Ahead of the 40th anniversary of the imposition of the Emergency on June 25, L K Advani, senior BJP leader, its founding father and now a member of its Margdarshak Mandal, has struck a note of caution.
India’s political system is still to come to terms with the Emergency and a similar suspension of civil liberties could not be ruled out in the future, he said in an interview to The Indian Express. “At the present point of time, the forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger,” he said.
In the years since the Emergency in 1975-77, “I don’t think anything has been done that gives me the assurance that civil liberties will not be suspended or destroyed again. Not at all,” said Advani. “Of course, no one can do it easily… But that it cannot happen again — I will not say that. It could be that fundamental liberties are curtailed again.”
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In response to a question on what, specifically, is missing, that makes India today vulnerable to the Emergency-like situation, he said: “I do not see any sign in our polity that assures me, any outstanding aspect of leadership. A commitment to democracy and to all other aspects related to democracy is lacking.”
And: “Today, I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. But kamiyon ke karan, vishwas nahin hota (I don’t have faith because of its weaknesses). I don’t have the confidence that it (Emergency) cannot happen again.”
Recalling the Emergency as a crime perpetrated by Indira Gandhi and her government that has still to be fully acknowledged and owned up to, Advani said that it happened despite the constitutional safeguards that were in place. “There aren’t enough safeguards in India in 2015,” he said.
It is possible, said Advani, that the Emergency could save India from another Emergency — “… as it happened in Germany, where Hitler’s rule appears to have inoculated the system against Hitlerian tendencies and because of which today’s Germany is more particular about democratic norms than even perhaps the British.” And then, “The aftermath of the Emergency having been an election in which the party that imposed the Emergency lost very badly, would always be a deterrent for future rulers who think of repeating what was done in the 1970s.”
But of the countervailing forces against authoritarianism, the media “is more independent today”, said Advani, “but does it have a real commitment to democracy and civil liberties — I don’t know. It is something that must be put to the test”. And civil society raised hopes, most recently during the Anna mobilisation against corruption, only to disappoint, he said.
“Of the various institutions that are to be held responsible for a well functioning democracy in India today, the judiciary is more responsible than the others,” said Advani.