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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 31 New Delhi July 21, 2018

Was Emergency in India akin to Hitler’s Regime?

Saturday 21 July 2018

by Ram Puniyani

On the eve of the 43rd anniversary of the Emergency, which was imposed on the country in 1975, the BJP has come out strongly condemning the event, issued a half-page advertisement and Modi said that it was imposed to save the power of a family. There are claims that the BJP’s parent organisation, the RSS, and its political predecessors valiantly fought against the Emergency. Surprisingly many streams of Indian politics, like the CPI(M), shades of socialists, and sections of dissident Congress, who fought against the Emergency, did not make any noise about their role. While the Congress itself has not overtly criticised the act of its leader, Indira Gandhi, it needs to be recalled that Mrs Gandhi had regretted the excesses during this period in a speech in Yavatmal in 1978. Apart from Jaitly and BJP leaders there are many others also who compare the authoritarian Emergency regime and its excesses with what happened during Hitler’s fascist regime.

It’s true that during this period there was a serious violation of democratic freedom. The similarity with Hitler’s fascist regime ends there. The main mechanism of Hitler’s regime was to instigate emotions, intensifying divisiveness by activating the storm-troopers and targeting against the racial minority, the Jews. Other characteristics of his regime were to promote the interests of big business houses and suppress the rights of the working class in particular. It projected the golden past and also promoted ultra-nationalism and implemented a muscular foreign policy leading to soured relations with its neighbors. People like Einstein left the country. The targeting of racial minorities was the central and most conspicuous part of the policy. The excesses which took place during the Emergency were not targeted against any minority. It’s true that the pavement dwellers suffered a lot, demolitions and the compulsory vasectomy of the poor sections affected Muslims as well, but it was not targeted against the Muslim community in any way.

How can one say that the Emergency which was authoritarianism was not fascism in any way? In fascist methods what is central to the undermining of democracy is to operate through the mechanism of mobilisation of foot soldiers, whipping up mass hysteria and giving promi-nence to emotive issues. Let’s remember Indira Gandhi herself had lifted the Emergency and called for elections in a democratic way, elections in which she suffered a massive defeat. In Germany the fascist regime destroyed Germany itself.

While a lot is being said about the Emergency, what was the role of the RSS during this period? The claims that the RSS was a central force to fight against this regime fall in the category of a cock and bull story. T.V. Rajeswar, who served as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, after his retirement from service, in his book, India: The Crucial Years [Harper Collins], tells us: “Not only they (RSS) were supportive of this [Emergency], they wanted to establish contact apart from Mrs Gandhi, with Sanjay Gandhi also.” Rajeswar, in an interview with Karan Thapar, disclosed that Deoras “quietly established a link with the PM’s house and expressed strong support for several steps taken to enforce order and discipline in the country. Deoras was keen to meet Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay. But Mrs Gandhi refused.”As a matter of fact the executioners of the Emergency excesses found good favour with the BJP as it was formed after the Jana Sangh component left the Janata Party. One recalls the Emergency time slogan, “Aapatkal ke tin dalal: Sanjay, Vidya, Bansilal (three executioners of Emergency: Sanjay, Vidya, Bansilal)”. Later the BJP gave ticket to Vidya Charan Shukla, and allied with Bansilal to form the Government of Haryana. Sanjay Gandhi’s wife, Maneka, was taken into the BJP and became a Minister without ever condemning the excesses committed during that period.

As a matter of fact what is happening today is much more repressive though there is no official Emergency. Many have labelled it as undeclared Emergency. Nayantara Sahgal, who was a strong critic of the Emergency, has stated very aptly that “...we have an undeclared Emergency; there is no doubt about that. We have seen a huge, massive attack on the freedom of expression. The observation is that there are killings of innocent, helpless Indians; they were killed because they did not fit into the RSS’ view of India. Every dissent is labelled as anti-national.” She continues: “Writers like Gauri Lankesh have been killed. And there has been no justice for the families of the wage earners who have lost their lives in this fashion. In fact they are now being called the accused. So we have a horrendous situation, a nightmare which is worse than the Emergency.” Similarly we know that today the danger to civil liberties and democratic rights is through the ideologically indoctrinated foot-soldiers, who have been called fringe elements, but as such they are part of a clear division of labour, working against Indian Constitution and for Hindu Nation.

The prevalence of violence against religious minorities, the intimidation, the lynching in the name of the Holy cow, beef, love-jihad,ghar wapsi has become a sort of New Normal of the present regime. It not only goes beyond the authoritarian regime but borders on the divisive politics which is out to relegate the religious minorities to second class status in the country. While the top rulers keep quiet in cases of serious violations, the ground level vigilantes have a field day in furthering the agenda which is the outcome of the RSS ideology. Lately even the use of tricolour to instigate violence as witnessed in Kasgaonj is further stifling our democracy.

We need to distinguish between the authori-tarian regime of the Emergency where the machinery of the state was used to suppress democratic rights with fascist regimes which are guided by narrow nationalism and target the minorities while pushing forward Hindu nationalism and bringing in divisions in society on sectarian grounds. Democracy is stifled in both cases, but in narrow nationalism the very concept of citizenship is denied to sections of society on the grounds of their religion or race. And this is the crucial marker of sectarian nationalism.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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