Yet another 26 June: BJP belligerent, Congress unrepentant but embarrassed.
Forty-three years on, the Emergency still continues to evoke strong passions. As the self-avowed inheritor of Indira Gandhi’s fraught legacy, the Congress finds itself on the back foot on each anniversary of the darkest chapter in the country’s brief democratic history. But the BJP, which in its earlier avatar, the Jana Sangh, was in the vanguard of the fight to restore democracy and civic rights, seems to exploit the coming of each 26th June for its own partisan ends.
However, the exchange of invective between the two parties this year was particularly toxic. Maybe the proximity of a crucial parliamentary poll some ten months hence persuaded the Prime Minister to tear into the Congress’ façade as a democratic party, which had still not shed the Emergency mindset. As someone said, but only half in jest, the Congress is perennially in the Emergency mode in the sense that anyone saying a word edgeways against the Gandhis finds himself promptly marginalised. This 26 June, the Congress and its new-found friends sought to change the narrative, claiming that the current situation was worse than the Emergency.
Both sides were guilty of exaggeration and distortion, the Congress more so than the BJP. For, it is downright foolish to say that the country under Narendra Modi lives in fear, that there is an undeclared Emergency and nobody is safe from being locked up most arbitrarily on some pretext or the other. This is plain nonsense. Those who compare the present with the 1975-77 period, have no idea what they are talking about. During that time even innocents could be shoved in jail without explanation and there was no relief, no remedy available from the executive or the judiciary.
The real Emergency was when you beat up an innocent child and insisted on denying it the right to cry. Now when Modi seeks to proceed against hardened criminals, bank fraudsters, financial wheeler-dealers, thuggish promoters of TV channels, and other such crooks, not only do they shout loudest, protesting innocence but find ready allies in a partisan media and, sadly enough, often in the courts which promptly provide them relief. Comparing the Emergency to the India under the Modi government is pure balderdash, those who do so are either playing dumb or are blinded by partisanship.
But it was amusing to see Congress leaders going apoplectic trying to counter Arun Jaitley’s comparison of Indira Gandhi with Hitler. The truth is no other comparison could be more apt. Like Hitler, she too upended the constitutional order, suspended constitutional protections available to citizens, abolished fundamental rights, attacked free press, imposed the severest form of censorship, banned association of people, locked up tens of thousands of her critics and presumed critics without trial. She made the judiciary, the Parliament, the President et al virtually her captive, who did her bidding at the pain of being thrown into jail. India became one big jail. Period.
And like Hitler who opened another front against Russia after his successfully ransacking much of Europe, she too was over-confident that despite her rampant tyranny and atrocity against ordinary Indians, people had not risen in revolt and, therefore, might be supportive of her black deeds. She plunged headlong into an election, cocksure that she would return with a thumping majority. If Hitler met his come-uppance at the hands of the Russians, Indira met hers at the hands of a people who had suffered 19 months of her dictatorship in sullen silence without a murmur.
Granted, there were clear differences between the two. To begin with, Hitler was a man and Indira a woman. Jokes apart, it is perverse to deny the comparison. So long at the core of the evil perpetrated by the two democratically-elected dictators lay a desire to become absolute rulers, to turn democratic systems into full-fledged dictatorships, the comparison holds very well. Remember that all through the Emergency the only slogans that mattered were “one nation, one leader” or “the leader is right, the future is bright” or, better still, “India is Indira and Indira is India”. When one person tried to personify the entire country, when one person snuffed out the basic rights and freedoms of Indians, when crawling before The Supreme Leader became the only ticket for career advancement, if that was not Hitler-like, what was?
So long as at core of the evils perpetrated by them they were one, other differences were peripheral, nay, irrelevant. It is like someone who is a habitual painting- and tax-chor but instead of being, say, a lawyer happens to be a businessmen, the comparison between them will still be valid. For whether a lawyer or a businessman, both are essentially chors. That I suppose was what Jaitley was trying to convey when he compared Indira Gandhi to Hitler. Nothing less, nothing more.
Again, calling Modi Aurangzeb as a Congress spokesperson did this past 26 June, reveals a lack of clarity about the last and the longest reigning Mughal king. Only a couple of years ago, when they changed the name of Aurangzeb Road to A.P.J. Kalam Road in the heart of the Lutyens’ Delhi, the Congress party protested, arguing that the BJP government was erasing the common heritage of Indians. And now the same Aurangzeb seems to have turned into an ogre. Does the revision on Aurangzeb reflect the recent bid by the Great Leader to demonstratively embrace soft Hindutva at the cost of being overtly pro-Muslim?
Meanwhile, it is highly unlikely that ordinary Indians are bothered a wee bit about the Emergency any more. That is the problem with Indians, they are quick to forgive and forget. And that is their biggest failing. History bears witness to many instances of such misplaced generosity which eventually cost the country dear. Why persist with a bad habit? Never condone evil. Never.
Press freedom no licence for racketeering
Members of the Fourth Estate, we hope, might have at last learnt the lesson after the findings of an inquiry report by the market regulator into the financial skulduggery of a television group were published recently. The report confirmed that it had most flagrantly violated the rules and regulations mandated by the market regulator. And violated the provisions of the RBI as well regarding foreign funds.
Whenever in the last four years, they tried to investigate a complaint filed way back in 2011, the promoters reflexively cried “press freedom under attack”. And may be because they have that false air of hauteur about them, a polished exterior hiding the greed and ambitions of wannabe tycoons, at the snap of their little finger they commandeered the so-called biggies of the media to bewail in unison that the Modi government was out to undermine press freedom, that the raids and inquiries into the violations of FERA, SEBI rules, RBI regulations, etc., were a mere excuse to harass the free press.
No one puts such a selfish and false construction on financial racketeering as did the promoters of the said TV group to turn their private woes into huge communitarian concerns. Remember not long ago a parliamentary committee had indicted the same promoters for stealthily misappropriating 30 seconds more of free commercial time for their weekly cut-and-paste programme on Doordarshan than was actually contracted for. The latest report shows how after violating the RBI provisions the promoters have now offered to pay compounding charges to get away scot free. Just one question: What was all that ranting and raving about in the Press Club when you had actually committed grave financial wrongs? Gullible media types, beware. There is no point unthinkingly joining those who violate financial rules left, right and centre and then hold forth left, right and centre as if they alone were the champions of a free media whose anchors do the cry-boo act on television after viciously mouthing poison nightly on their little watched programmes. Unscrupulous promoters seeking shelter behind press freedom should be contemptuously shunned.