The bio-data of post-Independence-born politicians suffered from a critical gap. There was no mention of the number of years spent in jail while participating in the freedom struggle. No politician of that era was considered to be worth his salt without a term behind the bars.
But ironically, Emergency brought a respite. Post-1975, life in jail during Emergency is considered an essential attribute for non-Congress politicians of all hues. Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, who spent time behind bars as a law student then and is proud to proclaim it has revisited the Emergency days and compared Indira Gandhi to Hitler.
While the anniversary of the declaration of the dictatorial measure, well and truly the darkest period in the history of Independent India, falling on June 25, provided the perfect context for the assault on Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother, the build-up to the 2019 General Elections gives it a special meaning. PM Modi has added his own dimension by bringing in the dynasty angle to the debate.
Jaitley’s comparison of Indira to Hitler comes in a three-part series, titled the ‘Tyranny of Emergency’, and is a well-organised effort. It certainly reads better than his belaboured midnight speech on the occasion of the GST launch, or most of his Budget speeches, which, despite the liberal use of couplets from popular Hindi and Urdu poets, were as uninspiring as his Budget proposals. Instead of making a passing mention of Hitler, Jaitley argues his contention to its logical conclusion by bringing out the commonalities between the German and Indian situations and achieves remarkable success. The similarities in the draconian declarations is, indeed, striking.
Hitler’s decree giving emergency powers put restrictions on personal liberty, free speech, right of assembly, association, violation of privacy, home searches and curbed all property and other rights. The pretext for Hitler to act was a communist conspiracy to burn government buildings and museums. Indira imposed all those restrictions and her Emergency was meant to deal with the ‘disorder’ planned by the Opposition.
While comparing the actions of the two leaders, Jaitley also lists things that Hitler did not do, but Indira did. Hitler did not change the Constitution, but only argued in favour of a new legal system, but Indira got it changed to accommodate her own requirements and transform India into a ‘dynastic democracy’. It is but natural that the Congress finds itself in a predicament as there is no way it can defend Emergency. Rahul Gandhi has sought to take the fight to the BJP camp by arguing that the entire period of Modi’s rule has been like an undeclared Emergency, under which all constitutional institutions have been subverted. But it is obvious that the Congress leaders are fighting a blatantly unequal contest.