Emergency proclamation 1975: revisiting the past

Remembering Emergency days from childhood.

Indira cartoon emergency 1975

Those born after 1980 must read this:

Emergency is a dirty word in India. Constitution had vested certain powers in the Government to be invoked in case of emergency. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister invoked these powers on midnight of 25/26 June 1975 on the ground of ‘internal disturbance’ which ground has subsequently been deleted by Constitutional Amendment. The effect of Emergency Proclamation was that civil rights were suspended. Habeas Corpus was not available. Legal deliberations on abolition of due process is in a previous article here.
Mass arrest of dissenters and protestors was the first implication of emergency. Harassment and arrest of inconvenient politicians and lawyers was second. Mass vasectomy was next. Abuse of powers to arrest to settle personal scores by Congress party and Communist Party members was next. Soon Bureaucracy joined the party to settle scores or to make money.
Those with spine were either in jail or underground.

How was emergency proclamation affected average citizen?

For one thing, the trains were running on time. Absenteeism in Government offices was replaced with punctuality. I am not able to recall any other plus point. May be I was too young. But I noticed many things.
My father as a lawyer had represented many industrialists and opposed Communist Trade Unions in courts and therefore was a possible target. Surprisingly we never talked about it except a few stories of how he narrowly escaped the police. I will narrate one story but a little later.
I do remember that a phone call would come and he would get up to disappear for a day or two. He was no political activist at all but a small town lawyer who had earned the ire of those who could settle professional score by hitting under the belt. Many people were not sleeping in their homes and would sleep at some one else’s house. We too had such house guests for a night sleep who would rush out in the morning. Would you guess what and why?

Habeas Corpus and mistaken identity.

A person arrested under mistaken identity was entitled to have his arrest set aside by High Court. Therefor if a person is arrested not at his home, he would tell some false name. If he is arrested even then, under power of judicial review he could approach the court to have his arrest set aside. But there was a possibility that he would be arrested again but some found a way to swiftly get underground. Fortunately nothing like this happened to my father. I wish I could poke him today but he is no more.
Inefficiency and corruption:
India is a synonym of Inefficiency and corruption. People of Indian origin settled in other countries are a symbol of hard work and model citizens. The question is why it is not the same within country? The answer lies in the phone call, mentioned above.
The phone call was from local police station and a tip-off. My father received it as a favour but many people survived by paying ransom to corrupt police officials. It was fortunate for them that they would pay monthly ransom by whatever name called or in kind to keep them informed. While arrest orders would come from any where, it has to be executed by local police but they could not refuse the arrest. Therefore a rip off followed by unsuccessful attempt to arrest.

Did I mention the torture of people arrested to exhort the places of hiding of other people.

A story of wit.

Police was climbing the stairs while my father was getting down. Police man asked him if he was ‘Ram Ratan’. (His first and middle name) He without flinching or stopping in a careless manner replied ‘Vakil Sahib is upstairs’ and moved on. Vakil is Urdu word for lawyer. His split second decision and response saved him. Amazing.

Emergency then and now!

Very little communication, photography and slow transport helped too many people from rigours of dictatorship. It will not be same. If history repeats, it would be ruthless and even more bloody. Though corruption will help rich and influential even today.
As regard candidate for dictatorship Congress Party would point finger at Narendra Modi but I would point towards Arvind Kejriwal and Priyanka Gandhi. The former is though unlikely to win any election if he continue to do what he is doing.  The letter also has strong resemblance to her grand mother Indira. But why would that happen?
The same reason which was in 1975. Greed for power. Indira came to power on two planks: pretty face and populist promises. People trusted her. She could deliver nothing except implementing communist agenda and creation of Bangladesh and 1972 war. Simla agreement was something but not enough. Inflation and corruption was out of her hand. She was Prime Minister without right to vote in parliament due to judicial verdict. She became desperate. But why Priyanka? She is not even in politics?

Universal suffrage and Voter education?

Somebody asked me if there was any qualification necessary to be a minister. Of course there is none. For six months any illiterate Tom Dick Harry can be a prime minister what to speak of minister. Remember Fumble Harmer. Our present prime minister has no formal education but seems to be better trained in governance than previous doctorate prime minister. There is also no qualification for voters except 18 years of age. But even if there is say requirement of say High School, would it matter? No. See around.

In U.P. and Bihar educated, lawyers, doctors, engineer vote on caste lines. Everywhere there is polarisation of a section of voters on religious lines and all are not illiterate. Those who were sweeping floors in JP movement which led to emergency, came to power and looted the state while calling them socialists but perpetuated caste politics. In south people prostrating over a face or person, completely oblivious of rationality.

And for the same reason, with all the money stashed from kick backs one can and will jump into elections. Offer populist promises and win like Kejriwal, and do nothing like him and then………,

Legally looks not possible but practically. Who can tell. With such irresponsible voting pattern what is not possible. Those who do not know that Hitler was first elected and then he gradually seized absolute control as a dictator. Well today it seems far-fetched but so did when Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister and then the phoenix rose from ashes to lead corrupt sycophants to power.
What we need is a better human programming or better still deprogrammed and alive humans to vote rationally.

About Sandeep Bhalla

A lawyer, thinker, author, Linux/Ubuntu power user and sometime an economist or gardener or philosopher or cook or photographer depending upon the current thought and environment. View all posts by Sandeep Bhalla

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