Psychological factors like autocratic behavior, supported by sycophancy are dangerous to democracy
BY SESHADRI CHARI
Forty years after the declaration of the infamous Emergency, the debate is not whether circumstances in 1975 justified Emergency. The debate is centred on whether Emergency can become a reality once again.
Why should anyone think that our democracy is weak enough to witness another assault on freedom of thought, expression, assembly, association and movement among others? Can the country witness another 1975-like situation warranting suspension of fundamental rights? The question is not why or how Emergency was declared, but the psyche behind it.
For millions of the younger generation, Emergency is part of their syllabus worth about two marks, not worth knowing during exams, much less remembering. The very idea that they can be prevented from moving around or that freedom to use the internet can be curtailed, sounds ridiculous to them. Ironically, this generation might actually be right, going by the innumerable failed attempts, in India and elsewhere to curb the internet and free flow of information. So, the next time someone higher up in the echelons of power toys with the idea of imposing Emergency, he will have to consider ways and means to tackle the firewall of internet and the net-savvy generation.
The very idea that the younger generation can be prevented from moving around or that freedom to use the internet can be curtailed, sounds ridiculous. This is evident from innumerable failed attempts to curb internet and free flow of information.
Much has been written about the media during Emergency. They “crawled when asked to bend” said one victim of Indira Gandhi in 1975. Barring a handful of newspapers, a large number of them subjected themselves to strict censorship and all other dictates of the Emergency clique. Can anyone think of clipping the wings of the all-powerful media in this age of free 24X7 media and speed-breaking news? So like Gen Next, the media too is likely to be the biggest hurdle for anyone who toys with the idea of Emergency.
The constitution of India, which allowed the proclamation of Emergency in 1975, has lost some of its draconian provisions. It will require nothing short of an armed rebellion to warrant another Emergency. Soon after the general elections that punished Indira Gandhi for her authoritarian rule, the Janata Party and subsequent dispensations got rid of some of the easy steps to Emergency and made it difficult for anyone to usurp democracy. So the new constitution too is another safeguard against imposition of Emergency.
The infamous quote of Emergency was “committed judiciary”. The meaning of committed judiciary in 1975 was committing oneself to political arm-twisting or, as an alternative, experience the fate of Justice JML Sinha (who pronounced the Allahabad verdict unseating Indira Gandhi).
In these days of judicial activism, judiciary seems to be actually enjoying greater freedom, sting and power. So who would be insane enough to challenge the judiciary and stir a hornet’s nest of millions of judiciary’s foot soldiers. Again, the case for another Emergency stands dismissed by the new and revised edition of the judiciary.
Indira Gandhi’s Emergency was fought tooth-and-nail by the Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS) and a few other organizations. Soon after press censorship and detention of political leadership, the Lok Sangharsha Samiti was formed, dominated by erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh and RSS veterans along with socialist and Left leaders. The mass satyagraha against Emergency witnessed millions protesting in groups all over the country. The underground movement became one of the strongest protest mechanisms and a nightmare for those endowed with powers of repression. And for all that, 1975 was not the year of the civil disobedient movement. The term “civil society” was not very popular and meant nothing for those responsible to report from Ramlila Maidan.
Look at 2013-14 and the Anna Hazare movement and its aftermath. We have more RTI activists than political parties and every street corner has half-a-dozen whistle-blowers. So strong is civil society activism now that even the judiciary has to think twice before passing a stricture. Adding to their strength is new-found social media which can carry news and views faster than the thought emanating from one’s mind. So one has to think of nothing short of a Tiananmen Square to wade through these civil society protestors to impose Emergency.
Yet, the very mention of the notorious Emergency evokes memories of the past and it appears that its threat is very real. What, after all, was Emergency? The judiciary, political parties and the constitution could not stand up against Indira Gandhi.
Emergency was the result of at least two significant characteristics that dominated the socio-political scene at the time it was promulgated. One was the greed for power and the firm belief of the political leadership about its invincibility. Indira Gandhi refused to quit and thought she was invincible. Another trait was the swarming pool of her sycophants who were ready to sing and dance to DK Baruah’s tune of “Indira is India and India is Indira”.
The first Emergency was in 1962, the second in 1971 and the third in 1975, all under different circumstances. If we are collectively sure and convinced that the political leadership is divorced from greed for power and sycophancy is a thing of past, rest assured, there can be no fourth time.
—The writer is former editor of the Organiser, was an underground activist and was jailed during Emergency