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State OF Emergency

Authored By A.V:

If like me, you were born after 1980, then probably it is something you have often heard about but seldom given serious thought to. June 25 might have been just  another day for you but not for those who have seen the India of 1970s when Indira Gandhi ruled. It was the night of June 25-26 in the year of 1975 when this daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Iron Lady who played a significant role in dividing Pakistan and creating Bangladesh, obtained President’s approval to impose a state of Emergency in the country.

Those who have lived through that era have mixed feelings about those 19 months when most of the civil liberties were curbed, political opponents were jailed, there was no freedom of press and scores of people were detained without reason and even tortured. Most of the non-Congress leaders we have today were jailed during the emergency. The Jay Prakash Narain movement that opposed Indira actually launched the political career of several leaders of North India like George Fernandes and Laloo Yadav.

As democracy was strangled by the government, it is normal for the intellectuals to recall that period as the darkest hour of post-independence India. What probably complicates the matter is that the period of emergency saw the rise of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s youngest son who quickly became infamous for his forced sterilization drive. He is said to be the main driving force behind the so-called violations of human rights and slum demolitions that took place during that time.

While the internet is full of horror stories of that era which would seem to indicate that there was nothing good done in those times, the reality is different. Yes, the excesses of emergency were probably uncalled for but there lies the hidden reality. A lot of people have told me that during emergency, trains ran on time, in fact they arrived at stations even before the scheduled arrival time; clerks, bureaucrats and babus were never late to office and were often seen running frantically on the roads if they were late to office.

This aspect is the positive part of emergency. It showed what fear of government can do in this country. Perhaps the execution in 1975 was imperfect but just imagine if our government and leaders had taken some lesson from that episode of our history and executed it in a better manner, how wonderful things would have been in our country. Looking for examples? Sample this:

  1. Jat protestors would not have been able to block the water supply to Delhi for their demands of reservations
  2. Manipur blockade would not have happened
  3. Naxalism would have been crushed by now
  4. India would not have been a ‘soft state’ when it came to tackling terrorism
  5. Senior policemen would not have been able to molest young girls and laugh their way out in courts
  6. There would not have been so many cases pending in our courts for Judges would have worked overtime to close cases rather than take long recesses.

The list is endless. If you look at the above points carefully, you would realize that I am not arguing for a state of emergency to be imposed on us for achieving these goals. Just taking the right lessons would have transformed our dysfunctional government into something a lot better.

India needs to control its population. Sterilization or other forms of birth control are required. Forced sterilization may be against human rights but if certain sections of the population refuse to take part on religious, social or cultural grounds, it defeats the purpose and actually puts those communities who control their population at a disadvantage in terms of representation. Of course, it makes eradication of poverty and hunger an unachievable goal.

Almost all our cities have slums and a creaking infrastructure. If we have to make our cities modern and like Shanghai, London or New York like our leaders keep promising in election rallies, we need to demolish slums and relocate people. Is this possible in India today? No, it isn’t because different stakeholders involved would never agree to a common solution. The only option if you have to make things happen is do it forcibly. Was it wrong to demolish slums and beautify cities during emergency? The answer may not be straight-forward and the move certainly had its merits.

After the emergency was lifted and general elections called for, Congress led by Indira Gandhi and Sanjay was routed in the elections especially in the northern part of the country were JP movement was strongest. Both Indira and Sanjay lost and a new political formation led by Janata Party formed the first non-Congress government in Delhi.

However, if emergency was all wrong and nothing right, why did Indira Gandhi storm to power in 1980 within three years of her biggest political defeat? We need our civil liberties, we need freedom of speech, we need free journalism but we also need a strong government. Despite all its flaws, full marks to Emergency for showing us the face of a government that acts and gets things done.


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