Politicians' lust for power makes them forget lessons of 1975, say authors of book on Emergency

The Emergency, often cast at the darkest period in post-independence India, has been repeatedly referenced in recent years — largely as a forewarning. A reprint of the famous 1977  book For Reasons of State has brought back memories of a time that some believe increasingly points to present-day India. Its authors John Dayal and Ajoy Bose spoke with Firstpost about the Emergency, its parallels in today's India, the Congress’ burden, and how they originally pieced their research together in a time of censorship.

You mention in the new introduction to the book that Narendra Modi has modelled himself on someone like Vivekananda. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? Also, how does it help Modi, and how conscious do you think he is of this image he is sharing of himself?

Ajoy Bose: We specifically point out that Modi has modelled himself in posture and not in spirit on Swami Vivekananda, whose portrait has been recorded in history with folded arms and a steely gaze with a turban on his head. We feel that this is a conscious attempt to copy the public image of the great Hindu visionary who still has a great appeal across the country. Of course Modi’s politics has little connection with Vivekananda’s inclusive spiritual vision.

John Dayal: Modi and his image consultants have chosen to present him as a macho leader connected with the core of India's classic Hindu past. Swami Vivekananad, who died in his 30s, is the eternal role model both as someone who could tell of India to the West on his terms. The saffron robes of the savant leader, the turbaned head, the steely gaze and the  arms crossed across the chest are so visible in the body language and imagery of the public persona of the Prime Minister. A pity he cannot come close to the intellect of the Swami and his understanding of both the spiritual and the temporal.

During the Emergency, a large part of the resistance against it was lead by protests, by students as well. Is the crackdown on universities and institutions a pre-emptive step to check that possibility? 

AB: Historically, any revolt against the established order is triggered by unrest among the young — particularly with university students. We have seen this happening time and again in recent decades both across India and other countries as well. Just before Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency, it was the Nav Nirman Andolan by students in Gujarat that started the public unrest against her which Jayaprakash Narayan further amplified with his call for Total Revolution. So it is not surprising that the current regime sees students as a major threat and have cracked down on the universities.

JD: The 20th century, and the two decades of the 21st have seen students (and youth in general) leading the political upsurge in countries — across continents,  religions and ideologies. One can say that in the Emergency, the young — even in the RSS and its students' wings — were active in Delhi University, for instance, and some other northern education centres. Narendra Modi had appealed directly to the young in his 2013 election campaign more than any other section of the population. He and his government have failed students and youth, in everything from not being able to create jobs to  fracturing the education  superstructure.

Ajoy Bose and John Dayal's book on the 1975 Emergency, title For Reasons of State, has now been reprinted

Ajoy Bose and John Dayal's book on the 1975 Emergency, title For Reasons of State, has now been reprinted

Going back to the Emergency, why were institutions like the police and the courts so easily controlled, and failed to resist back then? How different or similar would you say the situation is today?

AB: The police are just a branch of the government and therefore inclined to blindly follow the orders of their political masters; sometimes (they) act on their own volition to violate the constitutional safeguards protecting the rights of the citizens. One must also remember that the Emergency regime had armed itself with sweeping powers so that technically the large number of arbitrary arrests had legal backing. As far as the courts are concerned, there is no question that faced with the might of Indira Gandhi’s parliamentary majority and a rubber-stamp President, the judiciary as a whole had capitulated and did not play its role of checking the Emergency regime from becoming the runaway monster it became. While it would be incorrect to draw a direct parallel between today’s situation where the Constitution still remains intact and what happened during the Emergency, there are disturbing signs that the police are once again either failing to protect citizens from those who seek to snatch their fundamental rights, or are themselves willing accomplices. As for the judiciary, there have been questions raised about its neutrality even in the highest court of the land and there has been a fair degree of public disquiet about its role for the first time since the Emergency after some senior-most judges of the Supreme Court flagged the issue recently.

JD: The constabulary and the senior subordinates, the sub inspectors, are recruited locally for the state police services, and remain within the limits of their district, region or state. Their recruitment, apart from the corruption that is inevitably such a part of the process, has much to do with patronage of caste and local political leaders.  This  is reflected in the mindset of the recruits. It needs be remembered that while the BJP has been in the centre for about 11 years in the two NDA governments, its hold on state governments has been much longer. In the central states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for instance, police  have been recruited by the BJP governments over  15 years. That is a very long time and has shaped the character of the police. In the central cadres of the IPS, CRPF etc, the recruitment through UPSC still reflects the aspirations and  thought process of the generation. They possibly even agree with what Modi talks about, apart from their obedience to the state. Rare is the officer who will defy a wrong order, or resist pressure.

