The nightmare that was Indira Gandhi’s Emergency

26 June 2018, 04:23 PM
Former prime minister Indira Gandhi (Photo: File/PTI)
Former prime minister Indira Gandhi (Photo: File/PTI)

As the nation observes the 43rd anniversary of the dark era of Emergency when the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, trampled upon civil rights and freedoms of people at large and subverted institutions to suit her absolute exercise of power, it is time to introspect on where we are today.

Where does our democracy stand today, seven decades down the line after we attained freedom? It would be foolhardy to deny that many ills have crept in and many that were there have been perpetuated, but some of them can be reversed provided there is a will to act which is largely absent.

The most alarming facet of the change is the erosion of our character and value system.  The widespread corruption all around reflects this erosion which is endemic.

It is wrong to take the view that too much time has elapsed for us to talk of the emergency. The Congress is doing that because it suits it to say so. There cannot be a time limit for people to reflect and introspect and to make course corrections.

The cold reality is that democracy today is a pale shadow of what it was envisaged to be. The watershed for this deterioration was the emergency when the system was badly subverted.

Barring exceptions, nobody who does not roll in crores can get elected to a high political office. A recent survey done by an agency on the eve of the recent Karnataka assembly polls showed that over 90 per cent of candidates of principal parties were ‘crorepatis.’ Many of them had criminal background too.

Sycophancy has eaten into the vitals of our body politic. In this climate of money and muscle power, honesty is looked down upon as a trait of fools. Nepotism has assumed alarming proportions, with most politicians in high positions looking to foist their offspring on the electorate since politics is looked upon as a way of enriching oneself. Gone is the sense of service that linked many to the profession of politics.

In regard to institutions, Parliament is a pale shadow of what it used to be. Mediocrity in quality of debates among members of Parliament and State assemblies is rampant. In the other pillar of democracy ---the judiciary--- there is a perceptible fall in standards of merit as well as integrity.

We do not have the spectacle of a committed judiciary as there was during the emergency but the erosion of values has inevitably affected the judiciary too.

One silver lining is that the kind of pre-censorship of news which was imposed during the emergency to throttle dissent in the media is today virtually impossible to achieve, with the various modes through which news is bombarded. There is indeed a plethora of news sources.

There is a dire need of electoral reforms but politicians, in general, have a vested interest in preventing these reforms.

There was a time during the emergency when government staff notorious for going late to office clocked in on time, trains ran on schedule and fear drove people to conform to basic norms of behaviour. But all over the free world, these things happen without the threat of the ‘danda.’

We need discipline not emergency for basic services to be run efficiently and sincerely. It was back to square one when the emergency was lifted. Prior to the emergency, Mrs Indira Gandhi used to say that what we had in India was not democracy but licence.

The ugliest aspect of emergency was that civil liberties were suspended and anyone could be put behind bars for scarcely a reason. There were cases of people being incarcerated for criticising the government even privately.

Forced sterilisation as a means of controlling the size of families became endemic in north India creating a hitherto unknown scare among people. Rumour-mongering ruled the roost in the absence of credible news.

All said and done, the emergency was an ugly chapter of Indian history but we need to remember it so that we learn the right lessons from it. It would be foolhardy to brush the ills of the system under the carpet.

First Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 04:13 PM
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