Christopher Jaffrelot is a political scientist- i.e. a cretin. He has a new book out about the Emergency. Scroll has interviewed him-
What drove you to look back at the Emergency right now? Is it a sense that the popular understanding of the Emergency is quite different from what it was actually like?
This is one of the reasons, but frankly speaking there is no real “popular understanding of the Emergency”. It is like a black box (or black hole!) that people did not want (like?) to open, except those who were in the opposition and who – because they are now in power – tend to paint a rather partisan perspective. But that’s a recent development.
I'm old enough to remember the Emergency. It wasn't a 'black box'. It was easy to understand- at least for people familiar with the British political tradition as opposed to French fuckwits with advanced degrees in fuckwittery.
Before Indira declared a state of internal Emergency (there was already a state of external Emergency) Ted Heath had declared 4 states of Emergency in the UK- all in the context of strikes in vital industries. Wilson too had used this expedient in a similar context. Indian barristocrats- like Siddhartha Shankar Ray (who advised Indira in this matter)- were well aware of developments in the UK. The difference between Indira's Emergency and Heath' Emergency is that Indira's was a stunning success. This buried the Myrdals' 'soft state' theory about India. By contrast, Heath's top Mandarin went mad, stripped naked, and rolled around on the carpet of No. 10 screaming about a Communist plot. He had to be hospitalized.
Indira, having stood up to Nixon. freed Bangladesh, crushed the Railway Strike and beaten J.P senseless, was feeling her oats. Some High Court Judge tried to fuck with her. She would fuck up not just the Bench- which at the higher level was already licking her hand and mewing piteously- but everybody who had ever looked at her sideways. This was 'the smack of firm government' and, the theory was, Indians liked it. Indeed, but for the forcible sterilization program in the cow belt, the thing could have been a success. Why? The Left was utterly shit. The Kremlin backed CPI was loyal to Indira while the CPI (M) had been outflanked on the left by the CPI (ML). Jyoti Basu had to enlist the State to kill Naxals. This showed he was bourgeois because genuine Commies kill Commies with vim and vigor. They don't go whimpering to the Police.
The RSS, it is true, wasn't shit but could be easily won over by Indira as Goddess Durga's avatar. But why win them over? Congress had always been better at killing Muslims and Indira had shown she didn't mind bashing the Pakistanis either.
The only threat Indira faced was Sanjay. Unless elections were held, his bunch of goons would sideline Indira herself. The problem with being the Grand Moghul is that the Crown Prince will keep trying to bump you off. Sanjay needed to be brought down a peg or two and so Indira called off the Emergency and held free elections. Her gamble paid off. The Janata Morcha was so utterly shit that she was back in power 3 years later. A chastened Sanjay inherited the fate of an Icarus without soaring very high. But, the dynastic principle had been firmly established. Sadly, assassination tempers autocracy which perhaps explains Rahul baba's refusal to step up to the plate.
Jaffrelot, a stupid Frenchman made stupider by his contact with stupid Indian Professors of shite subjects, doesn't get that 'Emergencies' were not aberrations at that time. It was the British way of dealing with massive industrial action- which failed because Britain had a vast industrial proletariat. India did not. Still, the thing was 'best practice' and a way of signalling that India was done with Gandhian stupidity or Nehruvian vacuousness. Far from being a 'soft state', Indira's India was well hard. It didn't just beat and torture and kill you. It also cut your goolies off. Suddenly, there were no 'argumentative Indians' to be found. Of sycophancy, however, there was no shortage.
When I embarked on this project, the Emergency, when it was referred to in history textbooks, appeared like a parenthesis or an aberration, as if it was not part of the history of India. In fact, I realised that my students, at Sciences Po or at King’s College, did not know what it was – because it is not taught in India and not so much out of India either. We needed a history of the Emergency, I thought – and Pratinav shared this motivation.
Fuck was wrong with these cretins? Why couldn't they just ask their Mamajis or Chachajis? No doubt, there were cretins like Prem Shankar Jha- who knew what was happening just as well as anybody else- but who wrote worthless Kaleckian krap about the period. But why would anyone read, or indeed, talk to, Jha save for shits & giggles?
