INDIA just observed the 43rd anniversary of Emergency. Civil Rights stalwart Rajni Kothari described the period thus: “It was a State off-limits, a government that hijacked the whole edifice of the State, a ruling party and leader who in effect treated the State as their personal estate. It was the imposition of a highly concentrated apparatus of power on a fundamentally federal society and the turning over of this centralised apparatus for personal survival and family aggrandisement. It was one big swoop overtaking the whole country spreading a psychosis of fear and terror.”
Under such onslaught, India’s institutions and instruments of democratic governance—legislative, judicial, executive—were running in panic. Individuals were moving in hushed silence traumatised by what was going on. Though caused by an autocratic Congress Prime Minister, it had the backing of a Presidential mandate issued on June 25, 1975: “In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 352 of the Constitution, I, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, President of India, by this Proclamation declare that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbances.”
Irony is that even without a formal proclamation of Emergency, the record of BJP government in preserving democracy is equally bad, if not worse. Like during Emergency, even now institutions and individuals are running in panic. Parliament passes harsh laws as Money Bills; Reserve Bank ‘demonetises’ the currency throwing people on the streets;
‘voluntary’ Aadhaar is being rammed down people’s throats through executive diktats. Rapes, lynching and killings take place with abandon. Political rallies are held to rationalise these gruesome crimes. Predatory, nature-killing ‘development’ projects are being pushed through State terror. Those who oppose these are branded as extremists and anti-nationals and draconian laws, including Sedition and National Security Act, are invoked against them. Power is centralised and institutions of democratic governance are trivialised.
As former BJP veteran Yashwant Sinha puts it: “While nobody has been put behind bars as in 1975, there is still an all-pervasive atmosphere of fear and people are scared… Even cabinet ministers are not spared. The situation is far worse than it was in the declared Emergency of Indira Gandhi.” Tragedy is that his own son, Jayant Sinha, who is a Cabinet Minister, garlands and hugs those who have committed the horrendous crime of lynching and murder and swears his obescience to them! Can there be anything more shameful?
I have been a strident critic of Emergency for subverting democracy which is India’s most precious asset. Yet I believe that the present ruling establishment has no shouting rights against Emergency. Let us take a closer look at the declared Emergency of June 1975 and the undeclared Emergency prevailing in the country in the last few years. There was no lynching of Muslims, killing and assaults on Dalits, communal riots, political killings, Hindutva majoritarianism, targeted killing of left liberal intellectuals and journalists, political rally in support of gruesome rape, cow vigilantes roaming streets attacking and killing animal traders and meat eaters during Emergency as of now.
THERE was also no religion-based senas, dals, vahinis of goons, louts and street lumpens harassing, extorting, assaulting and killing defenceless citizens. There were no arms training to young innocent girls and boys in parks and institutions. There was no fear of majority community among minority communities. There were no hate crimes against fellow citizens. No pub attacks or private kitchen searches for beef. No restrictions on food and clothes of citizens. No moral policing in parks and public places. No forcible closure of NGOs. No fellow citizen was declared extremist or anti-national or asked to go to Pakistan or Europe.
Though the character and contents are different, there is a common thread between Emergency and now—‘Governance by Fear’. Only difference is that the method adopted then was ‘jhatka’ (single chop) and now it is ‘halal’ (slow killing). Effect on freedom and liberty is the same, probably a shade worse now!
Why is this happening in a country touted as world’s largest democracy? Answer is not far to seek—it is the deliberate wrecking of India’s Constitution and trying to ‘govern’ the country outside the ambit of this ‘charter of governance’.
DESCRIBING the Republic of USA, Joseph Story wrote: “The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order; and its defences are impregnable from without; It has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire for such title…. Republics are created-these are the words, which I commend to you for your consideration—by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them.”
Republic of India was structured on similar lines. But seven decades in to its working, it is tottering and sinking because the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of India’s citizens is under assault and the “wise among her sons and daughters have been banished from the public councils for their honesty and integrity, and the profligates rewarded because they are venal, communal and servile”. Democracy has shrunk and has been replaced by a creeping ‘kleptocracy’ marked by slavish flattery, autocratic arrogance, unbridled greed and criminalised corruption. In the event, the First Republic, so painstakingly constructed by our Founding Fathers, is falling apart and is on the precipice of collapse.
