The primary guilt of the Emergency “crime” lies with Indira Gandhi and her Congress — more than 1 lakh were arrested and yet no one from her party stood up, no one has apologised yet. This stinging indictment of the Congress by L K Advani in his interview to The Indian Express didn’t exactly come in the way of the party seizing on his comments to slam the Narendra Modi government.
Ambika Soni, Kamal Nath and R K Dhawan — among the key characters of the Emergency — couldn’t be reached. Their colleagues tried a balancing act. While almost all of them agreed with Advani’s fears and said that the BJP veteran’s comments were directed at Modi, few were willing to read what was meant for the Congress.
The Congress has never really apologised for the Emergency as Manmohan Singh did over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Parliament on August 12, 2005. The closest was Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself, who in a Walk the Talk conversation with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV 24×7 in May 2004, said that her mother-in-law “did think (afterwards) that it was a mistake.”
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“Because don’t forget that the Indira Gandhi I knew was a democrat at heart…Circumstances compelled her to take that action…But she was never quite at ease,” Sonia had said.
Today, that wasn’t the issue, though. It was Advani’s remarks that he didn’t see “any outstanding aspect of (political) leadership.”
“Advani is a shrewd politician and in spite of his political philosophy which he has pursued all through his life, he is respected in large sections of the society. He has indirectly hinted that there was a declared Emergency 40 years ago but for the last one year there has been undeclared Emergency. That is why he senses the threat of a repeat. I think the message should go across wherever it should go,” said Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said Advani has “spoken his heart” out. “We all know who he is hinting at. He himself was a victim of Emergency and if he is saying that Emergency-like conditions can develop again and anti-democratic forces are becoming stronger, then it speaks volumes of what he has in mind,” Singh said.
His party colleague Madhusudan Mistry said that “in the Modi regime, democratic institutions have been systematically sabotaged and sidelined to eliminate challenges to his leadership”.
“Keshubhai Patel, the former Gujarat Chief Minister, as early as in 2004 said a situation resembling mini-Emergency was prevailing in the state under Modi’s rule. That situation is beginning to reach here. Modi wants to see to it that there is no challenge to his leadership. No minister, MP will speak. Nobody will be allowed to raise a difficult question,” Mistry said.
Former Union Minister M Veerappa Moily said Advani should say what he left unsaid in the interests of the nation. “He should have been more transparent and forthright rather than merely saying something puzzling. He is definitely talking in the present context, not about the past or about the future,” said Moily.
“He is a member of the margdarshak mandal of the BJP…So he knows what is happening inside and he is the best person to divulge the details. Definitely, he is aiming at Modi who is taking control of everything these days,” he added.
Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar said that “if Advani was harping on the 1975 Emergency, he was only repeating a twice told tale, but if he was alerting the nation to the dangers of Moditva he needs to be hailed.”
On Advani’s remarks against the Congress, Mistry refused to comment, Digvijaya Singh claimed “she had publicly apologised for emergency during her tenure.”
Moily defended the Emergency. “The police and the Army were called not to obey the order of the Government. Elected Governments were being threatened like what had happened in Gujarat. Indira Gandhi actually saved democracy,” he said.