“The mould of the typical post-Emergency politician was forged in the crucible of the Emergency,” you write in the book.
False! It was forged in the pre-Emergency agitations. Indira didn't need to declare Emergency to fuck up even JP who was babbling nonsense about 'participatory' as opposed to 'representative' Democracy. Indira had dug her heels in when it came to the demand that Chief Ministers could be toppled by anyone save herself. Indira wanted no powerful regional satraps because, like most people her age, she thought of 'Federalism' as a recipe for National weakness.
We normally take that to refer to those who fought against it, but you suggest it has as much to do with those who thrived during the Emergency.
But, with the exception of one or two bureaucrats, they were already thriving or else were already close to Sanjay.
Also, what is this shit about guilty men? Does this stupid Frenchman think he is a judge? Either Indira was guilty of declaring a State of Emergency for a purely selfish motive or else none of her minions was guilty of any crime greater than her own.
Our assessment is that the Congress was changed by this episode more substantially than it is usually acknowledged, not only because Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay remained at the helm of the party, but also because many of those who had been recruited by Sanjay remained in the party or returned after some time when they had been expelled, like Bansi Lal and VC Shukla.
Both were heavyweights long before the Emergency. They weren't 'expelled'. They left and returned in typical 'aaya Ram gaya Ram' style. It should be remembered that V.P Singh had good reason to resign. Rajiv was corrupt and incompetent. Still, Arun Nehru looked a fool- fat fuck that he was- for turning on his cousin.
But the guilty men of the Emergency were also welcome by politicians who had been affected by the Emergency too: VC Shukla was Minister of External Affairs in the government of Chandra Shekar in 1990-91.
But Chandra Shekar was propped up by Rajiv. He'd have taken a donkey into his Cabinet if he'd been required to do so.
Why do you consider it important to look at not only what the Emergency changed, but how it, in some ways simply continued or accelerated pre-existing trends in India at that point?
Because this cretin was paid to write a book which only cretins would read.
It is important because it offers an entry point into India’s polity at large.
No it doesn't. Ted Heath declared 4 states of Emergency. The head of his Civil Service went mad and started rolling around naked on the carpet. Indira, quite naturally, wanted to show London how the thing should be done. Obviously, she could have had a brief Emergency- just long enough to amend the Constitution. But, as Vinobha Bhave saw, there genuinely was a demand for an 'Anushasan Parva'- a period of Discipline and Chastening. The trouble was, Indira was clueless as to what to do with Authority. Her son was yet more stupid. He had to be taken down a peg or two before he decided Mummy should really go to Heaven immediately.
We show in the book that the Emergency was precipitated by the JP Movement and the way the judiciary went after Mrs Gandhi.
One High Court Judge went after her. But she had already packed the Supreme Court. Her instinct was that JP & Co needed to cool their heels in jail. As the Brits had learned, there's nothing like a stretch of porridge to get Gandhian nutters to see reason.
But it would have not been possible, she would have not be able to impose it if, for years, she had not prepared the ground for it by centralising power at the expense of the “Congress system” that Nehru had built:
Neither Nehru nor Indira had magic powers. Power flowed to the Center because, firstly, the Provinces had to be broken up on linguistic or communal lines which meant that many Old Guard 'heavyweights' were displaced, and then, secondly, dirigiste Economic planning and 'begging bowl' diplomacy meant that all goodies were routed through Delhi. Socialists thought this a swell idea and, sadly, there were plenty of mathematical economists to back them up.
in contrast to Nehru’s constant effort to build consensus by negotiating with the state bosses the party was relying upon,
There were few 'party bosses' back then and they propped each other up so as to protect themselves from younger, more vernacular, rivals.
she short-circuited them after the 1969 split, related directly to the people (as evident from the populist overtone of the 1971 campaign) and appointed yes-men as Chief Ministers or as PCC Presidents.
