Vol. XLII No. 26 July 01, 2018

Emergency 43 Years Ago

THE 43rd anniversary of Emergency became, as usual, an occasion for the BJP leadership to put out its own distorted and boastful version of this eventful period in post-independent India. 

The internal Emergency declared on June 26, 1975 by Indira Gandhi was a direct attack on democracy. It ushered in an authoritarian regime which suspended civil liberties, jailed opposition leaders and activists in thousands under preventive detention, imposed press censorship and amended the constitution to introduce draconian measures.

Since Indira Gandhi had to justify these measures on the pretext that there was an extra-constitutional attempt to destabilise her government, she specifically targeted all those  political forces who were opposed to her.  They included the rightwing opposition starting from the Jana Sangh-RSS to the Left opposition, primarily the socialists and the CPI(M). The RSS was also banned as an organisation.

The BJP seeks to revise the script by projecting the RSS and its adjunct, the Jana Sangh, as the foremost fighters against Emergency. This is economising with the truth.  While it is true that a large number of RSS leaders and workers were put in jail, it is also a fact that a number of them tendered apologies and declared support for the 20-point programme of the Indira government to facilitate their release.

They did so, probably taking the cue from the RSS sarsanghchalak, Balasaheb Deoras. Deoras, who was lodged in jail, wrote two letters to Indira Gandhi offering to cooperate with the government and declaring support for the `constructive programmes’ of the government. Thus, the doughty fighters against the Emergency were shown to be craven and vacillating in the face of State repression. 

Having such a dubious record, it is a bit rich of Arun Jaitley to claim that the CPI(M), though theoretically opposed to the Emergency, was not an active participant in the struggle.  Arun Jaitley, who was a student leader of the ABVP at that time, was jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA); so he would have known that leaders of the Students Federation of India were also in jail  at that time. Not only that, many leaders and cadres of the CPI(M) were jailed during this period. 

During the Emergency, the CPI(M) worked indefatigably to organise people against the attacks on democracy.

For those who were born after that period, it may be useful to recall that it was the CPI(M) which first warned about the danger of one party authoritarian rule  at its 9th Congress held in 1972. Since then, the Party worked consistently to mobilise all democratic forces against the growing authoritarianism. The precursor to the authoritarian emergency was already in play in West Bengal, where the Congress rulers instituted a reign of semi-fascist terror. The CPI(M)’s fight against authoritarianism was not, thus, confined to the internal Emergency alone.

It is this experience of fighting authoritarianism, which enabled the CPI(M) to see clearly the onset of a communal authoritarian regime in India today.  What has been witnessed in the past four years of the Modi government is an “undeclared emergency” which is nothing but the institutionalisation of an authoritarian regime. 

When the BJP talks about the emergency era of four decades ago, it blithely sidesteps the fact that  a far worse authoritarian regime has been put in place marked by a systematic encroachment of civil  liberties and democratic rights; subversion of the institutions under the constitution; State-aided vigilantism and lynch mobs; and intimidation of the media and suppression of dissent.

If there is any lesson to be learnt from the emergency of yore, it is that unrelenting and re-doubled efforts are required to defeat the authoritarian communal regime in place today. 

(June 27, 2018)