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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 39 New Delhi September 15, 2018

The Approaching Elections

Saturday 15 September 2018, by Eduardo Faleiro

Every year around June 26, on the anniversary of the Emergency imposed in 1975, the present government attempts to highlight the supposed wrongdoings committed at that time. However, the government’s blitz this year was much beyond the normal. Press conferences, govern-ment advertising and Prime Minister Modi’s blasting speech raise the question of just what was so special about this 43rd anniversary. The answer is that we are now less than a year away from the general elections and the onslaught was intended to remind the Opposition parties who are presently attempting to put up a unified fight against the NDA, of the alleged atrocities perpetrated during that period.

Smt Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975 and it lasted for 21 months. The Emergency was introduced to prevent the moves of the Opposition at that time to destabilise the government and the country. Inder Malhotra, the biographer of Smt Indira Gandhi, wrote: “The return of life after relentless disruption by strikes, protest marches, clashes with the police was applauded by most people. In its initial months at least, the Emergency returned to India a kind of calm it had not known for years.” During the Emergency there was public order and discipline, two things that were absent in the previous years. Much of the criticism of the Emergency emerged from the Family Planning programme which was implemented in North India sometimes in a rather drastic manner.

In Goa itself and in South India, generally, the Emergency proved to be beneficial. The adminis-tration became more efficient, black marketing and hoarding ceased and food and other articles of general consumption were easily available which was not the case earlier. The support of the Goan people to the Union Government during the Emergency benefited the Congress party which in the general elections held in 1977 went on to win the Lok Sabha seat of South Goa. This was the first ever election victory of the Congress in Goa. Until then, the Congress had not won a single seat either to Parliament, to the Legislative Assembly or even at the municipality level.

The Janata Party rule collapsed under its own contradictions and lasted for less than three years. Thereafter, the Congress party was elected for five full terms aggregating 25 years. Nobody levelled any serious charge against the governments led by Smt Indira Gandhi who returned as the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao or Dr Manmohan Singh of any manner whatsoever of subverting the Consti-tution. In 1980 the Bharatiya Janata Party was formed as a new political entity outside the Janata Party.

Smt Indira Gandhi is often acknowledged as the most popular Prime Minister ever especially among the poor and weaker sections of society. Under her leadership the word ‘Socialism’ was added to ‘Secularism’ and ‘Democracy’ in the Preamble of the Constitution and in 1975, her government formulated the 20-Point Pro-gramme. The basic objective of the 20-Point Programme was the removal of rural poverty, health, education and housing for all as well as justice for SCs and STs and empowerment of women.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, presided over the worst communal riots that this country has ever witnessed. He was repeatedly faulted by the Supreme Court for his failure to prosecute the guilty. The then Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, described as “barbaric and inhuman” the Godhra and post-Godhra events. At the meeting of the BJP Executive Committee held in Panaji in April 2002, Shri Vajpayee called upon Modi to adhere to his “raj dharma”. A ruler, he said, should not discriminate among his subjects on the basis of religion, creed or caste. He wanted Modi to resign as the Chief Minister.

I visited Gujarat in the aftermath of the Godhra and post-Godhra riots in early March 2002 as a member of the Congress party delegation. We were told by the State administration that we could go to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar but not beyond for security reasons. We went to different areas of those two cities which were described as peaceful but it was the peace of the grave that prevailed there. A large number of people met us, including Shri Rajdeep Sardesai, then a correspondent of Star TV. He told us that he was attacked by a mob carrying trishuls, they broke the glasses of his vehicle and asked him and his colleagues to identify themselves and their religion. There were noble exceptions in those days where Hindus protected Muslims. Many Hindus were also attacked by the mobs and the Muslims protected them.

On return from Gujarat, I wrote to the then Home Minister, Shri L.K. Advani, detailing the facts that I had witnessed and said: “Some of our neighbouring countries, where religious funda-mentalism flourished for more than a decade often with State patronage, are now striving to abandon this noxious path. It would be ironical and most unfortunate if quite the opposite happens in India. I urge you to deal resolutely with all forms of religious extremism in an even-handed rather than in a selective manner so that peace, harmony and the rule of law prevail throughout the length and breath of the nation.” The Chairman of the Press Council of India and former judge of the Supreme Court, Markandey Katju, had termed Modi unfit for the PM’s post and had said that India will not survive if Modi becomes the Prime Minister of the country. “India will not be able to survive because it has so much diversity, so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups. The killings of thousands of Muslims and other atrocities committed against them in Gujarat in 2002 can never be forgotten or forgiven. Secular democracy is the only possible constitutional framework for this country. The concept of secularism is linked inextricably with Indian democracy and one cannot exist without the other.” Whilst speaking to the media last June about the Emergency of 1975, BJP patriarch L.K. Advani stated that “at the present point of time the forces that can crush democracy, notwith-standing the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger. It could be that fundamental liberties are curtailed again.” This remark was obviously aimed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Union Government is currently besieged with several issues such as agrarian distress, growing unemployment, inability to manage its coalition partners, demonetisation, hasty and poor implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) and prevailing sectarian strikes. In the last State elections held in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya the BJP failed to emerge as the single largest party, it could not form the government in Karnataka and was defeated in the recent bypolls held in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The losses reflect a growing disillusionment among the people of India over Narendra Modi’s rule.

The author is a former Union Minister.

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