Thomas Jefferson had once said, "History in general, only informs us what bad government is." If we apply that theory to our country, we will find that there has been no dearth of bad governance at all. However, the first time an Indian government suspended civil rights of citizens (much like the pre-independence era), and pushed the country back into the non-democratic mode, censored the freedom of the press, mass sterilized men and arrested students, academicians, writers, journalists as well as anyone who opposed the government, was truly tragic.
It was called the 'The Emergency'. It started on 25 June 1975 and lasted for a period of 21 months.
The formal reason offered by the government for the enforcement was the 'alleged internal and external threats' that India was facing at the time were. What exactly those threats were is hard to tell, but in an old interview, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who imposed the emergency, gives us some clues of what she might have perceived as threats.
In the interview clip, Mrs Gandhi can be seen saying, "Mr Morarji Desai, during an interview said on record that, 'we are going to surround the prime minister's house (Mrs Gandhi's house), we are going to surround parliament. We are going to see that no business is done. The prime minister will not be able to come out, and nobody will be able to go in'. Another member of the opposition, who is now a minister said, 'if we cannot win by the ballet, we shall win by the bullet.'"
So apparently, threatened by such speeches, Mrs. Gandhi decided to declare an emergency on the state and curb fundamental rights of the citizens. "In wartime, a lot of rights are taken away from the people and this period in India was as serious as a war period," she said during that interview.
She went on to say that the newspapers were in league with the force which strived to obstruct the social and economic changes which her party wanted to bring about, and therefore, had to bear the brunt of censorship.
You can watch the interview here:
While it is not hard to see why comparisons are being drawn between Mrs. Gandhi and Hitler, let's begin by saying that Arun Jaitley may not be the first person to make them. Members of the press, who had lived through those darkest of days during the emergency may have started it.
Here is a particularly interesting account of an Indian reporter that was published in The New Yorker on 14 February 1977.
Today BJP has decided to organize a function in Mumbai to commemorate the day emergency began as a 'black day' in Indian history. Recently, there were also large ads in leading newspapers that described the emergency as a period when 'constitution of India was completely disregarded and democracy was crushed.' Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has taken it upon himself to lash out at Congress about the emergency.
If you think that 43 years is perhaps a bit too late to diss a political party for the horrible actions of their ex-leader, think again. Modi's barb could not have come at a better time. With strategies, Facebook and blog posts, tweets, and of course a speech, and a whole day dedicated to pointing out the 'big lies' Congress has been telling all these years, Modi and his party members have launched a full-fledged attack on the opposition.
Modi was also on point with his pop culture references. Of all the horrifying tales of the emergency period (and believe me there are several such), he chose to talk about how singer Kishore Kumar was banned from working during this period.
As we document this day for posterity, it will not be surprising to discover later, that the whole political discourse of 2019 elections began on this black day, when BJP aggressively attacked Congress about the emergency and therein lies the genius of Modi and his government.
They not only know how to subvert history as they reportedly tried to do with a committee that met earlier this year to prove that Hindus are descendants of the first inhabitants of India but also, they know exactly which parts of the public memory to jog so that it can serve their vested interest.