Will India have a relapse of the 1970’s emergency? Will fundamental rights be affected again?

For the new generation of Indians, the emergency that was imposed on June 25, 1975 when the President of India passed an ordinance that the state was in danger could merely be a chapter of history. It was a time when all the Fundamental Rights of Indians were suspended. Those who have lived through it have had several recollections. While some appreciated the discipline it brought in public life, many still shudder to remember the trauma and suffocation the citizens underwent.

She was Insecure

India Gandhi Indias State of Emergency

Of all the reasons for the imposition of emergency, the real reason was the fear and insecurity that Mrs. Indra Gandhi felt for herself and her rule in those crucial times. The Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement of ‘Total Revolution’ was invoking strong response among the masses and the decision against Mrs. Indira Gandhi for election malpractices in Allahabad High Court had shaken her position and confidence. That verdict was later challenged in Supreme Court and Mrs. Gandhi was granted a conditional stay. It allowed her to be an MP but not preside over parliamentary proceedings. This was the first step to emergency.

Babu Jayaprakash Narayan was asking the police, army and the people to follow the Constitution than Indira Gandhi.

Mrs. Gandhi had lost her bearing and in desperation she invoked Article 352 of the Indian Constitution which gave her extraordinary powers. The Article 352 gave powers to influence police forces to detain protesters and strike leaders. Many of the prominent leaders were arrested and the remaining political workers went underground still continuing their protests. State and parliamentary elections that were due that time were postponed. Her son Sanjay Gandhi acquired unlimited powers and forced sterilization became the worst of measures that brought ignominy for the ruling Party and extreme indignation of masses. The idea of ‘family planning’ was to be a voluntary process. But it turned out to be a horror manifest. There were reports where unmarried, old and in some cases opponents were forced to get sterilized.

Sanjay Gandhi Indias State of Emergency

Victim of Emergency

The media suffered immensely under Emergency. Severe censorship was imposed on newspaper, television and radio as well. With the sole exception of ‘the Indian Express’, most of the media organs failed to have the guts to defy the censorship orders. It behaved meekly and fell prostrate when they were asked to bend.

Once the Emergency was lifted, Mrs. Indira Gandhi had to face the fiercest criticism for her actions. In the 1977 Lok Sabha Elections the Janata Party under the leadership of Morarji Desai came to power.  Indira Ji was arrested on account of various cases against her. A new chapter began in the political and social life of India.

LK Advani and Emergency Today

LK Advani Indias State of Emergency

L K Advani, senior BJP leader, a great experienced Margdarshak (Path Finder) has struck a note of caution in a recent interview to the Indian Express. He is not saying that Emergency in India is imminent but ‘at the present point of time, the forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger. In the years since the Emergency in 1975-77, I don’t think anything has been done that gives me the assurance that civil liberties will not be suspended or destroyed again.

Of course, no one can do it easily… But that it cannot happen again — I will not say that. It could be that fundamental liberties are curtailed again. I do not see any sign in our polity that assures me, any outstanding aspect of leadership. A commitment to democracy and to all other aspects related to democracy is lacking. Today, I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. It is possible, that the Emergency could save India from another Emergency as it happened in Germany, where Hitler’s rule appears to have inoculated the system against Hitlerian tendencies and because of which today’s Germany is more particular about democratic norms than even perhaps the British. The aftermath of the Emergency having been an election in which the party that imposed the Emergency lost very badly, would always be a deterrent for future rulers who think of repeating what was done in the 1970s. But of the countervailing forces against authoritarianism, the media is more independent today but does it have a real commitment to democracy and civil liberties — I don’t know. It is something that must be put to the test. And civil society raised hopes, most recently during the Anna mobilisation against corruption, only to disappoint. Of the various institutions that are to be held responsible for a well functioning democracy in India today, the judiciary is more responsible than the others.”

There are few leaders left who are still seriously when they express their views. The nation listens to them. Lal Krishna Advani is one of them.

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By Naim Naqvi 

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