Emergency in India Entering New Phase – 1975

Like millions of other Indians all three have adapted to the structural alteration that society has undergone in the six months since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi began dismantling some of the institutions of Indian democracy

The New York Times

NEW DELHI, Dec. 25—An Opposition leader who was saying last summer that the people would not tolerate India’s proclaimed emergency for much more than a couple of months now speaks of “a long, long struggle—five years or more.”

A Calcutta University student, once an idealist and a bit of a revolutionary, has abandoned all of that in what he regards as the cynical pursuit of a business degree.

A top‐ranking civil servant who privately deplored the Government’s authoritarian course when it began explains it this way now: “You see, India cannot afford an American‐style democracy. Democracy goes to the lowest common denominator, which is all right for the United States or Britain, but not for a society that is so underdeveloped, so poor and so illiterate.”

Like millions of other Indians all three have adapted to the structural alteration that society has undergone in the six months since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi began dismantling some of the institutions of Indian democracy.

“Half a year is too long for anything temporary, indeed too long for an emergency, in the strict sense of the word,” explained a college professor who describes himself as neither for nor against the Prime Minister. “After so much time the country, and we who care about it, are now moving into a new phase.”

As is usually the case in intellectual discussions about India, this one excludes most of the 600 million people—the rural poor, who are too much in need and too out of touch with government to care. For them the most important news of the year was the plentiful monsoon rains; the principal concern for 1976 is whether the rains will be as good.

Among the people who have traditionally run things—politicians, businessmen, lawyers and intellectuals in cities and towns across this vast, diverse land—many seem to agree with the professor’s feeling that Phase II has arrived.

On the muggy morning of June 26, when policemen all over the country began rounding up thousands of anti‐Government figures in predawn raids and holding them without formal charges, there was what an Opposition member of parliament describes as “shock and surprise—the feeling you might have if your 6‐year‐old son suddenly slapped you in the face.”

‘We Have All Learned’

“But nobody is shocked any more,” he continued, nervously shaking the folds out of the flowing white cotton shirt that is the Indian politician’s trademark. “We have all learned what the new rules are, and adjusted our own behavior accordingly.”

For him, and for the others who sit across the floor of Parliament from Prime Minister Gandhi and her Congress Party, one of the things that must be adjusted to is that Opposition M. P.’s and even Congress Party members who get out of line can be jailed. At least two dozen are being held right now.

The possibility of arrest basically alters the traditional role of the Opposition, even if the forms of parliamentary democracy are retained, as they have been. Although India has not become a police state—not yet, anyway—arbitrary imprisonment as a common practice has had a pervasive effect on the way people think and react.

A publisher negotiating with the Government was led to believe that if he did not yield control of his newspaper he Would be arrested; he yielded. An editor in Bombay politely asked an American correspondent to stop telephoning because the correspondent’s phone was probably tapped.

Some Fighting Back

Few segments of society have had to adapt as thoroughly as the people who produce the newspapers, which used to be lively and controversial and which, under rigid censorship, are timid and mild. Editors who lectured the Government in print six months ago as stridently as editors do in the United States are regarded as daring if they even hint at dissent. Reporters who used to cherish every word they wrote shrug indifferently when the Information Ministry’s censors cut out whole sections.

Most journalists have either Yielded to the new rules or been replaced, but there is a small group of editors who are fighting back, not so much in their news columns as in negotiations with officials and in intense covert meetings among themselves.

“I don’t understand why the world doesn’t care more about what is happening to us,” said one of these, dispirited. “The Government is dismantling what really was a free press.”

Early in the emergency the restrictions were regarded as temporary, and Mrs. Gandhi, who described them as a short term necessity, said, “I abhor censorship.” Gradually however, as the censor’s office acquired stationery and door signs and the other trappings of bureaucratic permanence, the press came to realize that it was here to stay.
Early this month, in a presidential ordinance aimed at the “prevention of publication of objectional matter,” the Goverment gave the force of law to the censorship allowing the prevention of most criticism even when the emergency ends.

