Oh, the irony! Jaitley uses Emergency lens to describe India under BJP
Is Emergency only the sabotage of Parliament through the suspension of elections? Can it be identified only through the official curbing of all civil rights and censorship of free press? Can Emergency not exist in camouflage without having to resort to spectacle? Can it not be created through a sustained campaign, putting democracy on a slow flame?
The anniversary of Indira Gandhi's imposition of Emergency 42 years ago always presents an opportunity to remember the excesses of that draconian era.
However, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, one can’t take a detached look back at the Emergency as a mere event. There are stark links that connect this government to the one that existed 42 years ago. Looking through that lens could also help in understanding what this government is doing to the country.
Ironically, some very helpful hints at putting these parallels in context have come from one of the senior-most representatives of the Modi government - Union Finance Minister and Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley.
In a post on his Facebook page, Jaitley describes what the Emergency was like. But a careful reading of his assessment makes the Emergency-like character of political conspiracy of this government come alive.
Sabotage of institutions
“Emergency was an assault on all democratic institutions,” says Jaitley, echoing a widely accepted all-encompassing view of the Emergency.
How does the Modi government fare on this count? The BJP-led NDA has a brute majority in the directly elected House of Parliament that helps it in passing whatever amendments and new legislations it wants to.
The Rajya Sabha could have provided a check, but the government has conveniently labelled key legislations as Money Bills, taking away the authority of the Upper House to raise objections successfully. The Aadhaar Act was one such example and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh's case in the Supreme Court challenging its declaration as a Money Bill is still pending in court.
In the states, BJP has shown brazen discard of democratic principles by engineering defections among ruling benches and then getting the Centre to arbitrarily impose President's Rule. In setting aside BJP-manoeuvered central rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court came down heavily on “unconstitutional” exercise of powers by the Governor, the Centre's agent in states.
A special case in focus is that of Delhi where Centre has nearly crippled the state government, leading to a situation where even bureaucrats do not listen to the AAP-led government.
According to Jaitley, under the Emergency, “opposition governments in some states were dismissed and India witnessed virtually a single individual rule”.
Dictatorship of an individual
The Emergency “established the dictatorship of an individual”, says Jaitley. The cult of an individual is so pronounced in the BJP presently that its leaders do not even flinch while openly admitting the supremacy of their “leader”.
The BJP recently set up a committee of three senior leaders who were tasked with exploring consensus with leaders in the ruling coalition as well as in the Opposition over the ruling party's Presidential candidate.
Remarkably, the mandate of this committee was not to seek consensus on a particular name, but to seek a blanket authorisation for Modi to nominate whoever he deemed fit.
Can there ever be a bigger indication of hero worship and centralisation of power under one individual? Remarkably, the government is celebrating three years of being in power in Modi's name, quite literally. Festivals to commemorate these three years are being organised across the country under the name Making of Developed India – ‘MODI’, in short.
Environment of fear
Jaitley has also mentioned how Emergency created “an environment of tyranny and fear in the society”.
Is the environment in India presently any different? Lynchings have become the order of the day in many states and not only is the law and order machinery everywhere reacting inadequately to reported incidents, the political leadership is extending tacit support through strategic silence on the issue.
Modi addresses the nation every month through radio and tweets incessantly everyday, but he has never spoken against lynching and the bigotry behind it.
Law enforcement agencies are raiding Opposition leaders in many states while at the same time ignoring the allegations against BJP governments at Centre and in states. What is the objective if not to spread fear among the ranks of the Opposition?
Interestingly, Jaitley has also listed “the detention of the political opposition” as among the first acts after the imposition of the Emergency.
Media and propaganda
The country witnessed, Jaitley says, “misuse of the mass media” and “an era of sycophancy”. His description of how “dictatorial regimes” are “often misled” by their own propaganda and how they become consumer of their “own propaganda with nobody else believing it” is apt for Modi government's relationship with the media.
Government-run public service broadcasters have always been mouthpieces of the government, but under Modi even TV stations run by the Parliament peddle propaganda.
Most of the corporate media has been forced to sing the government’s tune, evident in non-critical coverage of the government by large private TV stations and newspapers. Whatever gap there was has been filled with the launch of a new private TV station, funded by an industrialist-politician supporting the NDA.
The BJP has got even the office of the President to back the sinister proposal of holding simultaneous polls to the Parliament and state assemblies, a move eventually aimed at single-party rule across the country. Aren't the practices as well as tendencies clear indicators of an undeclared Emergency?
Recall the story of the two apocryphal frogs. One of them was put in a jar of hot water and it jumped straight out. The other one was put in a vessel with cold water that was put on slow flame. The temperature kept rising slowly and the frog kept adjusting gradually. Eventually, the temperature was unbearable but the frog got no chance to jump out and died in the vessel.
Beware the Emergency on a slow boil.