Features Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 05:30

  The 19 months since Indira Gandhi’s proclamation of the Emergency (it was her decision though proclaimed by Fakruddin Ali Ahmed as required by the Constitution) late in the night on June 25, 1975, were perhaps the darkest phase of our young democracy. It should, however, be added that the few weeks, between January 18, 1977, when she announced her decision to hold elections, and March 20, 1977 when the election results began trickling in, confirmed that the people of India cared for political democracy the most. The summary defeat of the Congress party, especially that Indira and her son Sanjay too were defeated, was beyond anyone’s expectation. And this forced Indira to hold a cabinet meet on March 21, 1977 to recommend withdrawal of the Emergency. A lot has happened since then and the Constitution amendments have rendered it impossible for any regime to repeat what Indira Gandhi did on June 25, 1975. Article 352 now makes it imperative for a written resolution by the Cabinet before the President proclaims Emergency; and `Internal Disturbance’ has since been replaced with `armed rebellion’ as condition precedent for such a declaration. Article 359 has been amended to ensure that the Right to legal remedy (under Article 32 and 226) shall not be suspended insofar as the freedoms guaranteed under Article 20 and 21 are concerned. In other words, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which was denied by the infamous decision by the majority in the ADM Jabalpur vs S.K.Shukla (when Justice H.R.Khanna was the lone dissenter) during the Emergency, shall now hold good even during an Emergency. In short, the democratic edifice stands stronger today insofar as political rights are concerned and this indeed was the outcome of the mandate of March 1977 and the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1979. The Janata regime, that learnt its lessons from the 19 months of Emergency, ensured this much.   However, the Emergency was not merely about tampering with the Constitution and indiscriminate arrests and denial of political democracy. The 19 months also witnessed the might of the Indian state against its people, especially the poor. The Turkman Gate action, for instance, was about throwing out the poor and forcing them to live in urban slums to ensure that the city was cleansed of dirt and squalor. Such forced evictions were carried out during the Emergency elsewhere too and such poor people voted against Indira and her party in March 1977 to redeem democracy in India. In the four decades since the intervening night of June 25-26, 1975 through several regimes in New Delhi and in the States, we do find slum dwellers evicted with impunity. And the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Olga Tellis case (AIR-1986-SC-180) has since been rendered meaningless by successive regimes and even the judiciary. The violence unleashed on people to ensure their displacement is indeed a matter-of-fact detail of our own times. Emma Tarlo, in her 2003 book Unsettling Memories: Narratives of India’s Emergency, reminds us of this part of the Emergency, and yet we have not cared to learn; and it may not be an exaggeration to hold that this dark aspect of the Emergency lingers, with approval from politicos across the spectrum to this day. The generation that was born after the dark age is indeed oblivious of this and sometimes even approves of it. We may not have had another Emergency, thanks to the changes in the Constitution. But then, one of its dark faces persist without such official curtailment of the Fundamental Rights. It happened in New Delhi in the early 1980s (while preparing for the Asian Games) and as recently for making Delhi look good for the Common Wealth Games. It has been happening in the Narmada valley for over two decades now; in almost all our cities where farmers are dispossessed of their land for building houses and fantasy parks; and in the forests where adivasis are forced out of their forests to facilitate handing over the mines and the minerals to exploitation. And in all these instances, we hear the rulers declaring any resistance to such atrocities as anti-national and even as the largest threat to the nation. This is reminiscent of Indira’s declaration that those who opposed her were enemies of the nation and that the Emergency was needed to defend the nation! It is here that we will also have to take stock of the media in our times, 40 years after the Emergency. True that the media, as it is now, cannot be dealt with the same way as the Indira Gandhi regime could during the Emergency. Technology today has ensured this. Round the clock TV news now brings developments to the drawing rooms and the possibility of beaming visuals from anywhere in the world to anywhere in India will ensure that such large scale arrests (over a lakh men and women detained across the country without specific charges and held under Preventive Detention Laws) cannot be kept away from the people as could the regime do in 1975-77. Similarly, the internet media has shown that such measures will not work.   Contrast this with the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy case: George Fernandes and his comrades, then, had to attempt smuggling of 500 Low Power Transmitters that they intended to locate in various parts of the country and intervene into the AIR sound waves in a synchronized manner to transmit sound waves with messages against the Emergency! They were caught before doing that and sent for trial. One does not have to do all that in the event of another Emergency thanks to the advances in satellite broadcast! But then, it is mere wishful thinking given the corporate influence over the media and the nexus with the liberalized Indian state as such. The fact that the media today is under corporate control is a fact that raises the spectre of propaganda control in a different way than we saw some 40 years ago. And the fact that the concerns of evictions and mass displacement of the people or the life in the slums are no longer the concerns of our mainstream media is something that conveys that we may no longer need an emergency to achieve what the Sanjay-Jagmohan-Maneka kinds did during the Emergency. And the Emergency will have to be remembered not only because it curtailed political freedom but for the fact that such attacks on political freedom also meant denial of social and economic freedom. Some recent experience, with the present regime, and the use of the media, apparently free from state control, is worth discussing in this context. The fact that the media took the nation for a ride celebrating the public spectacle of yoga on June 21, 2015 is a case in point. Public institutions, including universities and schools, were goaded to observe the International Yoga Day (not very different from such other days as Valentine’s Day or the Mothers Day, etc.) with the media playing it up should remind us of one of the Emergency’s horror stories: The Compulsory Sterilisation programme when hundreds of thousands of young men and women were herded into camps by the cheer leaders of the Emergency regime. The point is that it cannot be denied that even four decades after the Emergency, there is no institutional mechanism to resist such designs by a regime to impose a certain idea upon the people; if the compulsory sterilization programme thus pushed during the Emergency was bad, the manner in which the people are told about the virtues of yoga (let it be clarified that this writer has no issues against yoga and has practiced it at various points of time) and forced institutions across the country to organize events on one day where its members are goaded to fall in line is indeed undemocratic. That the media industry earned substantial amounts of money by carrying advertisements of this and even turned the event at the India Gate into a spectacle is certainly something that reminds one of the Emergency.             The writer is also the author of India Since Independence and Emergency: Nadanthathu Enna? Read our other stories on the Emergency here.

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