As nation decries today condemning the imposition of emergency 45 years ago by Congress government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, another tale of the invisibly draconian emergency is waiting to be told which people are suffering yet afraid to express in words or deeds.
In 1975, imposition of emergency had resulted in suspension civil liberties and arrest of opposition leaders, in 2020 the Modi government without using the Article 356 has not only sent civil liberties into limbo but has also ensured that victim gets no relief by cleverly undermining autonomous institutions. Though opposition leaders are not in jails yet the opposition has been silenced and ineffective by overt and covert threats of actions and police cases.
The 1975 step had united the opposition while 2014 slow yet sure emergency like steps have divided the opposition to ensure perpetuation of a regime that has no compunction to resort to any means to play opposition parties against each other.
While Indira Gandhi was morally wrong in bringing the country under emergency by legal means, the BJP-led NDA government has resorted to immoral means to achieve the same objective. Indira Gandhi’s emergency made no religious distinction while undertaking vasectomy operations, the present undeclared emergency focuses on minorities particularly on Muslims to unleash its anger.
Committed bureaucracy and judiciary were the intended objectives of the Indira Gandhi regime, the present ruling dispensation has forced both bureaucracy and judiciary into submission by fear of allurement. Majority of bureaucrats are afraid to express their opinion on issues for fear because, the present ruler is vindictive and revengeful. Only loyalists are preferred and are being appointed to key positions.
Indira Gandhi had dropped the principle of seniority in having a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of her choice, the present government has found devious ways to make judiciary dance to its tunes. First, it tried to bring the judiciary under control by enacting a National Judicial Appointment Commission but when the Supreme Court struck it down, the Modi government adopted the proverbial carrot and stick method to achieve the same objective. Nominating former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to the upper house of parliament is just the tip of the iceberg of the extent to which the present regime is capable of going.
While Indira Gandhi had used one constitutional provision Article 356 to bring the country under control, the Modi regime has used every possible proviso of the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Code to make country and people submit to its diktat and whims. Act of Treason and Sedition are two most popularly used provisions to silence the dissent and put opposition leaders behind bars.
In 1975, print media had been subjected to severe censorship now big media both print as well audio-visual has been made to obey the government orders through threats and denial of advertisements while small and medium publications have been starved to death by stopping government advertisements.
Independent editors particularly those who have dared the government by their critique have been forced to resign. Case of Harish Khare, who was editor of The Tribune, is a case in point. Columnists, who are critical of the government policies or actions. are subjected to many pressures to either change their line or the owners of publication stop their columns.
State governments and pro-BJP individuals lodge FIRs with impunity against reporters and columnists forcing them to run to courts like in case of The Wire editor Siddharth Varadrajan against whom the UP government had filed a case.
Noted columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, whose weekly column in the Indian Express is popularly read and is often critical of the Modi government policies, was removed as the president of the New Delhi based think tank ‘Centre for Policy Research’ under government’s indirect pressure. When Mehta was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of a private research Ashoka University, he could last at that position only for two years. There are many such examples that can be quoted here.
Dissent and other view have no place in the present era of emergency as Harsh Mander, Medha Patekar, Arundhati Roy, Kanahiya Kumar along with hundreds of student leaders from JNU, Jamia Islamia and other universities are facing.
The then Congress president Dev Kant Baruah had compared Indira Gandhi with the nation saying ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. Today BJP’s president J P Nadda has compared Narendra Modi to God. Possibly in sycophancy, both official and unofficial emergencies are in close competition with each other.
Emergency of 1975 revolved around Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi, today’s unofficial well catalogued emergency also revolves around and is controlled by Modi-Shah duo.
The BJP every year uses June 25 to condemn the Congress for imposing emergency. Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted to honor those who fiercely opposed the Emergency as India completed 45 years since former prime minister Indira Gandhi took extreme freedom-curtailing measures in June 1975.
Despite ritualistic condemnation of emergency provisions, the Modi government despite having required numbers in the two houses of parliament has not moved to scrap it. Why is the question that nation needs to ask?
(Dr Misra is an author, researcher and senior journalist)