The return of the shadow

To fight authoritarianism, we must first acknowledge its presence

Written by Nandana Reddy | Updated: July 6, 2015 1:01 pm
emergency 1975, 1975 emergency, Indira Gandhi, Indira Gandhi 1975 emergency, 1975 india emergency, fundamental rights, Pattabhirama Reddy, Chanda Marutha, dictatorship, india news, indian express columns Anant Patwardhan’s film Prisoners of Conscience on political prisoners of the Emergency

With each passing day, I can’t help but feel the gnawing sensation that the shadow of authoritarianism is reaching its tentacles deeper into our lives, eroding our fundamental rights and freedoms. My mind goes back to June 25, 1975. That was the last day of the shooting of my father Pattabhirama Reddy’s film Chanda Marutha (Wild Wind). The 16mm reels were packed in a trunk ready for processing.

M. Bhaktavatsala, my mother Snehalatha, Ashok Mandanna and Huli Chandru, the main actors, and the rest of the cast that included me, heaved a sigh of relief. The schedules were gruelling and the theme — the insidious shadow of a dictatorship stretching itself across a nation — had taken its toll on the actors and crew. Little did we know that the film was a premonition of things to come.

The signs were all there, but we did not want to see them. Could India really become a dictatorship? Would “we, the people” allow a prime minister to violate our fundamental rights for returns such as “trains running on time”, “bureaucrats being disciplined” and “red tape shortened”? My parents had chosen to make this film as it showcased the troubled times, the growing corruption, unprecedented price rise and appalling governance. But it was hard to imagine we would actually be the victims of such a regime. JP’s movement was gaining ground and, with that, the confidence that India would remain free.

On June 27, we awoke to the terrifying headlines “President Proclaims National Emergency”, “Security of India Threatened by Internal Disturbances”. Other headlines screamed “Preventive Arrests”, “Thousands Jailed” and “Press Censorship Imposed”. These were followed by blank editorials. Several political activists and leaders had gone underground, including George Fernandes. Others like C.G.K. Reddy of The Hindu maintained their cover, though opposed to Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism.

Because of my political upbringing, I was raring to join George and contribute to the underground movement. I remember my mother asking me to wait outside the house where George was taking refuge while she had a private word with him. Sitting on the compound wall, I overheard the conversation. My mother was arguing for non-violence, while George believed that the end justified the means. Finally, it was agreed that only selective violence against symbols of state control would be used, provided it would not harm any living being. Only then did my parents consent to my involvement.

The underground movement was a massive network. We printed and distributed underground literature, sheltered fugitives and escorted them. Once I even disguised myself as a young sardar to accompany George, who was dressed similarly, to Hyderabad. We also planned and executed selective sabotage and I was in charge of training the southern wing of the movement.

I was recently rereading The Anatomy of a Dictatorship, authored by C.G.K. Reddy but circulated under George’s name. It records Indira Gandhi’s actions that led to the declaration and continuance of the Emergency and reads like a textbook, with step-by-step instructions for a potential dictator. It would appear that Narendra Modi and his backroom boys have studied this and have learnt their lessons well. This time round, they have managed to usher in a dictatorial regime seemingly within the constitutional purview and without having to resort to Article 352, which in any case has been made more difficult since its amendment in 1978.

M.J. Akbar says “now Indian Democracy is too strong” for another emergency to be declared. This is a surprising statement for him to make when the present government has undermined every institution and dented every vestige of democracy. But then, as a BJP spokesperson, I guess he would.

Meanwhile, wooing the masses with empty promises keeps the charade alive. People with newly opened bank accounts wait for Modi to bring back the black money and deposit their share, while Modi travels the world making friends and promoting his “image”. While millions wait for basic needs, Modi tweets with his elite Twitter buddies. While communities are trying to resolve their differences, Modi’s ministers spread the RSS ideology banning beef, telling our Muslim brethren to go to Pakistan and spout medieval patriarchal comments against women.

There are many common factors between Indira Gandhi and Modi. The self-promotion as a cult figure — “Indira is India” is now the Modi-fication of India. His wardrobe, his slogans, his international events are a cultism built around catchphrases and not actions. The other is the promise of sops. Every household will have a toilet; the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are all reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme and “garibi hatao”. Both these PMs hardly attended Parliament. While one muzzled the media, the one we have today just ignores them. One jailed thousands of dissenters, the other cuts off their source of funding.

Modi has systematically dented the checklist that defines a democracy. Manmohan Singh’s lament that our “democratic institutions are under threat” rings true, but we must remember that it was during his tenure that the erosion began and paved the way for the undeclared emergency we are now experiencing.

