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From an autocracy, India has morphed into ‘kleptocracy,’ – 40 years after Emergency


MG Devasahayam
25 June, 2015

As the nation is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Emergency that turned a democratic Republic into a dictatorial fiefdom there is something bizarre in the political firmament. The present head of this very ‘democratic Republic’ was an important government functionary active in implementing Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship agenda.

In the run-up to the Presidential election in 2012, Ram Jethmalani made this charge against Pranab Mukherjee – “During the scandalous Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 and the resulting suspension of human rights of all citizens and the virtual demise of democracy, you were a very loyal supporter of the Emergency. You fully supported it and participated in its misdeeds. You cannot honestly claim that at least in some small measure you expressed your disapproval of its evil or that you prevented a single atrocity inflicted upon some honest citizen. Citizens possessed of the highest intellectual, moral and spiritual qualifications were the victims. You saved none. Throughout the Emergency, you acted like a loyal servant of the Gandhi family and what is worse, you were a complete collaborator with the main criminal of the Emergency i.e., the late Sanjay Gandhi. You treated him as your boss.”

The charge was not repudiated, but made no difference to the election. Mr Mukherjee won by convincingly defeating Purno Sangma, former Lok Sabha Speaker and a prominent tribal face.

The irony is that the present head of government (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) was at the opposite end of the Emergency when it was imposed. This is the Wikimedia Commons narrative about Modi’s anti-Emergency role – “The RSS managed to create a coordinating committee for the fight against Emergency – the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti. It was in these trying times that Narendra Modi became an active underground revolutionary for overthrowing the dictatorship of Mrs. Gandhi. Narendra Modi took active part in transporting activists, arranging secret meetings and creating safe houses for the party members. Modi soon became the ‘Go-to man’ of anti-emergency resistance in Gujarat.”

The tragicomedy of the Indian Republic is that the Prime Minister and President, who were at opposite ends of the Emergency four decades ago, are now doing jugalbandi  with the former producing Ordinances – symbols of autocratic governance – by the dozen and the latter signing them with utmost dispatch! The three-time promulgation of the regressive LARR Amendment Ordinance is a typical case in point.

Political hypocrisy of the post-Emergency period is epitomized by the fate meted out to the Shah Commission Report that had exposed the Stalinist agenda. It revealed how a system of administration was subverted, how sycophancy to the leader and her son reached unsurpassable levels, how middle-level bureaucrats connived with extra-constitutional power centres to wreck established norms and rules of governance. The Commission submitted its report – three volumes running into over 500 pages – by August 1978.

Emergency excesses were mentioned and examined in detail and the culprits singled out. Here is an example: “It is thus clear on the basis of evidence that has been brought on record that Mr. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, the then Minister of State of Revenue and Banking, has misused his position and abused his authority in ordering the detention of Smt. Gayatri Devi and Colonel Bhavani Singh on wholly insufficient grounds. It is a clear case of subversion of the lawful process and of administrative procedures.” Separately, the Commission accused him of fudging the file about their release on parole, first recommending it to the PM and then retracting it under pressure.

The Government only had to follow up with action against those indicted. For this purpose the Janata Party government appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of LP Singh (ICS), former Union Home Secretary with DP Kohli, former CBI Director and MLM Hooja, former Director of IB as members. BS Raghavan (IAS) was the Member-Secretary. This Committee gave its final report before the end of 1978 suggesting specific action against those found guilty by the Commission.

Till date nothing has happened and the Report of the Commission headed by a former Chief Justice of India died a silent death. The people it held responsible for Emergency excesses went from strength to strength. Indira Gandhi returned as Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee became finance minister. Sanjay Gandhi’s career was on the ascent when fate intervened. The officials who implemented his orders, often with a lot of violence, lay low for few years but returned to hold influential positions, some of them in the BJP-led NDA I. What is more, the family (wife and son) of Sanjay Gandhi migrated to the BJP and has been holding powerful political positions since then.  Pranab Mukherjee kept on scaling new heights with the rare distinction of serving at different times as Commerce, Foreign, Defence and Finance Minister and just missed out on becoming Prime Minister. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2008 and has been acclaimed for his role as a consensus builder on difficult national issues. He finally reached the pinnacle of office as the President of India on 25 July 2012.

Proving Jethmalani right Mr. Mukherjee in his book,  The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years (Rupa Publications; December 2014) endorsed the extraordinary situation for declaring the Emergency – “Prices soared, September 1974 witnessed a steep rise in the wholesale price index, touching 33.33%. Smuggling and profiteering created an environment of frustration and restlessness. Industrial unrest increased, culminating in the railway strike of 1974, dealing yet another severe blow to the economy. The government’s attempt to nationalize the wholesale trade in foodgrains failed and added to the confusion…It was against this backdrop that Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) started his movement against corruption. People supported his call because the sky-rocketing inflation and the lack of goods and services had already affected them adversely…If this was not extraordinary, what else was?”

This ‘extraordinary’ situation was due to rank corruption and incompetence and in no way justified Indira Gandhi’s death warrant on democracy. This bizarre endorsement assumes significance because only months earlier BJP (the self-proclaimed Emergency opponent) had formed the central government by trouncing Congress party that had imposed the Emergency.

While the Emergency-peddlers went up and up, those who genuinely opposed it and who assisted the Shah Commission at arriving at the truth were down and out. The team which probed demolitions in Delhi and censorship was shunted out of Delhi when Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. The worst was reserved for PR Rajagopal, who was secretary to the Commission. An MP-cadre IPS officer, who had held very senior posts in the BSF and CRPF prior to joining the Commission with the rank of a government secretary, was shunted out to the Bureau of Police Research and Development. This was the ‘reward’ for Justice Shah’s noting that “services rendered by Rajagopal have been outstanding’’.

The Emergency’s blackest spot was an attempt on the life of JP during his confinement in PGI Chandigarh. Due to certain circumstantial factors I, being the District Magistrate of Chandigarh and custodian of JP in jail had serious suspicion about this conspiracy. ‘Delhi Durbar’ considered JP as the only person of stature who could defeat the Emergency and should therefore be put out. But by playing hardball with the PMO this conspiracy was defeated. JP was released and sent post-haste to Bombay’s Jaslok Hospital just in time for his kidneys to be saved. He lived for four more years, defeated the Emergency and removed the dynasty from power in the early 1977 elections replacing it with the ‘Janata’ Government. My reward from this Government was relentless hounding and severe damage to my career because I stood in the way of the new power-drunk coteries following the same corrupt and autocratic ways of the past. But the big question remains: Post-Emergency has India enriched its freedom and democracy? Far from it. In f


act ruling dispensations have benchmarked Emergency excesses and have made them into reference points for shrinking freedom and liberty. From an autocracy, India has morphed into ‘kleptocracy,’ a system wherein ruling establishments arrogate the power and resources of the state and govern-at-will. This is India four decades after the Emergency!


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