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Democracy our Hobson?s choice

One-third of Indians are against democracy but what is their choice -dictatorship or communism, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2007 03:24 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra

A third of the citizens of the world’s largest democracy are against democracy, according to projections from a nationwide

HT-C fore survey


Some called democracy useless, some preferred communism, and others even said a dictatorship might bring better results. But as we step into a new year, 57 per cent Indians think the country’s future is safe with a democratic system.

LC Jain does not agree with the dissenters and he knows why. “We have reduced democracy to just the elections. After casting votes, Indians do not taste or feel democracy,” said Jain, 81, whose life as a pro-freedom activist has straddled the pro-independence movement and the campaign against the 1975 Emergency.

“The answer is more democracy. You cannot exchange the boat mid-current for a Maruti car. You have to try and make it row better,” he said in an interview over the telephone from his Bangalore home.

Of the respondents in eight cities interviewed in the

HT-C fore survey

, 57 per cent said democracy was “the best system under any circumstances”.

But 9 per cent called it a “useless system”, 15 per cent said a dictatorship was sometimes more fruitful than a democracy, and 8 per cent preferred a socialist or communist system.

In a reflection of the nation’s young profile, the respondents also displayed a fading national memory of the Emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi - 31 per cent people called it a “turning point” in India’s democratic life.

Only 25 per cent respondents said they remembered the Emergency “very well”, 37 per cent had a “vague idea”, 31 per cent had no idea, and 7 per cent said it was not important.

“People of my generation have seen little else but freedom, and they perhaps take it for granted,” said Dr. Abir Saraswat, 33, a Lucknow-based dermatologist.

Mrs Gandhi imposed the 21-month Emergency and suspended fundamental rights on the night of June 25, 1975 after the Allahabad High Court revoked her 1971 election to the Lok Sabha for unfair practices and barred her from contesting elections for six years.

“Journalists turned up to protest at the Press Club, 107 of us, and we read out a resolution against the emergency,” said commentator Kuldip Nayyar, 80, then one of the editors at

The Indian Express


He was sent to Tihar jail for four months soon after. “When I came back from jail, not a single one would come forward. There was so much fear in the minds of the people, and officers became willing tools in the hands of tyranny,” he said.

In Punjab, Sukh Darshan Singh Natt, now 48, was among the student leaders who went into hiding, using fake names and addresses to avoid being arrested by the police even as they tried to mount anti-emergency protests.

“Democracy is a good system, what option do you have? Look at Pakistan,” he said by telephone from Punjab’s Mansa town. “But this is not a real democracy. This is the rule of money, not people.”

Trains ran on time during the emergency and corruption decreased, but there were large-scale arrests, newspapers were censored, and the government began a forced sterilization campaign to control the population.

“The emergency did adult education for people of my generation. It woke us up. It showed that the state can become a monster, and that all constitutional guarantees can be erased by one person with the stroke of a pen,” said Jain.

Director Sudhir Mishra recently made an audacious attempt to relive the emergency through his acclaimed film Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi (Thousands of such desires).

“There were some tendencies that the ruling class learned from the emergency. They sometimes still try to exercise those emergency-like measures,” Mishra said.

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First Published: Jan 01, 2007 01:23 IST