The Maharashtra government is planning to grant “freedom fighter” status to those who served time in jail during the Emergency imposed in 1975. The proposal will be discussed in the first cabinet meeting in January 2018 and has the unanimous support of the BJP and Shiv Sena. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “The government is positively considering according freedom fighter status to all those who served imprisonment during Emergency.”
The state government has been under pressure from various quarters to enforce the decision at the earliest in the wake of a similar decision being considered by other states such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. “Almost all 19 BJP-ruled states are planning to give freedom fighter status to individuals who fought against Emergency and served a sentence in jail,” said a BJP leader.
Party insiders said the aim was to “to convey a strong message and uphold the importance of democracy”.
As per the decision, individuals would be identified across the 355 talukas spread over 36 districts and their credentials ascertained, after which a list would be compiled, followed by a public acknowledgement of their contribution for the grant of the status of a freedom fighter.
Fadnavis said, “The process to compile the list of individuals who served imprisonment during Emergency will be done across Maharashtra. They would be accorded honour and dignity as freedom fighter.”
While BJP leaders claimed the decision had nothing to do with electoral politics, the Congress has staunchly opposed the decision. Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said, “Such a decision shows the BJP’s mindset of undermining the freedom movement where thousands sacrificed their lives fighting against the British rule. How can they compare the Independence movement with any agitation that was internal?”
Several Congress leaders said the decision smacked of a political motive to undermine the Congress leadership under newly appointed president Rahul Gandhi.
Party spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “Now, we wonder if the BJP would set aside a special status for RSS leaders who sought apology during Emergency to skip the imprisonment, including Balasaheb Deoras.”
A section within the Congress also suspects the BJP’s decision would help keep the Emergency issue alive to show the “dictatorial regime of the then Prime Minister the late Indira Gandhi”.
A senior Congress functionary said, “Emergency is one blot, which nobody can justify within the Congress or any other party. This is the only issue on which the Congress has to repeatedly go on the backfoot. And every time we highlight the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP rakes up the Emergency.”
Congress leaders admit they will face a dilemma as any attempt to undermine or support Emergency would boomerang. At the same time, they cannot undermine their own leader Indira Gandhi. Moreover, NCP and Left parties will also have to distance themselves from the Congress on Emergency.
Shiv Sena has decided not to support the Congress on the issue. A senior Sena minister said, “When the proposal comes for discussion in the cabinet, we will support it. After all, nobody can support Emergency. At the same time, we cannot undermine the role of all those who fought against Emergency. If our government honours them with a freedom fighter tag, there is no reason not to support.”