The 40th anniversary of the draconian Emergency has become an occasion for those who seek to distort Indian history and (mis)appropriate the people’s struggle against it.
For my generation, this struggle for restoration of democracy was a period of political maturation. Many of us embraced politics as a consequence, cutting across today’s political spectrum.
This commitment to create a better India is distinct from those who inherited family political heirlooms or joined politics to share the spoils of crony capitalism that the trajectory of neo-liberal economic reforms engenders. This Narendra Modi government is pursuing such policies aggressively.
While it took nearly seven years for the UPA scams to break out, this Modi government needed just one year and is brazening out the current (Lalit) Modigate exposes.
AK Gopalan, former CPI(M) leader in Parliament, exposed the real character of the Emergency in his famous speech (censored in media) in the Lok Sabha.
Stating that over 3,000 CPI(M) activists were detained under the dreaded Maintenance of Internal Security Act and Defence of India Act, he spelt out that the CPI(M)’s position on July 21, 1975.
The CPI(M) opposed the “new declaration of Emergency and its ratification in the House….We cannot betray the interests of the people and give our assent to the obliteration of all vestiges of democracy in India”.
And, concluded by saying: “Our Party considers its foremost task to awaken and organise the people against the grave peril they are facing and throw them into the struggle for the withdrawal of the Emergency….”. This is in contrast to the claims being made today by the RSS/BJP to appropriate the people’s struggles.
The PM, as is his wont, tweeted to this effect. LK Advani warned that under the present political dispensation the dangers of authoritarianism persist.
Soon, he hastened (under pressure?) to clarify that his comments target the Congress. The seeds of such apprehensions, given this Modi government’s authoritarian tendencies, however, have been sown. The RSS’ capitulation during the Emergency was, then, well known.
Jayaprakash Narayan who accepted support from the RSS and its then political arm, the Jan Sangh, against Indira Gandhi’s corrupt and anti-people rule, the prelude to the Emergency, said in 1968, “The secular protestations of the Jan Sangh will never be taken seriously unless it cuts the bonds that tie it firmly to the RSS machine. Nor can the RSS be treated as a cultural organisation as long as it remains the mentor and effective manipulator of a political party”.
He died a disillusioned man, failing to persuade Jan Sangh leaders to severe links with the RSS when they merged with the Janata Party and joined the government.
This ‘dual membership’ issue wrecked the government that was formed following the people’s struggle against the Emergency.
During the Emergency, RSS chief MD Deoras wrote several letters to Indira Gandhi. He wrote also to Vinoba Bhave seeking intervention for the withdrawal of the ban on the RSS.
Following the character of deceitful compromises that the earlier RSS chief, MS Golwalkar, writing to Sardar Patel sought the withdrawal of the RSS ban following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Deoras wrote a cringing letter to Gandhi from the Yeravada Central Jail on November 10, 1975 congratulating the PM “as five judges of Supreme Court have declared the validity of your election”.
He wrote again pleading the withdrawal of the ban saying “lakhs of RSS volunteers will be utilised for national upliftment (government as well as non-government)”, clearly supporting Gandhi’s infamous ‘20-point declaration’ during the Emergency.
However, in none of these letters did the RSS chief plead for a lifting of the Emergency or for the release of detenues.
Socialist leader Baba Uddhav noted: “Written queries were circulated in the Yeravada Jail three or four times asking detenues if they would be prepared to sign an undertaking (supporting the Emergency). I have seen with my own eyes majority of the RSS detenues signing their assent to do so.
"Deoras’ letter to Indira Gandhi said that the RSS “has no connection with these movements (JP movement)”. Such servile confirmism not any “heroic struggle” against Emergency, was their character.
It is necessary to underline that no commitment to democracy in India can be sustained without a commitment to secularism.
The secular democratic character of the republic implies a notion of secularism that goes beyond the post-Westphalian definition of European secularism and nationalism.
Crucial to Indian nationalism is drawing in an inclusive way the people respecting diversities. It is such inclusiveness that defines the unfolding of the ‘idea of India’ central to which is secular democracy. Here secularism and democracy cannot be separated as distinct concepts.
But this is the distinction that the RSS/BJP today draws by relentlessly pursuing their project of converting our secular democratic Republic into a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
It is this character of the RSS/BJP that has the inherent dangers of strengthening authoritarianism by denying/destroying democracy.
The seeds are already evident. Unscrupulous attacks against norms of parliamentary democracy can be seen in bulldozing laws without scrutiny and exercising its ‘tyranny of majority’ in the Lok Sabha and by seeking to bypass the Rajya Sabha where it does not have a majority.
Relations between the Centre and states are worsening.
Such authoritarian expression is one face of the trimoorti this government is sculpting. The other two are the aggressive pursuit of anti-people economic reforms and the unscrupulous recourse to sharpening communal polarisation.
This 40th anniversary of the Emergency must motivate the Indian people, once again, to safeguard secular democracy and defeat all tendencies towards a new form of authoritarianism.
Sitaram Yechury is general secretary of the CPI(M) and a Rajya Sabha MP.
(The views expressed are personal)