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40 after India’s tryst with Emergency, its spectre still haunts us

Forty years after India’s tryst with the Emergency, its spectre still haunts both the people and political leaders.

comment Updated: Jun 25, 2015 06:52 IST
Hindustan Times

There are certain events in a nation’s history that never fail to create a frisson of fear long after they have taken place.

For India, the Emergency is one such instance.

Today, 40 years after its proclamation by then prime minister Indira Gandhi, the spectres of that fateful period still haunts us. Many events of that time were revisited in a recent television interview of RK Dhawan, personal secretary and confidant of Indira Gandhi.

While the loyal Mr Dhawan seeks to exonerate his boss, he had no compunctions about putting the blame for many excesses on Sanjay Gandhi and held the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray as the man most keen on proclaiming an Emergency.

Candid, but ever mindful of preserving Indira’s legacy, Mr Dhawan claimed that many who objected to her strong-arm tactics were happy to go along with the Emergency.

The question that many Indians ponder from time to time is whether such a scenario — with suspended rights and India becoming a republic of fear — could ever repeat itself. BJP leader LK Advani recently raised the issue and said that he was not confident that it could not happen again.

But, that is probably the politician in Mr Advani seeking to take a swipe at the Modi government with whom he has unstated differences.

Today’s India is different.

An entire generation does not have any memory of the Emergency.

Social media and round-the-clock news channels along with an active civil society and judiciary can make it difficult for any such move to be even planned in a clandestine manner.

Besides, even with a ruling majority at the Centre, the federal structure has ensured that there are powerful regional parties over whom the government cannot ride roughshod.

Politicians remember what happened to Indira as a result of her inability, or unwillingness to see what the Emergency did to the psyche of Indians.

At the first opportunity, she was bundled out of office, something she did not believe possible, if Mr Dhawan is to be believed. That fear alone has acted as a check on the political class.

Sanjay Gandhi’s uniquely cruel methods of sterilising and relocating people can never work again.

Even if some might hanker for an iron hand at the helm, authoritarianism has limited appeal today, and we are certain that it will stay that way.

First Published: Jun 24, 2015 22:59 IST