When 65 retired civil servants took the rare step of signing an open letter expressing alarm at the unchecked growth of majoritarianism and hyper-nationalism in India, they must have expected a pro-government response from within their profession. Sanjay Dixit, a serving Indian Administrative Service officer of the Rajasthan cadre and a cricket administrator, has risen to the challenge.

Dixit’s response, in Swarajya magazine, is two-and-a-half times as long as the original letter, but he does not dispute or refute its central claims. Instead, he recites a sadly familiar combination of ad hominem attacks and whataboutery. One of his counter-claims, however, stands out.

Dixit writes:

“I find Aruna Roy attending events on Emergency that she uses to compare the present situation with. Her Leftist commentariat and the Left, in general, were totally supportive of Emergency. People who went to jail during Emergency were of a unique hue. Their colour was not red.”

The term “the Left”, in India, has two meanings. It is used either to refer to the modern-day Left Front, or to left-of-centre (sometimes left-of-Congress) parties in general. Dixit’s reference to Aruna Roy, who is no communist and was an influential adviser to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, shows that he is using the second definition. But, understood either way, his allegation is demonstrably false.

Let us begin with the second part of the claim, the part that appears narrowly factual: that no Leftists went to jail during the Emergency. Those jailed during the Emergency include the current general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury, and his predecessor, Prakash Karat. Both were then leaders of the Students Federation of India, the party’s student wing. Other Communist Party of India (Marxist) members to be jailed included Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, then a young MLA.

These are just three among the hundreds of communists, whether from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), other Marxist parties, or the Naxalites, to be arrested during the Emergency. Some were tortured or, as in the case of the Kerala student P Rajan, killed. Unless Dixit is suggesting that those communists who went to jail were somehow “not red”, this is a brazen lie. Indeed, it is a shameful denial of the lives that were lost or ruined.

Left opposition to Emergency

If we look beyond communists to the broader Left, the claim is even more risible. After all, the opposition to the Emergency was led by a socialist, Jayaprakash Narayan. Raj Narain, whose case of electoral malpractice against Indira Gandhi prompted the Emergency, and who memorably defeated her in Rae Bareli during the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, was a Lohiaite socialist, as was George Fernandes, who organised the underground resistance to Indira Gandhi’s regime. But the socialist opposition to the Emergency included a broad spectrum of socialists, including the anti-Lohia leader Madhu Dandavate. All of the above, of course, were imprisoned.

So much for the idea that people of the Left were not jailed during the Emergency. What about Dixit’s (deliberately) vaguer claim, that the “Leftist commentariat and the Left, in general, were totally supportive of the emergency”?

Many of the most prominent left-wing journalists and writers were early and consistent opponents of the Emergency, from the editors Ajit Bhattacharjea and Kuldip Nayar (who was jailed), to the novelist UR Ananthamurthy. All of the above, by any definition, were part of the Leftist “commentariat”.

The socialist actor and activist Snehalata Reddy died as a consequence of her imprisonment. Those who think award wapsi is a recent phenomenon born of anti-Modi prejudice would be surprised to learn that the original award wapsi took place during the Emergency, was anti-Congress, and came from the Left. K Shivarama Karanth returned his Padma Bhushan, and Phanishwar Nath “Renu” his Padma Shri. Both are widely regarded as among independent India’s greatest writers.

The Emergency was imposed by a party that is, to our eyes, left-of-centre – the Indira Congress – although it was not necessarily left of the political centre of the 1970s. It was, however, supported by one unambiguously Left party, the Communist Party of India. The majority of that party recanted their support for the Emergency at the Bathinda congress of 1978, and Communist Party of India leaders have been apologising for their party’s folly ever since.

When Left and Right united

The Congress, by contrast, has refused to repent or even express regret. Some of us are inclined not to forgive them for this, but that does not justify broad-brush claims about the Left made by the Hindu Right. Every single Marxist or socialist party, with the sole exception of the Communist Party of India, opposed the Emergency: the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Peasants and Workers Party of India, the Socialists, the Forward Bloc. Every party just named was part of the broad Janata alliance that defeated Indira Gandhi and her party in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections. The Naxalites did not participate in parliamentary politics, but were totally opposed to the Emergency.

If the Emergency was the darkest period in the history of the Republic, the successful opposition to it is something to be celebrated, even more so because it spanned the Left and Right, from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to the Naxalites. Democracy, it was agreed, was beyond ideology or partisanship. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani were exemplars of this spirit of opposition unity in the service of democracy and the Constitution. They would be horrified by the suggestion that their colleagues on the Left were all Emergency supporters.

The question of who is to blame for the Emergency is, legitimately, a question of party politics, especially when the party responsible refuses to atone. But any attempt to impose a partisan narrative on the history of opposition to the Emergency is to be resisted, above all because such a narrative is wholly unsupported by the facts.

In the years leading up to the Emergency, Indira Gandhi and her principal secretary PN Haksar developed the ideal of the “committed bureaucrat”: someone whose primary loyalties lay not with the Republic or the people, but with the ruler and her ideology. Sanjay Dixit, ironically for someone who professes loathing for Indira Gandhi and her Emergency, has proven himself a model committed bureaucrat. His attempt to blame the entire Left for the Emergency may be True Indology, but it is fake history.