Jatin Desai

A very timely book

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Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy's Turning Point by Gyan Prakash- Review

Emergency was imposed in India in 1975 and it continued for 21 months. The fundamental rights were suspended, thousands of activists were put behind bar. It was one of the darkest periods in the history of democratic India. As the world once again confronts an eruption of authoritarianism, Gyan Prakash’s book Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point, gives us a comprehensive historical account of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency of 1975-77.

Then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed a proclamation of Emergency, before the mid-night on June 25, 1975 on the recommendation of then PM Indira Gandhi. Prior to that on June 12 three major incidences shocked Indira Gandhi. The day started with the death of D P Dhar (long-time friend and advisor). Soon other news came that the Congress had lost the elections in Gujarat to the five-party opposition coalitions. The most devastating news was of the Allahabad High Court judgment setting aside Indira Gandhi’s election. Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha also barred Indira Gandhi from contesting elections for six years. It finally led to the Emergency.

In 1971, Indira Gandhi won general elections with a thumping majority. Same year, because of her political, diplomatic role Bangladesh came into existence. She was at the peak of her popularity. But, by 1974, Indira Gandhi had fallen out of public favor. Her popularity went down drastically. The state of Gujarat witnessed a massive Navnirman (reconstruction) movement led by students. After Gujarat, students of Bihar started agitation. Veteran Gandhian, freedom fighter Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) led the agitation and gave moral strength to the movement. He gave call for a Sampurna Kranti (Total Revolution). The growing unrest and finally Allahabad High Court judgment prompted Indira Gandhi to impose Emergency. Indira Gandhi suspected role of CIA and Richard Nixon behind the movement. The fact is CIA was involved and supported military coup in Chile in 1973 against democratically elected Salvador Allende.

Indian democracy recovered from the misadventure of Smt. Gandhi. The Janata Party was formed and they came to power but the experiment failed miserably. The author relates today’s scenario with the past and writes, “Today, there is no formal declaration of Emergency, no press censorship, no lawful suspension of the law. But the surge of Hindu nationalism has catapulted Narendra Modi into the kind of position that Indira occupied only with the Emergency…. Today, the courts, the press, and political parties do not face repression. But they appear unable or unwilling to function as the gatekeepers of democracy in the face of state power spiked with Hindu populist ressentiment.”

Dr B R Ambedkar, speaking at the concluding session of the Constituent Assembly on November 24 1949, invoked John Stuart Mill to warn the citizens against placing their liberties at the feet of a great leader. He said Indians were particularly susceptible to bhakti. This was fine in religion, but in politics it is ‘a sure road to degradation and eventful dictatorship’. We need to be alert to save democracy and democratic institutions from the authoritarianism. We are witnessing rise of authoritarianism across the world. To understand this phenomenon Gyan Prakash’s book is important.

Title: Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point

Author: Gyan Prakash

Publisher: Penguin

Price: Rs. 699

Pages: 439

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