Congress needs to come clean
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch L.K. Advani’s clarification that his deep-set fears about a return of Emergency rule were directed at the Congress must have been greeted with a sign of relief and silent derision by the ruling party at the Centre.
Till he pointed out that the Congress hasn’t expressed “remorse” about what happened in 1975, the general belief was that Advani was still miffed about having been sidelined by Narendra Modi and was, therefore, targeting him for his supposed authoritarian traits.
That Advani has reasons to be unhappy is understandable. His entire career has been one of glaring missed opportunities. When he was riding high on his chariot in 1990 as he set out for Ayodhya from Somnath in Gujarat, he must have thought that the journey would raise him to great political heights.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Advani was pipped to the prime minister’s post by Atal Behari Vajpayee. A decade later, he has suffered the same fate at Modi’s hands.
It was only to be expected, therefore, that his observation – “I don’t have the confidence that it (the Emergency) cannot happen again” – will be seen as directed at Modi. His clarification – or rather his afterthought masquerading as a clarification–when it may have become apparent to him that his grouse was too palpable – makes sense because there can be no comparison between the circumstances surrounding Modi and Indira.
The latter had her party, and the President, at her beck and call. This enabled the former prime minister to persuade Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to sign on the dotted line an order to proclaim Emergency and the cabinet to fall in line without a murmur.
The BJP is a not a poodle as the Congress was to Indira. It will not be easy, therefore, for Modi to bulldoze the BJP party into accepting his diktat. Besides, Indira was at the height of her political power in 1975 in the aftermath of the Bangladesh war. Modi’s successes – if he is to attain them – are still in the future, and they relate to economics, not military glory.
The explosive growth of the media in recent years also means that it will not be easy to cut off electricity supply to newspaper offices or send journalists to jail to make them fall in line, as was the case in 1975.
The point, therefore, is not whether Modi can do what Indira did, but how Indira’s party looks at the events of those fateful days. As Advani said, no Congressman has apologised for the mercifully futile attempt of his party to throttle democracy.
What is more, the Congress today harbours in Rahul Gandhi a person who is a self-confessed admirer of his imperious grandmother. At a meeting with Congressmen, Rahul pointed to a picture of Indira Gandhi and said, “she is my role model”.
Continuing, he said that he was not “soft” like his mother. “I will not tolerate indiscipline. I will take tough action. I will punish those who act against the party’s interests”. Rahul Gandhi’s “soft” spot for his grandmother is understandable considering that he saw as a child how she was gunned down by security guards with whom he used to play badminton. But, poignant memories are not the best guides in matters of formulating policies.
His belief that Indira was merely fending off the political attacks of her opponents at the time of the Emergency underlines his ignorance of the draconian steps which she took to preserve her hold on power.
It will be nothing short of a disaster for the Congress, therefore, if Rahul Gandhi tries to emulate his “role model”. Just as any comparison which Advani may have had in his mind between Indira Gandhi and Modi falls flat because of the difference in the conditions between the two periods, Rahul Gandhi’s preference for “tough action” is unsuitable for the present times.
Although the Emergency represents one of the darkest periods in India’s post-independence history, it has also become some kind of a bogey either to target a ruler, or to issue a virtual threat to rivals as Rahul Gandhi did two years ago when he said that he would have done what Indira Gandhi did when she faced a “severe assault” by “destabilising forces”.
It will be advisable for the political class not to indulge in gamesmanship with such a serious event when Indian democracy was saved in the nick of time because of Indira Gandhi’s mistake of calling for a general election. Indira believed that she would win because that was what the intelligence agencies must have told her. But for that lapse of judgment, India would have joined the ranks of tinpot Third World dictatorship under another mother-and-son duo – Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. Only the wisdom of the Indian voter saved the country. It is necessary for the Congress, its favoured dynasty and other would-be dictators to remember this fact. IPA