It looks like that the Congress leaders get paranoid when the month of June approaches as it was on June 26, 38 years ago, i.e, 1975 when Smt Indira Gandhi clamped the now-infamous emergency. Take for instance, the recent statement of Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary and the sancho panza of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. He has taken strong exception to Supreme Court describing CBI as the caged parrot. “The Apex Court ought to have exercised some restrain and ought not to have belittled the country’s premier investigative institution,” the AICC general secretary sermoned.
This is exactly the Congress leaders of mid-70s—Dev Kant Barooah, Yashpal Kapoor, Siddhartha Shankar Ray etc, etc, – commented when the highest court of the land was seized of cases relating to fundamental rights of the citizens and parliament’s right to alter basic structure of the Constitution, popularly known in the judicial circles as Keshavananda Bharati Case.
Like Digvijay Singh who now speaks for Sonia and Rahuil, some Congress leaders too in mid-70s amplified and reflected Indira Gandhi’s mindset when they said that the “country needed a committed judiciary.” It was obvious that these leaders wanted a judiciary committed not the Constitution of India but to the whims, fancies and political needs of Mrs Indira Gandi in particular and ruling Congress in general. In mid-2013, Digvijay’s tone and tenor is not too different from his senior colleagues of mid-70s. The tone and tenor of Digvijay Singh’s comment is nothing but intimidating.
Emergency has always been an albatross around the Congress men’s neck. None of the Congress leaders worth their salt, be it Sonia or Rahul or anybody else, have moral courage either to defend Emergency or oppose it. Either they will completely avoid the issue or give a, rather, vague—neither here nor there—replies, which is meaningless at its best and cowardice at its worst.
“A week is a long time in Politics” is one of the famous statements of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. If a week is a long time, then 1,997 weeks must be like an eternity. That is the distance in time Independent India has travelled ever since the dictatorial-minded the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi—in her eagerness to save her chair—perpetrated a most cowardly act of clamping the draconian Emergency on the country in the mid-night of 25-26 June 1975.
Several top leaders of the Opposition parties were arrested and jailed in various parts of the country, starting from revered Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan. Press censorship was imposed and fundamental rights were suspended—something unheard of even during the British days. Democracy stood eclipsed in the country, perhaps, for the first time after India became free. With almost all the leaders in jail, an atmosphere of pessimism prevailed throughout the country.
One has to juxtapose the mindset of Mrs Indira Gandhi in particular and the Congress party in general as well as the political conditions prevailing at that time in order to get a perspective as to why emergency was clamped. Let’s take a quick look. Thousands of students led by Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan had started the Nav Nirman movement against corruption and mal-administration in Bihar. The movement spread like a wildfire to Gujarat against Chimanbhai Patel-led Congress government. The movement had all the characteristics and potential to assume a national phenomenon.
When political situation was becoming hot for Mrs Gandhi and the Congress party, then came the blow from the judiciary when Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of Allahabad High Court held Mrs Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractice on the election petition filed by late Raj Narain. This was like a bolt from the blue for Mrs Indira Gandhi, who was expecting a favourable judicial verdict. The Opposition parties had all the legitimacy to demand her resignation.
In this prevailing situation, ideally Indira ought to have accepted the judicial verdict, resigned gracefully which would have enhanced her prestige in the eyes of the people. But she chose the other way. This is where the mindset of a dictator comes into picture. It is difficult for any dictator to give away power easily. They do anything and everything—even going the legally and morally wrong ways—in order to save their chair. Dictators are always clever enough to justify and defend their actions—of safeguarding the chair—by forwarding patently perverse arguments. The first and foremost characteristic feature of such an argument is to equate self with the nation-state. It stems from the feeling that one is indispensable and any threat to him-self or herself is as good as a threat to the country. So, the slogan India is Indira, Indira is India came easily for her cronies like Devkant Barooha. That the brain for coining such a slogan is that of Indira herself goes without saying. With this mindset, all organs of the state machinery as well as the constitutional provisions were used to protect “her chair” on the pretext of protecting the country from the so-called “internal rebellion.” For Mrs Gandhi to think that she is indispensable, the mindset of the Congress party too has a role to play. The Congress—which is dominated by the Nehru family—has the arrogance to think that it alone posses the right and ability to govern the country. It is this arrogance that makes one become a dictator and such a dictator thinks of weird means to cling on to power.
That thousands of workers of the Opposition parties and right-thinking people fought against the Emergency—legally, politically, inside and outside the jail—which enabled restoration of democracy and fundamental rights back needs no mention. The press censorship, physical and mental torture of political activists, taming of the Parliament, trampling of human rights, attempt to have a committed judiciary—committed not to Constitution but to the political needs of Mrs Indira Gandhi—these were all disturbing manifestations of an unfortunate reality.
Thirty eight years later, just because there has been no talk of imposing emergency in the country by the ruling party at the Centre, has the mindset of the Congress and its leadership changed? The reply may not be a resounding Yes, but definitely it is not an emphatic No.
For, we all have seen how the country’s first family has been remote-running the Union government. It is both for strategic as well as Constitutional reasons that Congress president Sonia Gandhi chose not to become the Prime Minister. But it goes without saying that she is the “Super PM” for all practical purposes. There cannot be an instance in the country’s oldest party where somebody from outside the Congress can even think of becoming the party president. Everyone of us is aware how Sitaram Kesari was physically and literally lifted out of the President’s chair in 1997 in order to pave the way for Sonia Antonia Maino to take over the party chief’s post. For the party which claims and boasts of driving away the British, it must be a tragic irony to hand over the Indian National Congress to a person who is not a naturally-born Indian and definitely not a true nationalist.
If the Congress party has not dared to speak of imposing Emergency or even think of defending those draconian days, it is essentially because of a lot of constitutional reforms that were brought in by the then Janata party government headed by Morarji Desai. It is also true that the Congress Party’s electoral clout has eroded and political and social reach has depleted because of which it has no majority in the Rajya Sabha to get the bill passed, should emergency is declared.
Yet the mindset that prevailed in Mrs Indira Gandhi that guided her to declare Emergency continue to exist in the leadership of the Congress but cannot translate its dreams into reality due to a sea change that has come in the form of awareness among the people. Digvijay Singh’s statement lambasting the Supreme Court should be taken seriously. Such a serious comment that too against the Supreme Court cannot come out on his own without a silent nod from the Gandhis. Digvijay Singh is the kite that the Gandhis use regularly to test which way the wind is blowing and how strong the current is.
Emergency should not revisit our country, at any cost. But every generation should re-visit emergency days to draw appropriate lessons about ways and means to protect democracy.
By SA Hemantha Kumar