NEW DELHI — The 21-month period between 1975 and 1977 will be etched deeply in the mind of any Indian who witnessed the darkest period in the Indian democracy. The national press was censored, civil liberties curbed, political opponents rounded up and imprisoned and elections suspended by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who imposed a period of Emergency fearing "internal disturbances".
On Thursday, Bharatiya Janata Party patriarch LK Advani, 87, said in a telling interview that he did not have the confidence that Emergency cannot happen again because the "forces that can crush democracy are stronger".
Advani is a founder of the BJP and was seen as opposed to the party's decision to make Narendra Modi its prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2014 general elections. He is known for his rath yatras and the controversial Ram Temple movement, which led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, triggering nationwide Hindu-Muslim riots.
In an interview to The Indian Express ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Emergency, Advani said commitment to democracy and to all other aspects related to democracy was lacking in the present day.
In what is being seen as a barb against the rulers at the Centre, the interview highlighted his fears as the Narendra Modi-led government completed a year in office. Advani was the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate in 2009 and considered the main stumbling block to the rise of the charismatic Modi. He was shunted from the active leadership of the party after BJP won a landslide general election and relegated to the post of 'margdarshak' or spiritual guide for the party members.
Here are 5 takeaways from his interview:
1. Emergency Can Happen Again
"Today, I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. But kamiyon ke karan, vishwas nahin hota (I don’t have faith because of its weaknesses). I don’t have the confidence that it (Emergency) cannot happen again.” Advani said the forces that can crush democracy, despite "constitutional and legal safeguards" are stronger. His remark is certain to leave his party and its leadership flummoxed.
2. India Unprepared
"I don’t think anything has been done that gives me the assurance that civil liberties will not be suspended or destroyed again. Not at all. Of course, no one can do it easily… But that it cannot happen again — I will not say that. It could be that fundamental liberties are curtailed again." Advani said there aren't enough safeguards in India in 2015 to prevent another Emergency.
3. An Emergency To Counter Another Emergency
Advani referred to the rule of Adolf Hitler in Germany and said it strengthened the country's democracy and inoculated it against dictatorial tendencies after the fall of the Great Dictator. "The aftermath of the Emergency having been an election in which the party that imposed the Emergency lost very badly, would always be a deterrent for future rulers who think of repeating what was done in the 1970s,” he said.
4. Political Leadership
Asked what would make India vulnerable to another period of suspended civil liberties, Advani said he saw no sign "in our polity that assures me, any outstanding aspect of leadership. A commitment to democracy and to all other aspects related to democracy is lacking.”
5. Role Of Media
The Indian media is more independent today than ever, Advani said but whether it has "a real commitment to democracy and civil liberties" need to be put to test.