What is Emergency:
In India, Emergency or President's Rule refers to special provisions invoked by the central government by which citizen's rights are suspended when the state imposes direct control of the central government under Article 356 of Part 18 of the Indian constitution.
The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from the Congress invoked these special powers on June 25, 1975 and revoked them on March 21, 1977 to impose Emergency on India. In short, an Emergency means that the government is a dictatorship, will do what it wants, and is not accountable to the people.
A cartoon by MNS chief Raj Thackeray
These days once again there is great talk about Emergency. In part because the Bhartiya Janata Party, led by the incumbent Prime Minister, keeps raising the spectre of President’s Rule to convince people that Congress is draconian. This year even the on leave for health reasons Finance Minister jumped in to set a cat among the roosters by writing his three part series. One of the headlines on his piece in India Today is: ‘Imposition of Emergency was well planned.’ Yes right, it was as well planned as the 2016 demonetization brought in by the same Finance Minister's right-wing government.
All these new narratives are an attempt to gaslight the people. The fact is while Congress and Indira Gandhi did grave wrong by imposing Emergency and are to be justly blamed, the biggest beneficiaries in the Post-Emergency scenario were the right-wing. They morphed from Bhartiya Jana Sangh into the Bhartiya Janata Party and became mainstream - now in power.
The irony is a lot of churn has taken place in India since 1975 but since history is cyclical and power has a tendency to arrogate itself, now under the BJP the nation is once again experiencing the Congress era Emergency like conditions. The sad aspect is Panjab who staked everything to oppose Emergency have fallen out of the narrative.
Post-Emergency Janata Dal alliance led by Morarji Desai came into power but the government was unstable because the trade unionists and socialists who formed the government were weighed down by their economic ideologies and were unable to devise a coherent policy. The economic conditions worsened, there were allegations of nepotism and corruption, and Hindu-Muslim violence led the socialists to question the involvement of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members who refused to quit RSS. Plus the fact that all these assorted politicians could not level substantial charges against Indira Gandhi whom the people started seeing her as a victim of a witch hunt.
All this led to the ambitious Charan Singh withdrawing support from the Desai government, being sworn in as Prime Minister, even asking Congress (I) for support to form his own government. In the process he lost support of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Akalis, and Communists. He resigned. When the 1980 elections were called Congress (Indira) came back with a strong majority 351/529 seats. The RSS affiliate BJP also opened its account in Lok Sabha with 13 seats.
Emergency in Panjab:
Per Amnesty International, during Emergency Indira Gandhi had thrown about 1 lakh 40 thousand people in jails. Out of these, per historian J S Grewal in his book The Sikhs of Punjab, 40,000 were Sikhs from the Akalis. Surely, the greatest resistance to democracy was from Panjab which otherwise is 2 per cent of India's population.
In the initial days of Emergency, even though no Akali leaders or cadre were arrested, the Akalis stood up to the draconian Centre. The Akalis convened a meeting at the Akal Takht within a week of Emergency being declared on June 30, 1975 to pass a resolution that Emergency was ‘the fascist tendency of the Congress.’ On July 7, 1975 the Akalis launched the Save Democracy Morcha and started offering arrests.
Fearing the Akali defiance might inspire civil disobedience in other parts of the county, Indira Gandhi offered to negotiate a deal with the Akalis that would give it joint control of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. The leader of the protests, Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal refused to meet with government representatives so long as the Emergency was in effect. It is easily anybody's guess as to what the RSS-BJS would have done if they had been offered a deal like the Akalis. Given how we see the BJP form governments in many states now through hotchpotch alliances, even though they do not have the numbers, the RSS or then BJS would have simply slid into power. That is the difference between the opportunists and the ones who really stuck by their convictions - the Akalis.
This Panjab is a result of 25 years of democratic governance without accountability which is another form of informal Emergency
In a press interview during Emergency, Longowal made clear the grounds of the 'Save Democracy' campaign. ‘The question before us is not whether Indira Gandhi should continue to be prime minister or not. The point is whether democracy in this country is to survive or not. The democratic structure stands on three pillars, namely a strong opposition, independent judiciary and free press. Emergency has destroyed all these essentials.’
