The Emergency proclaimed 43 years ago and lifted after 21 months was remembered widely this year by the Modi government. Through advertisements, speeches, press conferences and social media comments, Narendra Modi and his colleagues in the government and party invoked the horror of the Emergency with such focus and urgency as though it was a very recent chapter of Indian history and politics. Why this sudden remembrance of the Emergency? Is it to counter the growing popular perception of an undeclared Emergency under the Modi-Shah duo and project the BJP as a great warrior for democracy by invoking the Emergency era history?
The BJP perhaps believes that it can easily acquit itself of all charges of assault on democracy by comparing the present regime with the Emergency era suspension and violation of democratic rights. Three things are often mentioned: press censorship, arrest of opposition leaders and the appointment of a ‘committed’ Chief Justice by superseding the established order of seniority. How does the Modi regime compare with the Emergency era on these three counts?
True, there is no formal imposition of Press censorship, but this is because the press is reeling under so much fear and control that a formal censorship has become redundant. Journalists and journals carrying articles critical of the regime are being threatened with defamation suits. Even a simple story based on RTI disclosures about scrapped notes deposited in the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank of which Amit Shah is a director is pulled down by a number of major newspaper sites. The Cobrapost sting exposing the shocking state of affairs within leading media houses is drowned in a collective conspiracy of silence. The assassination of senior journalists like Gauri Lankesh and Shujaat Bukhari becomes a cause for celebration and is openly invoked as a threat to regiment and silence the media community.
Look at the status of the judiciary and the system of justice. The vyapam scam investigation has already become a major instance of systematic subversion of the criminal justice system with serial elimination of witnesses. The mysterious death of Justice Loya is another glaring instance of judicial manipulation. The extraordinary press conference of four seniormost Supreme Court judges and the subsequent petition submitted by opposition MPs demanding impeachment of the Chief Justice, which was summarily dismissed by the Rajya Sabha chairman in utter violation of the norms and spirit of parliamentary democracy have clearly highlighted the ominous erosion of any notion of judicial independence.
Main leaders of opposition parties including the Left may not have yet been subjected to indiscriminate arrests, but the state is routinely invoking draconian laws like the NSA and UAPA to arrest and suppress a whole range of activists and intellectuals. From the Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, arrested under NSA in Yogi’s UP to the five human rights campaigners – Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson – who have been arrested by the Pune police on fictitious charges of plotting to kill the Prime Minister to environmental activist Piyush Manush and Advocate Vanchinathan who have been arrested in Tamil Nadu for opposing the disastrous Salem-Chennai Eight Lane Expressway project or Aleek Chakraborty, leader of the popular movement to save land, livelihood and ecology at Bhangor near Kolkata, who has been picked up by the police while undergoing treatment in Bhubaneshwar, fabricated charges and indiscriminate arrests have become the order of the day. To legitimise this repression the government has coined labels like ‘anti-national’, ‘jehadi’, ‘urban Naxals’, ‘half-Maoists’ that are being freely flung around against citizens critical of the government and the Sangh brigade.
Far from buying the BJP’s anti-Emergency rhetoric, more and more people are therefore recognising the similarities and continuities between the autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi and the despotism of Narendra Modi. They are talking about Emergency then and now. About declared and undeclared emergency. About Emergency that had to be lifted after a short tenure and Emergency that is threatening to become a permanent feature of governance. Or as a cartoonist has brilliantly put it, about amateurish and professional models of Emergency.
The comparison between 1975 and 2018 cannot however remain restricted to features of governance and state. The hallmark of the Modi government is the PPP model of social violence and thuggery which has come to be known as mob lynching. More than 50 cases have already been reported from across the country. The triggers or pretexts could be anything from ‘cow protection’ and ‘child lifting’ to prevention of inter-faith inter-caste love or promotion of ‘development’, but the targets are almost always people belonging to vulnerable sections of society – Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, poor women. The mobs enjoy the blessings of the state in terms of both patronage and impunity. That picture from Hapur of three policemen in uniforms leading a marauding mob of killers with their trophy will remain the most definitive image of the Modi model of Emergency in today’s India.
Indira Emergency revolved around the state – whether in the growing instances of nationalisation and public sector occupying the commanding heights of the economy or the intensification of state repression and extra-judicial violence. Modi’s Emergency revolves around the fusion of state power and corporate power, the Sanghification of the bureaucracy and other institutions and the tango between the law and order machinery of the state and the proliferating thug squads of the Sangh brigade and mobs motivated and empowered by aggressive majoritarianism. Modern world history has a generic name for such tyranny. It is called fascism. History also tells us about the only power that can defeat fascism. It is the organised and determined resistance of a united people. The People United Will Never Be Defeated!