Looking Back at Emergency: A Revisionist View

The anniversary of proclamation of Internal Emergency (1975-77) has just passed on June 26. Every year it becomes an occasion to look back on the authoritarian tendencies which marked the Emergency era, to focus on how institutions (including the judiciary) crawled before the then political leadership, when asked to bend, and how India has been fortunate to put an end to that disgraceful era in our history within a short span and return to democratic way of life, an envy of the entire world, not just in the neighbourhood. Even as we celebrate India’s democratic resilience in the post-Emergency period, the Emergency’s lessons for the Opposition, as well as the institutions should not be glossed over.
Today’s article in Tribune by veteran journalist, Inder Malhotra, cites Bipan Chandra’s book which equally places the blame for Emergency on Jayprakash Narayan’s movement, which gave a call for national disobedience, and defiance of Army. Had the Emergency not been imposed then, it could have resulted in anarchy and widespread lawlessness. True, Indira Gandhi ought to have tried democratic methods to engage the then Opposition, but the question remains, whether she had any choice, given the looming threat to the Republic from the chaotic Opposition, which believed in the least in the Rule of Law, and actively encouraged delegitimisation of institutions by advocating civil disobedience, rather than wait for the holding of periodical elections to unseat Indira Gandhi from power. Here, I am giving the links for the book by Bipan Chandra as well as a critique of the book by Harish Khare in The Hindu. Another review of the same book by Sriram Chaulia is here.

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