Emergency in India

Some Questions and answers

Paulos Mar Gregorios

Question: Why did Mrs. Gandhi have to take this drastic action-- proclamation of Emergency?

Answer: (a) The opposition openly incited the armed forces, the police and the Administration not to obey orders, wanted students to stay away from educational institutions, workers to disrupt communications and citizens not to pay taxes. This would have created a chaotic situation which no elected Government can permit. The opposition which was jubilant about a lower court decision (which is under appeal in the Supreme Court and has been stayed) tried to undermine public confidence in the highest judicial process by casting aspersions on the impartiality of the Chief Justice.

(b) If the Government had not dealt firmly with the situation there would have been long-term consequences to normal life in the country and to the economy. The Government would thus have failed in its duty to protect the vast majority by whom it had been elected, and surrendered to a vociferous and militant minority.

(c) The Constitution provides for such action under Article 352, which was included by our founding fathers in the constituent Assembly to meet such situations. 

Question: Why the suspension of fundamental rights?

Answer: Not all fundamental rights have been suspended. Suspension of some fundamental rights has been resorted to whenever an Emergency has been declared under the Constitution. These fundamental rights affect mainly recourse to a court by a person detained by the Government. However, actions that Government (may take in this respect are also limited by law and are subject to review. 

Question: How long will the Emergency last?

Answer: The Prime Minister has already reaffirmed that the Emergency is a temporary measure and will be withdrawn as soon as the situation improves. The President's order (declaring an Emergency) was approved by Parliament within two months as required by the Constitution. 

Question: Has Mrs. Gandhi replaced democracy by dictatorship?

Answer: Ms. Gandhi is the prime minister of India by virtue of having been elected as the leader by the Congress Parliamentary Party and as much enjoys the confidence of the elected Indian Parliament in which the Congress Party holds more than 2/3rds of the seats, who have unanimously reaffirmed their faith in her leadership. The action taken by the Prime Minister is strictly democratic and is provided for under the Constitution for precisely such an Emergency situation. The action also protects the democratic rights of the vast majority of the Indian people against violations by a small minority. It upholds the basic principle of rule by elected legislatures. In Tamil Nadu (Madras) and Gujarat for instance, non-Congress parties returned by the people at the polls hold power. 

Question: How do you argue that there is democracy when you are restricting the freedom of speech and imposing censorship on the press?

Answer: In a situation of this kind it becomes necessary to prevent militant minorities or demagogues from bringing the entire process of Government to a standstill through illegal and unconstitutional methods in order to protect the larger interests of the nation and the vast majority of its law-abiding citizens. 

It has also been found necessary during such situations to ensure that only correct and objective reporting is done by the press as large numbers of rumors are often generated by interested persons to create situations leading to increased public disorder. Press censorship remains distasteful to us and we have no intention of maintaining it for one day longer than is necessary. 

Question: If the Government has majority support, why is it afraid of minority?

Answer: It is not a question of fear. In a democracy we recognise that all points of view should be adequately advocated and ventilated. However, the final verdict must be given by the people in elections. There has been an increased tendency for opposition parties which have been frustrated at the polls to take to the streets and nullify its very process. For example, violence has been used earlier in Bihar and in Gujarat in attempts to force elected members of the legislature to resign. Not content with creating situations of that kind in the states, this minority now appealed to the armed forces and the police to disobey orders thus trying to paralyse the Central government and undermine the security of India. If it had not adopted such illegal and unconstitutional methods there would have been no need for such drastic measures by the Government. 

Question: Why such large-scale arrests?

Answer: There have been several Emergencies in India in the past since independence and even larger numbers have had to be detained for temporary periods. In the current steps taken by the government, more than 85% of the people detained are not politicians or political leaders but anti-social elements which take advantage of a political crisis to commit ordinary crimes like arson and looting, smuggling and black-marketing. 

Question: Why can they not be prosecuted under the regular laws?

Answer: In normal times this is precisely what is done in spite of the fact that delays and procedures in courts have often frustrated the ends of justice. But it may be recalled that many of the people who had been earlier arrested under the Maintenance of internal security Act had to be released on purely technical grounds and the Government could not proceed vigorously against an economic evil which saps the strength of the country. All the present procedures can only be implemented with the consent of Parliament and thus represent an evolution of the legal process as required by changed circumstances. Nevertheless, our respect for the rights of the individual as enshrined in the Constitution will remain to basic policy. 

Question: Can Mrs. Gandhi expect to have the same popular following as she did in 1971? Why was she unable to fulfill the many promises she made then?

