Emergency – A Black Day – A lesson not well learnt.
June 25, 2015
‘Learn from the mistakes of others, you cannot live long enough to commit them all by yourself.’ …. Chanakya
The twenty month long Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi has been the most squalid chapter in the post-Independence history of world’s largest democracy. It was a naked subversion of the Constitution to protect the power of the totalitarian leader.
It’s been forty years since this horrendous act, as civil liberties were suspended, political opponents were jailed and the press was muzzled, yet there is no real acknowledgement or apology from Congress’ side till date. Further, those responsible for it have not shown any trace of honest realization admitting it was wrong and should never come back.
The greatest damage incurred from this move was the erosion of moral values from politics and other democratic institutions. That trend has not been reversed so far, however, the spirit of democracy has managed to survive.
In many ways the foundation for Emergency was laid when the Allahabad High Court set aside Shrimati Indira Gandhi’s election to fifth Lok Sabha on the grounds of electoral malpractices, thereby allowing her to remain a Member of Parliament but disallowed to take part in parliamentary proceedings.
This prompted Shrimati Gandhi to crouch the Constitution and foist the National Emergency under Article 352(1) that she had planned in utmost secrecy with the help of only a small coterie of trusted loyalists. Even her Cabinet was not taken into confidence. At about 11 pm, she accompanied by Shri Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then West Bengal Chief Minister and a leading lawyer, went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to get President Shri Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s signatures on the Emergency proclamation. Shri Ray explained to him that the Prime Minister’s word was enough and no cabinet resolution was needed, to which the President complied.
Almost immediately, Shri Jay Prakash Narayan and Shri Morarji Desai were roused from sleep and put under arrest. Tens of thousands of similar arrests were being made across the country. At midnight, the lights on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Delhi’s “Fleet Street”, went out. Such power cuts were routine those days. But usually, the lights came back after a couple of hours. This did not happen on the night of June 25, and newspapers could not be printed because the Emergency regime so wanted.
As result, most Indians first heard about imposition of the Emergency and arrests of prominent political leaders at 7.30 am on June 26 from the BBC World Service.
A British writer while commenting on the happenings had said, “Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ seemed to have been turned into a tryst with despotism – and by his own daughter”. With a single stroke of a “pliant president’s pen”, the world’s largest democracy was reduced to a “tin-pot dictatorship”, the likes of which then abounded in the Third World.
The institutions those were destroyed by the Emergency have not regained their health till date and need to be revived. The dilution of the democratic momentum ensured that no permanent opprobrium was attached to those who played foot-soldiers to this terrible act. Congress that was part of the most regimes thereafter seemed unwilling to take lessons and continued to promote sycophancy and nepotism within in the party as well as in the democratic institutions it controlled. The party was primarily interested in unleashing vendetta against political opponents who had mustered courage to raise their pitch against the authoritarian rule, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji, Shri Lal Krishna Advani Ji, Shri Chandra Shekhar and to some extent Shri Subramanian Swamy.
On the shore, the real letdowns were the ‘sons of revolution’ , who surged to the top at the name of egalitarian polity but did the same that was practiced by their ‘secular predecessors’ ie. promoting sycophancy and making their parties a family run business. Ironically, these anti-oppression heroes will go down the history as despotic, punitive administrators for their arbitrary functioning and brazen misuse of democratic institutions from bureaucracy to judiciary and other law enforcing agencies while making ‘rule of law’ an absurd in the states they ruled. Their political class in a way has ditched very inception of theirs’.
Meanwhile the 1977 polls and Congress party’s resounding defeat during the course is the biggest reassurance that Emergency cannot be repeated. Anyone who dares to bring it back will face the same fate. People when realized were quick in defeating Shrimati Gandhi her when elections were held, will do the same if somebody tries to do it again. That is their catharsis.
Even if we leave aside the Constitutional safeguards and the hugely changed configuration of political forces, the material fact remains is that India can be governed, to the extent possible only democratic means or it can’t be governed at all.