Forty two years ago, today marked the beginning of 21 months of uncertainty and fear triggered by the imposition of internal Emergency by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It was considered to be the ‘darkest hour’ in the political history on India.
On June 26, 1975, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed drew on Article 352 of the Constitution to declare a state of internal emergency. The presidential proclamation said “the security of India is threatened by internal disturbance”
Under the Emergency rule, the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assumed draconian powers and crushed all dissent.
In the days that followed, civil liberties were suspended, media censored, and amendments were brought that threatened to alter the basic character of the Constitution. Draconian laws like MISA were strengthened. The government suspended the right to move court for enforcement of Fundamental Rights.
While the momentous period in Indian history unleashed massive protests, criticism and backlash from all threads of society, it was the poets of India who through their words traversed the sensitive contours of the political and metaphorical.
One such poetic voice was that of Baba Nagarjuna.
Revered by the most demanding crtics and readers, Nagarjuna is considered the master of political poetry. His works suffuses deep attention to details with unsurpassable wit, a quality which has made him the modern-day Kabir.
He composed some of his finest poetry during this period and was jailed during the Emergency. His jail experience led to disillusionment with the much-hyped idealism and character of the JP movement—resulting in poetic introspection.
Mantra Om is on such poem by Nagarjuna that serves as a strong commentary against the Emergency rule of the Indira Gandhi government.
Interestingly the song was absorbed in the cosmos of music in 2015, by an equally politically resonant voice of our times of the Assamese singer Zubin Garg. While Garg’s claim to fame happened with his iconic song ‘Ya Ali’, this multi-instrumentalist’s signature style of fusing classic rock with folk music has gained him widespread fame.
Garg’s Assamese songs are strong political commentary on corruption, terrorism and how these extinguished the dreams of an entire generation. The singer who identifies himself as a rebel and a politically charged person, did a rock rendition of Nagarjuna’s Om Mantra for Sanjay Jha’s Strings- Bound by Faith (2015)
The song, beyond its melody also serves as a visual treat as it’s replete with flamboyant visuals of various aspects of the Indian culture.