There was a real “threat to the law and order” situation around the time Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency, and “if no action was taken, it could have escalated”, but it was a “wrong answer” to that threat, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said on Friday.
The former Union minister said there can be no comparison between the Congress’s revival after the party lost power post-Emergency and now when it faces a “formidable political machinery called the RSS”.
Blaming the party’s state of affairs on a weak organisational apparatus, he said, “In 10 years we were in power, we neglected the organisation. The party machinery was neglected by PCC (state Congress) chiefs, district chiefs.”
Asked whether Indira Gandhi clamped Emergency to protect her authority or there was any real threat to the country’s security after Jayaprakash Narayan called for total revolution in 1974, the Congress leader said, “I can say that Emergency was a wrong answer. The threat was real. The answer was wrong. Perhaps a more secure Indira Gandhi may have found a better answer — she was advised that this is the way to handle the situation, and it can be retrieved after a few months.”
But, he said, “it turned out to be a monster — a genie out of the bottle. It went completely out of control, especially in north India”.
Chidambaram was speaking at the launch of Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister, written by senior journalist Sagarika Ghose. Former Union minister Arun Shourie also took part in the discussion moderated by Karan Thapar.
Asked about frequent assertions by many Congress leaders that there is an “Emergency-like situation” in the country at present, Chidambaram said it is no longer possible to declare Emergency, as was done in 1975, since the Constitution stands amended now. “But there are aspects of 1975 to 1977 — the muzzling of press, intimidation of intellectuals and writers, the use of agencies not only against politicians (but also against) ordinary citizens (and) entities, especially NGOs; and above all the attempt to stifle dissent.”
About the present state of the Congress, Chidambaram rejected the notion of any leadership crisis and said, “Indira Gandhi was actually fighting largely ex-Congressmen and a group of very tired socialists…. Today, the Congress is fighting a powerful political machinery called RSS.”
Shourie spoke of the “fear” in people’s minds in the face of mobs. “Mussolini’s goons were nothing without the state, but with the state they were everything.”