Sunday, December 26, 2010

Emergency - History will haunt




Reminder from the Emergency

The New Indian Express

First Published : 23 Dec 2010 12:06:00 AM IST

Last Updated : 24 Dec 2010 12:25:16 AM IST


M G Devasahayam, a former civil servant who has occasionally written for this newspaper, has unearthed something worth noting. He filed, and then pursued in the face of denials, the official documents on the infamous proclamation of Emergency rule in India in June 1975, our sole experience so far with the suspension of democracy. A twist of history ensured it didn’t become permanent after 21 months, but it was a near thing. Devasahayam used the national Right to Information Act to demand to see the documents. He was shunted from Prime Minister’s Office to home ministry to National Archives and wouldn’t take No for an answer. He finally got to see what the Archives had and confirmed some interesting details. One was already known: that the declaration was illegal, having been done on the Prime Minister’s secret demand by the then President, without the Cabinet having been aware, let alone having approved. All the arrests and censorship was illegal.


So much so, Devasahayam found, that the original letter with Indira Gandhi’s signature isn’t there, having been replaced in the ‘top secret’ file with a typed copy. It appears the home ministry at some point got the file back and took out the original; it is presumed these are, if still existing, part of Indira’s personal papers, now in control of her family. Thoroughly illegal, known thanks to the RTI. Two, it exposes the lie she and her party members have spread since then, that there was an imminent danger to national security due to internal disturbances, calls to rebellion, etc. The letter and the file have not a mention, not one word, on any of this. The first such writing on any of this came a fortnight after the Emergency rule began. Since politicians, civil service and police just went along and the media was censored (for those who weren’t collaborating or too scared), there’s a huge lesson here for institutional checks on the power of governments, in all spheres. And, on unfetterd access to transparency laws. Not only expanded right to information laws but also matters like the freedom of radio and television channels and new media such as the Internet. Bear in mind that our laws allow the government the power to bar or shut any of these by executive order, on grounds as vague as what Indira used in getting her Emergency rule.



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