Ironically, it was the members of the BJP (which the Indian press loves to dub as fascist) who resisted the assault on democracy and were jailed for 18 months. The RSS too played a stellar role in the resistance movement during the Emergency. Yet by some strange warped logic, the Indian media deems the Congress party with an established record of authoritarianism as a standard-bearer of democracy while damning a true champion -- the BJP, says Vivek Gumaste.
It was an act of unsurpassed moral depravity; a diabolical plot to crush the soul of a vibrant nation, suffocate the voice of a people and establish the dominance of a single individual. June 26, 1975 stands out decidedly as our darkest hour post- Independence: a moment of ignominy and an indelible ugly stain on an otherwise pristine tunic.
On that day the democracy that we treasured was struck down with one vicious blow of an authoritarian scimitar -- the brutal imposition of an internal Emergency that abrogated fundamental rights. Overnight, our shining city on the hill became a banana republic that answered to the fiat of a megalomaniac dictator and her ruthless coterie of sycophants. The culprits: Indira Gandhi and the Congress party.
That we rallied against this colossal atrocity, prevailed and set right the aberration is a different story. Forty years later, a new generation of Indians has come into being -- a generation that is probably oblivious of the ramifications of that occurrence. Therefore, it is vital that we recapitulate honestly the story of democracy in India: its triumphs and tribulations; its villains and heroes to get an authentic analytical perspective that identifies the true champions of our democracy.
The story of modern India’s democracy must perforce begin with its independence from the British. At the helm of the new nation was the charismatic Jawaharlal Nehru -- a statesman, leader and intellectual -- all rolled into one whose commitment to the ideals of democracy was unquestionable and whose efforts to ensure its success unstinted.
But there was a fundamental flaw in his perception of the threat to India’s democracy; a gargantuan fallacy that persists to this day despite evidence to the contrary. He postulated that the Hindu right represented by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Jan Sangh posed the greatest danger.
So much so that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination was exploited to implicate and ban the RSS. In a letter to the chief ministers he wrote: 'It would appear that a deliberate coup d’etat was planned involving the killing of several persons and the promotion of general disorder to enable the particular group concerned (RSS) to seize power.' (Jawaharlal Nehru: Letters to Chief Ministers, February 5, 1948)
But the trumped up charges failed to stick and the ban on the RSS was lifted on July 12, 1949. Nevertheless, Nehru continued to target the RSS and the Jan Sangh for their supposedly fascist nature, spawning in the process a vitriolic skewed ideology based on a dubious premise; an ideology that would fester long after his death perpetuated willfully and deviously by a certain section of India’s intelligentsia.
As recently as last year, historian Ramachandra Guha averred: 'Writers and activists I know -- and sometimes admire -- were nervous that the victory of a Narendra Modi-led coalition would lead to a period of authoritarian and even fascist rule in the country… These fears are not entirely invalid.' (The Telegraph. March 22)
But are these fears justified? Is this a concern based on ground reality? Or is this a crafty Machiavellian ploy; an alarmist hue and cry intended to neutralise an ideological counter-point that seems to be winning its way?
Qualms about Narendra Modi’s autocratic demeanour are more fiction than fact. In 2002, when he was subject to overwhelming criticism for his handling of the Gujarat riots, he resigned prematurely, recommended dissolution of the assembly and sought a vote of trust from the public -- a democratic gesture par excellence. Not one of his actions so far can be dubbed as totalitarian.
Similarly, an objective scrutiny of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political history from its inception to the present reveals an unwavering commitment to democratic principles. In fact, the Jan Sangh (the original avatar of the BJP) was conceptualised by the RSS for the express purpose of espousing its ideology through the electoral process as opposed to violent coercion.
And the RSS and the BJP have remained true to these tenets even through trying times of stark victimisation and corrupt political manipulations aimed at unjustly depriving the BJP of its rightful claim to govern. There is not a shred of evidence to prove that the RSS has ever indulged in overt violence to popularise its sentiments.
Compare this to the modus operandii of the Communist movement whose offshoot, the Maoist-Naxalite movement, abandoned the ballot box in favor of brutal violence and celebrates rampant bloodshed as a justifiable means and is the biggest bane of Indian democracy today.
The BJP has assumed and relinquished constitutional authority manifold times, with each tenure being a text book exposition of democratic norms and principles.
Especially impressive is the dignified manner of its exit during its second stint in power: a classic example of parliamentary savoir-faire that other Indian political parties must emulate. In late 1999, after a successful tenure of 13 months, the BJP was forced to seek a vote of confidence as a result a realignment of political parties. It was a test that the BJP lost by a single vote in a house of 540; a vote whose legitimacy was questionable being cast by a Congress member (Giridhar Gamang) who had ceased for all intents and purposes to be a member of the august body after being elected to a state legislature.
Yet, without a murmur of protest, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (the BJP prime minister) bowed down before the diktat of the Lok Sabha and put in his papers, in the larger interest of democracy. The Kargil war, the rise of terrorism were ample excuses for a supposed ‘fascist movement’ to impose authoritarian rule just as Hitler exploited Germany’s defeat of World war I and Indira Gandhi did with internal unrest. But that did not happen, testifying to the democratic DNA of the BJP
Contrast this with the scant regard for constitutional regulations exhibited by the late Indira Gandhi and the Congress party. In 1975, when the Allahabad high court invalidated her election, she chose to suspend the Constitution and imposed a state of Emergency to retain power. Ironically, it was the members of the BJP (which the Indian press loves to dub as fascist) who resisted this assault on democracy and were jailed for 18 months.
The RSS too played a stellar role in the resistance movement during the Emergency. Yet, by some strange warped logic, the Indian media deems the Congress party with an established record of authoritarianism as a standard-bearer of democracy while damning a true champion -- the BJP.
In summary, the BJP and the RSS are the real champions of our democracy. The Congress party by reason of the Emergency merits a categorical ‘F” grade and the Communist parties defy gradation due to their intrinsically undemocratic disposition.