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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 29 New Delhi July 11, 2015

So Many said So Much about Emergency Excesses. But why is there No Inquiry into the Tortures?

Saturday 11 July 2015, by T J S George


What a surfeit of Emergency narratives we’ve had this past week! Not surprising, given the way those two years, 1975-77, changed the very character of Indian democracy. A generation has grown up with no personal acquaintance of that traumatic period. For them the Emergency is likely to be no more than a word. Like Independence. Yet these are words that made—and remade—our country. Tens of thousands sacrificed their lives for independence which, today, we take for granted. Tens of thousands suffered torture during the Emergency which, eventually, they defeated. We are the beneficiaries of the sufferings and sacrifices of the generations that preceded us. We are the lucky ones.

We are yet to fully digest the fundamental ways in which the Emergency changed the mindset of Indians. We understand the difference between pre-Independence and post-Independence because one was imperialist White rule and the other was rule by our own popular leaders. Just as basic was the difference between the pre-Emergency and post-Emergency India, but we have not grasped the fact because the ruling group was the same. In fact, we can say that the same Nehru aura prevailed over both and therefore we thought it was a continuation of the same post-Independence ideals.

But the whole value system changed. What was unworthy became acceptable. A monolithic order became the norm. Strong leaders disappe-ared and Indira Gandhi’s yes-men became Chief Ministers. In the Centre, she was famously known as the “only man in the Cabinet”.

Before the Emergency, corruption was conside-red bad and Ministers were used to the idea of accepting moral responsibility for this mistake or that mishap. After the Emergency, the sense of shame over corruption was lost. All kinds of abuses were perpetrated by party and govern-ment leaders as though it was their right to do so. The judiciary and the press too got corrupted in the process and people were left with dwindling recourses for relief. Cynicism spread everywhere. And opportunism with it.

The Emergency also normalised dynastic rule, the very antithesis of democracy. This generated a sense of proprietorship among the privileged sons and daughters. Rajiv Gandhi could go to the extent of justifying the atrocities Congress party goons unleashed on Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. It is by now widely accepted that the Congress’ stagnation and subsequent stagnation in politics in general are linked to the continuing strangle-hold of dynastic succession in politics, the fashion having spread to other parties as well.

The evils of dynastic mentality continue to haunt us. From Mamata Bannerji’s nephew who openly threatens to cut off the hands and gouge out the eyes of opponents to the sons and daughters of various Chief Ministers who acquire properties and beat up constables, a whole breed has come up believing that the land and its resources are theirs to exploit. In the process whistleblowers are murdered, even journalists are set fire to.

If one person has to be identified for the changes the Emergency brought to India, it has to be not Indira, but Sanjay Gandhi. Apart from the excesses he carried out singlehandedly, he changed for ever the meaning of parliamentary democracy. It was he who got a set of rowdies elected to Parliament. The instruction to the rowdies was to shout down any MP who criticised Indira or her Congress. Thus began the tradition of blocking Parliament’s proceedings—a tradition that has been taken over by all parties to the shame of our country. Indeed the difference between the pre-Emergency and post-Emergency India is so deep-going that we can mark them out as two eras—BE and AE, like BC and AD.

That the mindset change continues to haunt us can be seen at two levels. First, we still have people who justify the Emergency on the ground that the trains ran on time. Are we such a disorganised and irresponsible people that we need a police raj to keep the trains running on time? Secondly, we have neither held the leaders of the police raj to account nor taken steps to change the anti-people culture of the police.

Although there were bad cases of third-degree in Delhi and elsewhere, Kerala had the worst record of torture, often of innocents. A group of police officers, led by Jayaram Padikal, developed special techniques of bloodless torture under the patronage of Congress Home Minister K. Karunakaran. No inquiry commission has looked into their violations. The tales retold last week are a reminder that we have unfinished business waiting for attention.