INDIA and the world remember the protests by students and workers at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing and China’s ruthless suppression through tanks. But the world, particularly India, has forgotten the imposition of the Emergency which had suspended even the fundamental right to live. Significantly, both tragedies occurred in the month of June—the first on the 4th, two decades ago, and the second on the 26th, some 34 years ago.
The first saw military crushing hundreds of peaceful agitators and workers (official figure of casualties has never been given out). In the second, people were silenced to suffocation. The press was gagged. The police were let loose on critics and more than one lakh people were detained without trial. It was a death of sorts.
The reason why the world and India should recall the Emergency is the forfeiture of individual liberty. India’s democratic structure was converted into dictatorship. Only after undergoing the sufferings for 23 months did people assert themselves and threw out the rulers to be free. The lesson learnt was that vigilance was the price one paid for freedom.
Pakistan’s own experience should make it realize that it could not remove the shackles of martial law until the lawyers agitated to have the judiciary independent. That movement gave back Pakistan its democracy. Terrorism which the country is facing is the lack of courage to stand up and be counted. The army is reaping what its ISI wing had sown.
Bangladesh too has been able to defeat fundamentalists to a large extent through elections where people brought back their popular leaders. Here the light at the end of the tunnel came only when the military-backed caretaker government realized that the right to elect rulers was that of people, not theirs.
The right to choose is what Prime Minister Indira Gandhi confiscated when she imposed the Emergency. The Allahabad High Court disqualified her for having used the government machinery for election purposes. After getting a stay from the Supreme Court, she suspended the constitution itself and played havoc with the nation. Her son Sanjay Gandhi, who had by then emerged as extra-constitutional authority, helped her. Later, he took over and ordered the arrest of practically every known critic of his mother, smothered protest and used the government machinery to implement his scheme of things: one-person rule.
Three of those who assisted Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi are today ministers in the Manmohan Singh cabinet. They are Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni and Minister for Highways and Road Transport Kamal Nath.
During the Emergency, the Communist Party of India sided with Mrs Gandhi. It even supplied information on those who worked against the autocratic rule overtly or covertly. The CPI (M) was opposed to the Emergency but supported the Chinese when they attacked India in 1962.
The fallout of what happened more than three decades is more visible now. Abuse of law has become a precedent. The police have no hesitation in doing anything illegal at the behest of superiors. They are especially cruel to the aam aadmi. It is a daily occurrence. For example, the entire family of the suspect is detained at a thana for days to exert pressure on their relatives to “confess” or surrender if he is escaping arrest. There is no report recorded, no document prepared. The legality of detention cannot be challenged because there is nothing on paper.
The worst outcome of the Emergency is the unaccountable bureaucracy. It has ceased to follow the rule of law and finds ways to circumvent it. Traditional practice of not violating the basic tenets of governance—independence, fairness and justice—have been thrown to the wind. Having overcome the initial hesitation, the civil servants do not know where and when to stop. Placating political masters has become a duty for them. In return, they got out-of-turn promotion or a cushy posting. Sanjay Gandhi put so much fear in the mind of bureaucrats that it still works. The steel frame has become seal frame. Higher the position, the greater is the willingness to obey. It is worse then before.
I know of no service or association of even IAS or IPS officers who ever made any introspection about their behaviour during the emergency or condemned at least the worst examples among them. I recall giving a piece of my mind at the National Police Academy at Hyderabad some 25 years ago and reminded senior police officials how they had crumbled before pressure to obey illegal orders. The Academy never invited me again.
I am not surprised over the findings of a study that India has the most corrupt bureaucracy. When you snap moorings you drift. Civil service, from top to bottom, has lost the moorings. Desire for self-preservation is what motivates it. The anxiety to survive at any cost is its sole aim.
I am told that Mrs Indira Gandhi realized that she had committed a mistake in imposing the emergency. Had it been so, she would not have pursued or punished the few officials who did their job to bring the perpetrators of excesses to book. She was back in power before the delinquent officers could be punished. The biggest casualty was the police reforms. She shelved an outstanding report because the Dharam Vira Commission which made the recommendations was appointed by the Janata government, which succeeded her. She even stopped a prize distribution function in the midst because some police officials were being given medals for their outstanding work they had done in the post-emergency days.
I wish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had offered an apology to the nation for the excesses committed during the Emergency. Sheer arrogance of power guided the Congress at that time. From what I have seen of new crop of Congressmen in Parliament it is no mood of admitting any mistake made by the party in the past. No doubt, the Congress MPs have come through the process of election. They are popular representatives. Yet it does not exonerate them of illegal arrests and the raids the party ordered to settle personal scores. But then nothing succeeds like success.
Yet the moral of the story is that the victory does not justify the wrongs done to win. People in India should continue to recall the dark days of the Emergency. People in China too will one day openly pay homage to the martyrs at the Tiananmen Square. The pain inflicted goes away, but not the fact of tyranny. Rulers in India, China or, for that matter, in any country are the custodian of the people’s ideals, beliefs and faith which make the nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.