The German Constitution was envisaged as one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. Yet one man motivated by the desire for personal dictatorial power subverted it and presented to the world one of the most disgraceful authoritarian regimes in history. This man was Adolf Hitler.
How did he do this? He used the constitutional provisions to declare a state of emergency. He imposed censorship on the newspapers. He detained his political opponents. He crushed all dissent. He inspired the persecution of those he was not prepared to suffer. He generated an environment of terror and sycophancy.
And why did he do all this? "To make Germany a powerful nation," he claimed. To legitimise this he announced a 25-point economic programme. He claimed that it was discipline that he was imposing, that it was the hallmark of the system. Even Mussolini had claimed in Italy that the effect of Fascism was that 'trains were running on time'. One of Hitler's Nazi colleagues had proclaimed: "Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler. He who swears allegiance to Hitler swears allegiance to Germany."
How was the Emergency in India any different? Indira Gandhi's personal political position was threatened. She was unseated by the Allahabad High Court from her seat in the Lok Sabha for indulging in corrupt practices during her election campaign. Her party lost the Gujarat assembly elections. A popular uprising led by Jayaprakash Narayan against a corrupt regime was building up. The young turks in her own party were joining the revolt. It was at this stage that her party president, Dev Kant Baruah, took a leaf out of the Nazi Book and declared: "India is Indira and Indira is India." How very wonderful! The party conveniently forgot that no individual is immortal. But the nation is.
Baruah's not-so-original statement was not the only evidence of what Mrs Gandhi's Emergency regime's role model was. The detention of thousands of political opponents. The complete censorship on the media. The creation of a fear psychosis in the country as a tool for governance. The subversion of every democratic institution. Under no circumstances is any of this justifiable. The moot question is: why did she do this?
Every dishonest protagonist of the Emergency would argue that it was to save the country from anarchy and to impose discipline on the Indian Democracy that Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency. The honest truth is very much to the contrary. She did it because she faced the danger of losing her membership of the Lok Sabha and her prime ministership. She did it because her passion on earth was - after me, my family. She wanted to perpetuate her dynasty - an all-out effort which was shamelessly started during the Emergency. It is an unnatural legacy which still persists today.
What happened to the institutions during the Emergency? The judiciary which had already been made pliable by the supercessions in 1973 was the main victim. The Supreme Court by a majority of four to one held that a person could be arrested or detained without legitimate grounds and there was no remedy in the law courts since all Fundamental Rights were suspended. The attorney-general of India argued for the government that a citizen could be killed illegally and no remedy was available since there were no Fundamental Rights of the citizen any more. Are these shameless protagonists of the Emergency justifying this?
The media fared no better. Barring The Indian Express and The Statesman, most others, partly due to pre-censorship and primarily due to their own cowardice, were sycophantic supporters of the autocracy and the family. The editor of the legendary The Illustrated Weekly of India converted the magazine into a house journal of the dynasty. Mercifully, the magazine died its own death some time later.
The police and the bureaucracy did no better. Lakhs of false firs were registered against political opponents. Thousands of detention orders were passed by district magistrates. Not one police officer stood up to resist the registration of these firs. Not one ias officer refused to sign a detention order which did not have legitimate grounds for detention. There were instances when people were killed in detention. There are examples - the Rajan case of Kerala and the Snehalata Reddy case of Bangalore.
Moreover, Article 356 was invoked against all the opposition state governments. The governments of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were dismissed. It was a case of anarchy in governance - to wreak personal vengeance any police officer could have anybody arrested. I myself had seven prosecutions against me and was detained under misa for 19 months. I still do not know why I was jailed. I was only a student at the time.
In jail, I met people from all kinds of organisations - trade union leaders, two newspaper vendors (because they offended the censorship regulations), an editor, members of the rss and those from the Jamat-e-Islami, Naxalites, college teachers. Let alone discipline, it was a completely lawless government, anarchical to the extreme.
Among those who collapsed were also members of the intelligentsia: India's best-selling painter (M.F. Husain) painted Mrs Gandhi as Durga. India's leading danseuse at the time, Yamini Krishnamurthy, danced to the tune of the 20-point programme. Every mushaira had poetry only in praise of two persons - Sanjay and Indira Gandhi. And to top it all, even the population control programme was done by the use of force.
How do the supporters of this tyranny justify all this? The nation needed discipline, they argue. To discipline a nation we need not shut down our newspapers and arrest all our editors. To discipline democracy you don't have to arrest the entire opposition and destroy every tenet of the Constitution. To discipline the system, you need not subvert all systems - the courts, the police and the bureaucracy. If all or any one of these steps could be justified then on the slightest pretext of checking protests, dissent or militancy, the nation could be pushed into such autocracy.
These pathetic protagonists of Emergency finally argue that many wrongs may have been committed but discipline was a positive outcome. Well, if Einstein were to have been born out of a rape, we must still condemn the rape. We cannot legitimise it!