The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi):
By the time Indira was expelled from Parliament, Desai had managed to pass legislation to set up special courts to try Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. Soon after her expulsion and dramatic exit from Parliament, Indira was arrested and taken to Tihar Jail where she was put in a barracks of her own – in the same cell complex that George Fernandes had occupied during the emergency. Sonia Gandhi brought all Indira’s meals to her from home. But on 26 December, after just one week in jail, Indira was released.