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1 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Indian emergency revisited

The proclamation of the emergency had come shrouded in silence
Kumkum Chadha
Indian emergency revisited

Rewind 43 years and the clock is turned back to June 12 1975: The Allahabad High Court disqualifies  Indira Gandhi as MP and debars her from contesting elections on grounds of  electoral malpractices. The same day Jayaprakash Narain, popular as JP, gave a call for Indira Gandhi’s resignation. The huge numbers at the rally at Ramlila Grounds that JP addressed were enough for anyone to see red.

Indira Gandhi did and in sheer panic sought legal advice. Her lawyer friend and then Chief Minister of West Bengal Siddartha Shankar Ray used a legal lacunae and advised Indira Gandhi to proclaim a state of internal Emergency. His reason was that JP’s call to ask the army and government servants to join the movement can be misconstrued as rebellion and thus gives a handle to impose the Emergency.

Indira Gandhi lost no time and on the night of June 25 1975 got the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to sign the proclamation of the Emergency.

And that night with one single stroke Ahmad, on the advice of Indira Gandhi, stifled India. She did not stop there. Alongside, she invoked the Maintenance of Internal Security Act using it liberally to drag Opposition leaders, journalists and her political adversaries out of their homes and throw them in jail.

It took a 15 minute crisp address on All India Radio by Indira Gandhi to announce the draconian measure.

The Indian Express newspaper was the first to do a blank page as an editorial after the imposition of the Emergency. Another paper reproduced Rabindranath Tagore’s verse viz where the mind is without fear; others lamented the death of democracy; well known journalist Kuldeep Nayyar led a protest against the Emergency demanding that it be repealed. It was a midnight knock that saw him rounded up from his house and taken to jail.

When Indira Gandhi decided that to repeal the Emergency in less than two years, she did it in the assumption that the “welfare measures” including the 20-point programme that she had introduced had balmed the wounds her regime had inflicted and all was hunky dory. She was mistaken. Even while announcing elections there were reports that the Congress may not win but the “dictator turned self styled democrat” Indira Gandhi was smug in the presumption that in the end all will be well. She was in for a rude shock when not only the Congress Party but she too lost the election along with her son Sanjay Gandhi.

The proclamation of the Emergency had come shrouded in silence. No tanks rolled; nor any guns blazed. It was business as usual at airports and railway stations, shops and offices, schools and colleges, homes and farms.  Then disaster struck. For those who have witnessed 1975 and 2016 can recount how India was stunned into silence and took months to come out of the shock the blow had inflicted.

If 1975 was the year for which India and the world will remember Indira Gandhi, 2014 will go down in history as one in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck a discordant note. Quite like Indira Gandhi he sent a shock wave through the nation by announcing the demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupees bank notes. He set a two hour deadline for the reform to roll out through a simple, crisp television broadcast to the nation.

While the damage to democracy through the Emergency has no parallel, true to its style, the BJP swung into action to revive the gory details after four decades. That it brought alive Indira Gandhi once again to India, is another matter.

The BJP went to town observing June 25 as the “black day”.  

This, however, is not the first year of being in power that the BJP has taken on the Congress and more particularly Indira Gandhi on the Emergency. It has done so consistently, except this time, to borrow its own terminology it is the “new normal”. It sounded shriller and more venomous than it ever has.

In a rally in Mumbai, Modi said  that every institution in the country was subverted during the Emergency and an atmosphere of fear was created. Modi even pulled in  Bollywood to state that legendary singer Kishore Kumar was  blacklisted by the Indira Gandhi government.

"It wasn't just the media... such was the arrogance of the Congress and the family that when Kishore Kumar refused to sing at a Congress function, his songs were banned from radio and television," the Prime Minister told a gathering in Mumbai on the anniversary of the Emergency.

"In those days, the Congress asked Kishore Kumar to perform at its rally. He refused. Such was his crime... at that time he was everywhere, TV, radio...unki chhutti ho gayi (he was shunted out)," said PM Modi, adding, "The Congress did not allow his songs to be played on the radio. His film "Aandhi" (Kishore Kumar was playback singer for the movie) was banned. Imagine the mindset of such a party."

The movie was banned because the Congress was afraid, said PM Modi. "When the Congress feels that power is slipping out of their hands, they try to create fear in the country."

"Aandhi", made by Gulzar, was a political drama that was allegedly inspired by the life of Indira Gandhi. It was released in 1977 after a change of government.

Kishore Kumar songs were not played on state-run All India Radio and Doordarshan for over a year.

Earlier in the week, BJP Chief Amit Shah tweeted, "democracy was murdered by the Congress party merely to maintain power" while paying tribute  to those who fought against the Emergency and said countless number of people were put behind bars as they suffered atrocities for over 21 months. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote in his blog about the 'tyranny' faced by the people faced during the emergency period.

He drew parallels between Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and said  that both had turned democracy into dictatorship.

The BJP, on its part,  issued advertisements criticizing the Emergency and the Congress.

 However critics are slamming the BJP and saying that there is little difference between Indira’s Emergency and Modi’s except that she did it openly and  Modi is unleashing a reign of terror covertly.  They are quick to distinguish between Indira’s declared versus Modi’s undeclared Emergency. If mass sterilizations took a toll on Muslims during Indira’s regime, cow terrorism is persecuting the Muslims during Modi’s. He may not have thrown political opponents in jail but activists and even students are being targeted for standing upto suppression of dissent. There are instances of media being muzzled and the credibility of the judiciary being at stake. It was for the first time that  four senior judges  held a media conference recently to suggest the Chief Justice was assigning sensitive cases to benches of preference. As things are there is, like it was during the Emergency, a fear psychosis which has taken a toll on free speech.

Therefore despite the BJP whipping up the Emergency hysteria, and timing its chorus ahead of the forthcoming elections due next year, the question that stares in the face is: while trying to paint the Congress black has the BJP soiled its own hands in the process because 1975 is history while 2018 is still being played out.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected])  



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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