Forty years ago on the night of June 25th – 26th 1975, the country stood still as one of the darkest chapters of its history unfolded. For those whose memories will never fail, it was surely a reminder of those immortal words of Pandit Nehru when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere”. Very strangely those words of Nehru was an apt quote for the misdeeds of his own daughter Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India who on that dark night of 1975 promulgated emergency rule in India and in a matter of moments extinguished the light in the lives of many Indians.
Forty years is time enough to mull over the happenings of the pre-emergency and post-emergency periods. Several reasons were cited for the declaration of emergency; these included: protests and strikes which had paralysed the Government and hurt the economy greatly; massive political opposition and above all several Congressmen already leaving the party because of the dictatorial tendencies of Indira Gandhi.
The emergency rule effectively suspended the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the citizens of the country. There was a massive crackdown on civil liberties and on every form of political opposition. Thousands were arrested all over the country and some organisations were even banned. Elections to parliament and state governments were suspended and the judiciary became a willing tool in the hands of the Government. Indira’s son Sanjay Gandhi became de facto ‘a super power’ initiating a compulsory sterilisation programme in order to limit the growth of the country’s population. Freedom of speech and expression was totally suspended with the ‘Indian Express’ coming out with a blank lead edit on June 28th 1975 as a sign of protest. Emergency however in India did not last and on March 23rd 1977 it officially ended.
Forty years after that black day, the writing on the wall today seems to be loud and clear! One only needs to look around and to see how systematically the sanctity of the Constitution is being violated and how the freedoms and rights of the ordinary citizens are being curtailed. Civil rights activists are under attack; those who question Government policies and rulers of today are subject to all kinds of intimidation and harassment. This Government clearly brooks no dissent. “Foreign money” has become the big bogey. Those who receive and use it for the rights of the people, to protect the forests, the lands and waters are at the receiving end; on the other hand, big business and other vested interests can receive foreign funds to profiteer and to destroy what is precious to the ordinary citizens of the land.
Education is being tampered with as never before. History textbooks are being manipulated to suit the whims and fancies of those who govern us. Prestigious bodies like the Indian Council of Historical Research, the NCERT and the IITs have lost visionaries because of Government interference. Even the much sought after Film Institute of India has been foisted with a Director who has questionable credentials. The way media is co-opted and even hounded is a clear sign that all is not well in the world’s largest democracy. Lies and half-truths rule the roost. Convicted murderers are out on the streets with political patronage.
In a far-ranging interview to a newspaper, very recently on the fortieth anniversary on the imposition of the emergency, Mr. LK. Advani, the doyen of the BJP minces no words when he says, “forces that can crush democracy are stronger today, I don’t have confidence it (Emergency) cannot happen again”!!!
The writing is on the wall: need we say more?
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)