Friday, July 16, 2010

Remembering National Emergency on 35th Anniversary

Remembering National Emergency on 35th Anniversary
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are certain milestones in independent India that divides the nation into its pre and post phase. One of them definitely is the national Emergency of 1975 and people in the country demarcate India between two clear phases that’s pre and post Emergency.

The young generation is unaware of this dark phase of contemporary India under national Emergency. They also don’t know the sacrifices that were made by the young generation then to retrieve the democratic rights that were taken away by the autocratic ruler of that time.

In the 35th anniversary of the national Emergency, the future generation needs to be told the graphic details of that landmark event and should be cautioned that such experimentation be never tried on the Indian masse ever again.

The proclamation of Emergency on 26th June, 1975 was the darkest day of Indian History, when we nearly lost our hard-earned freedom. It was the day when democracy was derailed, people of dissenting voices were detained without any trial and media was gagged and silenced.

It became authoritarian rule of one person where Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi became law unto herself where a chapter of authoritarian and extra constitutional rule began where she and her son Sanjay Gandhi were calling the shots.

Traditional and ethical values were discarded and all the arms of the state were in the service of authoritarian assertion of one personality. It was the erosion of moral values from the politics and other democratic institutions.

Reminiscing 15th August, 1947 when country got freedom and India’s first Prime Minister Mr. Jawahar Lal Nehru built up brick by brick the democratic institutions of the country. The system that was built by the architect of modern India was kept aside by none other than his own daughter under the self created circumstances in 1975. She made every effort to pull it down and to destroy them.

Morality was squeezed from the politics and politics became an adjunct of power grabbing. Rather than to serve the people, provide vibrancy to people’s sovereignty and ultimately strengthen democratic polity, power because a story of a chair (Kisa Kursee Ka).

The immediate reason for the proclamation of the Emergency was; Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha had declared Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election invalid and barred her from holding political office for 6 years.

Mrs. Gandhi refused to accept the landmark judgment and instead her government at the Centre declared Emergency on June 26th, 1975.

The Shah Commission Report had cautioned Mrs. Gandhi that there was no such law and order problem and the country did not warranted the declaration of Emergency. However, Mrs. Gandhi cared little about any such suggestions and she went ahead with the proclamation of Emergency as she wanted to cling to power by any means.

Parliamentary norms were violated. The President of India signed on dotted lines and cabinet members played a subservient role in endorsing that. There was all around degeneration and the way democratic institutions behaved was the source of concern. Even Press was no longer an instrument of empowerment.

Emergency was declared to suppress the people’s democratic aspirations. During those nineteen months the fundamental rights of the people were suspended and any recourse to justice was smothered under the authoritarian rule.

During emergency press censorship, slum eviction and forceful sterilization and others misdeeds were executed with impunity. The repression unleashed against the common people at Turkman Gate in Delhi and near Jama Masjid were glaring examples of state brutality. Poor Muslims were targeted to adhere to family planning through forced sterilization; many among them were unmarried youth.

The Union Carbide Company got the order cleared to set-up industry during Emergency for the production of poisonous Methyl Iso-cayanite (MIC) in the thickly populated area in Bhopal. This led to the industrial catastrophe where thousands were killed and maimed for life and people still are struggling to get justice.

The role of police in combating communal onslaught was dismal during Emergency. In fact it was the patronage during the Emergency RSS and their ilk got that in the post emergency period they emerged emboldened. It was with the help of the administration connivance they unleashed communal mayhem and destroyed the pluralist traditions of the country.

In the aftermath of emergency the National Police Commission which came into being to serve the people in accordance to the provisions of the constitution has yet to gain any importance. Had such mechanism may have been put on the pedestal, its felt that the perpetration of 1984 anti-Sikh riot in Delhi and in 2002 anti Muslim riots in Gujarat may have been prevented.

Initially people in the country could not make out what the Emergency was all about. As the counters of emergency were slowly getting unraveled and the murder of democracy was being confirmed, people came out on streets to protest against the undemocratic rule.

Students played a very big role in leading the mass protest. They boycotted their schools and colleges and did fear their arrest. The teachers too played a significant role and they too actively participated in the protest. So were the Lawyers who boycotted the bar and joined the street protest.

It was a celebration of rebellion that was seen during the 19 months of emergency rule in India. There are many political leaders who are now on the national scene are the product of the mass protest.

Finally the mighty of the mightiest had to bow down to the din and clatter of the people’s protest and the national Emergency was withdrawn on 21st March, 1977, and fresh Lok Sabha Election was announced.

It was the resilience of the democratic society and its people which had played significant role in restoring democracy by voting against the authoritarian rule. They gave stinging rebuff to the proponents of Emergency at the husting of 1977.

After that the country breathed a sigh of relief that’s how two phases of India got demarcated. One is pre emergency and other post emergency. A parallel can be drawn with the proclamation of emergency and attenuation of democratic polity in the present situations.

The true democracy that is enshrined in our constitution and manifested during emergency like a flash in a pan has gone into oblivion specially when we see the glaring repression and authoritarianism manifested by the Indian state.

In certain quarters emergency still exists informally in different forms. The government of the day is indulging in anti-people activity with the full support of the state apparatus. The emergency like situation is being created with the policy shift under Neo-Liberal structural change and disparity between poor and rich has widened.

The democracy has become so diluted that common masses are struggling to salvage their democratic polity from the stranglehold of capitalist onslaught.

It is high time to retrieve democratic polity from the imposition of anti-people and anti-democratic policies initiated by the government and which has the potential to create governance issues that haunted the people of this country during those dark days of emergency of 1975.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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