Because the number of 'party bosses' had multiplied and Congress had started splitting from the late Fifties onward. As the rewards of office increased, so did factionalism. One other point had to do with transferring surpluses from functional to dysfunctional States as well as feeding Delhi's own gaping bureaucratic maw. This certainly required 'yes men' and was what sparked the 'Nav Nirman' movement in Gujarat which in turn was what inspired JP to run amok.
Having de-institutionalised the Congress,
which had previously de-institutionalised itself through the Kamraj Plan
she could have her MPs vote in favour of the Emergency without even senior ministers saying a word (Jagjivan Ram left in early 1977 when he knew he had nothing to lose).
Obviously, 'senior ministers' would want to be P.M while Indira waited things out in Court mandated purdah. But the first such minister to speak up would be putting a target on his back. Indira Gandhi knew all about 'stalking horses' and there was little point trying to pull the wool over her eyes. In any case, precisely because she could not trust her Cabinet- just as she would find she could not trust her son little more than a year later- she had to take unilateral action and present her supposed supporters with a fait accompli.
In a way Mrs Gandhi presided over the transformation of Congress in a manner that BJP is emulating today – and the Congress never fully recovered from this process.
This is nonsense. Congress had already split and would continue to split till only a dynastic rump remained. The BJP hasn't split. It isn't dynastic. Advani was senior to Modi, but, in 2014, Modi got the ticket. Now he is growing out his beard because the Party may well dump him if the economy continues to go down the toilet. Modi will then have plenty of time to enjoy a comfortable retirement as a Sadhu-Mahatma with his own Himalayan Ashram.
The fact is, Congress was always splitting and uniting and then splitting again. Gandhi was one of the founders of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and it was this Hindu support which gave him heft as he became active in Congress politics. It is also the reason the Khilafatis wanted him on side. The Brahmins were pushing him forward as their tool. Gandhi gained supremacy in Indian politics as the head of a Congress-Khilafat combine. Then he unilaterally surrendered to the Brits. Congress split with Motilal Nehru and C.R Das heading up Swatantra. In subsequent years, many 'heavyweights' came and went from Congress and Swatantra and various Socialist or 'Praja' type parties.
What did you manage to learn about how the Emergency played out away from Delhi, whether in the North Indian mofussil or in states further from the Centre, like in the South or the North-East?
What every adolescent alive in India at that time 'managed to learn' was that the Emergency was improvised and after a brief pretence of pursuing a '20 point program' of alarming vacuity rapidly descended into farce. But then 'democratic' politics was even more of a nuisance. The South, already on an upward trajectory thanks to the death or disintermediation of Gandhian politicians, welcomed aspects of the Emergency. The fact is, them cow belt peeps be kray kray. Let them shit all over themselves rather than fuck up the whole country.
Jaffrelot, cretin that he is, plumes himself on discovering that the Emergency didn't have much impact over large swathes of the country
This is one of our great achievements, I must say. We show that there is not ONE Emergency: it varies in the course of time – and there is a difference between 1975 and 1976, when Sanjay Gandhi asserts himself at the helm of the Youth Congress and as the driving force of the regime, really; but it varies also in terms of space.
Sanju was a silly billy. He could no more implement a 5 point program- though, no doubt, it was remarkable that he could count to such a high number- than he could build a Maruti car. Still, the perception was that the little Caligula would soon bump of his Mummyji. Then Indira pulled the rug from under him.
The geography of the Emergency is overdetermined by three factors: one, the proximity from Delhi, the epicentre, which explains that the most badly affected areas (in terms of sterilisations for instance) were found in Haryana and West UP; two, the degree of docility of the Congress Chief Ministers: ND Tiwari was a sycophant, not Devraj Urs, who had a base, in contrast to all those who were creatures of Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay, like Tiwari;
Tiwari had seen, during the Sixties, that power was shifting to the 'Backward Castes'. Some Brahmins, like Vinobha Bhave, thought the Emergency might be a way to impose 'Brahminical' values. But this type of Brahminism was wholly brainless.
three, the resilience of opposition governments: never forget that for months, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were not governed by the Congress.