Unfortunately, few recognise the signs. The present generation has no knowledge of the Emergency. There are only a handful of us left with memories of those dark days.

L.K. Advani, one of the survivors of the Emergency, feels that the forces that can crush democracy are stronger now. He is right, because the environment is weaker. But his hope that having experienced the Emergency, India could have been inoculated against it is wishful thinking. But “we, the people” still have the power to overturn dictatorships. We have done it in 1977 and we will do it again. But for this, we need to first acknowledge the presence of the beast. We also need to study the Emergency of 1975 and learn our lessons. Then we need to empower ourselves. I have faith in India and her people. We, the people, are the insulation against a dictatorship.

The writer is a social and political activist. Her mother, Snehalatha Reddy, was arrested during the Emergency. 

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    nishit sahay
    Jul 7, 2015 at 1:35 am
    Indecisiveness doesnt embolden democracy.. Problem with you guys is that you cannot digest the rising India.. Yesterday's social elites are being displaced by the new age entrepreneurs.. And a free market economy is driving that.. Something a leftwing person like you cannot fathom..
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      Kamalakanta
      Jul 6, 2015 at 2:19 pm
      Will somebody please translate the following line Katha bolo na keu sabda korona bhagaban nidra gieche golojog saite paren na==A Song From "NARAK GULJAAR" 1976, Om NAMO Shivaya
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        adadd
        Jul 6, 2015 at 8:05 am
        I am not sure, on whose payroll you are to utter such non sense. Are you a communist in China's payroll, just like your other leftist brethren?
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          Abraham Joseph
          Jul 6, 2015 at 10:57 pm
          It is sad that no thinker-writer of the day comes out with the realization of the great mismatch and inconsistency of the existing democratic establishment, the so-called political system of EQUAL-MEN, with that of real threat and abuse of the very RIGHTS and FREEDOM of common-citizens from their State ! There exists great logical and common-sense contradiction between the two: why a political system of EQUAL-MEN must fear from threat and abuse of his very rights and freedom from a system that supposed to exist for protecting and up-keeping it ? The simple fact is that, these modern democratic establishments are not genuinely by, for and of the people; they are by professional political players, ( or traders ? ) whose intentions and goals are far-remote and different from that traditionally ociated with a political-system of equal-citizens! In this sense, modern democracy in its current form is the most terrible self-deception and threat for universal goals of human-freedom, liberty and individual dignity. It is the nastiest fake-coin of the day, that might prompt our future enlightened generations to b our age as another unfortunate extension of the past 'dark-ages' ! Modern world must discard the most por definition of democracy that Abraham Lincoln gave, ie.by, for and of the people, and go for his subsequent, not yet por definition; " as I won't to a slave, I won't be a master too, and this explains my idea of democracy' . In today's democracy, it is being used by professional political men among the peoples cl, to become 'Masters' over own cl, and men !
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            c.p.sujaya
            Jul 6, 2015 at 8:32 am
            The encomium "Indira is India" and the phrase "modification of India" - both of these ring a bell!!
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            1. S
              Sudeep Kanjilal
              Jul 6, 2015 at 7:25 pm
              Your side - the left - lost an election. And you all are having a collective meltdown? Its called DEMOCRACY. Get used to it.
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                Mohan
                Jul 6, 2015 at 9:52 pm
                Communists say they do not believe in God except when some temple trust has to be managed( by giving a declaration in Kerala) -- who doesn't like to have free perks. Well the translation for your song is -- do not speak, do not make noise, God has gone to asleep he cannot withstand noise -- are you not a Bengali Kamalkanta ?
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                  Mohan
                  Jul 6, 2015 at 9:53 pm
                  Thumader onake Om NAMO Shivya bolte hobe - rokhe nai !
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                    Avinash
                    Jul 6, 2015 at 6:06 pm
                    My dear ShenoyJi, any article Amit mentioning even remotely the abuse of power by Indra hi in particular and Congress in general about 1975 is where I am coming from, hosannas to IG. Prime Minister Modi has not abused the trust of/ by the people of India. Not only that he is busy cleaning up the rot Congrissees have gifted the Nation since 1947
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                      Avinash
                      Jul 6, 2015 at 10:21 am
                      I guess Ms Nandana would prefer ISIS ideology for her comfort? She has tried her best to exhibit her inner thoughts through a rather sophomoric position paper. How are Sri Modi's tweets relevant to her focal points in her article? Are these guys getting paid to write this gibberish? This is the second article I am reading singing hosannas to Indra hi. Did Indra hi not talk about Gareebi Hatao? What did she ever do to alleviate poverty? Her gson Rahul is singing similar tunes? Ms. Nandana ought to worry more about this fella who is completely clueless. By the way what is so devilish about RSS, Ms. Nandana? Would you please elaborate?
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                        nitin
