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23 June, 2015

Forebodings of an emergency

BRP Bhaskar

Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani created a minor sensation last week by hinting at the possibility of another spell of Emergency in India. Forces wanting to crush democracy are strong and there aren’t enough safeguards to prevent an Emergency-like situation, he said.

Advani, who was Deputy Prime Minister in the first BJP-led government, is the seniormost among the old guard whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sidelined. His veiled warning came just days ahead of the 40th anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, when the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution remained suspended.

As it happened, as Advani spoke Modi was coping with the worst crisis since he took office in May last year with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia facing allegations of helping controversial cricket entrepreneur Lalit Modi (no kin of the Prime Minister) who is abroad and evading prosecution on money laundering charges.

Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is involved in a running battle with the Modi government, endorsed Advani’s assessment, and sought to portray himself as an early victim of the coming Emergency. Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad said there was already an undeclared Emergency, with “authoritarian and Hitlerian tendencies prevailing in the country”.

The Congress did not comment on Advani’s reference to the Emergency but demanded the resignation of Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

Advani quickly toned down his remarks to spare the party embarrassment. He claimed the reference was to the Congress government’s Emergency rule of 1975-77.

When a reporter suggested that it might be taken as a message to Modi, Sonia Gandhi or Kejriwal, Advani said that would be a wrong interpretation. “I am not referring to any individual but to a fact that the fear of losing power can breed authoritarian tendencies.”

His explanation did not remove the suspicion that Narendra Modi was very much on his mind. “When you enter politics you get enormous authority and power. But my generation of politicians believed in humility, the kind of humility that (first BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee practised,” he said. “Those who can’t be humble can’t serve the country.”

Sushma Swaraj is the only Advani protégé to get a respectable place in the Modi government. When media reports that she had helped Lalit Modi, who was in England, to travel to Portugal where his wife was undergoing treatment surfaced, she said she had acted on humanitarian considerations. Two facts cast doubts on that explanation. One is that her daughter was Lalit Modi’s counsel. The other is that she kept the Foreign Secretary in the dark about her intervention.

The Prime Minister and the other senior ministers initially remained silent. Then it came to light that Vasundhara Raje Scindia had earlier helped Lalit Modi on condition that her role will not be made public. Thereafter the party closed ranks behind Swaraj and Scindia.

While the damage has been contained the claim that the Modi establishment is scam-free has been breached. The issue may come back to haunt the government when Parliament reassembles.

There have been other developments which are forebodings of an Emergency. Attempts are on to strangle non-government organisations which are exposing human rights violations by starving them of funds.

Among the NGOs targeted by the government are two groups led by Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand whose dedicated efforts led to prosecutions in connection with some of the killings which took place in Gujarat when Modi was the Chief Minister and the India chapter of Greenpeace which has been spearheading campaigns against some mega projects which threaten the livelihood of thousands of poor villagers.

New rules framed by the government require NGOs who receive funds from abroad to undertake not to use the money for activities that are against “national public, security, strategic, scientific or economic interest” – terms broad enough to cover every human rights activity. They also enjoin upon banks to inform the government within 48 hours of every transaction made by the NGOs.

The regulations will cripple about 30,000 groups which are trying to protect the environment and defend human rights. Already the government has cancelled the licences of 13,345 NGOs.

The government has refused the Central Bureau of Investigation permission to prosecute Central and Gujarat state police officials involved in fake encounter killings.
There is a critical difference between Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and Modi’s undeclared one. The former was directed against the political opposition. The latter is targeted against civil society. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 23, 2015.

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