June 25, 2010

I was a college student when I had first read William Shirer’s ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ about Nazi Germany.

Shortly after the imposition of the Emergency in June 1975, I happened to lay my hands on an old copy of this famous book. It prompted me to write a pamphlet for our Anti- emergency movement’s underground activists, titled “A Tale of Two Emergencies”.

The pamphlet was circulated not only among our own people but also among delegates who had come for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in New Delhi that year.

Today, on June 25, I feel it would be worthwhile reproducing some essential parts of this pamphlet here :

[Written in Bangalore Central Jail some time in September, 1975]

William Shirer’s ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ is regarded as a monumental, definitive work on the history of Nazi Germany. Going through it a second time these days, I have been greatly struck by the remarkable, but disturbing similarity between the methodology of Adolf Hitler to make himself an absolute dictator and the steps being taken by Indira Gandhi here to decimate and destroy Indian democracy.

When the Weimar Constitution was adopted in 1919, it was hailed as the “most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had seen.” Shirer describes it as “mechanically well-nigh perfect, full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy.”

But the Weimar Constitution, like our own, had its Emergency provisions, incorporated into it in good faith by the Founding Fathers with the confidence that they would be used only in times of grave crises, such as war.

Hitler became Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany on January 30, 1933; on February 28, he made President Hindenberg invoke Article 48 (Emergency Powers) and sign a decree ‘for the protection of the people and the State’. Among other things the decree proclaimed:

Restriction on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephone communication; and warrants for home searches; orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

The decree also authorized the Reich to take over complete power in the constituent states of the union, and prescribed harsh penalties for a number of crimes including ‘serious disturbance of the peace’.

Every other day, Indira Gandhi and her cohorts keep asserting that whatever they have done during these past months is ‘within the four corners of the Constitution’. The charge being leveled against them by the opposition and by the Western Press that they have subverted democracy is therefore untenable, it is argued.

The history of Nazi Germany conclusively shows that doing anything constitutionally is not necessarily the same thing as doing it in a democratic manner. Hitler always used to boast that he had done nothing illegal or unconstitutional. Indeed, he made a democratic constitution an instrument of dictatorship.

Hitler had no use for the opposition: nor has Indira Gandhi, who never tires of referring to opposition parties as ‘a minority seeking to subvert the wishes of the majority’.

On the eve of the Emergency, however, Indira Gandhi was at the nadir of her popularity graph. A Gallup poll published around May had established this very clearly. With her popularity as a leader already at a low ebb the Allahabad verdict of June 12 suddenly stripped her of her legitimacy as a leader and as Prime Minister.

The stratagem resorted to by Indira Gandhi to secure parliamentary approval for the Emergency proclamation, and for the series of constitutional amendments designed to place Indira Gandhi above the law provides a remarkable parallel. But there are some notable differences also.

Essentially the strategy was the same: manage some parties; tame the others. However, to force the Reichstag into submission Hitler had to jail only opposition Deputies; he did not have to put any Nazis behind bars.

Here, Indira Gandhi has had to imprison not only a host of opposition MPs but also two senior members of her own party’s central Executive. One of them, Ram Dhan, had been elected the Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party only May last.

Hitler is not known to have stopped the publication of parliamentary proceedings. Here, however, even the fact of the opposition expressing its strong disapproval of the Emergency, by staging of walkout and boycotting the rest of the session, was blacked out.

After having subverted the Parliament and subordinated the opposition, Hitler’s revolution turned its attention towards the Press and the Judiciary, two other institutional roadblocks on his path to despotism. Censorship was, of course, peremptorily introduced. Goebbels was appointed Minister of Propaganda. On October 4, 1933 the subservience of the German Press to the wishes of the Government was formalized by enacting the Reich Press Law. Journalism was declared thereunder ‘a public vocation’. Section 14 of the law ordered editors, to keep out of the newspapers anything which tends “to weaken the strength of the German Reich, or the Common Will of the people”.

When Gandhiji was arrested just before the 1942 satyagraha, Mirabehn (Margaret Slade) is said to have remarked: “At the dead of night, like thieves they came to steal him away.”

One the night of June 25-26, 1975, Jayaprakash Narayan, the Mahatma Gandhi of today’s India, was whisked away in an identical manner, with one difference.

The British Government never sought to prevent people from knowing that their beloved leader had been arrested nor did they suppress the news of even Bhagat Singh’s hanging. Newspapers all over the country flashed the news of Mahatmaji’s arrest with eight column banner headlines.

Under Indira Gandhi’s rule, from June 26 onwards, J.P. and Morarji, Charan Singh and Vajpayee have just ceased to be. They have become ‘non-persons’. That J.P. is in jail is today a top state secret and its publication would attract severe penalties. It is only under a Hitler or a Stalin that such stupidity can even be conceived of. In totalitarian countries, the media of mass communication have no role except to be subservient to the aims of authority. All media including the Press are virtually limbs of the state. But the function of the Press in a democracy is entirely different.

It is a common characteristic of all despots that while they may be willing on occasion to condone criticism of Government, they cannot lightly overlook criticism of their person. The true reason for Indira Gandhi’s wrath against the Indian Press is that after the Allahabad verdict, the Press showed a rare unanimity in holding that the verdict warranted her resignation till it was reviewed by a superior Court. Indira Gandhi is unwilling to forgive this.

