Understanding Emergency from the pages of not so distant India

shishir

Shishir Tripathi | June 26, 2015 | New Delhi


#40 years of emergency   #emergency  

Emergency, as we call it, was imposed in my country more than a decade before I was born. My father too was a young man, still some years away from adulthood, having no reminiscences to pass over to me. My grandfather might have had experienced it in some small measures, living in his small home town in eastern Uttar Pradesh. But then I was too young when he died and there was no oral passing of the history lessons for me. It was only some books that helped me gain a perspective as to what happened that day, 40 years ago.

While in college I read Granville Austin's "Working of a Democratic Constitution", a seminal tome on working of Indian constitution and one of the finest books that dwells into the vicissitudes of the emergency. The chapter that details the history and politics of emergency starts with an obituary published by the Bombay edition of the Times of India few days after emergency was imposed. It read "D.E.M O'Cracy, beloved husband of T Ruth, loving father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justice, expired on June 26."

While the chapter beautifully summarised all the aspects of emergency, what was most striking was the obituary itself.  The emergency had held the press in severe censorship and there was a clear demise of freedom of speech and liberty – two of the most important constituents of democracy to which the obituary was ironically addressed.

Another book which got into the various aspects of emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi was 'In The Name Of Democracy: The JP Movement and the Emergency written by Bipan Chandra. The book while dissecting the reasons behind Gandhi's decision to impose emergency criticized Jayaprakash Narayan who spear-headed a massive protest movement against Indira Gandhi . He writes in the book, "Both were responsible for the situation arising on June 26 with neither of them showing a willingness to take the democratic way out. My assumption, expressed and implicit, has been that there was danger to democracy from both. Both had in their actions the potential of dictatorship or fascism."

For the generation totally detached from the events that took place in 1975, Chandra's book provided an insightful and balanced view, with a little tilt towards the establishment of that time.

India after Gandhi— The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha, another seminal work on post-independence India, tells much about the most tumultuous hours of the Indian democracy. Further many biographies of Indira Gandhi written by the likes of journalist Inder Malhotra and Papul Jaukar also throw ample light on the two years following the imposition of emergency on June 25, 1975.

Living in Delhi for the last 12 years, I have come across many people having interesting tales of emergency to share, but for those who have no one to share the first-hand experience these books can be one way to know how the Indian democracy survived the worst onslaught since its birth in 1947.
 

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