May 10, 2010

A fortnight back the Outlook of New Delhi carried a startling story of how a Union Minister, a Chief Minister, a Congress General Secretary and the principal leader of the CPI(M) had been subjected to phone-tapping and how their conversations had been tape-recorded.

The report caused an uproar in the Parliament. Government did not deny the story. All that it said was: the surveillance was “not authorized.” Government did not even say that they would find out who had undertaken this exercise without authority, and haul up the ‘culprits’. Obviously, no one other than Government itself had done it !

It is significant that Government did not deny the Outlook story relating to Union Minister Sharad Pawar, in which it was said that Pawar’s conversation with Lalit Modi was used to pressurise Pawar to call for Modi’s resignation !

My blog on the Outlook story bore the caption “Is the Emergency back?” Some friends felt that mine was an exaggerated reaction. I am convinced that the real test of a ruling party’s commitment to democracy comes only when adherence to democratic norms poses a danger to its continuance in office.


In his excellent book on the Watergate episode, The Fall of Richard Nixon, Theodore H. White has made this very perceptive observation :

“The true crime of Richard Nixon was that he broke the faith that binds America together, and for this he was driven from power. The faith he broke was critical- that somewhere in American life there is at least one man who stands for law. The faith holds that all men are equal before the law and are protected by it; and no matter how the faith may be betrayed elsewhere by the ugly compromise of daily striving, at one particular point, the Presidency, justice is beyond the possibility of a fix. ”

Watergate, without doubt, is an indelible stigma on the history of American democracy.

In the context of Indian democracy, the Emergency of 1975-77 is a similar black spot.

The Shah Commission in its cogently argued, and extremely well documented, report says:

“There is no evidence of any breakdown of law and order in any part of the country –nor of any apprehension in that behalf; the economic condition was well under control and had in no way deteriorated. There is not even a report of apprehension of any serious breakdown of the law and order situation or deterioration of the economic condition from any public functionary. The public records of the times, Secret, Confidential or Public and publication in newspapers, speak with unanimity that there was no unusual event or even a tendency in that direction to justify the imposition of emergency. There was no threat to the well-being of the nation from sources external or internal.

The conclusion appears in the absence of any evidence given by Smt. Indira Gandhi or any one else, that the one and the only motivating force for tendering the extraordinary advice to the President to declare an “internal emergency” was the intense political activity generated in the ruling party and the opposition, by the decision of Allahabad high court declaring the election of the Prime Minister of the day invalid on the ground of corrupt election practices.

There is no reason to think that if the democratic conventions were followed, the whole political upsurge would in the normal course have not subsided. But Smt. Gandhi in her anxiety to continue in power, brought about instead a situation which directly contributed to her continuance in power and also generated forces which sacrificed the interests of many to serve the ambitions of a few. Thousands were detained and a series of totally illegal and unwarranted actions followed involving untold human misery and suffering. In the absence of any explanation, the inference is inevitable that a political decision was taken by an interested Prime Minister in a desperate endeavour to save herself from the legitimate compulsion of a judicial verdict against her.”

The Lok Sabha elections of 1977 saw the Indian electorate make history. We of the opposition were entering battle after being cut off from the people and blacked out by the media for full nineteen months. We could see that the people were angry with the Congress. But none of us expected that people’s anger would explode with such ferocity.

Prime Minister Smt. Gandhi herself was defeated in Rae Bareilly. Out of the 267 Lok Sabha seats in U.P (85), Bihar (54), West Bengal(42), Madhya Pradesh(40) , Rajasthan(25), Haryana (10) Delhi(7) and Himachal (4), the Congress Party secured only 5 seats. Three of these five were from West Bengal and one each from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh!

The emergency exposed in a frightening manner that the Congress Party’s commitment to democracy is skindeep.

All the exposures these days therefore about Phone tapping, misuse of CBI and Intelligence agencies about bullying and bribing of MPs and parties to save government from cut motions that could topple government need not surprise any one.

A party that could accuse Shri Jai Prakash Narain, Shri Morarji Desai, Shri Chandra Shekhar, and Shri A.B. Vajpayee as being threats to national security and keep them in jail without trial for months on end and under whose regime, according to statistics compiled by the Shah Commission, as many as 1,10,806 political activists suffered incarceration during the emergency either under MISA or under Defence of India Rules, can certainly have no qualms about taking repeated potshots at democratic laws and practices, as they have been lately doing.

L.K. Advani
New Delhi

10th May, 2010

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