Gujarat was ruled by Congress, after 9 months of President's Rule, in from December of 1976 till April of 1977. Babhubhai Patel's Janata Government had lasted for 9 month before being toppled. Karunanidhi, in Tamil Nadu, was toppled 6 months in and President's Rule was imposed for the rest of the Emergency.
President’s Rule was imposed there in 1976 only. These states did not experience the same kind of Emergency either. These differences explain why in 1977 the Congress was wiped out in the Hindi belt, but resisted well elsewhere, and in the South in particular.
Indira got the caste equation right in Gujarat- marginalizing Patels for a decade. The South was not cohesive. Each Province had a distinct trajectory. Karunanidhi, in T.N, put up a gallant resistance but after Kamraj's death Indira moved against him. His son, Stalin, and many DMK stalwarts were tortured. Some died. But it was MGR, allied with Congress, who won the Chief Ministership in '77. He promptly allied with Janata since Indira had lost so badly. This meant, 3 years later, when Indira returned to power her new ally Karunanidhi demanded she dismiss MGR and hold fresh elections. But MGR prevailed. He then became Indira's ally.
My point is that, even in T.N, 'resistance' was crushed and, in any case, was irrelevant.
What do you think we misunderstand about the struggle against Emergency today, especially since the popular narratives of many of our current leaders rests on the role they claim to have played in it?
Today, the dominant narrative tends to present the Emergency as a ferocious tyranny that was due to Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay only, and its opponents as ready to sacrifice everything in this fight. Some did. In the book we give long lists and details of the martyrdom of those who suffered in torture chambers, including the Fernandes brothers.
The truth is that the Congress Party has autocracy in its DNA. As Govind Vallabh Pant had said 'Italy has its Il Duce. Germany has its Fuhrer. India has Mahatma Gandhi'. The Emergency was the period when this autocracy formally became dynastic. Henceforth, it was a vehicle for sycophants and opportunists. On the other hand, 3 leaders with the surname Gandhi have been assassinated. That's why Rahul Baba didn't become P.M.
But many leaders tried to negotiate with Mrs Gandhi. Balasaheb Deoras, the RSS chief, is a case in point, as evident from the two letters he sent to her, where he offered to cooperate with her in exchange of the lifting of the ban affecting his organisation.
It would be perfectly proper for the head of a non-political outfit to offer support for the socio-economic content of the '20 point program' while asking for his members not to be tortured and killed. What is certain, however, is that the RSS was very effective in getting out the anti-Indira vote.
But he was not the only one and, in fact, opposition parties continued to take part in Lok Sabha sessions, giving legitimacy to the laws that were passed there.
Sinn Fein still boycotts Westminster. This doesn't affect the legitimacy of its laws.
Madhu Limaye, whom I interviewed before he died and who was one of the most committed opponents of the Emergency, told them to boycott parliament from jail, but they preferred to keep their kursi.
Limaye was a shithead. He knew very well that the Jan Sangh was RSS but then brought down the Janata Government by insisting 'dual membership' be banned. With enemies like these, Indira needed no friends.
In fact, those who fought the Emergency were very few in number, something Kuldip Nayar emphasises in his book, The Judgement – where he says that the weakness of the opposition came as a surprise to him.
It was the moral strength of the RSS which came as a surprise.
Beyond the ambivalence of the political opposition, many other players fell in line or even actively supported the Emergency. The corporate sector was a case in point because it approved of the “era of discipline” that Mrs. Gandhi was heralding. The heads of all the industrial houses eulogised her and Sanjay when they made the number of strikes diminish rapidly, following what we describe as an authoritarian corporatist policy.
But industrial growth didn't really pick up. Indira was no Liberalizer. The odd thing was that the CPI helped some Corporates fight off extortion attempts by 'loyalist' Ministers and officials.
In the media, except the Indian Express and the The Statesman, most of the mainstream newspapers endorsed the new dispensation. Some of the reports and interviews of Sanjay – a man of few words to say the least – are unbelievable. And people would not believe they had actually taken place if history was not repeating itself today.
Indeed. It is incredible that Rahul Baba's puerile utterances still get front page treatment.
