Authoritarianism difficult to impose in India: Prakash Karat

New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) It is not possible now for any political party to enforce Emergency in India, but there exists a looming danger of a “creeping form of authoritarianism”, said veteran CPI-M leader Prakash Karat who was then forced into hiding to escape from being arrested.

“The experience of the Emergency (rule) has actually strengthened a democratic consciousness among the people. I don’t see any possibility of having an Emergency in the immediate future,” Karat told IANS in an interview on 40 years since Emergency that lasted from June 25, 1975, to March 21, 1977.

He cautioned against some “anti-democratic” laws such as Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which gives authorities the power to detain without filing a charge-sheet for six months, or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), giving special powers to the army in areas declared as disturbed.

“Sraightforward authoritarianism is very difficult to impose in our country. But the danger of a creeping form of authoritarianism where civil liberties get eroded is there,” Karat said.

Karat, 67, who has just stepped down as the party’s general secretary, looks back at the Emergency period as “interesting” and “exciting” times.

He used to be 27 then and a PhD student at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University where he was president of the party’s student wing, Student Federation of India (SFI). He recalls how over 150 JNU students were arrested one night from hostels and a few of them were kept in jail for the entire period.

“As students, we were trying to fight the government,” he said.

Karat was at a SFI meeting in Kolkata on the day the Emergency was declared by then prime minister Indira Gandhi, suspending elections and curbing civil liberties, including arrests of top opposition leaders and dissidents and suspending press freedom.

The party decided some of its cadre will “work underground” to avoid arrest. And so Karat took on an assumed name, stayed at a location where nobody knew who he was and posed as a college lecturer.

“I used to go by the name P. Sudheer. It was actually the name of a friend of mine who was later with me in JNU,” Karat told IANS.

Staying underground meant he could not stay at his house, visit party offices, hold public meetings or go to his university. The only time he came out was when when his mother died. “I had to go to the hospital and attend the funeral.”

He married fellow party member Brinda Karat during this period. “It was nothing formal. We were at a friend’s house, a SFI member, and declared we are married,” he said.

Karat remembers the Emergency as a time which threw up leaders who have graduated to prominent positions in their parties today.

“Emergency was seen an attack on democracy and so the whole thrust was to restore democratic rights,” said Karat.

It brought close political adversaries. “People who were dead against each other, the RSS and the CPI-M worked on parallel lines, not together but in a broad coordination,” Karat told IANS.

He said there were no major mass movements during this period as most leaders were in jail, but “had the Emergency lasted longer, there could have been a revolt with people coming out”.

Karat said the CPI-M’s strong opposition to the Emergency helped it consolidate its electoral position.

“The fight we gave during the Emergency helped us gain support that was seen in elections. Our party’s strength grew in states and we formed the government in West Bengal and Triupra,” he recalled.

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