Answer: The promises made in 1971 have been partially fulfilled, but could not be completely fulfilled for various reasons, such as the difficult economic situation, floods, droughts, inflation, shortage of resources etc. One of the main reasons, however, was the attitude the opposition adapted in Parliament of dilatory and obstructive tactics even in such matters which affected the whole nation, eg. the railway strike, movement of badly needed food-grains to deficit areas etc. However, Mrs. Gandhi's government deserves credit for having successfully fought inflation. By July 1975, on the basis of point-to-point comparison, the wholesale price index was 2.1% lower than a year ago. India can thus claim the distinction of having achieved a negative rate of inflation. The emergency has already been used to take effective measures for improving the public distribution system of essential commodities, such as sugar, food-grains, oil, cloth, etc., and already the prices have started falling. The emergency powers will also be used for such measures as effective implementation of land reforms, dealing firmly with corruption, black-marketing, holding the line on inflation and increasing production. Already the measures announced by the Government have been welcomed by industrialists and business organizations all over the country.

Question: Is the loss of the Congress Party in Gujarat a pointer to future elections?

Answer: We do not speculate on the results of future elections. Even in Gujarat it should be remembered that the Congress Party got 41% of the votes as against 39% of the votes by the United Front which has now formed a Government. We have had sufficient experience of Government by opposition parties in the states. If they get a mandate they do form Governments. However, it should be remembered that very often the opposition parties unite purely on a negative platform of defeating the Congress Party. Although they win an election they often fail to hold together thereafter. 

Question: But morally don't you think Mrs. Gandhi should have resigned after the High Court found her guilty of corrupt practices?

Answer: Under our laws, it is not right to comment on any matter which is pending in Court, but information which appeared in the press can be given. The Allahabad Judge held Mrs. Gandhi guilty on two violations which commentators in India and abroad have described as technical and trifling. These were: first, that the police helped in the supervision of construction of rostrums and, secondly, that a junior aide, who was a temporary Government employee, had not resigned on the date claimed. The fact is that the procedure for the construction of rostrums and barricading at meetings of Prime Ministers was decided upon, keeping in view the needs of the security of the Prime Minister. Even though the Prime Minister is the head of Government, questions regarding security are decided by the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The aide submitted his resignation on the 13th January, 1971. He ceased to come to office and to receive any pay from the 14th. This information was published in the Government Gazette before Mrs. Gandhi's nomination as a candidate from Rae Bareli. 

Our laws have used the word "corrupt practice" for any infringement of electoral rules and this word has been played up by the Opposition to its emotive sense. Mrs. Gandhi was not held guilty of any misuse of money or position. It is also relevant to know that the Government of that particular State (Uttar Pradesh) at the time of the 1971 election was an Opposition one and the Home Minister in charge of Police was the member of the Legislative Assembly from Mrs. Gandhi's constituency Rae Bareli. This person became the election agent for her opponent, Mr. Raj Narain. In addition, the High Court itself granted a stay of its own order and the Supreme Court vacation Judge has upheld Mrs. Gandhi's right to continue as Prime minister. 

If any moral considerations are involved, it should be remembered that the ugliest morality in a democracy is the mandate given by the people to their elected representatives. The opposition was behaving in a most irresponsible manner in seeking to oust the Prime Minister through unconstitutional and extra-parliamentary means. 

Question: Why should Mrs. Gandhi's leadership be indispensable in the largest democracy of the world?

Answer: No one's leadership is Indispensable. But events in the party and in the country had projected Mrs. Gandhi almost as the symbol of certain policies, domestic and foreign. It is important to understand that the attack on Mrs. Gandhi was motivated because of her determination to implement these policies, which had been decided upon by the party and reaffirmed by Parliament and legislatures. It was the continuation of a process begun against her father Jawharlal Nehru. It is for this reason that the Congress Party, which has a two-thirds majority in Parliament, unanimously resolved that she should continue to lead them. 

Question: Would it be true to say that India is moving towards Communism?

Answer: We thought that this bogey of International communism and dividing the whole world to communist and anti-communist had disappeared with the coming in of detente etc. India is neither communist nor capitalist. India is adopting a practical policy in accordance with her own genius, tradition and history, and imbibing what is good from other countries. We believe in friendship with all countries and in peaceful and cooperative coexistence between different social, political, and economic systems. To the extent that a country is friendly to us, we will be friendly to them, and to the extent that a country is hostile to us, we will still try to blunt its hostility.