Remembering June 26 and the days that followed

Jun 26, 2023
By Vijay Chawla

June 26th, 1975 began as a great day for me. I was happy because after three years of efforts , I was able to bring together about half a dozen student organisations, who were working in Rajasthan, in Bikaner, Ganga Nagar, Karauli, Udaipur, Dausa, Jaipur and Jhunjhunu. The plan was to hold a meeting of all these organisations, bring them together and form a unified state level  student organization, with a proposed name, Sanyukta Chhaatra Sangh.

The meeting was scheduled for June 30th in Jaipur. I had returned from my travels on 25th after finalizing the program with all the organisations. In this elated mood, I went to meet a friend at MI road and had a cup of coffee with him. He mentioned that he has heard that leaders like Morarji Desai have been arrested. But I brushed aside his caution and said that they must be arresting big leaders only. I said, “Who would be bothered about us? We are small fry.”

Later, I boarded a bus from Ajmeri Gate towards my university. Still in my chirpy mood and thinking all the time about the student organization, I got down at the university gate, and entered the university whistling softly.

Then I saw a jeep coming from inside the university campus. The DSP asked the driver to stop the jeep as soon as he saw me. Immediately, I realised that something terrible is likely to happen. The DSP called out to me, “Chawla! Zara yahan aao. Chawla! Come here.)” I walked slowly towards his jeep and he asked, “Anil kahan hai?” Anil was a political activist. I told him I didn’t know, and asked him to go and ask for him at his home. He said, “You come with us. Sit in the jeep. Let us go to his house. I refused and said that I have work and I will not be able to go.

After a few more exchanges when I refused to relent, he lost his patience and shouted. “You are under arrest.” I asked him to show me the arrest warrant. I told him to inform my faculty that you are taking me with you, and I will come. I insisted that instead of sitting in the jeep and going into the university campus, I will walk and they should follow.

He told the police, “Isko utha lo. (Pick him up)” Around 6 policemen dragged me to the jeep while I was continuously resisting. While I was trying to fight, around 30-40 people started gathering around us in a circle. With every passing moment, the crowd was increasing in size. Finally, they lifted me up and threw me inside, immediately after which the jeep fled from the campus. They took me to the Bapu Nagar Police Station. I found Anil was already sitting there and he had been picked up earlier. The news of my detention spread quickly, alerting all activists. Some may have gone underground.


The lesson to be learnt is that when you are being arrested, then do not obey the orders of the policemen like a good school boy. You should make as much noise as possible, delay it as much as you can and ask them for a warrant and other relevant documents. Insist on calling your lawyer and resist as much as you can.


Anil was already there in the Bapunagar thana. Then we were taken to Ajmeri Gate police kotwali lines and by afternoon we were taken to main police lines. We were escorted to a big hall. And lo and behold, the who’s who of Rajasthan politics were already there.

Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the Jan Sangh, master Rama Sharan Antyanupraashee of Socialist Party, Mahavir Singh Handa of CPI (M), Govind Gupta of CPI (M) and a few more. Handa, who recognised me, greeted me warmly. Everyone knew Anil as he was a more popular figure in the social and political circles. Bhairon Singh greeted him.

Due to poor planning, the administration kept giving conflicting orders and the plans of where we will be taken kept on changing. Finally, we were taken to Jaipur jail at 11 PM  and Bhairaon Singh Shekhawat was not with us, he was sent elsewhere. While entering the jail, we shouted slogans to show our solidarity and our resolve to fight. Thus June 26 which started with great optimism ended with a great foreboding for the future.

Due to the presence of senior party leaders from the BJP and the CPI(M), the detenues quickly organized themselves and started agitating. The jail manual was demanded from the authorities  and with great difficulty they gave a copy of the manual for us to read. The detenues were from various professions and backgrounds, and were much more informed than the jail authorities.

We demanded the status of political prisoners. As a part of this struggle, we agitated and shouted slogans twice a day and wrote letters to the Superintendent. Finally, two leaders, one from CPI (M) and one from CPI (ML) went on a hunger strike for 5 days, which intensified the agitations. Even though our demand for the status of political prisoners was not accepted, all other demands regarding food, beds and lights were accepted.

We were given food rations and a cook, who was a person serving a long term jail sentence was assigned to us. We even began cooking on our own.

Life was comfortable. There were no efforts from the administration to punish us. We were able to get the books we wanted from outside too. This was because of 2 main reasons:

One, we united despite ideological differences. Hence, we were able to agitate against the administration and extract as much as possible. Secondly, the Hari Dev Joshi government of Rajasthan was not in favour of the emergency. So they were liberal and treated the detenues well.

People from different political parties were agitating together in jail, which meant they could also discuss and work together on some issues. Soon, this unity began to wither away, possibly because of the prolonged detention. The first instance of this disintegration was when the common mess was broken up into different messes that were formed on ideological lines. Such incidents were encouraged by the jail administration to reduce the likelihood of collectivising for a common agitation.

Another move to break the unity of these groups was to transfer us to different jails in Rajasthan.

When I was in Udaipur, a large number of detenues were affiliated with RSS and BJP. There were some socialists and a few members from CPI (M) too. However, everywhere, detenues were not sitting quietly. They were constantly trying different approaches to fight against the government.

Since there was little to no possibility of appeals, some detenues filed writ petitions in the High Court citing violations of fundamental rights. The outcomes of such approaches were not important. What was important was that we pursued whatever avenues were open, and did everything in our capacity to register our dissent against the powers.

While we were in jail, some important developments took place outside. On August 15, there was a coup in Bangladesh during which the Mujibur family and their close associates were murdered. Things radically changed in Bangladesh, leading to instability, and subjecting India to vulnerability on its eastern front. Another major event was the death of Mao Tse Tung in October 1976 which led to the intensification of class struggle. Closer to home, the publication of a photograph of Sanjay Gandhi in RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya, created a storm of debates within the political detenues. This gesture of diplomacy of the RSS towards Congress was quickly dismissed by them and criticised by other political groups.

All detenues indulged in continuous discussions and debates freely. However, I feel that no major writing or thought emerged from the prolonged jail sojourn.

When we were released, the world had changed radically. I was very impressed  with the kind of work which student activists had done during the emergency. Those who were to form the  Sanyukta Chhaatra Sangh, had come together and opposed the emergency through leafleting and other work. They formed a new student organisation called Rajasthan Democratic Student Front (RDSF), which was active for another 5-6 years.

Thus, our work had not gone to waste, but had been taken up by others who were doing a good job of it!