Testing Democracy

Questions with doubts have been raised regarding democracy in our country from time to time. Having experienced Emergency for twenty two months from June 1975 to March 1977 it is necessary to raise flag whenever necessary. In the backdrop of Emergency, the author attempts to dwell upon current scenario vis-a-vis some of the major systemic failing of that period.

Meek Submission

Approximately 140,000 persons were arrested without trial in that period. Among those arrested were the following five who went on to become Prime Minister of India-

1.      Morarji Desai
2.      Charan Singh
3.      Chandrashekhar
4.      Atal Bihari Vajpayee
5.      H D Deve Gowda

Besides above persons notable were several freedom fighters like  Jayaprakash Narayan and  J B Kripalani. Our present Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi went underground to evade arrest. Senior dissenting Congress leaders were also not spared.

Civil Servants were overenthusiastic in carrying out such arrests and drunk with absolute power often went overboard. The people so arrested didn’t know even the would be period of detention.

Today’s Civil Servants would do the same -examples abound every day in newspapers. Much has to be done to free the Civil Servant of this servile nature.

Role of Judiciary

During Emergency, Supreme Court Judges agreed that right to life stood abrogated during Emergency (1976 ADM Jabalpur vs Shivkant Shukla case,  known as the habeas corpus case). Government was looking forward to a “committed” judiciary and they had it.

In my opinion, recently Judges have differed from the government a number of times to the discomfort of executive. This should raise confidence in the judiciary.


This was widely prevalent with slogans such as “Indira is India and India is Indira” . Cabinet Ministers went head over heels to demonstrate personal loyalty with utter disregard for any norms.

Such sycophancy is still visible in political parties where family interests are deeply ingrained. One can say that sycophancy has increased. Lessons have not been learnt.

At present it appears that BJP is relatively free from sycophancy, but dangers of this scourge raising its head in future cannot be ruled out. Of late BJP has inducted politicians from other parties and this could dilute their own culture.

Extra Constitutional Authority

During Emergency Mr Sanjay Gandhi along with his friends and close associates went around giving orders, driving fear in the minds of people without any accountability.

During UPA Government headed by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the post of Chairperson of National Advisory Council held by Mrs Sonia Gandhi was notably a centre of power. National Advisory Council was formed and dissolved with the UPA government!

Constitutional Authorities are free to seek advice and guidance of individuals but to formally make a body to guide an elected Government appears to be undesirable. It gives rise to parallel governing agencies not envisaged in the Constitution. National security may also be compromised.

There is a need to have a system to prevent such formalized entities to come into play.

Lack of Credible Opposition

In the period preceding Emergency, opposition was fragmented with small political parties. This resulted in their being ineffective. There were several brilliant and patriotic individuals but their energies could not be channelized for a positive role.

Today we have several regional political parties. They are mostly family centric appealing to a selective vote bank. From time to time they make an attempt to unite but fail because of inner contradictions. Situation does not appear to be any better than in 1975.

Lack of Principles

Power at any cost was the underlying reason for proclamation of Emergency. Many stalwarts had been deserting Congress party as they found their paths blocked. Ambition for the Prime Ministerial post was thought of as a threat. People switched political parties, formed individual centric parties. Horse trading became a recognised skill.

Situation is not any better today. At election times we find leaders switching sides and even going back after the results!

Election commission needs to look into these undesirable practices. A citizen chooses to vote for an individual looking into the background of individual and his political affiliation. It should not be so easy for these elected people to switch sides.

Defectors should be simply suspended from the elected house, deprived of pension and made to defray cost of election. Taxpayer’s money should not be wasted.

Serious thought need to be given. Guardrails failed in the U.S.A on 6th January 2021 when at the behest of sitting President Mr Donald Trump, protesters stormed their Parliament. Lives of elected representatives, including the Vice President Mr Mike Pence was put to risk. Some people including police officers lost their life.

Democracy will be tested from time to time. Reasons may be umpteen- over ambitious individual, a foreign country, war or even natural calamity like the Covid-19 pandemic being witnessed now.

Emergency was not imposed suddenly. Mr Siddharth Shankar Ray , the then Chief Minister of West Bengal had been suggesting this to Mrs Indira Gandhi since January 1975. Mr Ray  drafted the letter to the President of India and guided Mrs Gandhi. Events subsequent to Allahabad High Court judgement unseating her from Parliament led her to take this decision.

Awareness of what all happened during the Emergency needs to be increased among the youth. Post independence history taught in schools should dwell upon this dark chapter of our nation. Mere public statements on 25th June every year will not suffice.

We need to put the guardrails firmly for our cherished freedom.

The reader may refer to my earlier blog on Emergency in India 

More By  :  Navin Chandra Mishra

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Vinayji,
For the benefit of readers I give below seven incidents- four famous incidents which can be looked upon in the internet and three personal incidents.
1.Turkman Gate Incident- demolition of houses and police brutality (killing of protesters).
2.Press Censorship- Indian Express on 28th June 1975 kept their editorial blank as a protest.
3.Sycophancy-Mr Dev Kant Borooah, Congress President proclaimed Indira is India and India is Indira !
4. Mr Vidya Charan Shukla (I&B Minister) banned songs of Kishore Kumar on All India Radio as he refused to endorse Emergency.
Three personal incidents in Varanasi.
One- while having dinner in Sindhi Restaurant near Bhelupura, the owner came and told us (then students) not to discuss politics citing fear that police in plainclothes would hear and arrest us.He also feared that his restaurant may be sealed.
Second- the police visited our Broacha Hostel in BHU accompanied by members of a particular political party. They mercilessly beat up targeted individuals of rival political party.
Third- out of curiosity, I (then a teenager) asked a policeman the bore of the gun he was carrying. He threatened to shoot me dead for daring to ask that question! Such were the times.

28-Jun-2021 00:37 AM

Comment Extremely well written and well worded. While I totally agree with the views expressed here and whole heartedly echo the same, I have a humble suggestion. : The writer could have included a few real examples( and they were readily available as I myself was reminded of quite a few) to support and underline his assertions, all of which are absolutely true.

As regards post independence history, it is tragic that 1857 is still referred to by some as the year of the Sepoy Mutiny....

Vinay Pandey
27-Jun-2021 05:44 AM

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