The CPI (ML – Liberation) office in Varanasi was raided at midnight without the search warrant, a couple of days ago. The process of the arrest under the draconian law UAPA of human rights activists and intellectuals beginning with the arrest of 90% handicapped, Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba is going on unabated since the last few of years. Taking the advantage of pandemic Government is arresting the anti-CAA movement activists under fabricated charges. The pregnant Jamia scholar and anti-CAA activist Saroofa Zargar has been released on bail by Delhi High Court. Several activist students of JNU, Jamia and Delhi University are being warranted under the draconian UAPA resembling MISA of emergency fame. The activists Natasha Narwal and Devangna Kalita of Pinjda Tod, a Delhi based women’s rights organization, have been arrested under UAPA. Just like the present state of undeclared emergency, the charges were subsequently fabricated after the arrest, during the declared emergency also, four and half a decade ago. The renowned writer and Professor of Hindi, Dr Raghuvansh (late) almost 100% handicapped was charged with disrupting the power supply of the city. Exactly 45 years ago (25 June 1975), the then Prime Minister of the country, Mrs Indira Gandhi, with the absolute majority in the Parliament, began the repression of political opponents after declaring the emergency at the mid night. History does not repeat itself, only echoes. The present echoes of the emergency promulgated 45 years ago are quite frightening.
Indira Gandhi was quite perturbed by the popular discontent emanating from the anti-corruption students’ movement. In the meanwhile the Sanjay Gandhi coterie has emerged as an extra-constitutional, parallel power center. With Allahabad High Court decision nullifying her parliamentary election from Rae Bareli in 1971, in desperation with absolute majority in Parliament she imposed emergency on 25 June 1975 suspending the constitutional rights. Sanjay Gandhi is said to have played the role of catalyst. With the strict censorship most of the editors and media became subservient, the very few defiant ones, like Kuldip Nair were incarcerated. 42nd Amendment passed by the parliament greatly enhanced the powers of the PM. Thousands of people were put behind the bars under the colonial law DIR (Defense of India Rule) and the newly introduced, draconian law MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) through 42nd Amendment. Today the rights of the workers enjoined by labor laws are being hampered by ordinances. The intellectuals, students and human rights activists raising the voices of dissent are being incarcerated under the draconian, repelled MISA like UAPA. Without formal censorship the media, particularly the electronic media has been subservient to the government and the ruling party. The non-conforming journalists are being harassed in various ways.
The centralization of political power began with the beginning of the first term of Modi government in 2014. In fact the process can be considered to have begun with the campaign of the 2014 parliamentary elections by sidelining the veteran BJP leaders and assumption of the central role by Modi. The process of the centralization and concentration of political power by Indira Gandhi, had a humble beginning in 1967 that climaxed by 1974. The then Congress President DK Barua went to the extent of the declaration, “Indira is India and India is Indira”. On the same pattern, recently the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra declared on TV that criticism of the PM is attack on the nation. Like Modi’s electoral plank of development., Indira Gandhi set her agenda around the slogan of the eradication of poverty, “Garibi Hatao”. The courageous progressive steps of the abolition of privy purses of the erstwhile royal families and the nationalization of banks added to her charismatic image. In the storm of her popularity the veteran powerful leaders of the undivided Congress, known as the members of the syndicate, the Congress (O) after the split in 1969 were uprooted and blown away. The absolute parliamentary majority made her authoritarian. The war with Pakistan and subsequent creation of Bangladesh added new feathers to her. The Congress MPs and MLAs were like her minions and zealots. By 1974 her Charisma began to wilt and student’s movement gave a blow to it. After the Allahabad High Court decision, she imposed emergency. The Supreme Court judges were superseded. The conscientious judges resigned. Today the judiciary seems to have become subservient to executive on its own.
The BJP led NDA under the leadership of Narendra Modi, sidelining all the senior, prominent party leaders, came to power with substantial parliamentary majority in the 2014 general elections in the aftermath of communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of UP in 2013. In 2019 elections held after Pulwama terrorist attack on the CRPF convoy and Balkot “surgical strike”, Modi came to the power with the unprecedented absolute majority as supreme. The last six years of BJP rule under Modi has been fatal for democracy and democratic institutions.
Modi began its first tenure by making the constitutional institutions like planning commission etc. as subservient to the government. It filled the institutions like Indian Council of Historical Reserch (ICHR), IIFT, NCERT etc with conformist people with doubtful credentials. Its attack on educational institutions is ongoing. JNU is its main target as it is the first fortress of resistance. The echoes of emergency being heard today in the state of undeclared emergency after 45 years of the declared one are quite frightening.
Ish Mishra retired Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Hindu College, University of Delhi