                        Jul 6, 2015 at 9:28 am
                        So just coz her mother was an activist, she is one too. Strange that IE has no space for the organization that did the most to fight Emergency, the RSS. RSS is the only organization that Hindus trust today. The media is disinterested when Hindus are oppressed, be it when Hindus are butchered in Malda by terrorist Muslims or when a riot by Muslim terrorists in Tamil Nadu goes unnoticed.
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                        1. S
                          schroedingers cat
                          Jul 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm
                          Which insution has been undermined? These left wing baboons are the biggest drama queens. Losing an election is different from 'emergency', 'fascism', 'undermining democratic insutions' etc. These s are confusing the two. And how does this moron draw a straight line from that to emergency? I want to know the trail of thought. Also, what exactly is she screaming about? She is screaming about toilets, and 'Beti bachao'. I thought leftists like those kind of social welfare programs as opposed to 'tweets to elitists'. I thought building toilets for poor people and protecting the girl child are social welfare schemes which they should support. So this just proves they have this blind hatred for the government, while sitting on their 'tolerant' left wing views. This is no different from racists in US screaming 'Obama is secretly destroying America' while providing no evidence.
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                            Ramesh Grover
                            Jul 6, 2015 at 8:13 am
                            She is jibbering and talking nonsense. Today's insutions, judiciary, media, CVC, CAG and everything around us has given us a fool proof protection. Therefore even to think of such a thing does not sound right, even for a person like me who has no ideological, political, or philosophical baggage to carry. To me everyone is human, and labelling anything smacks of a sick mind.
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                              rkannan
                              Jul 6, 2015 at 10:54 pm
                              I have never heard of this lady or her mother but the 1977 elections saw Congress sweeping South India. The reason was emergency clearly provided better governance. I lived in Bangalore then and we had trains, buses etc running on time with government offices running properly. The common man values all this. The author is a fan of George Fernandes but what was his achievements - planting dynamite on railway tracks, forcing legally abiding & employment providing companies to quit the country thereby pushing its economy down the drain or other things, like bribes being paid in house when he was a minister. Let us also not forget that in 2002, Modi asked for military presence in Gujarat on the same day as Godhra occured. The riots of 2002 could have been averted if the then defence minister did not play political games. The name of that minister is George Fernandes. In a normal democracy, he would have been punished for his crimes. That he was not punished, remains a much bigger blot on the nation than the emergency.
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                                Rahul Nair
                                Jul 6, 2015 at 8:40 am
                                The Social Media was non existant in 1975, Judiciary is more independent, Do you think Citizens are Clowns to watch all this happen, It might have happened in 1975, the Political Leadership was foolish then, Now they understand the pulse of the nation, so it aint happening, people like you are instilling fear in the minds of the nation. Let the PM work, and you have every time in the world to scrutinise him.
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                                  Sanjay Bhattacharya
                                  Jul 6, 2015 at 12:32 pm
                                  Nandana Reddy is a prominent anti-Modi writer. Once this is kept in mind, all other intellectualism fall in line. In fact one cannot expect anything better than her. She is one of the lackeys of the decomposed legacy of Congress and Left.
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                                  1. S
                                    Sanjay Bhattacharya
                                    Jul 6, 2015 at 3:53 pm
                                    The author's writing can make a good toilet paper.
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                                    1. S
                                      SP
                                      Jul 6, 2015 at 11:04 pm
                                      Seems to be a highly prejudiced article. It was Mahatma hi and Vinobha Bhave who were votaries of banning cow slaughter. After Indira hi, India did not have a strong leader. So country has chosen to go for one. In spite of that our external threats and internal corruption still stare at our face. With digital India Modi is trying to make technology accessible to everybody. Just because somebody can access twitter it does not make somebody elite. A motivated article which does a disservice both to author and reader.
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                                        Sudhir Narasimhan
                                        Jul 6, 2015 at 10:24 am
                                        The writer says that most insutions have been undermined without mentioning which ones. During emergency an article like the one she just wrote would have got her into trouble with the government. This government hasn't stopped leftist writers from abusing the government in the media. Nor has it restricted social media. Where are the grounds for comparing these times to the emergency?
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