Chapter on emergency for young Indians
A Surya Prakash
Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s suggestion that a chapter on the emergency must be introduced in school textbooks should certainly be welcomed by all those who cherish our Constitution and our democratic way of life. Speaking on the sidelines of an event held in Lucknow to mark the 41st anniversary of the imposition of the dreaded Emergency, where many loktantra senanis (those who fought against the emergency) were felicitated, Naqvi said that successive generations must be told about the atrocities that were committed during those terrible 19 months when democracy stood eclipsed in India.
He said 75 per cent of the country’s population was unaware of why and how emergency was imposed and what happened while it lasted. School children should know the truth about this dark phase in India’s post-independence history, just as they learn about the freedom movement and about those who fought for India’s independence.
India came under a dictatorial regime after the Allahabad High Court unseated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1975 for indulging in corrupt electoral practices in her Lok Sabha constituency of Rae Bareli in the 1971 general election. Gandhi, however, decided to defy the Constitution and democratic norms and remain in power, whatever the means. She fell back on a never-used provision in the Constitution, and imposed an ‘Internal Emergency’, which enabled her to introduce draconian laws, imprison political opponents and critics, and unleash a reign of terror across the country.
Naqvi’s suggestion gains weight when one realises the phenomenal damage that the Emergency did to the core values of our Constitution and to all the pillars of democracy. Gandhi’s Emergency regime crushed all the major institutions including Parliament, the judiciary, the executive and the media. Today’s generation needs to be told how the Constitution was mutilated, and how every institution buckled under pressure. This will also educate young Indians on what actual ‘intolerance’ is all about, and also about the vulnerability of those who man these institutions to threats and inducements.
During this ugly period in the nation’s history, Parliament became a rubber stamp, and passed some of the most atrocious Constitutional Amendments, which were meant to emasculate the judiciary and prohibit the courts from hearing the election petition that had been filed against the Prime Minister.
It began with the 38th Amendment that prohibited a judicial review of the Emergency proclamation and of the ordinances promulgated by the President and Governors and of the laws that contravened Fundamental Rights.
The 39th Amendment was even worse. After the Allahabad High Court declared Gandhi guilty of corrupt practice, she moved the Supreme Court for relief and Justice Krishna Iyer granted her a partial stay of the High Court judgement. He said the Prime Minister could attend Parliament but could not vote, until her petition was disposed of. This made her position untenable, but she was determined not to resign.
Instead, she issued the Emergency proclamation and used her brute majority in Parliament to strip the Constitution of its democratic core. The sole purpose of this Constitutional Amendment was to pre-empt the Supreme Court and bar it from hearing her petition.
The 41st Amendment went even further. It said no civil or criminal proceedings could be instituted against the Prime Minister for anything done by her before or after she entered office. In other words, the aim of this Amendment was to make the Prime Minister a super citizen, who would be above the law. Today’s high school children need to know that India once had a Prime Minister who put herself above everyone else.
Then came the 42nd Amendment, many provisions of which would only bring utter shame to those who voted for it. As everyone is aware, Gandhi had a rubber stamp President in Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, who signed on the dotted line when she sent him the notification for imposition of the Emergency. He did not even ask her how she could come to him with such a major proposal without getting the same cleared by her Cabinet.
Assured of such a compliant President, Gandhi got Parliament to pass a provision which enabled the President to amend the Constitution through an execute order. Hitler and Mussolini got their Parliaments to empower them in this manner. Those in school today must know that Parliament and the President were made rubber stamps and how the judiciary and the media were stifled.
Today’s generation must also know how, while on the one hand, Gandhi strangled the judiciary through these Constitutional Amendments, the judiciary also let down the Constitution, the people and democracy itself at critical moments. Many Judges buckled under pressure at that time, and the Shiv Kant Shukla v ADM (Additional District Magistrate), Jabalpur, also known as the Habeas Corpus case, offers the best example.
In this case, a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the government’s contention that during emergency, no citizen had the right to challenge his or her detention or to move a writ of Habeas Corpus. This, after the Attorney-General told the court that so long as the emergency was on, no citizen could seek relief in a court of law, not even when a policeman shoots a citizen dead in the police station.
Only one of the five judges -Justice HR Khanna – dissented. Justice Khanna, who was in line to become the Chief Justice of India, was superseded by Gandhi. All the other four judges, who wrote a judgement that snuffed out a Fundamental Right given to citizens by the Constitution, became Chief Justices of India.
The younger generation must be told that despite the terror that prevailed then, we had an extraordinary judge like Justice Khanna, who stood by the citizens’ fundamental right, unmindful of its implications for his career. “Mrs Gandhi’s dictatorship, both in its personalised and institutionalised forms, is now complete”, Jayaprakash Narayan declared woefully, when he heard the Supreme Court verdict in this case.
Similarly, the younger generation must be told of the journalists, writers and artists who stood up to the brutal regime, went to jail and faced many travails, so that democracy may return. As many as 1,11,000 persons were detained under The Maintenance of Internal Security Act and the Defence of India Rule – dreaded laws which were used to intimidate citizens. That is why the fight against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency is called the Second Freedom Struggle. Children who learn of the heroic deeds of those who fought against Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship, will be inspired to stand up for their freedoms.