By Heena Khan
“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.”
These words of Nehru almost three decades old now, continue to mirror our times as India prepares for yet another independence, this time from the clutches of Nehru’s daughter. India has voted! And the result has delighted many, angered some and surprised all. This rise of Janata Dal is being hailed across the world by media, both national and international, as the second birth of world’s largest democracy. In the words of Horace Alexander the poll verdict is a “triumph of common man of India. Let no one ever say that democratic liberty is a bourgeois conception which is only meaningful to a small number of left wing intellectuals.”
At this juncture it is meaningful to draw essential differences between Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi and how they part ways in term of principles or the lack of it. Nehru’s efforts at building a strong democratic foundation has been unscrupulously undone by his daughter. His efforts at building strong opposition has been ruthlessly quashed by his daughter. Unlike his daughter he respected press and its freedom and unlike his daughter, he upheld judiciary and its roles. As John Grigg rightly notes during the emergency –“Nehru’s tryst with destiny seems to have been turned into a tryst with despotism- and by his own daughter.”
In these thirty years of independence from British Raj Congress has willfully stripped itself of everything it stood for during the freedom struggle. ‘Creeping nepotism’ ‘galloping corruption’, ‘undermining constitution’, ‘subversion of democracy’ – are few in the list of the crimes it is guilty of. It is not surprising then that India witnessed the Jayprakash movement opposing everything that Indira Gandhi stood for. Hailed as the second freedom struggle, it aimed to complete the business left unfinished by the first. Congress’s loss in the state of Gujrat was the first signal to the end of Indira wave. Insensitive to criticism and unyielding to popular demand to resign, Indira Gandhi imposed state of internal emergency taking final step towards ultimate blow to the Indira wave which had swept the country in not so distant past.
Across India people were picked and put into the jails .These included leaders and legislators of the parties other than Congress, student activist , trade unionist ,indeed anyone with the slightest connection to the Jana Sangh, the Congress (O), the Socialist and other groups opposed to the ruling party. Thousand were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, popularly known as Maintenance of Indira and Sanjay Act. Government copywriters claimed that Indira Gandhi had to choose between order and chaos but the fact remains emergency was synonymous with subversion of judiciary at the hand of the absolutist government, quashing of freedom of press, rampant transfer of officials, and unprecedented power to the parliament. Not to forget Sanjay Gandhi’s infamous drive towards forced vasectomy and slum clearance.
Not surprisingly Congress’s defeat in the current election has been met by people in high spirits, thronging the streets, shouting slogans and bursting crackers. Indeed Indira wave has been replaced by the Janata wave, hailed by many as a revolution in making.
However emergency had its share of supporters like JRD Tata (much owing to government’s pro -business attitude) and Khushwant Singh. Within a week of emergency Indira Gandhi offered a 20 point programme of economic development, bringing down prices of essential commodities, speedy implementation of land reforms, abolition of bonded labour, higher wages for workers and lower taxes for middle class. In fact emergency was readily favoured by middle class as trains ran on time, crime rates came down, good monsoons meant falling commodity prices and no labour issues. Nevertheless this 21 month period will forever be written in black ink.
But is this verdict, truly a second freedom from authoritarian rule and a resounding restoration of democracy? I hold my reservations.
The first hurdle which this Coalition has to overcome is the internal rivalries of competing candidates for the post of the Prime Minister. Morarji Desai might have been sworn in as the PM but Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram are unlikely to be satisfied with their respective portfolios. The second danger to the Janata Dal lies in the fact that it is not a simple coalition of parties but a complex hotchpotch of ideologies. As a commentator rightly notes that in this coalition-“some are baiting Nehru ,others prasing him, some talking about the commanding heights of the public sector and others brashly championing the Japanese and American model, some asserting the need for heavy industries , others clamouring to the return to the villages.”
Coalition politics is here to stay but will Janata Party be able to hold the government together, an art epitomized by their nemesis Indira Gandhi. Add to the list – the problem of caste conflict, increasing crime rate, double digit inflation , profiteering by hoarders and black marketers, wage demands and labour strikes. And more importantly we need to assess if RSS and CPM are indeed more acceptable than Congress.
On the bright side, the poll result means a resurgence of journalism and death of censorship. There is bound to be revival of various civil rights movement, feminist movements and environmental movements obstructed by the emergency.
Nehru was so true when he said that this is history, which we will live and others will write about. Three years down the line there are two diametrically opposite view which the political commentators of the day could take: -
1. This poll result could be either viewed as ‘a chronicle of confused and complex party squabbles, intra party rivalries, shifting alliance, defection charges and counter charges of incompetence’. [Ram Chandra Guha,2008]
2. Or it may also be remembered as ‘a repair of constitution from emergency depredations, revival of open parliamentary practice and restoration of judiciary.’[Ram Chandra Guha,2008]
Whatever be said, the fact remains that 1977 will always be a watershed year in Indian politics. For the first time in since independence a party other than Congress has come to govern the centre. This year also marks the beginning of coalition politics and growth of regional parties like CPM and AIDMK.
India now embarks on a life without Congress. Can such a life be truly visualized? Only time will tell but India’s teeming millions have given their verdict. This though doesn’t signals the end of Indira era. She will be back for her yet another tryst with destiny. Such is democracy.
The author in her own words:
As an aspiring journalist and a reluctant economist of no consequence, I am here to randomly observe life as I trot its learning curve with mixed fascination and recklessness’.