ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Is Another Emergency Likely?

Through a discussion of the build-up to the 1975 Emergency, what happened then and thereafter, and of the run-up to the 2014 elections and the first year of the Narendra Modi government, it is argued that in spite of all its deficiencies, India's democracy remains vibrant and will fight another attempt at authoritarian rule. But if government policies favour the rich and systematically undermine the interests of the common people and their democratic rights, one cannot rule out institutions of the state--the bureaucracy with some help from the judiciary--administering another Emergency in one form or another.

Was the personality of Indira Gandhi and the personality cult around her the sole or even the prime cause of the Emergency? And is the personality of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the personality cult around him likely to result in the imposition of another Emergency? In this article I propose to discuss these questions which were triggered by the debate following veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani’s comments on the 40th anniversary of the Emergency. Most commentators, even while pointing to some anti-democratic trends, rejected his contention that a second Emergency was a possibility. However, noted commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta has warned that “we now have a crackdown we don’t see… Paradoxically, unless there is a catastrophic crisis, we may not see an Emergency, because we have devolved it into lots of little Emergencies: less ominous, but equally insidious. But also harder to combat” (“Many Little Emergencies”, Indian Express, 20 July 2015). The Communist Party of India (Marxist)—CPI(M)—leader Prakash Karat has warned of “creeping authoritarianism.”

In this essay I wish to argue that to see the imposition of an Emergency or any kind of civilian, military or party dictatorship as a result of the proclivities of the chief political leader of the day and the personality cult around that leader is extremely inadequate. It does not take into account the social forces, the social, economic and political conditions and the diverse factors operating at a specific historical conjuncture that lead to the suspension or overthrow of a democratic political order and the imposition of a dictatorship. Or what may come in the way of such an attempt. I will first analyse the factors which led to the imposition of Emergency in 1975 and then examine to what extent that analysis can help us answer the question of whether another Emergency is likely today.

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