'Emergency: an era of discipline' was the cryptic certificate of approval issued by the senile Bhoodan leader, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, a testimonial faithfully stamped on every postcard and inland letter form. 'The Leader is right, the future is bright,' proclaimed a gigantic hoarding in Delhi's Connaught Place, sponsored by a 'progressive' weekly from Bombay. From the smoke-emitting rear of the capital's three-wheeler taxis, Indians were reassured that 'The nation is on the move'. And the Congress president, D.K. Barooah, announced matter-of-factly that India is Indira.
The Communist Party of India organized conventions against fascism and leftist intellectuals cheered with unconcealed glee as 'Hindu communalist' teachers were rounded up and petty traders forced to sign statements supporting the 20-point programme of the prime minister. As the education minister, S. Nurul Hasan, purged the arts faculties of undesirables and made Marxism the guiding philosophy of the social sciences, notables like the British Labour Party leader, Michael Foot, toured India and gushed over Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter.
The grotesque parody didn't stop here. After Sanjay Gandhi was anointed Arjun by a fawning N.D. Tiwari, it was time for fascistic inanities to take over. 'Talk less, work more' became the mantra of the Sanjay brigade. The Youth Congress has 'stolen the thunder', a proud mother proclaimed. From the sidelines, Ambika Soni, Jagdish Tytler, Kamal Nath and Lalit Maken cheered. 'Sanjay Gandhi's rise to power,' wrote Russi Karanjia in Blitz, 'came to us as History's own answer to our prayers'. Other venerable editors like Khushwant Singh agreed.
Much of the grim history of the Emergency can be pieced together from the two volumes of the Shah Commission interim report, David Selbourne's richly documented An Eye to India and John Dayal and Ajoy Bose's Delhi Under Emergency. In addition, Janardhan Thakur's All the Prime Minister's Men provides riveting pen portraits of the individuals who propped up Indira Gandhi's tyranny. It's a shame though that most of these books are either out of print or, in the case of J.C. Shah's report, conveniently withdrawn from circulation. The only available account of those dark days is In the Name of Democracy, an apologist account of Jayaprakash Narayan's perfidy and Indira Gandhi's compulsions, by the text-book historian Bipan Chandra.
funny, it's swapan dasgupta who's asking you to remember the emergency in this article (i was looking for articles marking the thirtieth anniversary of the emergency- but didn't find many). in any other democratic country in the world, the mainstream left would be taking out the marches. you'd find several kinds of liberals, progressives, and other kinds of leftists ranging from the ultra-left to the infra-left (forget the word- i hope you get the picture) in india who'd bore you to your after-life with grim tales about how hindu nationalist politics or neo-liberal policies are marginalizing more and more sections of india. but not one of them would trace the roots of either the successful co-option of the government machinery by modi during the gujarat pogrom or the successful subversion of government by the cpm in nandigram to the emergency. to lessons learnt from indira's rule. why does the nationalist right in india want to remember the emergency while the left prefers to hide it? because the hindu-right wants to remind 'the regional parties, the followers of Ram Manohar Lohia' etc., of the thread that supposedly binds them together. and because the left wants you to forget sanjay gandhi, devkanth borooah, ambika soni, lalit maken, jagdish tytler, kamal nath, m.l.fotedar, r.k.dhawan, bansi lal, mohammed yunus, akbar ahmed, h.k.l.bhagat, jagmohan, dhirendra brahmachari, v.c.shukla, nandini satpathy, sajjan kumar, maneka gandhi and a thousand, a million other congressmen and women for whom the party and the leader became more important than the country. just as buddhadeb bhattacharya 'is not above the party', as he admits now. but both the right and the left in india, nurse in the innermost recesses of their arrogant savarna souls, the greatest admiration for indira gandhi and her methods.
think: would jagdish tytler have gone around delhi goading on murderous hordes in 1984 if we hadn't started forgetting the emergency as soon as it was over? if we had paid serious attention to the emergency and to the evil personalities and processes it had engendered? it wasn't just tytler, and it wasn't just turkman gate. it wasn't just censorship, it wasn't just misa. it wasn't just a hundred thousand politicians, mediapersons, social activists, ordinary citizens in jail, it wasn't just torture and murder and maruti. it wasn't just 'kissa kursi ka' and it wasn't just the young prince being entertained by jayaprada and other nubile starlets on special trains. it was power and powerlessness. it was the rationing of freedom and the flaunting of authority. it was your life and their liberties over it.
it was indira's emergency that taught the most successful politicians of today, on the right and the left, how you and i amount to nothing, despite democracy.