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Looking back at Emergency

In Joseph Conrad’s  <g data-gr-id="41">novella</g> The Heart of Darkness one of the key characters of the story-Charles Marlow begins to prefer Colonel Kurtz’s serene dictatorship as the story progresses. In fact, as Marlow’s character tries to <g data-gr-id="42">sift</g> between right and wrong, sane and insane, he realises that these notions are indistinguishable in this world gone mad. Force of personality is the only means by which men are judged. Force of personality has been behind every single dictator which has arisen in the world. Dictators are often charismatic and towering figures. Given to glib oratory they have a pull on the crowd which makes even the most rational and reasonable of men or women blind to their faults. Dictatorships are often unexpected in a democratic setup. They have arisen among <g data-gr-id="36">prosperous,</g> educated and cultured populace who seemed completely inoculated against the possibility of a dictatorship – whether it be in Europe, Asia or South America.

Consider Germany, one of the most perplexing and dramatic cases in this regard. During the late 19th century, it was widely considered to have the best educational system in the free world.  If any educational system could immunise its people from barbarism, then surely Germany would have led the way to reinforce the values of democracy across Europe and the World. Instead the opposite happened. Along came Adolph Hitler with his fiery speeches that appealed to Germans embittered and disillusioned by the outcome of the first World War. He denounced Jews, capitalists and other alleged villains, vowing to rebuild German greatness. What emerged after Hitler came to power was a dark period in the history of mankind. Similarly, four decades later after Hitler’s ascendancy, on June 25th, 1975 came the day that Indira Gandhi imposed what retrospectively has infamously been named ‘The Emergency’. On the 40th anniversary of that historic day, which was probably historic for all the wrong reasons, it would be wise to remember that it was Indira Gandhi and her acolytes who brought authoritarian rule to Independent India for the first time. To be more precise, Indira Gandhi brought dictatorship to our country which had just gained independence roughly three decades ago. 

As documented in Ramachandra Guha’s historical tome India after Gandhi, S. Nijalingappa, a Congress veteran had remarked, perhaps presciently, “History is replete with instances of the tragedy that overtakes democracy when a leader who has risen to power on the crest of a popular wave or with the support of a democratic organisation becomes a victim of political narcissism and is egged on by a coterie of unscrupulous sycophants who use corruption and terror to silence opposition and attempt to make public opinion an echo of authority”. India somehow survived the onslaught of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi’s twenty-point programme. 

The press survived but it did not emerge unscathed. Just like the men who were forced to undergo forced sterilisations the press too emerged scarred, and perhaps temporarily devoid of its potency. It was the 44th amendment to our Constitution, which ensured that the conditions of the Emergency could not be replicated again. More importantly in the period post that, India’s democracy, survived and indeed thrived. This is not to say that an Emergency like situation may not arise ever again. At a time when the cabinet form of collective leadership has ceded way to a one man presidential style of government and the media has vacated its adversarial role to pander to entrenched corporate interests, we as a country must collectively remember that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. 
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