Emergency and the Present Day Concerns Raised by Fascism

Content translation of talk given by Adv. Sebastian Paul, made at Town Hall, Calicut on 25.06.2015 during the seminar organized by Keluvettan Study Centre, Calicut, on “Emergency and the present day concerns raised by Fascism”.

Though the speech was made three months back, Bodhi sees the relevance of the concerns raised by the speaker. Many prestigious educational institutions - including Central Varsities - across the country are witnessing large scale student protests against the overpowering police surveillance(EFLU, UOH), and the appointment of incompetent or autocratic Directors, Chairpersons and Vice-Chancellors (IIT Jodhpur, FTII, Pondicherry University). Political parties are denied of a ground to function and students are made to follow draconian guidelines, implemented by the University Grants Commission. Rationalists across the country are being threatened and killed for the stance they have taken against religious and political fanaticism ( MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar). Mass internet surveillance is on its way and freedom of expression is being denied in social networking platforms. Evidences of Corporates having a sway over the Government are many. Power is concentrated in the hands of one person and statements that are clearly indicative of a rising cultural fascism - on personal choices such as food, clothing, believes etc - are made by Ministers of State. To quote Roosevelt, “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”

Police arresting people without notices or warrants was the order of the day during the times of Emergency. We must note the resurgence of such events in the present times. Twenty three years after independence, Emergency was announced during one fine night in 1975. Indira Gandhi sends a note to the President, Fakrudin Ali Ahamed and he signs the note the same night! People wake up next day morning with the surprise of an announcement of Emergency. (The speaker was working as an Indian Express journalist at that time in Trivandrum.) One doesn't realize what really was meant by Emergency at the time of the announcement.

Prof. M. P. Manmadhan leads a protest march in Trivandrum the very next day and gets arrested. News is censored! The names of people arrested were not allowed to be published. (Interestingly the censors failed to figure out that photographs could be published and at least initially, the press capitalized on it!). Electricity was denied to several Delhi news-houses, rending the press virtually “powerless”. Newspapers responded to the nonsensical censoring by leaving the editorial column blank. Back in Kerala, Indian Express, Deepika and Deshabhimani left the editorial column blank. (Interestingly Manorama and Mathrubhumi did not join the “blank protest”. Manorama wrote an editorial on crop destruction caused by locust (vettukili) in some state in India; Mathrubhumi editorial spoke critically of American policy in some region of the world outside India. Interestingly, Mathrubumi champions critical response to emergency today. The editorial protest could not last long. Censors ordered that editorial column must not be left blank. A Delhi newspaper came up with a Tagore poem in the editorial. Another decided on putting up a letter written by Nehru to Indira! “Only current topics” - ruled the censor. Leaders were in jail. It wasn't clear who went where. Still there was some way out. Requests came from Poojappura, Viyyur etc. to the Ceylon radio station for songs in the “songs requested by the audience” programme. Names came out along with the songs on air!

The present day news reports bring back memories of the early seventies – the times of the build up to the Emergency. Jagjivan Ram, who was a cabinet minister in Indira Gandhi government, came to know about the declaration of Emergency only in the morning news. Today we come across news reports of a Prime Minister showing little concern to the opinions of the cabinet ministers. One person gets projected in the news as a superhuman. These news reports resemble a repeat of the early seventies with one individual just being replaced with another.

The reasons for a quick emergency declaration are primarily attributed to the Allahabad High Court verdict and the civil disobedience movement lead by Jayaprakash Narayan. The whole nation was brought to the tune of an individual's craze. At the time, one wondered – for how long can this craze go on – for how long a nation could just kneel down infront of the ruler. But subsequent developments revealed the reality. The parliament, the judiciary, the press and the people failed. There were exceptions. Justice Khanna stood tall, with his stance in the (in)famous Habeas Corpus verdict, but had to pay the price for it. Just days within the comment "We understand that the care and concern bestowed by the state authorities upon the welfare of detainees who are well housed, well fed and well treated, is almost maternal" was made by the Supreme Court, Rajan went “missing” from the Kakkayam camp.

Eventually the prevalence of democracy helped the people to put an end to Emergency. The Morarji Desai government brought in the 44th amendment to the constitution to restrict provisions of Emergency under the article 352. Even today, a declaration of Emergency is possible if the ministers and the President agree. So, what is the moral of the story? Individuals rise to power using democracy. Examples from history include Hitler and Mussolini. Powers get consolidated on an individual. When the power of the individual turns against basic human rights and freedom, the threat of fascism looms around. We need to analyze the way this happens.The fact that the article 352 of the constitution is less effective today in declaring an Emergency does not rule out the possibility of its recurrence. Unrestricted powers for the state to arrest, detain or deport individuals, provided by MISA or UAPA can create a situation of Emergency even in the absense of article 352.

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Image Courtesy: Caravan Magazine

The present day news reports bring back memories of the early seventies – the times of the build up to the Emergency. Jagjivan Ram, who was a cabinet minister in Indira Gandhi government, came to know about the declaration of Emergency only in the morning news. Today we come across news reports of a Prime Minister showing little concern to the opinions of the cabinet ministers. One person gets projected in the news as a superhuman. These news reports resemble a repeat of the early seventies with one individual just being replaced with another. Such individuals have the potential to become dangerous, as history has shown us through the examples of Hitler and Mussolini. While almost none among us would have reservations about the practice of Yoga, its deployment in a military like fashion, in which an individual leads a uniformed military-like parade, creates suspicion on the individual. When a government - which is supposed to honour each and every individual - proceeds bypassing the parliament, one observes a striking semblance to the situation in 1975. It took just one night then for the state to fall into an Emergency. At a time when a senior leader of the ruling party itself raises fears of the recurrence of an Emergency, we need to remain vigilant.

Translated by Murali Krishnan

Note: This is an English translation of ideas presented by Adv. Sebastian Paul and not a sentence by sentence translation of his speech. The outline given here only reflects the translator's understanding of what was presented in the lecture and is written in his own words adding references. The translation is done after taking the consent of Adv. Sebastian Paul, but has not been reviewed by him. Mistakes or misrepresentation of facts (if any) in this document are unintentional and shall not in any way be attributed to Adv. Sebastian Paul.