Features Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 05:30

  Forty years ago on the same day, a conspiracy was afoot to place an entire nation under siege. Threatened by the works of Indian democracy and judiciary, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi advised President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of internal emergency in India, allowing for civil liberties to be curbed and the Prime Minister to rule by decree. Few minutes before midnight on June 25, 1975, India would in effect cease to be a democracy. For the next 21 months, the period which has been called the darkest in independent India, an authoritarian Prime Minister and her cronies would rule the country with absolute impunity. Several decades later, we wonder, what does this mean to those who were born in the years after Indira? For the millennials, emergency is a ghost. We know about it, but we don’t really understand it. We use it to beat down the Congress in political arguments or while lamenting about India’s political class, but we have not really grasped the severity of its onslaught on Indian democracy. We cannot really know how it is to have our civil liberties expelled, to have newsrooms being run by government babus and to have thousands of people jailed for even a whimper of a protest against the government. We cannot comprehend the Emergency also perhaps because the nature of the relationship between the state and the citizen has changed considerably over the years. We are far more vigilant now, but also willing to submit to the state in the name of social or national security. On The News Minute today, we try to bring out the brutality of the Emergency. Some of these stories are well-known and worthy of being reminded. Some of our stories are not popular perhaps even untold, and are begging for an audience. Take some time out today to read all of them, this is our tribute to those who lost their friends, families and lives fighting to save the democracy we cherish today. We bring you the moving story of Nandana Reddy and her mother Snehalatha, who fought against the oppressive regime in South India. Nandana Reddy paid a huge price for her opposition to Indira, she lost a comrade and loved one to the Emergency – her mother. We have great pictures of Snehalatha’s letters and pictures from those days. All of us know about George Fernandes and his role in the Emergency, with that iconic picture of him flaunting his chains, etching his vigour in our minds forever. But little do we know about his brothers. In an interview with Siddhartha Mishra, Michael Fernandes recounts his days during the Emergency. Veteran journalist Murari talks about how the Emergency unfolded right in front of his eyes, from the moments the smaller bits of information started trickling in, hinting at the larger conspiracy that was afoot. He also recounts how the situation was in Tamil Nadu during the emergency. Look out for his wonderful anecdote of the ‘censor officers’ in newsrooms. Speaking of the press, we republish an interview with Ananya Goenka, the daughter-in-law of the legendry Ramnath Goenka of The Indian Express. She talks about the veteran newspaper-owner, Narendra Modi and democracy. In a short and yet touching piece, our own Chitra Subramaniam tells us how the Preamble to the Constitution moves her to tears, and that the gratitude towards those who created and defended the Constitution is immense. And finally, here is a fantastic article by V Krishna Ananth taking us through the dark days of Emergency, and more importantly, throwing light on how even if there can never be the same kind of Emergency ever again, some of those injustices still exist and this generation is oblivious to it. What is interesting, and also sad, is that most of the veterans who have written for us think that while the legal protections against such an Emergency remain strong, our society and polity are still open to the threat of being subject to the will of either one leader or a group of people. Even today, India has not done away its liking for authoritarianism. We like dictators, we just like to call them 'decisive'. This is a time to remind ourselves that as citizens, we have to keep our eyes open and fight against the oppression of the state. Individual freedom is sacrosanct, and no state, government or leader can take that away from us. As Thomas Jefferson said, the price for democracy is eternal vigilance.  

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