Friday, June 26, 2015
Unlearnt lessons of the Emergency
By Subramanian Swamy
When attempts at seeking homogeneity of Indian society are carried beyond a point, it is dangerous for democracy... Those of us who can stand up, must do so now.
FOR TWO distinct reasons, it is ludicrous for the BJP to declare that it will hold meetings to remember the declaration of Emergency, whose 25th anniversary falls on June 26 this year. For one, during that 1975-77 period, most of the leaders of the BJP/RSS had betrayed the struggle against the Emergency. It is on the record in the Maharashtra Assembly proceedings that the then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, wrote several apology letters to Indira Gandhi from inside the Yerawada jail in Pune disassociating the RSS from the JP-led movement and offering to work for the infamous 20-point programme. She did not reply to any of his letters. Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee also wrote apology letters to Indira Gandhi, and she had obliged him. In fact for most of the 20-month Emergency, Mr. Vajpayee was out on parole after having given a written assurance that he would not participate in any programmes against the Government. The vivid description of other erstwhile Jana Sangh worthies who chose to walk out of prison on promise of good behaviour is given in a book written by the Akali leader, Mr. Surjit Singh Barnala.
Some of us vigorously opposed the Emergency in our own ways. The full credit for inspiring the struggle must, however, first go to Morarji Desai, who was 78 years old and kept in solitary confinement, and to Jayaprakash Narayan who lay in Jaslok Hospital after both his kidneys were mysteriously made to fail in Chandigarh jail. More significantly, JP's heart had been broken when he saw an India utterly passive to the death of democracy, while those who had earlier egged him on e.g., the RSS, were now repudiating him and offering to work for the nation's tormentors. But JP never gave up. He sent me a message where I was hiding just after he had reached the hospital in August 1975, that I should escape abroad and campaign from there. But he warned me that the struggle may be ``life long''. Morarji, however, was completely unyielding and sanguine. When Indira Gandhi offered him parole on promise of good behaviour, he told the emissary who had come to visit him in jail that no sooner was he out he would start the struggle again. His daughter-in-law, Padma, had wept copiously and implored him to agree because of his age but he told her that death was a better option.
I must add that not all in the RSS were in a surrender mode. The exceptions were Madhavrao Muley, Dattopant Thengadi and Moropant Pingle. Muley had taken a tremendous liking to me. He supported me fully while I was abroad, and while I was hiding in India. But a tearful Muley told me in early November 1976 and I had better escape abroad again since the RSS had finalised the document of surrender to be signed in end January of 1977, and that on Mr. Vajpayee's insistence I would be sacrificed to appease an irate Indira and a fulminating Sanjay whose names I had successfully blackened abroad by my campaign. I asked him about the struggle, and he said that in the country everyone had become reconciled to the 42nd Amendment, and democracy as we had known it was over. Democracy was over for the RSS but not for all others. A few weeks later general elections to the Lok Sabha were declared. No one quite understood then what had made Indira Gandhi do that. But as a consequence, the RSS luckily did not need to sign the document of surrender.
It was an uncoordinated combination of forces that made Indira Gandhi declare elections, and the demise of the Emergency. My intensive campaign abroad and access to the American intellectuals had attracted the attention of the authorities, and especially the newly-elected President of the U.S., Mr. Jimmy Carter, who even before taking oath of office began to breathe down the Indian Government's neck about human rights, which quite unsettled Indira Gandhi. Then there was the unsung hero, Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was motivating her to withdraw the Emergency and acknowledge to her inner self that she had done wrong in imposing it. More pain came to Indira Gandhi when she prostrated before Sri Chandrashekhara Saraswati, the Kanchi Math Paramacharya, for 90 minutes but he had refused to even look at her, making it known that he thoroughly disapproved of the Emergency. And finally she had to contend with an unyielding Morarji Desai as head of the Lok Sangharsh Samiti who refused to withdraw the struggle or even acknowledge any good had come from the Emergency, which Indira Gandhi's emissaries implored him to say as a gesture. In other words, these moral and spiritual personages refused to legitimise the state of Emergency, the infamous 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, and accept a highly- shackled democracy as normal for India. Instead, they all held that the Emergency was subversion of the Constitution and viewed Indira Gandhi as the usurper.It was thus the sustained non- violent and moral approach that won the day, and not a foreign- financed terror. A violent resistance suited the advocates of the Emergency for justifying it, but that resistance had mercifully fizzled out early.
When Indira Gandhi called for elections, those who had failed in their violent resistance wanted to boycott the polls on the grounds that the Opposition parties had no chance in the circumstances since the illiterate masses would not be moved by the issue of democracy, and thus the polls would legitimise the Emergency. But Morarji and Charan Singh would have none of it. Obviously they had more faith in the Indian people than those who demagogically spoke in the name of the people.
It was the plurality and heterogeneity of Indian society that made people revolt against the authoritarian order. This is the crux of the Indian democratic paradigm. India is a democratic society in form because of the mutual gravitational pull of disparate sections that make the whole. Therefore, the lesson to be learnt from the Emergency is that as long as the composite nature of Indian society survives, Indian democracy will survive. Hence, when attempts at seeking homogeneity of Indian society are carried beyond a point, it is dangerous for democracy, at least till we have reached a level of education when good men and women will dare to struggle for fundamental rights.
Edmund Burke had said: ``For evil to triumph, good men must do nothing''. India has to progress considerably before we can confront evil in our society head on. During the Emergency, those who were in a position to fight, with notable exceptions, did not. But, today we do not even have giants like JP and Morarji to defend civil liberty. Mr. H. R. Khanna chose to forego his Chief Justiceship of the Supreme Court rather than undermine judicially the concept of fundamental rights. Does anyone remember him? Further, luck too was on India's side then because Indira Gandhi decided to go for the polls. Had she not done so, it may have taken us a long time to unwind the Emergency.
Today, we are in a much weaker position than in 1975-77 to defend democracy. One reason is that the tall caste-neutral leaders of the Freedom Struggle are no more. Another reason is that a cadre- based fascist organisation is in control of the levers of power. This organisation has spawned lumpen front organisations, that do not hesitate to kill even defenceless missionaries of religion. Worse, there is every indication that institutions are being undermined by a creeping Emergency. This is the second reason why the BJP plan to celebrate the struggle against the Emergency is ludicrous. The BJP has set into motion the overhaul of the Constitution not just a mere amendment to it. It has commenced the rewriting of history. Its sister front organisations such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are already unleashing eerie and shadowy terror at the micro level of society. How can the BJP then speak of defending democracy?
Thus, 25 years later we still cannot take democracy for granted nor put the challenge to it behind us. It is today invisibly under siege. ``Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'' said the American revolutionary Patrick Henry. Thus, those of us who can stand up, must do so now. That sums up the lesson of the Emergency in retrospect.
Courtesy - The Hindu Daily (Tuesday, June 13, 2000)