Is India heading towards an Emergency?

Popular agitations have started against the present regime. What will happen when they start posing a threat to our rulers and their rule?

 |  5-minute read |   12-09-2018
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The Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 was a dark period in the history of Independent India, with suppression of civil liberties, gagging of the press, and countless atrocities on the citizens.

Today, with growing unemployment, deep farmers distress, rising prices of petrol and diesel (which is bound to raise prices of all commodities including foodstuffs), etc popular agitations are increasing against the government, and will further increase. 

There were farmers agitations all over the country, including the recent rally in Delhi, over lack of remunerative prices and non-waiver of farmers loans (when several lakh crores borrowed by industrialists have been declared NPAs). On Monday Congress had called for a Bharat Bandh over rising in petrol prices, a call which had been supported by many Opposition parties like the Left, RJD, NCP, DMK etc. 

bharat1-copy_091218104310.jpgCongress had called for a Bharat Bandh over rising in petrol prices, a call which had been supported by many Opposition parties. (Photo: PTI)

These agitations will grow as petrol prices and the rupee approach hitting a century. What then will our rulers do? History bears evidence to the fact that when popular agitations, demonstrations and unrest rise above a certain level and the rulers fear threatened, they clamp down and suppress all freedom of speech and press and civil liberties.

This happened in Italy and Germany where huge unemployment and inflation led to massive popular agitations, and this gave rise to the fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler in those countries, which suppressed all civil liberties. The same thing happened in India in 1975 when Indira Gandhi felt threatened by the popular agitations following the Allahabad High Court verdict holding her guilty of election malpractice, and imposed an Emergency.

The present national government came to power with high expectations under the slogan of vikas (development). In his election campaign Modi promised to create two crore jobs per year for the youth, remunerative minimum support prices of 50 per cent above cost of production to farmers, etc.

Since then over four years have passed but in fact unemployment, farmers distress etc have greatly increased, prices of petrol and diesel gone up the roof, and the rupee sunk to a new low. The loudly and widely touted and trumpeted "vikas" has proved to be a mirage, and the people left high and dry.

Consequently, popular agitations have started against the present regime, and they are likely to grow in magnitude and intensity in the days to come. What will happen when they cross the tolerable limits for our rulers and pose a threat to their rule?

An internal "Emergency" seems the most likely answer.

modi-it-copy_091218104749.jpgAn undeclared "Emergency" is easily possible for the government, as the recent raids and arrests of 5 activists in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident shows. (Photo: India Today)

But after the 44th Amendment to the Constitution, a formal declaration of Emergency is difficult.

By that Amendment, the earlier words "internal disturbance in Article 352" have been replaced by the words "armed rebellion". Also, Article 359 was amended by stating that even during Emergency Articles 20 (which states that a person can be convicted only for a declared offense, and not be subjected to double jeopardy) and 21 (which gives the right to life and liberty) cannot be suspended.

However, even if a formal declaration of Emergency and consequential suspension of fundamental rights is difficult, an undeclared "Emergency" is easily possible for the government, as the recent raids and arrests of 5 activists in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident shows.

The fundamental rights in our Constitution can be suspended in various ways without saying so. For example, it is easy for the police to manufacture fake evidence, as has been its wide practice, and declare a human rights activist, writer, academician, or even their lawyer, to be an "urban naxal" or connected with Naxalites, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideen or some other such group, and charge them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 or detain them under a preventive detention law.

It is easy for the government to pressurise the media in various ways. 

sc-supreme-court-cop_091218104352.jpgCan fundamental rights in our Constitution be suspended without saying so? (Photo: PTI)

Article 19 of our Constitution, which gives the citizens several rights such as freedom of speech (which has been held to include freedom of the press) has clauses (2) to (6) which say that these rights are subject to "reasonable restrictions". So what is given by the left hand has been taken away by the right. What is "reasonable" and what is not is not defined, and is for the Courts to declare.

But what will the Court do when the government produces "conclusive evidence" that the person detained is a Naxalite or member of some banned organization or closely connected to it? 

Lynching of Muslims by cow vigilantes has been sanctified by a Union Minister who garlanded convicted gau rakshaks. Fake encounters by the police are widely reported in UP, a practice reminiscent of Chile under General Pinochet and other Latin American, African and Asian countries.

The period of democratic freedoms is over, and fascism and an undeclared Emergency is coming into India – if it has not already come.

Also read: Is India on its way to becoming a censorship state?


Markandey Katju Markandey Katju @mkatju

Former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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