Emergency: Then and Now

The difference between the emergency of 1975 and this undeclared emergency of the Modi dispensation is that while then the state used its police and security forces to curb fundamental rights and democracy, today the state by its collusive inaction against saffronite vigilantes is violating fundamental rights. While emergency in 1975 was declared under article 352 which is mentioned in the Constitution and also had constitutional remedies, this present emergency has no basis in the constitution and more difficult to eradicate since it is driven by non-state actors with a discriminating ideology.

The Emergency in 1975 banned institutions, organisations and political outfits to crush dissent. Today the state is doing the same by coming down heavily on organisations working for human rights of the marginalised or monitoring and questioning state politics. The government has resorted to banning or cancelling the registration of licences of NGOs working for human rights, communal harmony, clean energy and all that under the false pretext of violating foreign currency regulation norms. Greenpeace and Sabrang Trust are two such examples amongst many. This crackdown on NGOs has achieved both, censorship and also instilling fear in the minds of those who will defy government policies. This is the gradual elimination of independent civil initiatives directed against the high-handedness of the powers that be.

Indian prisons are now over-crowded as it was the case during 1975. Adivasis and Dalits foot the bill for Modi’s prison industry that is flourishing by all accounts. There are scores of muslim youth who are behind the bars as undertrials across India. Though muslims comprise only 14.2 percent of the total population of the country according to a recent census data, they constitute 26.4 percent of the prison population. In this regard Modi’s India compares well with Obama’s America. Though US has only 5% of the world’s population, it holds over 25% of the world’s prison population. The American prison system provides a huge army of captive workforce not subject to wage laws or strikes. This captive workforce has few protections on either the federal or state level.

If anything Indian prisons are living hells. If the emergency, rather undeclared emergency situation continues ubabated unlawful arrests and detentions will rise many-fold in the coming days. People so far know the story of one Soni Sori but more and more Soni Soris are likely to face the wrath of the state.

Bastar today illustrates what undeclared emergency means to thousands of tribals who are going to be evicted to make room for mining giants. For public intellectuals and civil liberties bodies democratic space is shrinking with every passing day.  For writers and academics voicing their concern about the growing saffronisation of education and culture, a sense of fear psychosis as it prevailed during the 1975 emergency period, is haunting them all the time. The vigilantes, not the state as such, are threatening them, sometimes forcing them to withdraw their books. Any voice of dissent seems to be a danger to the establishment.

Those who are enemies of freedom are often the biggest hypocrites of all, for they shout from their pulpits of despair, loudly, in order to drown out the crises of desperation of those whom they seek to oppress and Modi is doing exactly that in the wake of mounting unrest across the country.

Emergency essentially meant—censorship and muzzling of voices and different perspectives that is plurality of thought, arrests of political opponents—use of State's coercive power and finally striking fear in society in general. The elections that ended the emergency reinstated faith and assurance in India's political democracy and proved its resilience. However would it be correct to assume that the worst is over and India will never experience the horrors of another emergency? Are there no arbitrary detentions today? Is there no censorship of films, books or news? Is there no atmosphere of fear? Are fundamental rights not infringed upon today?

Vol. 49, No.7, Aug 21 - 27, 2016