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‘Even if life was taken away illegally, courts are helpless’: the Congress toolkit for protecting institutions

At a Supreme Court hearing in 1976, the Congress government explained why the fundamental rights under Article 21 had been canceled. At this, one of the Justices happened to ask if the right to life, which is included in Article 21 had also been canceled.

Recently, Rahul Gandhi made headlines in the media when he admitted that imposing the Emergency in 1975 was the wrong thing to do. But he added a caveat to his statement. He insisted that “Congress at no point tried to capture India’s institutional framework.” Accordingly, I have put together a brief 3 point toolkit to preserving India’s institutional framework, taking inspiration from the formidable Indira Gandhi and her illustrious grandson Rahul.

(1) Step one: Cancel Elections.

In the 1971 general elections, Indira Gandhi’s Congress won a massive mandate of 352 seats in the Lok Sabha, which used to have 518 seats at the time. Indira Gandhi had the people’s mandate to rule. There was only one problem though. The mandate was supposed to expire in five years and fresh elections would be needed. Because people can be ungrateful at times, this could have been a risky proposition.

That’s why the Congress government decided to cancel the elections of 1976. No elections means no dissent and no capture of institutions.

(2) Step two: Cancel Habeas Corpus

What can you do if the government picks you up tomorrow and throws you in jail? You have a right to know the charges against you. You have to be produced before a court. This is called Habeas Corpus. So the Congress government canceled Habeas Corpus. Possibly because Latin is a dead language anyway.

At a Supreme Court hearing in 1976, the Congress government explained why the fundamental rights under Article 21 had been canceled. At this, one of the Justices happened to ask if the right to life, which is included in Article 21 had also been canceled.

The Attorney General replied: “Even if life was taken away illegally, courts are helpless.

How reassuring.

(3) Step three: Pick the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court correctly

Remember the pesky old judge who tried to trip up the Attorney General by asking him if the Congress government has given itself the power to take lives without a trial? Sounds like a troublemaker. His name was Justice Hans Raj Khanna. He would have become the next Chief Justice of India if traditions of seniority were anything to go by.

And that’s why his junior, Justice Mirza Hameedullah Beg, ascended to the post of CJI in January 1977. In one of his rulings on the Emergency, Justice M H Beg had observed: “We understand that the care and concern bestowed by the state authorities upon the welfare of detenues who are well housed, well-fed and well treated, is almost maternal.”

The Emergency is maternal? Canceling elections is maternal? Canceling the right to life is maternal? This guy gets it. This guy truly understands the meaning of the expression “India is Indira.”

With the right tools, any country can become a functioning democracy with strong institutions like India used to be during the Emergency. That’s why I have put together this toolkit. Now we just need approval from Mia Khalifa and Mo Dhaliwal.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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