L-I: 25 Years After the Emergency

Partha Roy partha at SPAMganashakti.co.in
Mon Jun 26 15:17:34 MDT 2000


25 Years After the Emergency

Prakash Karat

THE internal emergency imposed on the country on June 26, 1975 was an
unprecedented event. For the first time a section of the Indian ruling classes,
apprehending a threat to its rule, launched a brazen attack on parliamentary
democracy and the civil liberties and democratic rights of the people. Prime
Minister Indira Gandhi took the decision to issue the proclamation for emergency
without consulting the cabinet. It was declared that "a grave emergency exists,
whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbances". This was
for the first time that the provision for invoking emergency for internal
reasons was invoked.



What followed was a period, which has become a dark chapter in the history of
the country. For 19 months till the end of January 1977 when fresh elections to
the Lok Sabha were announced, democratic rights and civil liberties provided in
the Constitution were suspended. Thousands of opposition party leaders and
cadres were arrested around the country; even members of the ruling Congress
party were detained. The country's parliament was virtually defunct and even
speeches made on the floor of parliament were censored and the press prohibited
to publish them. Censorship on the media was imposed. The right of citizens to
move the courts for enforcement of certain fundamental rights were suspended.
The coterie around Mrs. Gandhi decided major policy matters without reference to
the cabinet. Instances of police atrocities and forcible sterilisation became
the norm.

What all this meant was a form of authoritarianism being clamped on the country.
This attack on democracy was stemmed not from a threat by the working class or a
revolutionary movement but from another section of the ruling class. The
declaration of emergency and the installation of authoritarian rule manifested
the deep crisis in the bourgeois-landlord system. The crisis further revealed
itself in the sharpest ever conflict between the ruling and the opposition
bourgeois landlord parties. In the background was the intensified contradiction
between the ruling party, the Congress and the mass of the people, which
resulted in the imposition of authoritarian rule.

In 1971 the Congress wing headed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi had swept into office by
raising the slogan of "Garibi Hatao" and defeating the grand alliance of the
Congress(O), Jan Sangh and the BLD. The increased expectations of the people
roused by the radical rhetoric of the Indira Congress were soon shattered when
the Congress party continued with its pro-bourgeois landlord policies. The years
1973-74 saw rising mass discontent and big struggles. The May 1973 all India
bandh and the 1974 historic railway workers strike signalled the growing
militancy of the mass movements. It is in this background that the Gujarat
Navnirman movement led by students, the Bihar movement and the JP movement took
shape. Side by side the CPI(M) and other left forces were organising struggles
of the working people.



The radical rhetoric utilised by Mrs. Indian Gandhi succeeded in mobilising a
big section of the Congress against the Syndicate after the split in the party
in 1969. However, the hollowness of this radical posture was soon revealed when
under the sponsorship of the Congress a vicious campaign of terror was unleashed
against the CPI(M) and the Left movement in West Bengal. When the CPI(M) emerged
as the largest party in the 1971 elections, the Congress party resorted to State
repression and street violence against the CPI(M) in particular and the Left in
general. By mid-1972, as many as 650 cadres and supporters of the CPI(M) had
been killed at the hands of the Congress hoodlums, the police and anti-social
gangs. The CPI from 1971 had allied itself with the Congress party and the
CPI(M) had to fight a lone battle against the semi-fascist terror. The period
from 1971 to 1976 saw 1,100 cadres of the CPI(M) being killed and thousands of
its workers and families being driven out of their areas.

The 9th Congress of the CPI(M), which was held in July 1972, had given a call to
fight the danger of one-party dictatorship. The Political Resolution of the 9th
Congress stated: "The shadow of authoritarianism is now lengthening over West
Bengal. The West Bengal developments foreshadow what the ruling party will do
when the democratic parties and masses offer a serious challenge to the ruling
party in other states". The Congress called for "the widest possible front of
all democratic parties, groups and individuals to resist the march to one-party

The CPI(M) from 1972 constantly warned the people and the opposition parties of
the imminent threat of authoritarianism and called for the widest unity to
defend democratic rights and to stave off the threat of one-party authoritarian

The fast-paced developments in 1973-74 which was marked by mass opposition to
Congress rule came to a head with the judgement of the Allahabad High Court in
unseating Mrs. Gandhi from her election to the Lok Sabha from the Rai Bareili
seat. The protest actions unleashed by the Jai Prakash Narayan led movement had
as its focus the defence of democratic rights and civil liberties and the fight
against corruption. Soon it attracted the support of the bourgeois opposition
parties, including the Jan Sangh, the Congress(O) and the Swatantra. The CPI(M)
lent general support to the Bihar movement and the JP led nationwide movement
and synchronised the struggles it conducted from its independent platform with
the JP movement. The growing cooperation of the forces in defence of democracy
led Mrs. Gandhi to accuse JP of "giving respectability to all kinds of forces,
including the RSS, Naxalities and the Marxist communists."

During the period of the emergency, Mrs. Gandhi, with the support of the CPI,
sought to project the emergency as a measure directed against the threat of
right reaction and fascism. The firm opposition of the CPI(M) to the emergency
was a grave embarrassment and obstacle to such a political posture . The
semi-fascist terror in West Bengal could not be covered up by the pseudo-Left
rhetoric indulged in by the coterie surrounding Mrs. Gandhi at that time.



