When the Indian Republic exposed its ugly face
The Central Committee of the Communist Ghadar Party of India organised a meeting in Delhi on the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the declaration of National Emergency. The General Secretary of the Party, Comrade Lal Singh initiated a lively discussion of the lessons from the Emergency period and the political developments since then. An edited version of his presentation is being published below:
On the midnight of June 25-26, 46 years ago, the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared “National Emergency” under Article 352 of the Constitution. This decision was taken on the advice of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The official reason was that internal disturbances had created a serious threat to national security.
People were deprived, at a single stroke, of all the fundamental rights stated in the Constitution. Workers’ strikes were banned. Trade union leaders and student activists were jailed. Slum dwellers in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities were forcibly evicted and their houses were razed to the ground. Many lakhs of workers, peasants and youth were forcibly sterilised in the name of “population control”.
People were deprived of their right to freedom of speech and assembly. Press censorship was imposed. All forms of criticism of the government were banned. Thousands of political activists were jailed. State governments headed by opposition parties were dismissed in Gujarat and Tamilnadu. The Constitution was amended to extend the tenure of parliament and postpone elections.
Who took the decision to impose emergency? What was the principal aim? Maximum confusion has been created to hide the true answers to these questions. Till today, bourgeois political analysts spread the story that Indira Gandhi took this decision. They say her aim was to defend her own political career, which was under threat due to court verdicts.
Comrades, we know that a major decision such as the declaration of Emergency is not taken to merely serve one individual’s interest. It is taken by the class in power, to serve its interest.
Why did the Indian ruling class decide to declare an emergency on 26th June, 1975? To understand the reason, we need to pay attention to the conditions which were prevailing at that time.
It was a time when revolutionary struggles against imperialism, for people’s democracy and socialism, were advancing on the world scale. The protracted national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people against the mighty US army achieved final victory in the year 1975.
Within India, the situation was pregnant with revolution. Masses of people were in ferment. The development of capitalism alongside the perpetuation of backward feudal and caste-based relations had led to intensified exploitation and oppression of workers and peasants.
In March 1967, an armed uprising of about 50,000 poor and landless peasants against big landlords was led by communist revolutionaries in Naxalbari, a village in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal. This communist group, led by Charu Mazumdar and his comrades, called on all communists to make a clean break with the line of relying on parliamentary democracy to achieve the goal of socialism. This marked the beginning of a new trend, a new awakening within the communist movement. It led to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969.
The CPI(ML), with Comrade Charu Mazumdar at the head, boldly exposed the truth that the anti-colonial struggle had been betrayed in 1947. Political power had been transferred from the British imperialists to the Indian big capitalists and big landlords. The hated system of exploitation created by the British was being perpetuated in post-colonial India. Based on this analysis and conclusion, the Party called for a people’s democratic revolution to take the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggle to completion. The call to “smash the shackles of 1947” captured the hearts and minds of the oppressed masses of people and the progressive intelligentsia.
Thousands of communists rallied around the call of CPI(ML) in many parts of the country and among Indians abroad. In Canada, USA, Britain, Australia and other countries, communists started organising Indian workers and students in support of the revolutionary movement spearheaded by CPI(ML). Student youth in every university and college campus were inspired by the call for a qualitative change in the nature of the Indian state.
With the spread of revolutionary consciousness, the struggles of workers and peasants grew stronger in the early years of the 1970s. The Indian bourgeoisie, headed by the monopoly houses, responded with brutal state repression. The Essential Services Maintenance Act of 1968 was used to declare workers’ strikes in numerous sectors as illegal. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), enacted in 1971, was used to arrest and torture thousands of suspected communist revolutionaries.
Comrade Charu Mazumdar and other leaders of CPI(ML) were arrested and killed under detention. However, the influence of the revolutionary line of the party continued to spread within India and abroad. Mass protests of workers and peasants continued to grow in frequency and militancy. The largest ever all-India strike of railway workers in 1974 brought the entire economy to a grinding halt.