In a column that was unusually bold by the new standards of Indian journalism, an editor named Ajit Battacharjea explained the difference in The Indian Express: “As long as restrictions were imposed under the authority of the emergency, there was hope that they would be removed when the emergency was lifted. But the ordinances promulgated recently make it clear that the Government intends to make such restrictions the normal law of the land.”

Beyond the Crossroads

Six months ago it was fashionable to say that India was at a crossroads. Now there is a general feeling—even among Prime Minister Gandhi’s backers, who have adapted to her new powers and to the fact that dissent in the inner circle is even less welcome now than it used to be—that it has passed that crossroads.

Some people, both Indians and foreign diplomats, are concerned that the new order has isolated her from the people and even from her party. On the other hand, no one doubts that she is very much in charge.

No questions were raised a month ago when she decided to dismiss the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, which, with 90 million people, is nearly half as populous as the United States. When the state’s Congress Party president was asked about a replacement, he replied that Mrs. Gandhi would decide.

The Prime Minister’s backers around the country, taking their cue from her and her senior advisers, have begun talking about the necessity of changing the Constitution so that it will be more “in tune with the India of today,” as one of them put it.

In this second stage of the country’s 20th‐year experiment with democracy, basic structural changes in the system of government are being discussed. Some hints about the form they will take are likely to emerge from the session of Parliament that is to begin early next month.

In the meantime there is much less talk than there used to be about the virtues of India’s freedom as contrasted with its neighbor, China, and more talk about how a new sense of discipline has helped the economy.

Shattered Point of Pride

As the rhetoric has changed, one casualty that many have particularly grieved has been the people’s perception of their society as a democracy, respected around the world—as they knew it was—for not having yielded to authoritarianism in the face of its enormous problems.

In a speech in Montreal eight years ago, a prominent Indian journalist and novelist, Khushwant Singh, spoke of home in these words: “We are free, our press is free. We speak our minds without having to look over our shoulders or having to lower our voices. I am emboldened to say that of the many countries of Asia and Africa which achieved freedom in the last 20 years, this is true only of one country, India.”

No one here talks that way now. Opponents of the Government are silent or bitter. People who support what is happening talk in terms of an Indian‐style government, not one in the imported pattern of Britain, or of a new kind of democracy tailored to Indian needs.

The other night an Indian diplomat who is sensitive to world opinion, as is Prime Minister Gandhi, was bemoaning “the bad press we’re still getting in the West.”

“The kind of democracy we had was an alien concept for India,” he said in tones of anguish over what he called his country’s loss of prestige and of the moral authority that had stood behind him around the world in a long diplomatic career. “The world must understand how we have changed and why. It simply must.”


June 12. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi found guilty by state court of “corrupt” practices during 1971 election.

June 24. Supreme Court Justice partially clears Mrs. Gandhi but rules she is ineligible to participate in parliamentary debates.

June 25. Opposition Leader J. P. Narayan addresses thousands at rally in New Delhi; calls for Mrs. Gandhi to resign.

June 26. Emergency proclaimed; political figures including Narayan arrested, censorship imposed.

July 4. Twenty-six political parties banned.

July 22. Upper house of Parliament approves emergency decree; opposition leaders walk out.

July 23. Lower house ratifies upper house action.

July 24. Parliament bars courts from overturning the decree.

Nov. 7. Supreme Court reverses conviction of Mrs. Gandhi.

Nov. 12. Narayan, critically ill, released from prison.


Jan. 29. Lower house makes censorship permanent.

March 12. National government takes control of the state government of Gujarat—the last state ruled by opposition.

April 28. Supreme Court upholds government’s right to imprison political opponents without court hearings.

May 15. Asoka Mahta, a leading opponent of Mrs. Gandhi, is released from jail.

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