Censorship has naturally made newspapers dull and drab. They read like official handouts, inane and insipid.

This happened in Nazi Germany also, following the imposition of censorship. At one stage, Goebbels himself told editors not to be too timid, and not to make their papers so monotonous.

A Berlin editor, Welke took Geobbels seriously. In his next issue, he came out with a sarcastic piece chiding the Propaganda Ministry for its red tape, and for the heavy hand with which it held down the Press and so make it dull. Within days of this publication, the journal was suspended, and the editor was carted off to jail.

Something similar has been happening these days in New Delhi.

Encouraged by repeated declarations by the Prime Minister that Press censorship had been relaxed, some pressmen, particularly foreign pressmen, have been trying to relay something other than the colourless Press notes of the PIB. But this has only landed them in trouble. During the past weeks, Reuters and U.P.I., both international news agencies, have had their telephone and teleprinter lines disconnected for alleged violation of censorship rules.

Shortly after Hitler came to power, the Nazi leader Joachim Ribbentrop (who later became Hitler’s External Affairs Minister) spoke of the need for a new legal system.

The old system, Ribbentrop said, needed to be replaced because under this earlier system, “Adolf Hitler, too, like any other common mortal, could be tried under the same paragraph of the penal law”.

Addressing a convention of lawyers Dr. Hans Frank, Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader said: “There is in Germany today only one authority and that is the authority of the Fuehrer.”Is there much difference between Ribbentrop’s and Dr. Frank’s idolatry of Hitler, and Deva Kant Borooah’s hallelujah – chanting that “Indira is India and India is Indira?”. The outcome in both cases has been similar.

The Constitution and the Law were amended to mutilate the concept of the rule of law, and to place the Executive head of the country above the law. As part of the same process the judicial review was whittled down.

It might embarrass many Congressmen to know that if Indira Gandhi is proud of her 20-point programme, Hitler was prouder still of his 25-point programme, which he used to call ‘unalterable’ It was at first a kind of personal creed; later, it became the Nazi party’s official programme.

Under Hitler’s regime too, there used to be daily demonstrations of faith in his 25-point programme, The participants were not just common folk but leaders of opinion in various walks of life. At one such demonstration of loyalty held in the autumn of 1933, some 960 professors of the Berlin University, including some renowned scientists and academicians, participated.

Repoke, a senior professor, wrote later, “It was a scene of prostitution that has stained the history of German learning.” Another teacher Julius Ebbing, wrote in 1945:

The German Universities failed. While there was still time to oppose publicly with all their power the destruction of the democratic state. They failed to keep the beacon of freedom, and right, burning during the night of tyranny.

India too is passing through a night of tyranny. This razzle-dazzle talk of discipline cannot deceive anyone.

What we see in the country’s climate today is not discipline. It is servile sycophancy and cowardly conformism. Indira Gandhi today commands awe, not respect. It is fear that holds sway, not duty or honesty.

Hitler had created even greater awe, and so was able to secure even stricter compliance with rules. He framed regulations providing that workers absenting themselves from work without satisfactory reasons would be imprisoned.

In Government offices today, under the pervasive umbrella of the Emergency, all safeguards against arbitrary action have been suspended. No one is in a position to assess in how many cases the action taken by superior authorities is justified, and in how many cases it is motivated by ulterior or collateral considerations.

Everyday we read in the papers and hear on the radio that so many officials or employees in the States have been sacked or compulsorily retired because of corruption or inefficiency.

Day in and day out the radio keeps blaring news about raids on industrialists and businessmen by income-tax officials. An impression is ought to be given that a relentless campaign has been launched by Government to root out corruption in the administration, in industry and in commerce.

In all these four months, have we heard of even one single Minister being sacked or one single Congress MP or MLA being proceeded against either on account of corruption, or tax dues, or any other ?

This may be surprising, though significant. It is an undisputed fact that the roots of all corruption, administrative, industrial and commercial, lie in political corruption. The Santhanam Committee and the Administrative Reforms Commission have examined the problem in depth and suggested several sound measures to deal with political corruption. The main attack of J.P’s movement was directed against this evil but Government stubbornly refuses to do anything about it.

Corruption among party colleagues has never bothered Indira Gandhi. Hitler too always showed supreme unconcern in this respect. Shirer has tartly remarked :

He, who was monumentally intolerant by his very nature was strangely tolerant of one human condition, a man’s morals. No other party came near to attracting so many shady characters as the Nazi party. Hitler did not care so long as they were useful to him….

The inescapable conclusion which can be drawn from this is that the seemingly strong arm measures adopted with regard to the bureaucracy, industry, business and workers are not honestly meant to clear society of its filth. They are essentially part of a political design to tighten the party stranglehold on the country. It is one more exercise in authoritarianism.

* * *

Indira Gandhi has described the Emergency as ‘a shock treatment’, an objective totally alien to the purpose of Emergency conceived by our Constitution makers. But a shock it has no doubt been. It has shocked even skeptics into realizing the truth of J.P.’s prognostications. More sadly, however, it has shaken the faith of many in the future of Indian democracy.

Restoration of this faith is the task to which every thinking Indian needs to address himself. How to do this is a matter which each one of us has to decide for himself. But all of us can do one thing in common: shed fear and speak the truth as we see it. This in itself will be no mean contribution to the cause of democracy.

L.K. Advani
New Delhi

June 25, 2010

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