Saturday, September 01, 2012

Indira Gandhi's emergency

Lot of good people supported Indira Gandhi's emergency rule. P.N.Dhar was one of them. I was curious about his role since he was the husband of Sheila Dhar who wrote an excellent and irreverent book about Indian music. It turned out that P.N. Dhar wrote a book about the emergency and there is a readable review by Paul R.Brass. Excerpts from the review:
"With regard to the declaration of the Emergency regime, Dhar artfully displaces blame for it away from Mrs. Gandhi’s own willfulness to the opposition and the people of India as a whole. The “cause” of the Emergency, in his account, was not the Allahabad High Court judgment invalidating Mrs.Gandhi’s election and her determination to avoid its inevitable consequences of loss of power by establishing an authoritarian regime and changing the relevant laws and whole sections of the Constitution of India as well. The cause, rather, “was a systemic failure”: the “democratic system” had been breaking down for years. The most blatant manifestations of its breakdown, Dhar argues, occurred in the immediately preceding years in the mass movements launched by Jayaprakash Narain (JP) and other opposition leaders against the Congress and Mrs. Gandhi’s leadership. Dhar glides from his general “causal analysis” to a complete reversion of blame for the establishment of the Emergency regime from Mrs. Gandhi’s speciļ¬c and well-known decisions to JP’s leadership, which led the opposition parties “to convert JP’s call into a confrontationist movement which eventually ended in the Emergency” (p. 248). He ignores completely the fact that the mass movements led by JP had petered out many months before the decision of the Allahabad High Court, though that decision raised the hopes of its leaders and the fears of Mrs. Gandhi that it could once again be revived during her moment of truth."
Brass goes on to analyze the ruling classes in India. Interestingly many of the bureaucrats of that time went on to win Padma Vibhshan and such awards.The emergency was lifted in 1977, apparently without consulting Sanjay Gandhi. Guha says in the above mentioned article of 2000 "The Emergency lasted for 20 months. In January 1977, to everyone's surprise, Mrs. Gandhi called elections. There are competing explanations as Jo why she did this. Back then, it was widely believed that Mrs. Gandhi's own trusted advisors in the Research and Analysis Wing had predicted a hands-down victory for her. In his book, P. N. Dhar speculates that Mrs. Gandhi wanted once more to hear the accolade of the people, to seek through the campaign trail the admiration and reverence that had so readily come her way in 1971. A third possibility is that Mrs. Gandhi was shamed by the example of Pakistan, then enjoying one of its all-too-rare periods of democratic rule." 
There is longer and more nuanced account in Guha's 2007 book "India after Gandhi" (Here Gandhi is Mahatma Gandhi). It may be a combination of the above reasons together with Indira Gandhi's sensitivity to opinions of India's friends in UK and USA  and with some of whom Indira was in correspondence much of the time.

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