In writing this book the first time, how did you go about accumulating material? For a period that was sterilised on multiple fronts by government agencies, how tricky was it to get to facts and information? 

AB: Although we were not allowed to publish anything during the Emergency because of stringent censorship restrictions, we kept our notebooks that recorded the dramatic events of the Emergency. These along with documents collected during the Emergency formed the basis of our book. We were also helped by the floodgates of information that broke immediately after the Emergency regime was ousted in the 1977 polls and many people volunteered to give first-hand accounts of what really happened on the ground during the 19-month-long nightmare. Indeed the story of Turkman Gate, which is the first chapter and centrepiece of the book, was pieced together with these first-hand accounts although we took care to protect the names of our sources.

JD: A reporter is, by training, a squirrel. She or he collects not just information by way of hearsay, interviews, "gossip" or talk overheard in corridors of power or elsewhere, but important scraps of paper, documents, government releases and data bases are saved for future reference. We were reporters before Google, before CDs and computers. Our collections — and they became significant — were actual paperwork, circulars, press releases, and of course, our notebooks. Those were innocent times. Fewer politicians, fewer officials, fewer reporters. Everyone knew everyone else, and  "deep throats" could be cultivated, their confidence won and kept.

The 1984 targeted violence against Sikhs in a way morally eviscerated the Congress. The  targeted violence against other minorities now in the name of the cow or love jihad could do the same for the BJP. — John Dayal

The byproduct of a regime like Indira Gandhi’s should have been a breed of politician distant from it. The present scenario suggests anything but. There are more similarities — as you mention — than there are differences. Is it a case of not having learnt our lessons? 

AB: Well for a long time it seemed that the Emergency will never be repeated and politicians had learnt their lesson. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, these lessons start fading from memory and the lust for power among politicians is a strong propellant to forget them. So the danger of the Emergency being repeated perhaps not exactly in its past form but certainly in spirit — threatening the civil rights of citizens — is very real.

JD: Things change, but human ambition, the lust for power, greed and human  frailties remain the same. Proximity to politicians bears instant benefits for many, and blind obedience even more. It is as easy for Modi to keep  politicians, bureaucrats and even army commanders in thrall through a combination of reward and punishment.

Violence, the way it has been normalised today, is surely an indicator of something. Does it make the climate of today more hostile? How do you compare the two phases?

AB: I think the real difference between then and now is that today the violence is far more communal and socially divisive and the most alarming aspect is that more and more people — if not directly supportive — are ready to accept this as the new normal. I think this makes the current situation even more dangerous than the Emergency and poses far more danger to the unity of the nation.

JD: The lynchings today show that violence has been outsourced to cohorts of the ruling party. From villages to New Delhi, the RSS, Bajrang Dal, ABVP and BJP activist can flex his muscle and get his way without fear of the law. The sense of impunity and the knowledge that there may never be a retribution emboldens and encourages. Their communal unity is the final reason.

The suggestion that we are living in an undeclared emergency is a regular one these days, if an unpopular one. Why? Is the Congress also stuck in a Catch-22 situation, where they may want to point to this undeclared emergency but bringing it up hurts them equally?

AB: The legacy of the Emergency certainly remains an embarrassment for the Congress, particularly since it casts its past heroine Indira Gandhi in a bad light. It also makes it easier for the current regime to turn the tables on the Congress when the latter seeks to accuse the Prime Minister of acquiring Emergency powers. In fact this year Modi spent a lot of time on the anniversary of the Emergency accusing the Congress of having an Emergency mindset. However, for the Congress reduced to a pale shadow of the political behemoth it was in the past there is no question having an Emergency mindset because it no longer enjoys a dominant let alone a predominant position in the country’s politics. The boot is clearly on the other foot today!

JD: The post-Emergency Congress has all too many chinks in its armour. Though popular mythology would have it as a saviour of the minorities, specially Muslims, the  records show another reality. Even the way the Emergency played out in the slums and the towns had a communal overtone of which Turkman Gate was the final symbol. The 1984 targeted violence against Sikhs in a way morally eviscerated the Congress. The  targeted violence against other minorities now in the name of the cow or love jihad could do the same for the BJP.


Updated Date: Jul 11, 2018 16:01 PM

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