The Indian ruling class was faced with the threat of revolution. In the face of this threat, the capitalist monopoly houses got the Prime Minister to advise the President to impose an Emergency. The primary aim behind this decision was to eliminate the threat of revolution and consolidate the control of the capitalist monopoly houses over state power.
The Congress government of Indira Gandhi presented the Emergency as a fight against right reaction. It claimed to be fighting against foreign powers which were out to destabilise India, and against communal forces such as the Jan Sangh. This propaganda was repeated and spread on the world scale by the Soviet Union, with whom India had signed a military treaty in 1971.
The bourgeois parliamentary opposition claimed to be fighting against the authoritarianism and corruption of the Indira Gandhi government and for the restoration of democracy. Their call for the restoration of democracy was given wide publicity abroad by Anglo-American agencies.
Branches of CPI(ML) mobilised workers, peasants, women and youth to fight against the repressive Emergency regime with the aim of carrying out a people’s democratic revolution. Acting as the external wing of CPI(ML), the Hindustani Ghadar Party (Organisation of Indian Marxist-Leninists Abroad), with Comrade Hardial Bains at the head, built communist cells among Indian immigrant workers and Indian students in foreign universities.
The ruling class used the emergency period to suppress the revolutionary communists, crush the people’s struggles, and at the same time prepare an alternative arrangement to replace the Congress Party.
The arrests of leaders of the parliamentary opposition served to promote them as heroes among the people. It was part of the plan of the ruling class. Promoting their trusted politicians as great fighters for democracy served to prevent people from following the revolutionary road.
The state of emergency was formally revoked on 21st March, 1977, soon after polling was completed in the elections to the 6th Lok Sabha. The Congress Party was replaced by the Janata Party, which had been formed through the merger of numerous parties of the parliamentary opposition. A grand illusion was spread that some big change had taken place in favour of the people and their rights.
The so-called restoration of democracy did not lead to the resolution of any of the problems of the toiling masses of people. In 1980, the monopoly capitalists brought the Congress Party back to take charge of the central government, promising stability and a “government that works”. They created and spread the spectre of Sikh terrorism and Khalistani separatism, so as to discredit the struggles of the people of Punjab and justify the murder of youth in fake encounters. The so-called secular and democratic Indian State spearheaded the army assault on the Golden Temple and the communal genocide of November 1984.
Since the 1990s, the Indian ruling class has followed the international imperialist line of using the spectre of Islamic terrorism to justify state terrorism. Both the principal parties of the ruling class, Congress and BJP, have led state-organised communal massacres, as in 1992-93 and 2002. Arbitrary arrests and violence targeted at Muslims have become increasingly frequent.
Since the so called restoration of democracy in March 1977 till today, the ruling class has been continuously strengthening the repressive powers of the central State. While MISA was repealed by the Janata Party government, a series of draconian laws have been enacted to legalise the violation of people’s rights. These include the National Security Act (NSA), the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Thousands of workers, peasants, women, youth and other political activists have been languishing in the jails of this capitalist democracy for years on end, without even a trial.
State terrorism, including state-organised communal violence, has become the preferred method of governance. Diverting and dividing the people by demonising a particular religious community has served the interests of the Indian and foreign monopoly capitalists. It has served to push their anti-social agenda of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. It has served to turn legitimate struggles of the people into “law and order” problems.
What do all these developments show? They show that both behind the imposition of Emergency and behind the movement for the restoration of democracy was the hand of ruling class, headed by the monopoly houses. Through the bullet and the ballot, the ruling class succeeded in eliminating the threat of revolution. The support extended by one section of the communist movement to the emergency and by another section to the Janata Party and its call for the restoration of democracy assisted the bourgeoisie in manipulating the people’s struggle and eliminating the threat of revolution.
At the present time, there are various parties which are spreading the idea that Prime Minister Modi may declare an emergency this year, to crack down on the working class and the kisan andolan. They are completely wrong.
