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Wounds have healed but scars remain.

It was a conflagration - the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in June 33 years ago. In 19 months, the period for which it lasted, every institution got scarred. The constitution was mutilated. Personal freedom was forfeited. The press was gagged. The judiciary was shackled. Parliament had its tenure extended.

The largest democracy in the world put under detention more than 100,000 people without trial. And, as the then Attorney General said, the state could kill anyone with impunity.

The institutions have regained their health but the scars are still visible. What has probably been lost forever is the people's sensitivity. They do not react to the abuse of power. I thought that those brutalities would never revisit the country. I see all of them coming back with a vengeance: false encounter killings, custodial deaths, kidnappings, violations of human rights and detentions under the security law.

What has probably happened to the people is that once Indira wiped out the thin line dividing right from wrong, moral from immoral they do not mind or feel where they stand. There is no compunction in hitting below the belt or committing even the gravest wrong. In fact, the wrong itself has undergone a change in the meaning. It has become a relative term.

Pressure on judiciary

The Manmohan Singh government has five ministers whose hands are tainted with the excesses committed during the emergency. They are: Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj, Heavy Industries Minister Santosh Mohan Dev and Tourism Minister Ambika Soni. They should quit giving face to morality and ethics. The judiciary has been the biggest casualty. Indira transferred 16 judges.

The Shah Commission which went into the excesses during the emergency in India warned: "The state owes it to the nation to assure that this vital limb [the judiciary] of the government will not be subjected to strains which might even indirectly operate as punitive." But this has had little effect. Chief Justices in India are vying with each other to oblige the government on transfers or, for that matter, appointments. Judgments are generally at the asking. Phrases like the independence of the judiciary are primarily on paper. Corruption was inevitable once the standards came to be compromised.

Indira regretted "certain mistakes," but never the emergency and brought back the officers who were instruments of tyranny during her rule. Not only did she punish those who had pursued cases of excesses against her and her son Sanjay Gandhi, who was an extra-constitutional authority, she divided the bureaucracy into 'ours' and 'theirs.' The civil service is now a set of sycophants and supplicants who allow themselves to be used by politicians. There was one Sanjay Gandhi at the centre then. Now every state has a chief minister's son or a nephew emulating him.

And it was no surprise that she threw out even the recommendations by the National Police Commission to reform the force because the police were used by her indiscriminately. She preferred to stay with the Indian Police system, structured on an Act of 1861 and rejected the draft bill which the Police Commission had recommended to release the force from the stranglehold of politicians.

Since the baby was thrown out with the bathtub, even the recommendations to make police accountable were not implemented. The Supreme Court has picked up the thread and made it obligatory for the states to implement the recommendations. The states have not done so. Even the centre has not asked the Union Territories to fall in line.

The illegal power, to which the police have got used to since the emergency, is hard to withdraw now. What is seen in Kashmir, the northeast or elsewhere in the country is a cumulative effect of unbridled authority given to the force. It does not know, much less cares about normal, acceptable methods to deal with a situation.

The Intelligence Bureau and Central Bureau of Intelligence are loaded with assignments which are not really theirs. Keeping track of opposition leaders and critics of the government, intercepting their mail and taping their telephones is not what the two agencies should be doing. Nor should they be checking the credentials of candidates and weighing their chance of winning at the polls. The agencies remain unaccountable.

The worst fallout of the emergency has been that the public servants have invariably become an instrument in the hands of ministers at the centre and in the states.

Manmohan Singh who has been a top civil servant should have devised some steps to retrieve them. Anxiety to survive at any cost forms the keynote of approach to the problems that come before public servants. It should be obligatory for the trainees to work with NGOs at the grassroots. They may learn, if not imbibe, the qualities of humility which officials lack.

And there has to be a mechanism to punish the errant civil servants. None was even demoted or sacked for deliberately flouting laws and harassing those who were against the emergency.


Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the UK and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 21, 2008
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