Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first 'Mann ki Baat' of his second term, aired on Sunday, drew attention to his call for a national movement against the acute water crisis facing the country. Lost among the headlines of the water mission was another important message on the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi on 25 June, 1975 and his own devotion for the Constitution of India.
Modi devoted a good 10 minutes to the Emergency and the scars it left on India's psyche. He congratulated the voters for the recently-concluded election wherein 61 crore Indians exercised their franchise, making it the largest-ever democratic exercise globally, to date. Notably, Modi did not raise the issue of the Emergency to score easy political points against the Congress. Instead, he chose to remind people of the flagrant violation of Indian spirit and culture during that period and why the election of 1977, immediately after Emergency was revoked, became the "biggest election anywhere in the world for the very purpose of preserving democracy itself".
Modi said that when Emergency was imposed, "there was an outrage in the conscience of one and all. The collective torment on the loss of democracy was evident. Day and night, when one gets to eat food on time, one doesn’t realize what hunger pangs are. Similarly, in day to day life, it is difficult to savour the joys of democratic rights. During Emergency, every citizen of the country had started getting the feeling that something that belonged to them had been snatched away. The fact that Emergency snatched away even that which they had not savoured consciously left a painful inner agony".
Strong words, coming as they are, from a prime minister whose victory with overwhelming majority in two successive elections is being inferred by a section of intelligentsia as perpetuation of "majoritarianism". This view often gets resonance in the media in India and abroad. But such criticism is not new to Modi. Right since his days as the chief minister, he has been subjected to incessant attacks by the intelligentsia for not conforming to their mould of a "secular and liberal" politician. Modi never bothered about this in the past, so why did he choose to now?
The reason is not far to seek. For Modi, June 1975 conjures up memories of a phase in his life when he had to go underground, running all over the country under assumed identities and organising social protests against an oppressive regime. Though barely 25 years old then, Modi continued his activity underground for nearly two and half years till the Emergency was lifted. Modi chronicled the details of this struggle in a book in Gujarati entitled Sangharsh ma Gujarat (Gujarat in struggle).
Some of the personal accounts of that struggle are instructive in understanding Modi's outlook towards constitutional democracy.
Gujarat was considered to be a safe place during emergency as the state was ruled by Babubhai J Patel who belonged to the Congress (O) of Morarji Desai. Yet, offices of the RSS were either being raided or put under surveillance all over the state. One day, when Modi returned after making alternative arrangements for safe houses for colleagues, he found the police surrounding the RSS office in Kankaria (Ahmedabad) and taking away RSS pranth pracharak Kesavrao Deshmukh in a police van. Although he dodged the police himself, he was concerned about the papers in possession of Deshmukh detailing plans of their underground activity. Faced with this difficult situation, Modi came up with an audacious plan to recover the documents. He organised to send a woman tea vendor inside the police station where Deshmukh was lodged and had the documents smuggled out.
Yet another innovative way of protesting has become a legend among Modi's comrades-in-arms during the days of the Emergency, as described to me by one of them. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was scheduled to visit Ahmedabad during the Emergency. The police had launched a massive crackdown to prevent political protests. But they were caught off-guard when a group of schoolboys took to the streets in protest, distributing anti-Emergency pamphlets. Since all protesters came under the category of minors, they were let off lightly. There is no doubt that his underground political activity during emergency sufficiently trained Modi to survive in adversity. He learnt the art of being discreet and being guided by his own sense of timing.
What is particularly significant in Modi’s underground activity is his steadfast commitment to the rule of law and the constitution. Even in his protest methodology, anything that was afoul of the rule of law was unacceptable. Hence his name did not figure in any disruptive or criminal activity as a mode of protest against the Emergency. Perhaps Modi thought it fit to recall experiences of the Emergency to hold the mirror to fear-mongers who accuse him of heading a "majoritarian" regime.
It was not without reason that he said during the broadcast: "Democracy is embedded in our sanskar; Democracy is our culture. Democracy is our heritage; we grew up nurturing ourselves on the fruits of that very heritage. And that is why the lack of it can be felt deeply by our countrymen, which is what we experienced during the Emergency."
He chose to invoke his true beliefs to set the record straight at the beginning of his second innings. It was his way of reassuring one and all that what we lost in 1975 and regained in 1977 shall not be lost again, not under his charge.
Updated Date: Jul 01, 2019 17:28:30 IST