The Congress regime therefore adopted a dual policy towards the CPI(M). It made
largescale arrests and adopted repressive measures against the CPI(M) cadres and
the leadership from the state level downwards. At the national level it spared
the top leadership of the party from detention except when they resorted to mass
protest actions. This was similar to the tactics adopted in West Bengal where
the Party was allowed to function legally while its cadres were being hunted at
the ground level. Hundreds of CPI(M) leaders and cadres were put in jail all
over the country which included a number of state secretaries of the party and
key state and district leaders of the party and the mass organisations. The
student movement was made a particular target with a number of office bearers of
the SFI being jailed under the MISA. The letter submitted by the Polit Bureau to
Mrs. Gandhi in 1976 details some of the repressive measures adopted against the
CPI(M) and the opposition (extracts of which are being published alongside).
Leaders of the Party like EMS Namboodiripad, M. Basavapunnaiah and A.K. Gopalan
were arrested for short spells. P. Sundarayya, General Secretary of the Party,
and B.T. Ranadive remained underground throughout the emergency. Hundreds of key
cadres of the Party also worked underground by the decision of the Party.

Utilising the absence of an opposition in parliament and the suspension of all
rights, the Congress rammed through the 42nd Constitutional amendment bill,
which further truncated parliamentary and all democratic rights of the citizens.
The tenure of parliament was extended for one year making it a six year term.
The regime of repression and the suppression of all civil liberties boomeranged
finally on the Congress party. The atrocities carried out in the name of
forcible sterilisation and the demolitions undertaken under the leadership of
Sanjay Gandhi soon became a symbol of the repressive regime.



Mrs. Gandhi called for elections suddenly in the end of January 1977
anticipating that with the opposition cowed down by repression and in disarray,
the Congress could easily win and come back to power. The historic 1977
elections saw the mass upsurge of the people against the authoritarian regime.
For the first time, the Congress was swept away from power at the centre. Mrs.
Gandhi herself was defeated and the new party formed on the eve of the
elections, the Janata Party, comprising most of the bourgeois opposition parties
came to power with Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister. Most of the damage done
to the Constitution and the democratic rights during the emergency were undone
by the Janata Party government. However, given the class nature of the Janata
Party and the government, it could not make any break from the basic policies
pursued by the Congress.

In the political resolution of the 10th Congress of the CPI(M), which reviewed
the emergency experience, the Party warned: "The growing dependence of the
economy on western imperialist aid and the world capitalist market, and the
invitation to multinationals strengthen the forces of dictatorship. So long as
the domination of the monopolists, big bourgeoisie and landlords continues to
hold the Indian economy in its grip, attempts will be made by one combination or
another to install a dictatorship to make its rule viable. It will be erroneous
to ascribe loyalty to democracy and commitment to resist dictatorship to a
particular group or party."

This is a particularly relevant observation in the present juncture.
Parliamentary democracy in India survived the onslaught of the emergency. The
fight against authoritarian rule definitely increased the democratic
consciousness of the people. However, in the decades since the emergency, the
ravages of bourgeois-landlord rule have once again eroded many of the
institutions of parliamentary democracy and given rise to the menace of the
communal forces. India is now under the rule of a party which owes allegiance to
the RSS, which is inherently anti-democratic and authoritarian with its
reactionary ideology based on Hindu rashtra. Compounding the threat is the
decade long process of liberalisation, which has given free play to the
multinational corporations and the big bourgeoisie in India. Forces inimical to
democracy basically arise from these two sources, the communalisation of society
and the onslaught of liberalisation.

The dominant sections of the ruling classes have already begun to respond to the
needs of the situation. Under BJP rule, the move has been initiated to review
the Constitution without the sanction of parliament. Its preference is for a
presidential form of government. The BJP has declared the need to ensure a fixed
term for the Lok Sabha even if the ruling party or combination loses its
majority in the house. The BJP has shown itself as keen as the Congress in the
past to use Article 356 against non-BJP state governments. The only thing
holding it back is the lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha. The way the RSS is
now infiltrating all the institutions of the State using stormtroopers like the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal to terrorise the minorities are all
portents that authoritarianism can become a menace once again.



Unlike the drastic imposition of emergency at one stroke, what is being
witnessed is a creeping form of authoritarianism. The steady erosion of
democratic rights, the threat to minorities, the growing cultural intolerance to
ideas critical of Hindutva and the use of selective violence against vulnerable
sections are all symptoms of an incipient authoritarianism. In Orissa,
organisations have sprung up to glorify Dara Singh, the killer of Graham Staines
and his two young children, and the VHP is now engaged in "reconverting" adivasi
Christians to Hinduism. RSS chief Sudharshan openly declares that the Bible
preaches violence to justify the campaign against Christianity. The BJP does not
exercise sole power at the centre as it still has to run a government with a
coalition. What would happen if the BJP gets a majority is evident from the
existing trends.

The BJP is planning to observe the anniversary of the emergency and position
itself as the champion of democracy. It has in its ranks persons like Maneka
Gandhi, a minister in the Vajpayee government, who was directly associated with
the authoritarian regime and its activities under Sanjay Gandhi. The pet
bureaucrat who executed Sanjay Gandhi's demolitions at Turkman Gate in Delhi,
Jagmohan, is now a BJP minister in the Cabinet. As for the dubious role of the
RSS leadership while in jail, excerpts from the letters from Balasaheb Deoras
are published separately which provide telling evidence. The apologies written
by RSS men in jail were innumerable and some of the current "socialist" allies
of the BJP who were in jail at that time can testify to this craven behaviour.

The lesson from the emergency is that parliamentary democracy cannot be safe in
the hands of any party representing the ruling classes which is bent upon
retaining power. With the economic and social policies of liberalisation acting
against the vital interests of the people, the demand of imperialism and
domestic capital will be to restrict democracy to protect the interests of
capital. The Congress party experimented with a spell of authoritarianism and
was badly defeated by the people who have got accustomed to democratic rights
even though limited. The BJP while posing as a champion against the emergency is
poised to take the same road. The menace is greater today as it is a party,
which will combine its authoritarianism with a vicious type of communalism. The
struggle for democracy is an ongoing one and it acquires added importance at the
present juncture.

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