While the civil disobedience campaign caught on in some parts of the country, the government’s tactics of mass arrests, censorship and intimidation curtailed the opposition’s popularity. After January 1976, the Akalis remained virtually alone in their active resistance to the regime. Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan who had led the call for ‘Sampooran Kranti’ which was one of the reasons for Indira Gandhi to impose Emergency hailed the Akalis as ‘the last bastion of democracy’. Unlike the RSS who apologised, begged for freedom, the Akalis never bent to Indira Gandhi and continued to come out in large numbers each month on the day of the new moon - symbolising the dark night of Indian democracy - to court arrest.
The Akali response to Emergency made Indira Gandhi circumspect of them. When she came back to power in 1980 she did not even consider the Anandpur Sahib Resolution demands, discriminated over river waters, and triggered the Akali led Dharam YudhMorcha, 1982 in Panjab. That was one among other reasons for Operation Blue Star in June, 1984.
Operation Blue Star is a watershed event in Panjab politics. The event marks the break between a government which is accountable to people and one which is not, whether it be Congress or Shiromani Akali Dal. By attacking the institution at the core of the Sikh faith, the government ruptured the 'social contract' a cardinal principle of modern democracy.
Briefly, a ‘social contract’ is the contract between the citizen and the state by which the citizen gives up certain individual rights to support a government which guarantees protection of those rights. In this case the rights include what the Sikhs hold sacrosanct – the sanctum sanctorum, their centre of faith. (Read philosopher of the French Revolution Jean-Jacques Rousseau's treatise Social Contract or Principles of Political Right (Du Contract Social), 1762, for more on this theory).
While in the nation the Emergency lasted less than two years, in Panjab formal Emergency lasted a total of nine years including the national Emergency period. Informal Emergency - unaccountability of the government - lasts until date.
What has followed for the last 35 years since the Operation shows that accountability is on no one's mind in Panjab. The pogrom in Delhi and many other cow-belt states upon the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the denial of justice over those brutal targeted killings of Sikhs, the spike in militancy in Panjab in the name of the Khalistan Movement, the enforced disappearances of Sikh youth, the lack of any measures to address the issues are all instances of abdication of state’s responsibility.
Even the numbers bear this out: Panjab remained under President's Rule or Emergency from 1983-85 and 1987-92 - a total of seven out of nine years - until the 1992 elections.The Akalis boycotted those elections and the turnout was a mere 23 per cent.Yet, a Congress government was formed. While in the nation the Emergency lasted less than two years, in Panjab formal Emergency lasted a total of nine years including the national Emergency period. Informal Emergency - unaccountability of the government - lasts until date.
As I travel Panjab in recent years to understand if peace has returned after the guns fell silent, all I encounter is discontent in every section of the society: small and marginal farmers, farm labour, thermal plant workers, electricity employees, school teachers, anganwadi staff, sweepers and even religious outfits, the list is endless. The only difference is this informal Emergency is through an electoral process in which the people have no real options but to swing between the Akalis - who from their high moral stance during the nation's Emergency became a family entity and have now been in an alliance with the BJP - and the Congress.
In the last state elections in 2017, a new political party – Aam Aadmi Party – tried to make its presence felt. Initially AAP raised a lot of hope but blundered its way through its campaign and failed in its bid. Ever since, AAP remains mired in internal contradictions.Vote trends in by-polls after the elections convey that the state is now once again in the tweezers grip of the two parties - both the Congress and the Akalis surpass each other in being unaccountable to the people.
In the same elections, after a decade of Akali misgovernance and loot, when the Congress was making its bid to power, its leader Captain Amarinder Singh pledged by the Sikh Holy Book to eradicate drugs from the state within four weeks of coming to power. He has now been in power for one and a half years with over a three-fourth majority in the state assembly.
On July 1 an anguished Panjab is going into a week-long social protest over the drugs issue. The chief minister remains silent - unaccountable, informal Emergency. It is the same with all other issues: the promise of booking the culprits of the series of sacrilege incidents in 2015, the drastic reduction in pay outs by changing the terms of the farm loan waiver promised in elections, the lack of job creation for the youth and so on. Perhaps the nation has moved on but the mockery of governance, the informal Emergency, continues in Panjab.
Amandeep Sandhu is working on non-fiction book on Panjab.
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