The one man rule

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - Kuldip Nayar Email:kuldip­na­yar09@gmail.com

SOME harsh­est mis­takes have been mol­li­fied by straight re pen­tance by the per­pe­tra­tors. The post-war Ger­many apol­o­gised for the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by Hitler and even paid the repa­ra­tions. Not that the sins com­mit­ted were for­given but peo­ple gen­er­ally felt that the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of their par­ents and grand­par­ents have tried to make amends. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh went to Golden Tem­ple at Am­rit­sar to say sorry for Op­er­a­tion Blues­tar when the In­dian army stormed tem­ple to kill the mil­i­tants, in­clud­ing Jar­nail Singh Bhin­dran­wale. State could not al­low another state to come in coun­try.

But the emer­gency, which was no less a crime, till date re­mains the dark­est phase and not even a word of sorry has come from the Congress party, par­tic­u­larly the dy­nasty. The non­Congress par­ties off and on is­sue state­ments or hold protests. But the Congress party, which was rul­ing then, re­mains con­spic­u­ous by its si­lence. Af­ter all, what pro­voked the emer­gency? It was the Al­la­habad High Court judg­ment which un­seated then Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi for a poll of­fence. In­stead of fol­low­ing the court’s ver­dict, she abol­ished even the rights of the ju­di­ciary to ques­tion such or­ders by sus­pend­ing the very con­sti­tu­tion which au­tho­rize the courts to as­sess the rights and wrongs.

Had Indira Gandhi re­signed—her ini­tial de­ci­sion to step down which was strongly op­posed by Jagji­van Ram—and gone to be pub­lic to seek for­give­ness she could have come with a thump­ing ma­jor­ity. Peo­ple were an­gry by the ex­cesses she com­mit­ted dur­ing the emer­gency and the way in which she had be­come an au­to­crat. Al­though her son, San­jay Gandhi and his al­ter ego Bansi Lal ran the state as their per­sonal fief­dom and brooked no crit­i­cism, she was gen­er­ally seen as some­one who was in­no­cent and obliv­i­ous to what was hap­pen­ing. In fact, things had come to such a pass that blank war­rants had been is­sued to po­lice who used war­rants to set­tle even their per­sonal score.

As a re­sult, more than 100,000 peo­ple were de­tained with­out trials, houses and busi­ness premises of op­po­nents, in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, were raided and even an in­nocu­ous film, Aandi, which por­trayed an au­to­crat ruler, was banned be­cause it had some re­sem­blance to Indira Gandhi’s role. If I were to ex­plain the emer­gency to to­day’s gen­er­a­tion, I would re­peat the adage that eter­nal vig­i­lance is re­quired to defend the press free­dom, which is as much truer to­day as it was when India won free­dom some 69 years ago. Never did any­one ex­pect that a prime min­is­ter, af­ter the high court’s in­dict­ment, would sus­pend the con­sti­tu­tion when she should have stepped down vol­un­tar­ily.

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri would of­ten ad­vise his col­leagues: Sit light, not tight. That is the rea­son why he re­signed as the rail­way min­is­ter af­ter a big ac­ci­dent at Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu. He took moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for what had hap­pened. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­body fol­low­ing that prece­dent to­day. Yet, India is still looked upon by world as a coun­try where value sys­tem ex­ists. Parochial­ism or posh liv­ing is not the an­swer. Coun­try has to go back to what Ma­hatma Gandhi told the na­tion: Dis­par­i­ties drove peo­ple to des­per­a­tion.

There is noa point in hark­ing back on the days of in­de­pen­dence strug­gle. All had joined hands to oust the Bri­tish. I wish the same spirit could be re­vived to oust poverty. Oth­er­wise, the in­de­pen­dence comes to mean a bet­ter life only for the haves. If there was one-per­son rule of Indira Gandhi a few decades ago, to­day it is that of Naren­dra Modi. Most news­pa­pers and tele­vi­sion chan­nels have adapted them­selves to his way of work­ing, if not think­ing, as they had done dur­ing Mrs Gandhi’s pe­riod.

The one-man rule of Naren­dra Modi be­comes omi­nous in the sense that no cab­i­net min­is­ter counts in the BJP gov­ern­ment and the joint con­sul­ta­tion by the cab­i­net is only on pa­per. All po­lit­i­cal par­ties should put their heads to­gether to stall any emer­gen­cy­like rule be­fore it ac­tu­ally comes to ex­ist. But even a per­son like Arun Jait­ley who knows rigours of the emer­gency—he too was jailed—would not fall in line be­cause his way of think­ing doesn’t seem to be dic­tated by the RSS. I do not think that the emer­gency will be re-im­posed be­cause the amend­ments in­cor­po­rated in the con­sti­tu­tion by the Janata gov­ern­ment makes it im­pos­si­ble. Yet, con­di­tions can be cre­ated which will sug­gest the emer­gency with­out a le­gal sanc­tion. How­ever, pub­lic opin­ion has be­come strong that such a step is not pos­si­ble. Even peo­ple may come out on streets to protest against any rule which is au­to­cratic and re­sem­bles the emer­gency.

Ba­si­cally, what counts is the strength of the in­sti­tu­tions. Even though they have not re­gained the health which they en­joyed be­fore the emer­gency, the in­sti­tu­tions are still strong enough to re­sist any move which even re­motely re­stricts their free­dom. There are re­cent ex­am­ples which evoke that kind of op­ti­mism. Take the case of Ut­trak­hand. The house was dis­solved one day be­fore the floor test of the mem­bers. The Supreme Court held the gov­er­nor’s or­der ul­tra virus and re­vived the as­sem­bly. Even a state high court like the one in Ma­ha­rash­tra has ad­mon­ished the Cen­sor Board not to act like a grand­mother but to stick to its job of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion rather than im­pos­ing cuts. Only one cut was al­lowed by the court as against as many as 90 sug­gested by the Cen­sor Board.

This ex­am­ple should give heart to the crit­ics that con­di­tions are im­prov­ing and may soon get the same vigour which they en­joyed be­fore the emer­gency. No ruler would dare to re­peat what Indira Gandhi had done but up­hold the con­sti­tu­tion in let­ter and spirit. The lessons learnt from the emer­gency would not have been lost and there would be the same old con­fi­dence in the pub­lic that their free­dom was not fet­tered and their right to dif­fer in any way cur­tailed. —The writer is a vet­eran In­dian jour­nal­ist, syn­di­cated colum­nist, hu­man rights ac­tivist and au­thor.

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