Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Regurgitating the emergency


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Emergency was, without doubt, a dark period in the history of Indian democracy. Understandably, the Congress does not think so, while the rest of the political establishments subscribe to this theory. The arguments are never-ending, as is seen during its anniversary some half a century later. The abrupt declaration of Emergency by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25, 1975, had stunned the nation. The backdrop was a popular anti-establishment uprising with Sarvodaya leader Jayaprakash Narayan at its head. A Gandhian who never hankered after power or positions, he enjoyed huge mass adulation and support. The student community across universities erupted in his support, which added weight to the opposition movement.
Indira Gandhi had won a lot of admiration after the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971. But that made her autocratic and her son Sanjay Gandhi emerged as an ‘extra-constitutional’ authority. All these powered the movement against her. An Allahabad High Court order disqualifying her as an MP following a case filed by Socialist leader Raj Narain after the Parliament elections, was the last straw on the struggling camel’s back. Emergency was the answer to all these in one go. The advice to Indira Gandhi about this constitutional provision was believed to have been given by then West Bengal chief minister Siddarth Shankar Ray. The emergency period saw the complete suspension of people’s liberties, freedom of media and political activities. Many opposition leaders were put behind the bars. The end came after 21 months, in March, 1977, with parliament polls followed by the ouster of Indira Gandhi from power and installation of a Janata Party government led by Morarji Desai. But this government was short-lived. Desai quit office in July 1979 and Indira Gandhi and her party returned to power in 1980 with a clear majority. This is another curious matter; meaning, the people of this country refused to paint her as a monster.
The fact of the matter is that the Emergency period was noted for its orderly conduct of government affairs by and large. Trains ran on time and officials reached office on time and did their work; there were no bribes; streets were free of demonstrators. The general public experienced a fear of the unknown, but their life carried on without interruptions. Excesses, mainly at the behest of Sanjay Gandhi, did take place in matters like forced family planning campaigns to control child birth, which meant herding people to health camps to forcibly sterilize them in UP etc. This period also saw massive demolition of slums from central Delhi areas, as part of a cleanliness and beautification drive. Despite these, large sections of people believed that it was the right dose; an occasional shock treatment to a nation of wayward politicians and footloose activists.


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