In June, the Narendra Modi government—and, very significantly, not the BJP—brought out a spate of ads that condemned the Emergency. The message was clear—June 25, 2018, the Emergency’s 43rd anniversary, would be observed as Black Day. The decision was also strategic; the government has been accused of having imposed an ‘undeclared Emergency’. Observing Black Day delineates the Emergency’s horrors as real. That the government — and not the BJP — should spearhead the Black Day elevates the 1975 Emergency from the realm of politics to government policy. The intended message is that this government is anti-Emergency.
Against such a backdrop, journalist Ajoy Bose and human rights activist John Dayal relaunched their 1977 book, For Reasons of State: Delhi under Emergency. The 2018 print has a foreword by veteran India commentator Mark Tully and a new introduction by the authors. While Tully acknowledges that there is a palpable atmosphere of fear, relating more to a future where the BJP’s hold on the national imagination becomes firmer and the path is paved to “alter the Constitution”, he emphatically says the present situation is not comparable to the Emergency. The authors, on the other hand, focus on the similarities between then and now.
The environment of fear that Tully talked about, for Bose and Dayal, is where the undeclared Emergency is most felt. The strengthening of certain institutions like the police, the IB, the NIA, that can act as agents of the state, and the concurrent weakening of others that can check the state’s exercise of its powers, they say, mirrors what happened in 1975-77. They talk about how many from the thickly populated space of private-sector media—against a lone Doordarshan spouting Goebbelsian propaganda in 1975-77—that should have spoken the truth, instead, have become megaphones for the government.
The book, when it was first published, was a commentary on the censorship of the media during Emergency. The stories it documents at length should have been reported by the media at that time, but they never were. The conditions today may not be the same as then, but the parallels are too many to ignore. For Reasons of State, thus, becomes a handy tool to judge the political reality today, even though ideological differences between Indira Gandhi’s and Modi’s politics are all too apparent.