To reiterate, it was not Indira Gandhi who, in her individual capacity, decided that an emergency must be declared in 1975. It is not up to Narendra Modi to take such a decision on his own. The declaration of emergency is a decision that the ruling class takes. The monopoly capitalists will take such a decision if and when there is a threat to their rule and system of exploitation.
While various things which are happening at the present time may look similar to the emergency period, there is a big difference. At that time, the tide of revolution was in flow on the world scale and in our country. Lakhs of workers, peasants, women and youth had joined the struggle for a new state of Peoples Democracy in place of the existing state. That is the main reason which prompted the ruling class to decide that an emergency must be declared.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the situation changed. The tide of revolution turned from flow to ebb on the world scale. In all the capitalist countries including ours, the reactionary bourgeoisie has been spearheading an unprecedented offensive against the livelihood and rights of the working class and people.
At the present time, crores of workers and peasants in our country are waging united struggles against privatisation and liberalisation. The working class fully supports the immediate demands of the kisan andolan, for repeal of the three anti-kisan laws and for guaranteed remunerative prices for all agricultural products. The struggles of workers and peasants have the potential to develop into a movement for a qualitative change in the nature of the state. However, they have not yet developed that consciousness.
As long as the struggle of workers and peasants is under the domination of bourgeois politics, the ruling class will not find it necessary to declare an emergency. However, if we communists succeed in steering the struggles against privatisation and liberalisation towards the aim of replacing the existing state with a new state, of establishing workers’ and peasants’ rule, then a revolutionary situation will be created. In that case, declaring an emergency will become necessary and likely.
The main roadblock to the development of revolutionary consciousness at the present time is the idea that workers and peasants must defend the existing system of parliamentary democracy and the Constitution, which are allegedly under threat from communal and fascist forces like the BJP.
There is no reason for workers and peasants to defend the existing capitalist democracy. There is no reason to defend this Constitution which does not guarantee our rights.
The declaration of Emergency in 1975 was not in violation of the Constitution. Article 352 exists precisely in order to permit the monopoly houses to declare an emergency and deprive people of all their rights, whenever they perceive a threat to their rule.
The arbitrary arrests of people under the UAPA in recent times are also not in violation of the Constitution; nor are the anti-worker and anti-peasant laws which have been enacted in the year 2020.
The Constitution does not defend the rights of workers and peasants. It does not guarantee that human rights, democratic rights, national rights and minority rights are inviolable. Historical experience shows that this Constitution defends the unbridled “right” of the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas, Adanis and other monopoly capitalists to super-exploit workers, loot peasants and tribal peoples, devastate our land, environment and natural resources, all for the sake of reaping maximum private profits.
The Preamble to the Constitution is full of beautiful words which have no relationship to reality. The Indian Republic is the opposite of what is proclaimed in the Preamble. It is called a socialist republic, while it is in fact an institution for developing capitalism and turning India into an imperialist power. It is called a democratic republic, while it is in fact a brutal dictatorship of an exploiting minority, headed by the monopoly houses. It is called a secular republic, while in reality it is an organ to perpetuate the legacy of colonialism and its divide and rule principle.
In sum, the most important lesson from the experience of the Emergency and political developments since then is that the interests of workers and peasants cannot be served by defending the existing state, its Constitution and the system of parliamentary democracy. Our interests lie in replacing the existing state of bourgeois dictatorship with a new state of workers’ and peasants’ rule. Only then can the economy be reoriented to fulfil the people’s needs. Only then can prosperity and protection be guaranteed for all.
We need to strengthen the Communist Ghadar Party of India as the main subjective force, the vanguard of the proletariat. By adhering to the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism, the communist movement will be able to unite the workers, peasants and broad masses of people around the definite practical tasks of the time. These are: an immediate end to the program of privatisation and liberalisation; establishment of workers’ and peasants’ rule; overthrow of capitalism as the condition for the completion of the democratic, anti-colonial, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggle; and the building of socialism through revolution.