Lacking transparency

Lacking transparency

How do you relate the Emergency imposed some 36 years ago this week to the new generation? I have been asked this question many a time. The Congress government will not talk about it as long as the Indira Gandhi-Sonia Gandhi dynasty, the guilty party, is in power. It considers the attack on Mrs Gandhi’s autocratic rule during that period an affront to the family.

The BJP which too went through the rigours of the autocratic rule then does not understand the ethos of liberalism. The party’s religious identity is an anti-thesis of what India stands for. Scholars of Mrs Gandhi’s munificence are not objective enough to tell the truth. Some interpret the emergency as a measure to tackle anti-Left forces. Even otherwise, only a few dare to point out the excesses of those days because the impression is that when you do so, you are tagged anti-Congress, and will be out of favour with the rulers. The entire story is yet to come out. In fact, the demand for making papers of those days public, raised again and again, goes unheeded.

What happened during the emergency, which lasted from June 1975 to January 1977, is a shameful story of a takeover by a prime minister to save power and her skin. Prime minister Mrs Gandhi suspended the constitution, gagged the press and imposed the personal rule to overcome the handicap of disqualification from parliament. The Allahabad high court had debarred her from the Lok Sabha membership for six years. She had used the government machinery in her election.

Leftist Supreme Court judge Krishna Iyer gave her reprieve through a stay order on the high court’s judgment. Once she was off the hook, she showed her hand and extinguished the lights of democracy that had distinguished India from the other third world countries. With the help of her son, Sanjay Gandhi, an extra-constitutional authority, she changed laws and destroyed the institutions. She became law unto herself, concentrated all authority in her office and did whatever she and her son fancied.
First she detained more than one hundred thousand people without trial. They were her critics. Then she broke the steel frame of civil service so as to reduce it to mere rubber stamp to endorse her illegal orders. She created so much fear in the minds of people that they stopped differentiating right from wrong and moral from immoral.

The new generation must understand that today’s non-governance or mis-governance is the fallout of what Mrs Gandhi did by destroying the established order, a natural corollary. Scams from the Bofors guns to 2G Spectrum are only a tip of the iceberg. Many more scandals are going to come out in the open. People expect that the government will not drag its feet, as it has done before, when they become part of the public domain. In a democratic society, the nation expects the state to assure that vital links of the government will not be subjected to strain. But the situation is the opposite.

It all started with a by-election in Orissa in 1972. Nandini Satpathy was elected to the state assembly after spending lakhs of rupees. Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan raised the matter of corruption with the prime minister. Her defence was that the Congress had no money even to run the party office. When he found no response, he took the issue to the nation. One thing led to another until JP gave the call that the battle was between the people who wanted the government accountable and the government which was not willing to come clean.

Return of same problem

The same problem has returned after 36 years. The entire debate before the country is on corruption. The government wants to do little to eliminate it. The public is determined to end corruption once and for all, particularly when one minister after another is found involved in either the 2G spectrum scandal or some other like the Krishna-Godavari basin gas scam.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has indicted the Union petroleum and natural gas ministry for allowing irregularities and bending rules to ‘oblige’ Reliance Industries Ltd, resulting in an ‘unquantifiable’ loss to the exchequer. This shows how powerful politically the corporate sector has become. People want more and more transparency while the government sees to it that the avenues for public knowledge are lessened.

To pay homage to JP, who launched a movement to challenge the central government on issues relating to corruption, I went to Patna. June 5 was the day when he gave the call to bring about Sampurna Kranti (total revolution). There were only a handful of people at the JP house, where he lived and died, to hark back on the memory of that day. The place wore a lonely look. Once it was a hub of political activities that resulted in the defeat of Mrs Gandhi at the polls in 1977.

What disappointed me was the absence of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, a product of JP’s movement. There was not even a meeting called by the government to talk about the Sampurna Kranti or fight for transparency. Karl Marx correctly said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point however is to change it.”

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