In February 1934, a little more than a year after Adolf Hitler was anointed the Chancellor of Germany, his deputy Rudolf Hess in an address to the Nazi party officials proclaimed, “Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler. He who takes an oath to Hitler takes an oath to Germany!”
A little over four decades later, in June 1975, the Indian version of Hess appeared in the form of the president of the Congress party, Dev Kant Barooah. D.K. Barooah, as he was better known, in his eagerness to please Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stated, “India is Indira and Indira is India”. A week later, a few minutes before midnight, on June 25, 1975, Indian democracy went into unchartered territory with the proclamation of an Emergency.
The comparison between Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the Emergency and Adolf Hitler’s emergency decree does not stop with their lackeys conflating individuals with the nation. Both of them used constitutional means and pliable institutions to further their agenda. Both suspended civil liberties and democratic rights and hounded the news media. Both of them used the Emergency as a garb to pass laws and constitutional amendments using questionable procedures. To position this as a great leap forward, Indira Gandhi introduced a 20-point economic programme similar to a 25-five point economic programme that Hitler had introduced four decades before her.
With the freedoms that we enjoy today, and India evolving into a robust multi-party democracy, a similar imposition of an Emergency is unthinkable today. However, it is important that we remind ourselves of the atrocities of this time so that we continue to be grateful for the gift of democracy and cherish these ideals without taking them for granted.
A Period of Excesses
During the 21-month Emergency, more than a thousand opposition leaders and party workers were jailed under various charges. This included senior leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani and youth leaders such as Arun Jaitley. More than 250 journalists were placed under arrest and the famous cartoonist R.K. Laxman whose “common man” cartoons got under the skin of the government had to leave for Mauritius rather than face censure and arrest.
The Emergency also saw coercive acts such as forced sterialization under the garb of family planning. Today’s hesitancy among common citizens in embracing vaccination drives and other public health outreach programmes still bear the scars of such immoral, thoughtless actions during the Emergency. Government officials were often asked to undergo sterilization procedures before their salaries were paid out. Mass sterilization camps were held at village levels with teachers being asked to perform door-to-door surveys. The anger against one such sterilization camp resulted in a mob razing a health clinic in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, where the subsequent police firing led to more than 50 deaths.
The Congress party went to such levels of depravity that film personalities such as actors and singers who refused to participate in fund-raisers for such sterilization drives were taken off air. Veteran singer Kishore Kumar was immediately taken off air by All India Radio for refusing to participate in one such fund-raiser.
Turkman gate in Old Delhi saw a double-whammy of forced sterilizations and forced evictions. Older residents of the area recall bulldozers being deployed to raze down constructions so that officials could proudly gloat to their masters that one could get a clear view of Jama Masjid from Connaught Place. While the death toll cannot be ascertained, more than 70,000 people were displaced in Old Delhi and the subsequent protests and violence led to a month-long curfew.
The ideological support for the Emergency and its excesses largely came from a deeply entrenched establishment of public intellectuals, commentators and writers who were aligned to a left liberal worldview. Today, in spite of the excesses committed during the Emergency and the Emergency itself drawing inspiration from Nazi Germany, this very establishment is quick to cry hoarse about an “undeclared emergency” and “rising fascism”. Criticism is no longer on merit but because they hate the man at the helm. Nothing else explains the liberal opposition to laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPA), 2019 that needed to be implemented to secure India in the wake of global terror incidents such as 9/11 in the US and 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Laws such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that are meant to include persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries that have a state religion are painted as exclusionary. The effective removal of Article 370 and Article 35A, that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, has ended institutional discrimination against women, Dalits and homosexuals. The Congress party egged on by this establishment is now willing to reconsider restoring these discriminatory articles if it is returned to power. Even in the case of the farm laws, the Congress party was happy to trash its own manifesto promises.
In the process of providing intellectual cover and justification, the liberal consensus has time and again called for bloodshed and a violent upheaval in the hope that the state reacts with commensurate force that can then create a cascading chain of escalations and violence. Their hope is that eventually an Emergency is declared, similar to that in 1975, so that the labels that they keep throwing at the government will finally stick. This is a pipe-dream.
India will ensure that the spirit of democracy continues to thrive. However, even a prolonged stint in the opposition has not encouraged the Congress party and its support system to do some serious soul searching about its actions during the Emergency. Their hatred for one man has led them down the dangerous path of opposing anything that benefits the nation.