A tale of three Emergencies: real reason always different

The proclamation of Emergency in Pakistan by General Pervez Musharraf, though a cause of serious concern, did not take the world by surprise. Ever since the General assumed power in October, 1999, a smooth transition to democracy in Pakistan appeared challenging. A military dictator would hate to visualise the possibility of a democratic regime, which may ever hold the dictator accountable for acts done during his regime. Overthrow of elected governments was not unknown to Pakistan. Arresting and prosecuting political opponents also had its precedents. But pushing leaders of democratic parties into exile was somewhat unprecedented. How would any of these leaders once back in power respond to an erstwhile dictator? It was, therefore, logical for the General to eliminate the remote possibility of restoration of democracy. The path he has chosen is not original.

When I heard the General on the evening of November 3, 2007 addressing his country, the arguments; the logic and even the turn of phrases appeared to be identical to the language used by dictators in other countries countries who have resorted to a constitutionally empowered dictatorship.

Adolf Hitler did not command a majority in his own legislature. He used the pretext of the so-called fire in the Reichstag to proclaim a state of emergency. He assumed all powers to himself. He detained his political opponents and censored the newspapers. The composition of courts was changed and the intimidated court accepted and ratified every word of what the Fuehrer commanded. Hitler's logic was simple - the nation had been threatened and was being destabilised. He wanted a disciplined society which would make rapid progress. To identify himself with economic progress, he announced a 25-point economic programme. The fear psychosis built around him perpetuated his personality cult. "Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler," his supporters proclaimed. He claimed an achievement that even trains were running on time and people were welcoming the dictatorship due to growth and discipline. Hitler never enjoyed legislative majority. He used the emergency provisions to perpetuate a personal rule.

Indira Gandhi's emergency in 1975 took a leaf out of Hitler's book. She was unseated by a judgment of the Allahabad High Court. The Supreme Court granted her only a partial stay. Her continuation in power was threatened. Young Turks led by Shri Chandra Shekhar who were rebelling against her. A nationwide movement led by Shri Jai Prakash Narayan threatened her politics and popular support. Her alibi for the proclamation of emergency was not very different. She complained of the process of destabilisation of the Nation. The armed forces were being asked to disobey illegal orders. A Minister in her Cabinet had been assassinated and, therefore, India could not afford the luxury of democracy. She proclaimed a state of Internal Emergency, detained the entire Opposition, censored all the newspapers and banned all forms of political protest. The blackout of Pakistani TV channels this week reminds us of the power cut in the offices of a newspaper published from New Delhi the day emergency was proclaimed. Their publications were physically disrupted through power cuts. Censors were posted in each newspaper. Independent Editors were detained. The tackling of the Judiciary had begun two years earlier. Three independent judges of the Supreme Court were superseded in order to change the 'social and political philosophy' of the Court. The then Prime Minister and her supporters repeatedly complained that all socialist and pro-poor economic measures were being obstructed by the Judiciary. Seventeen independent judges of the High Courts who decided in favour of the detinues were transferred as a vindictive counter blast. Effigies of the Judge who had unseated Mrs. Gandhi were burnt in public demonstration. The forces of destabilisation had to be stopped. Even the well-meaning Vinoba Bhave called the emergency as a 'festival of discipline' — an Anushashan Parva.. Dictators find many honourable supporters too. With the suspension of all democratic activity and an environment of fear psychosis being created, Mrs. Indira Gandhi went a step further and thought the emergency was the best occasion to compel the country to accept a dynastic succession. The family was now the Party. In fact, the family was the saviour of the country. The Supreme Court was compelled to hold that both illegal detention and even killings could not be complained off.

Many of those who are born and have grown up after the mid-1970's may have forgotten the impact of these developments. Compare the striking similarities with what has happened in Pakistan in the last few days. The General's alibi for emergency is terrorism. That has been a constant factor for the last several years. The General hates an independent judiciary. When his attempts to sack the Chief Justice have failed, he is now constitutionally empowered to remove him. Judges who refused to swear by an authoritarian regime have to exit. A set of pliable judges has entered. Pliable judges would ordinarily endorse and approve every dictatorial measure that the General takes. Compare the remarkable similarities with what happened in India. The proclamation of the Internal Emergency in 1975 amended both the Constitution and the Election law retrospectively in order to validate her (Indira Gandhi's) invalid election. The then pliable court endorsed the legislative changes. In Pakistan the General was threatened from being declared ineligible to contest elections. The General's personal interest was more important than Pakistan's judicial institution. Democracy has been subverted to keep one person in power. The packaging of Pakistan's Supreme Court is intended to save the General's election. The media has been restrained and the dissenters will be arrested. The Court has been packed. Indira Gandhi followed the German practice of announcing a 20-point economic programme and using the emergency's discipline of the graveyard for compelling economic growth. It won't be surprising that the General now comes up with an economic package for Pakistan.

The Congress President during the emergency breached the German copyright by proclaiming that "Indira is India and India is Indira". Ultimately, subversion of democracy, censorship of the Press, packing of the judicial institution, illegal detentions of opponents, creation of a fear psychosis in all the three Emergencies was ostensible to prevent the Nation from breaking up or destabilisng. It was proclaimed that it was a pro-poor move in order to expedite economic growth. The real reason was always different - perpetuating personal rule, eliminating dissent and disallowing criticism. Societies have shown great resilience in overcoming these dictatorial moves. I have no doubt that what happened post Emergency in India would repeat itself in Pakistan.

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