The Emergency

Yet another anniversary. And human rights defenders across the country recall those fearful days of Emergency— 1975-1977. It was the declared emergency by Indira Gandhi and India’s first dictatorship as well. Also, it was the peak period of Soviet influence on India. Some communist groups on the far left described it as a clear break from America which it was not. True, not very long ago, Bangladesh was liberated, basically with the help of Soviet Russia, defeating America and China backed Pakistan. China refused to recognise the freedom struggle of the people of Bangladesh as they failed to condemn the genocide of the rebels of the Janata Vimukti Perunam by the Sri Lankan army earlier, for business interests. The Pakistan army resorted to mass murder and planned elimination of intellectuals but the so-called international community remained silent.

Anti-Emergency movement launched by Jay Prakash Narayan united the motley crowd of opposition parties while bringing in Atal Behari Vajpayee and Joyti Basu on the same platform. The opposition that came to power in 1977 didn’t last long. The most notable development that followed the post-Emergency was the resurrection of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that had been in hibernation for 30 years. RSS earned political legitimacy for the first time and it never looked back. And today it is RSS that decides the destiny of India. A lot has been written about excesses during emergency and Sanjay Gandhi’s bulldozer, forced sterilisation and all that. Ironically Gandhi’s successors are today bulldozing, ‘illegal’ constructions, allegedly targeting mainly Muslim properties, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. The Shah Commission report was not pursued seriously for reasons best known to the powers that be of the time. It’s now an archive material for researchers.

The undeclared emergency since 2014 has crippled the Constitution to such an extent that talking of rights is now an offence. No dissent is allowed in the biggest showpiece of democracy. Even challenging the authority in court on legitimate grounds may invite imprisonment. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people are behind bars as undertrials for years and prison houses are living hells.

 Less than a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition appealing a lower court’s refusal to file a case against Narendra Modi for his role in Gujarat’s anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, the state’s police arrested one of the petitioners—social activist Teesta Setalvad—for what they claimed was a conspiracy to send innocent persons to jail. Setalvad was accused of conspiring to mislead the SIT—Special Investigation Team—tasked with investigating the 2002 Gujarat riots, and the role, if any, Modi played as chief minister of Gujarat, in violence that took lives of more than 12,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Setalvad’s detention is a direct reprisal against those who dare to question the Modi government’s human rights record. Sitalvad is being victimised for her acts of exemplary courage to challenge the authority. Many civil liberties organisations including the All India Democratic Women’s Association protested the arrest by the Gujarat ATS. The FIR cites various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including 120 B (criminal conspiracy). They want to silence her as she has been consistently fighting against injustice meted out to the socially and economically disadvantaged. They have targeted her NGO as well to stop her social work. Setalvad stood firmly in support of Zakia Jafri whose husband Ehsan Jafri was brutally killed in Gujarat pogrom and the Gujarat police lost no time to take action against her.

There is a film called ‘The Kashmir Files’, depicting the plight of Hindu Pandits of Kashmir. Many think in Modi’s India it is next to impossible to make a film to be called ‘The Gujarat Files’ to show how communal riots devastated the Muslim minority community people. For all practical purposes India is now a big prison house of ethnic nationalities and minority communities.

The majoritarian politics of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is continually provoking minority communalism which will in the end further aggravate the Muslim marginality situation. The BJP has devised a strategy of winning a majority in election without the support of minority. It is one way to isolate Muslim voters. It was first experimented in Gujarat and then extended to other states, not excluding Bengal. Surprisingly, there will be no BJP Muslim member of parliament when the term of three Muslim members in the Rajya Sabha ends in July. Well, BJP has no Muslim members of the legislative assembly in the states either. Rights without participation in public institutions have been largely ineffective.

For one thing Muslim communities themselves are diverse with differences in language, ethnicity and access to political and economic power. But under the Modi regime they are facing discrimination regardless of their internal differences in employment, education and housing. They struggle to secure justice despite constitutional protections and citizenship guarantees.

Indians are now living in a state of permanent emergency. Democrats have no place in this democracy. It is a republic without republicans. The legacy of Indira Gandhi has already been replaced by Modi. And the undeclared emergency continues unabated without being seriously challenged by the opposition in the streets.



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Vol 55, No. 2, Jul 10 - 16, 2022