Beware of shadow of Emergency

Beware of shadow of Emergency

An anniversary of the Emergency is the right occasion to revisit and remember that dark event in the country’s history and check whether the nation is now strong enough to withstand another assault on it now or in future. We congratulate ourselves on the strength of our democratic tradition which only saw a brief interregnum of authoritarian rule when most of our neighbours and a good part of the world have experienced dictatorships of different kinds and degrees for long periods and are still doing so. It is certainly to our credit that the democratic culture is strong in the country and we take pride in it. After India got out of the Emergency era, we have made efforts to prevent its recurrence. Constitutional, systemic and institutional arrangements are stronger now.  It is far more difficult to suppress the media now, because the nature of media has changed. Controlling social media is not as easy as it was to control conventional media in 1975. But again, it should not be forgotten that there are authoritarian governments in many countries in the time of social media.

BJP veteran L K Advani’s recent warning that the “forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger,” has again drawn attention to such vulnerability. Whether Advani was making a veiled criticism of the present government leadership or not, such warnings should not be dismissed out of hand. There is centralisation of power and personality cult which is anathema to democracy. When sections of people feel alienated and persecuted, when there are calls to exile dissenters and when the government and political leaders want to free the country of opposition, democracy does not thrive. Emergency need not visit us again in the name and style in 1975 but whenever freedom is constrained in some way or the other, there is a shadow of Emergency there.

It is also true that the nation’s collective mind has not grappled with the experience of Emergency, as perceptively pointed out by Advani, who cited that it has not been a theme for Bollywood. The Congress has also not made a serious and sincere admission that Emergency was wrong. It should also be remembered that Indira Gandhi on her own decided to end Emergency. In spite of all this, it is unlikely that there will again be another Emergency. The will and determination of the people to protect their freedom is the best safeguard against it, and there is the need for constant vigil for that. The anniversary should be a reminder of that.
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