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How emergency bridged barriers between RSS and Muslim leaders in captivity

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By Ishan Kukreti

Sadanand Panday has been associated with the esteemed Hindi daily Vir Arjun for more than 20 years. The daily, once a staple diet of nationalists and an unrelenting voice for freedom, had Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its editor at one point of time.

NewsGram talked to Sadanand Panday, associate editor of the newspaper about the situation during emergency and his views on Democracy and Dictatorship.

Ishan Kukreti- How was the experience of emergency by the media fraternity?
Sadanand Panday– Senior journalist Kuldeep Nayyar has often told me how during emergency power supply to the press area on Bhadur Shah Zafar Marg was withheld. The editors had to get their news stories pre-approved from Press Information Bureau. Because of this distribution of the papers suffered a lot during this period. It can be said that newspapers weren’t printed during emergency, only pamphlets were.

IK- What was the treatment meted out to Vir Arjun during emergency?
SPVir Arjun faced the atrocities of emergency, like the rest of the newspapers. The paper had to be discontinued because of the pressure from Mrs. Gandhi. K. Narendra, the then editor of Vir Arjun was given an option of either publishing pro government stories or facing closure. He chose the later. Vir Arjun broke down, but it did not bend.

IK- How was everyday life and ordinary populace affected by emergency?
SP– I remember, people were scared. Many of my teachers were arrested and treated with complete disregard for human and fundamental rights in prisons. They had to face a difficult time there. But, at the same time, there used to be a lot of intellectual people in the jails like journalists, politicians, lawyers etc and the kind of company one had there was very revolutionary.

I was told a very interesting incident by Mr. Arif Beg of BJP. The RSS members and the Muslim leaders who were locked up, although initially sat in opposite corners of the cell, by the end of it all, became close friends as they suffered similarly at the hands of the government.

Mr. M. Faruqi of CPI( Communist Party of India) told me that there was an unsaid understanding amongst all prisoners that Indira Gandhi had to be dislodged from power to maintain the democratic nature of India.

IK- Was there a sea change in the situation during and after emergency?
SP– People were quiet at that time, but they were angry. Although Vinoba Bhave called the period an ‘Anushashan Parv‘, it is completely wrong. Emergency was the decision of a weak and scared woman who feared losing her power. This was felt by everyone.

At that time a pamphlet used to be published called, ‘Ram aur Sham‘, which laid bare the atrocities committed during that time. It was widely read by people. They used to listen to BBC instead of AIR. Literate people liked the speeches of Richard Nixon where he criticized Mrs. Gandhi. Henry Kissinger was popular for his comments against Mrs. Gandhi. Although people could not express their anger openly, they pledged to punish Mrs. Gandhi in the next elections, and they did.

Some Congress members too could not express themselves freely because of the fear of top party officials. They tried to create a favorable image of the efforts/atrocities committed by Sanjay Gandhi force without being convinced or convincing others.

IK- Which were the sections that were most aggrieved by the situation?
SP– The lower classes, who had to face forced sterilization drive were too scared to openly say anything. But there was resentment in their hearts too. The Muslim section was completely against the Congress and Mrs. Gandhi as the period saw the demolition of Turkman Gate. I’d say all the sections were equally outraged by the imposition of emergency. Even many Congress members just paid lip service to the higher authorities in the party.

IK- Before the 2014 Parliamentary Elections, there was a section of people who believed that India needed a dictatorship to make it a superpower. Do you agree with this contention?
SP– No. Not at all. Dictatorship has never created a successful nation, and it never will. Democracy and freedom have their own charm and there is no substitute to it. I don’t think anywhere in the near or far future, Dictatorship can replace Democracy as a better model of governance.

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy
Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy. Pixabay

An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.

Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.

The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”.  During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?

Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.

Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress- wikimedia commons

While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.

The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.

There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.

This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.

Also read: India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections. (IANS)