Institutions of democratic governance built into the Constitution and other laws and legislations are being ravaged in order to destroy the democratic edifice and build an autocratic State. Instances are the sharp decline of the office of President of India, the Council of Ministers, Parliament, and Constitutional bodies like CAG and the Election Commission. In order to concentrate political and administrative power in few hands, instruments of public service are either demolished or made to self-destruct in order to snatch them away from the people and hand them over to a small coterie of oligarchs who own over 75 per cent of India’s wealth today. In recent years, well-orchestrated communal hatred and polarisation agenda has been unleashed to strengthen the hold of these oligarchs on India’s economy and polity.
The higher judiciary, the last bastion of freedom and democracy is itself in deep distress. Four senior judges of the Supreme Court ‘paying their debt to the nation’ were forced to place their case before ‘We, the People’ with this poignant statement by the senior most among them: “We are all…four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country.” Since then things have gone from bad to worse affecting the very credibility of this highest court of the land!
ALL-INDIA Services, public sector banks, public sector undertakings, public broadcaster (Prasar Bharati), defence installations, telecommunication industry, port trusts, are all being deliberately enfeebled and sabotaged from within. ‘Development’ has become a farce to hand over massive amount of public money to private individuals through predatory ‘infrastructure’ projects while starving the critical agriculture and social sectors. This has made India the most non-inclusive and inequitable country in the world only next to Russia! Most of the mainstream media, owned or controlled by the oligarchs, have turned mercenary and are singing the paeans of those who are systematically devastating the Republic and the institutions of people’s power.
These are the opening words of the Constitution of India: “We, the People of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equity of status and of opportunity and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation….do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.”
Sadly, over the years, these core objectives have been mingled in dust. Justice has become inaccessible, distant, costly and purchasable; Liberty is ravaged by a spate of freedom-killing preventive detention laws and gross abuse of the IPC provisions of sedition and ‘waging war against the State’ as well as Sections of the IT Act; Equity is evaporating with governments selling/mortgaging country’s assets to MNCs and big businesses in the garb of ‘Reforms’ and Fraternity is faltering with dignity of the individual and integrity of the Nation being severely compromised.
Founding Fathers had called for a Constitution “wherein all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people”. Their vision of ‘Swaraj’ envisaged a people-based governance with a bottom-up decision-making process that would give everyone ‘a place in the sun’.
In Gandhian thoughts, India’s democratic governance structure would rise storey by storey from the foundation comprising of self-governing, self-sufficient, agro-industrial, urbo-rural local communities. These self-governing entities will control and regulate the use of natural resources for the good of the community and the nation. This was the trust reposed by the Founding Fathers on the Parliament.
But the governance structure we have today is all-powerful Central and State governments controlling and mismanaging all financial and natural resources. There is no trace of grassroot democracy or Swaraj.
‘Fear’ seem to be the overarching tool of governance. For this purpose, most draconian and anti-people provisions of the Indian Penal Code-Section 121: “Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India” and Section 124A: Sedition, both prescribing life imprisonment-are being liberally misused by the state.
Parliament has been busy with enacting legislations to facilitate the State and banking institutions to let loose police and financial terrorism (Maintenance of Internal Security Act; Unlawful Activities Prevention Act; Prevention of Terrorism Act; National Security Act and Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Act) on banks, citizens and entrepreneurs. Parliament has not lifted a finger to prevent the gross abuse and misuse of these draconian laws. In the event, peaceful mass protests and people’s aspirations are being brutally put down and common man’s voices go unheard.
IN the last few years, ‘demonetisation’, Aadhaar and, to some extent, GST have been used to ‘terrorise’ the common man and make him run around like headless chicken by destabilising his life and livelihood.Liberalisation and privatisation have turned educational institutions into windowless fortress preventing young minds from blossoming into fruitful citizens and future leaders.
Election is the essence of democracy and Integrity is its salt. Saltiness of India’s elections is fast losing its flavour and the electoral process is being cast out and trodden under the heavy boots of criminal and money-power, rendering democracy virtually worthless. The very dignity of democracy is at stake. EVMs do not conform to basic ‘democracy principles’. Yet Government and Parliament are unconcerned about electoral reforms that have been pending for decades!
Overcome by a sense of fear, while democracy and development have diminished for the common man, India is increasingly showing signs of a ‘failed State’. The first Republic has morphed into a kleptocratic-oligarchy, not a vibrant democracy as originally envisaged.
At the dawn of the last millennium, Rabindranath Tagore, that great Son of India wrote these captivating lines: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…. Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” India has moved far away from this clarion. The promised “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” has been replaced with “Maximum Government and Governance by Fear.” Cry, my beloved Country!
Writer is a former Army and IAS Officer