Discussion on ‘Emergency: Darkest Hour in Indian Democracy’,
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A discussion was held at the VIF on 24th June 2019 on the eve of 34 years since the declaration of the National Emergency in India. The idea behind was to retell stories related to Emergency - considered as one of the darkest periods in the history of India’s democracy - so that it may never repeat. The discussion was carried out by a panel comprising of Dr. A. Surya Prakash, Chairman of the Prasar Bharati, Shri S Gurumurthy, Chairman VIF as well as a well-known economic and political analyst, and Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director of the VIF. The discussion was followed by the release of the VIF Report titled, ‘Policy Initiatives for the New Government- Building a New India’.

Dr. Gupta, Director VIF, in his opening remarks, lauded Dr. Prakash for coming onboard with the idea of conducting a discussion on how the Emergency deeply affected the pulse of India’s democracy. Beginning with the historical account of the Emergency, Dr. Gupta said that following the annulment of elections results by the Allahabad High Court, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, declared a National Emergency on 25th June 1975 under Article 352.1 of the Indian Constitution. Many political opponents, workers and individuals were jailed illegally and a wave of repression was felt until 1977 elections. The democratic pillars such as the legislative, executive, judiciary and the media were all manipulated and many of them had to surrender. Many of the ordinary Indians had risked their life and resisted government actions. Therefore, it is essential to be reminded of the dark days of emergency, lest there is a tendency to forget how democracy was subverted.

Dr. A. Surya Prakash began his address by thanking all those people who fought against the Emergency. These people came from all parts of the country from different political parties such as Jai Prakash Narayan, L.K Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, George Fernandes and many more. He gave a detailed presentation about how the Emergency started after the order of Justice J.M Sinha which held the then PM Mrs. Gandhi, guilty of corrupt practices under the Election Law. The Emergency was introduced under Article 352.1 which stated that if there is an internal disturbance, Emergency can be imposed. Many political prisoners were detained under Later the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) as part of the Emergency. He explained that the three major Articles 14, 21 and 22 were abolished which are considered to be the pillars of democracy. Article 14 referred to equality before the law and equal protection by the law. Article 21 promised no deprivation of life and liberty except through procedure established by the law and Article 22 was that no detention without being informed about the ground of detention. He also mentioned how forceful sterlisation was initiated by Mr. Sanjay Gandhi. Men were caught like stray dogs and taken to sterlisation camps. This made India a very unsafe place for men.

Dr. Prakash then highlighted four Constitutional Amendments which were done in a haste manner just to protect Indira Gandhi. The amendments were 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st. The amendments were introduced in Lok Sabha on August 7, 1975 and it was signed by the President and became a law on 10th August 1975. He explained 42nd amendment in which abolished the corum and that the amendments made to the Constitution could not be questioned in any Court of Law, and gave Parliament unlimited power to amendment the Constitution. The abolition of corum meant that now even a single member in the Parliament and the state assemblies had the power to make laws. The 42nd Amendment gave unlimited power to President to amend if there was any difficulty in giving effect to the four amendments which were made in the Constitution. The President was given all the power to rewrite the Constitution, this clipped the wings of the Judiciary. Dr. Prakash also discussed about the Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla also known as Habeas Corpus Case. This case was heard by a bench of five judges. In the verdict, the judges upheld the Union Government's view about the Emergency and only Justice Khanna gave a dissenting judgement. He also discussed about the assault on the media and how Feroze Gandhi Act was removed which gave protection to journalists and media on reporting Parliamentary proceedings.

Accounting for the cases of suppression, Dr. Prakash also narrated how Information and Broadcasting Minister V.C Shukla banned the airing of Kishore Kumar songs on AIR as he declined to sing a jingle in favour of Emergency and how it impacted the film industry. He also discussed various cases where people were harassed and killed across India from Haryana till South India. He also mentioned about Naveen Chawla who was the Secretary to Lieutenant Governor that he had ordered to create more room in the Tihar Jail with asbestos to fill more prisoner in during the summers. He was declared to be unfit to hold any public office by the Shah Commission Report but he was made the Election Commission when Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980.

In his closing remarks he said that how the offenders of Emergency were awarded later by Indira Gandhi and after and these people should be brought to justice. He also talked about how nationalists and patriots the Gujaratis are starting from Sardar Patel to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thereafter, Shri Gurumurthy took to the dais and began by narrating his experiences during the Emergency. He worked from underground as a volunteer with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and personally experienced what the ordinary family underwent during Emergency that they didn’t have food ration. The RSS had asked him to go underground and deliver ration supplies to 300 families of people who had been detained. Shri Gurumurthy stressed that the environment was such that around 100,000 people were arrested and fundamental rights were suspended. The very democracy inclusive of all diversity that we boast about, before the international community was buried 100 fathoms deep. On the contrary, the elites, professionals, lawyers, judges, civil servants were happy of the fact that the trains are running on time and there is discipline in the society. The environment was paradoxical, where on the one hand people suffered so much atrocities, while on the other hand, everybody seems to be very happy with the kind of dispensation that was going on. He stated that the country had accepted Emergency. At the educated people’s level, the intellectuals, the professionals and the at the level of the people who were not concerned with the country, Emergency was a fair comply.

Shri Gurumurthy recalled a brief encounter with Justice K S Hegede on the side lines of the 1975 Civil Liberties Conference in Chennai. During the meeting there was a cut in the electricity supply and the room was in pitch dark. A candle lying in the room was lit and the flame from it gave some light. Pointing towards the candle, Justice Hegede said, “our job is like that of the candle, to keep the flame alive”. It was this advice that kept him motivated in such an environment of repression and atrocities. He argued that it is the ordinary citizen who shunned the Emergency, it is Jai Prakash who threw the Emergency and not the judges or the parliamentarians nor the civil servants and not even the President of India. If the President had refused to sign the declaration of the Emergency, there would have been no emergency. He reiterated that the institutions had collapsed and failed but it was great individuals who transformed the situation like Jai Prakash and Ram Nath Goenka with whom he had worked.

There are certain lessons we must learn from Emergency. First, we need towering people in every field. And institutions unmanned by towering people is of no use because its integrity and sanctity will never be upheld. Second, Shah Commission Report, to which hitherto, government had refused access, must be made available to be read in every library. According to Shri Gurumurthy, Unless Shah Commission Report is read, it will be difficult to understand what democracy means and what it means to lose it. He also called for a debate on the Shah Commission Report in New Delhi, wherein, judges, lawyers, politicians and intellectuals must come together and share opinions.

Shri Gurumurthy concluded by saying that the Shah Commission report was one of the finest documents produced by an honest judge and it must be made a living document. The document is the essence as to why India’s democracy cannot be destroyed. Philosophy of India’s democracy is not based on votes or the Parliament but on our diversity. Democracy is only needed in a society with diversity. India is culturally engraved in the democratic spirit because of which it can withstand any sort of harmonisation of total contradictions.

Event Date 
June 24, 2019

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