July 11, 2021

Emergency Detenus Speak Out Against Today’s Undeclared Emergency

Abdul Rahman

ON the twin occasion of 46th anniversary of the imposition of emergency and completion of seven months of the farmers’ movement at Delhi’s borders, Save Democracy Forum organised a virtual public meeting on June 26. The meeting was attended by leaders of the working-class, peasants’ and agricultural workers’ movement who were arrested during the emergency under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). The leaders shared their experiences during the emergency and compared it with the policies of today’s BJP led government calling it an undeclared emergency. They opined that though 1975 was an attack on democracy and peoples’ constitutional rights the policies followed by the Narendra Modi led government are much more dangerous due to its divisive, communal agenda undermining the Constitution and threatening democracy.

The meeting was introduced by AIKS joint secretary, Vijoo Krishnan who underlined the call of Save Democracy Forum to save democracy, save agriculture and protect the rights of the working class from the all-round attacks of the Narendra Modi led BJP government in the country.

AIKS joint secretary, Badal Saroj, who himself was detained under MISA during the emergency hosted the meeting reminding that June 26 is also the 73rd death anniversary of Swami Sahajanad Saraswati, founding president of the All India Kisan Sabha who played a seminal role in building the peasant movement against feudal oppression and imperialist rule. 

Remembering his student days and days in prison under the MISA, senior leader of the AIKS, N K Shukla mentioned that after raising the expectations of the youth and working-class people through the slogan of Garibi Hatao, Indira Gandhi led government soon turned to use coercive measures against them. It was a reaction against the rising popular movement for their rights. He pointed out that the Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, used the movement against Indira’s authoritarian rule and the platform to communally polarise the society. Today, the same BJP is using the state power to subvert the Constitution, democracy and communally divide the country. 

M A Baby, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and a former student leader highlighted how the Narendra Modi led government has borrowed its lessons from the authoritarianism practiced under emergency. He also mentioned that today assault on democracy is much deeper as the central government has not only curbed democratic rights by using draconian laws such as UAPA, it is subverting all democratic institutions and demolishing federalism by taking away most of the powers of the states. He underlined the fact that the economic policies followed by the current regime, though called neo-liberal is neither new nor liberal, but time tested pro-corporate policies. He reminded how during the emergency Pinarayi Vijayan, a sitting MLA at that time, was arrested and tortured in the jail with the objective of breaking his spirit. The arrest of intellectuals, students and opposition leaders today presents a similar danger to Indian democracy against which a joint struggle needs to be built.

AIKS leader Hetram Beniwal, former MLA from Rajasthan mentioned how Indira Gandhi government had tried to create a polity in India without any opposition projecting her as the sole leader. This failed as within days of the lifting of emergency people expressed their anger and defeated her in the elections. He argued that Narendra Modi led government is trying to commit the same mistake by silencing the opposition leaders and creating a cult of personality around Modi. Mentioning how the state is misusing institutions such as ED, CBI, court and media to force opposition leaders to submit to the dictates of the leader. He hoped that popular worker-peasant class movements will lead to the demolition of the false narrative of Modi’s invincibility.

Bijan Dhar from Tripura while narrating the threats faced by the democratic movements at the time of emergency and at the national level today drew our attention towards the daily attacks faced by the peoples’ movement in the state at the hands of the BJP. Hooligans supported by the state government have attacked protests rallies taken out in support of farmers’ movement and against rising prices of essential commodities in the state. State’s minorities and women are under severe attack too. 

A senior communist leader from Assam, Uddhab Barman spoke about his and several other comrades’ 19 month imprisonment during the emergency. He mentioned how the BJP activists have been presently targeting the opposition leaders in the state and threatening people for their participation in the pro-democratic movements. He also mentioned the BJP led government’s assaults on the constitutional provisions of the centre-state relations making them undemocratic.

Kishor Thekkedath leader of the teachers’ movement from Maharashtra mentioned that all those arrested during the emergency were prepared for the long haul in jail. In the 16 months that he spent in the prison he studied all three volumes of Marx’s Capital. Mentioning the arrests of students and intellectuals in cases such as anti-CAA protests, Bhima Koregoan and others he too agreed that today’s undeclared emergency is worse than the emergency.

Sanjay Puttatunda senior leader of the Krishak Sabha from West Bengal mentioned the days of the Bengal semi-fascist terror unleashed by Congress-led government much before the declaration of emergency saying that similar attacks are being carried out today by both the central government led by the BJP and the state government led by TMC with a common objective of promoting the interests of the corporates.

Inderjeet, Haryana Kisan Sabha leader said that we should not just focus on individual leaders for authoritarianism as it is not the individuals like Indira or Modi who are responsible for an like emergency situation but the system of capitalism. The capitalist system needs state power to curb the voices of the working class. He also mentioned that the present government is controlled by the RSS which does not respect democracy and rule of law.

Suneet Chopra, a senior leader of the AIAWU remembering the threats during the emergency asserted that the working classes have never shied away from their responsibility to fight for their rights and to save democracy no matter what the pressure and threats were and they never will surrender.

Noor Mohammed from Tamil Nadu and Nagaiah from Telangana highlighted the similarities between the emergency and present-day undeclared emergency. Ramesh Kaushal, Ashok Katoch, Rampal Singh, Jagir Singh spoke about the situation in North India and their experience as young activists of the democratic movement.

Arun Mehta, a senior leader of the trade union and CPI(M) from Gujarat, was just 16 years old when he was arrested during the emergency. He said that emergency or authoritarianism is a symptom of the failure of the capitalist state and bourgeoisie democracy. It is a class reaction, an attempt to suppress the working classes and we should see it that way. He said that today’s undeclared emergency is more dangerous due to a combination of corporate interest and communalism of the RSS. He said that in Gujarat all democratic spaces for expressing dissent had been denied for the last two decades and similar attempts are made at all India level today. 

Janardan Pati veteran trade union leader from Odisha said that BJP and RSS led government has carried out various demolitions from Babri Mosque to Article 370 with the sole objective of demolishing country’s constitutional institutions. BJP led government has robbed the rights of workers, farmers and other toiling masses and suppressed the voices of dissent and are committing atrocities on the dalits, adivasis, women and minorities. He also said that judiciary has failed to do its duty to protect the Constitution. He said that the current situation is a result of a combination of imperialist, corporate and communal forces and we need to build an alternative platform to fight against this.

V J K Nair from Karnataka, in his concluding remarks, said that democracy is used by the ruling classes to follow their own interests and when people oppose their plight the ruling classes always use authoritarian rules to curb dissent. He remembered his imprisonment as a time of political education and remembered how A K Gopalan and others played a big role in parliament and outside in exposing Indira. If we want to save democracy, we need to continuously fight against the ruling classes strengthening the joint struggle of peasants, workers and students he said.

Speakers exuded hope about the ongoing farmer’s agitation and their resolve to stand against the brutal suppression unleashed by the government. They all hoped that this agitation becomes a joint platform of all working-class and pro-democracy agitations in the country and that is the only way to defeat the undeclared emergency under the Modi regime.