Emergency’s 40th anniversary: Some links

  • Srinath Raghavan says Emergency was actually a blessing for businesses. They really liked the stable economic environment during the emergency. What was actually a tragedy for the political system seems to be a good thing for the economic system. Parallels for today’s times?
  • Kuldip Nayar never thought emergency could happen
  • GK Gandhi on majoritarianism and emergency
  • How some teachers from Gaya fought emergency
  • Ram Guha warns that too much centralisation and eulogising central leadership can lead to build up of emergency kind of situation:

M.K. Gandhi, 1937: “It is not good for us to worship an individual. Only an ideal or a principle can be worshipped.”

In November 1969, when Indira Gandhi split the Congress, one of her rivals warned of the consequences. This was S. Nijalingappa, the last president of the undivided party. The history of the 20th century, remarked Nijalingappa, “is replete with instances of the tragedy that overtakes democracy when a leader who has risen to power on the crest of a popular wave or with the support of a democratic organisation becomes a victim of political narcissism and is egged on by a coterie of unscrupulous sycophants who use corruption and terror to silence opposition and attempt to make public opinion an echo of authority.”

At the time they were written, these words may have sounded hyperbolic. But within a few years, they had become prescient. For in the early 1970s, Indira Gandhi increasingly subordinated the Congress to her personal interests. Then, after the adverse judgment in the Allahabad High Court, she sought — egged on by Siddhartha Shankar Ray — to subordinate the government to herself, too. Meanwhile, other sycophants (most famously, Devakanta Baruah), asked us to see the prime minister as the embodiment of the nation. Finally, the most unscrupulous of all her associates, her son Sanjay Gandhi, used terror and coercion to silence the political opposition and the public at large.

It is now 40 years since the promulgation of the Emergency. Can India undergo another Emergency? The chances are slim, in part because — as prime minister and law minister of the Janata government, respectively — Morarji Desai and Shanti Bhushan undid the Emergency-era amendments to the Constitution centralising powers in the prime minister, and in part because it is far harder now to suppress the media — especially social media. That said, there is one aspect of political behaviour that the Emergency introduced which is still with us, corrupting our democratic fabric.

This is the cult of personality.

This is not just about politics alone. It goes to almost all walks of life. Indian economy also is currently riding on cult of personality. Despite history not being very kind to such personalities, we continue to believe a lot in the same.

The challenge for India is to develop institutions and systems in a way that personalities can hardly do much. But unfortunately this is not how things are given how much noise the cults want to create around themselves. We have to wait for the noise and clouds to clear to get a truer picture. But perhaps it will be too late by then..

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