In the bureaucracy, few officers resigned in spite of the fact that they were the real implementers of the Emergency – and its atrocities. In the judiciary, except Fali S Nariman, who was then additional solicitor general, we could not find anybody who resigned. In fact, Justice Khanna was the only judge of the Supreme Court who saved his (and its?) honour as the dissenting judge in the Habeas Corpus case in which, for a majority of the judges, personal liberties did not need to be upheld in the face of the executive in the context of the Emergency.
Though, of course, extra-judicial killing on an industrial scale was perfectly fine with the Bench in the Eighties and Nineties.
And Arvind Rajagopal has shown that the middle class, which remained largely unaffected but appreciated that trains were on time, usually supported the Emergency. If many academics fought against the Emergency, several intellectuals (including Kushwant Singh) found some raison d’être for it, including, for the most secular-minded, the threat that the RSS-backed JP Movement posed to democracy.
The threat being that the Hindu majority would not remain as cowed as it had been under the Brits or the Moghuls.
Last but not least, the Congress was not the only party involved the Emergency – so were the CPI, the Shiv Sena, and the main faction of the RPI. The situation, therefore, was more complex than it seems a priori: Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay were not alone.
It is certainly true that there was a clique clamoring for a Presidential system with all power concentrated on... not Indira, she was too wily an old bird, but perhaps the gormless Sanjay. There have always been stories about Indira declaring Emergency and then unexpectedly lifting it so as to short circuit these machinations. A simpler explanation is that the Nehrus had come to Delhi as minor bureaucrats to the Grand Mogul who soon ceased to be grand. Part of the problem was that sons didn't hesitate to bump of their liege lord. Indira, it seems, had a shrewd idea of Sanju's likely trajectory if he forgot power was tied up in Mummy's pallu. She alone could get out the votes.
Having completed this work, where do you situate the Emergency within the broader story of Indian democracy – parenthesis, aberration, turning point, or something else?
It’s not a parenthesis, because India did not return to status quo ante in 1977: the Congress was structurally changed.
How? It split a little more. That is all.
It’s not an aberration because many people supported the Emergency and saw in it a positive development, be they part of the CPI, the Shiv Sena or the corporate sector.
It was an aberration which the Constitution has been changed so as to prevent its recurrence. Nobody since has said 'what this country needs is a second Emergency'. Why? Because only the supply side matters. But unshackling it is multiply realizable.
It is something of a turning point, as Gyan Prakash argues in his Emergency Chronicles, because, in the wake of the JP Movement, it further contributed to mainstream the Sangh parivar with the help of well-established opposition parties, including the Congress (O), the Socialist Party and the BLD.
It was a turning point where History failed to turn. So, we dismiss it as an aberration.
But for us, in fact, the Emergency is still something else, an eye-opener.
Neither Heath's Emergencies nor Indira's were eye-openers for those familiar with Westminster type polities. The thing is pointless. Stasis can't be averted by administrative fiat. There has to be a shakeout. Nothing else will do.
It is revealing, not only of the fragility of democracy,
No. It is revealing of its anti-fragility -
but also of the fact that many people could live with it and had hardly any problem with tyranny, so long as it did not affect them, but not the poor.
Tyranny affects the rich. The tyrant sends his goons round to fuck your kids and to grab your cool stuff. If the rich are happy with the Government, it isn't a tyranny at all.
Because who were victims of mass sterilisation and “slum rehabilitation”? The poor.
But Sweden had forcible sterilization, thanks to 'public intellectuals' like the Myrdals, till the Seventies. Democracies do slum clearance all the time. Shitheads moaning about the suffering of the poor exist everywhere. Poverty we may not always have with us but shitheads abide.
For them, the Emergency was neither a parenthesis nor an aberration or a turning point, but simply more of the same.
As it was for almost everybody else. Indeed, that is how time works.
But for us, the observers, the fact that the Emergency, for most of the people, introduced a difference in degree, not in kind – that’s an eye-opener!
Whereas Jafflerot's insights are a bowel opener- or would be if your asshole were hovering over his head.