Mamata's Emergency Comparison Is Wrong

This was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's tweet on the 44th anniversary of the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi.

Considering her antipathy to the BJP, her sentiments are unsurprising, and it is also a fact that some of the institutions of democracy have been under strain in the last five years.


(Photo by Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Yet, to equate the regime of last five years to a "Super Emergency" is wrong, and also trivialises what many underwent in those tumultuous times, when the situation was so bad that newspapers had to be sent to the 'censors' before being allowed to be printed.

Ask any journalist who lived through that period, and they would be aghast at the comparison between what they endured during the Emergency and the events of the last five years. "It's shameful that Mamata had chosen to draw a parallel to the Modi government and the Emergency period. This is dangerous partisanship," says V Krishnan, a retired journalist in Chennai. "It also undermines what we journos had gone through then. It is like comparing the troubles gone through during the World Wars and any other local skirmish. It is that silly."

Krishnan was employed in a Calcutta newspaper during the Emergency. He recalls how 'offending' parts in a report would be sent back by the government censors. "We either had to replace them with less problematic items or they would be blacked out. In some cases, we chose to bravely leave the space blank, making a larger point against the excesses of the Emergency."

The media was gagged and muzzled then. That is not the case today. The media is under pressure, to be sure. But it cannot be silenced now, says Ramya Sebastian, a journalist, who was in college during the Emergency. "It was an experiment with dictatorship through a different means. I shudder to think that any right-thinking politician would make a comparison between then and now."

But that doesn't mean things are hunky-dory. As veteral journalist Kuldip Nayar wrote a few years ago, "Though the constitution has been amended to ensure that its basic structure is not tinkered with, it is still easy to subvert institutions by having loyalists in place. The media is stronger today but business houses owning them can be managed."

Still, those 21 months were the darkest period in the annals of modern India. Can the Emergency be enforced today? Well, the general belief is: no. Social media and round-the-clock news channels along with a more active civil society and judiciary preclude any such thought in the minds of the politicos. Even if some might hanker for an iron hand on the wheel, authoritarianism has limited appeal today, and it is likely that it will stay that way.