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From Bofors to The Emergency: Read how Arun Shourie watered-down corruption to suspension of civil rights by Congress to target the Modi govt

"The second difference would be shame. This has now become acceptable behaviour. At that time, people were quite ashamed if the truth was uncovered," the former BJP Minister claimed.

The former journalist and BJP Minister, Arun Shourie, has recently courted controversy for trying to water down the horrors of the Emergency and painting the incumbent Narendra Modi government in a poor light.

On Friday (April 1), Arun Shourie appeared on NDTV’s show ‘Reality Check’, hosted by Sreenivasan Jain, to speak about his new book ‘The Commissioner For Lost Causes’. During the conversation, Jain tried to draw parallels between the Congress government of the 70s and 80s to that of the incumbent BJP government at the Centre.

“It is not as if the earlier Congress regimes were not hostile to the press, be it Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Not just during the Emergency but otherwise! Yet, you say in your book that you don’t want it to be used as whataboutery,” the news anchor remarked.

He further added, “The sins of the past are used to justify the sins of the present. So in that sense then, how would you make that distinction between what was happening then and what is happening today?”

Arun Shourie responded, “One is the question of scale- both in the media and the government. Yes, there must have been people at that time who took PIB handouts and just wrote by a special correspondent and sent it to the press. But that was an exception. Today, it is the rule. “

“Similarly, in the government’s case, there were lies such as during the Bofors scandal. But today, it is endemic. You really need to search for a truthful statement from GDP figures to everything else. The matter of scale is very different,” he alleged.

“The second difference would be shame. This has now become acceptable behaviour. At that time, people were quite ashamed if the truth was uncovered,” the former BJP Minister claimed.

He continued, “If a journalist would have been fed stories by the Ministry of Home/ Defence, then, he would have come to be known as a government spokesperson. He would have felt out of place among others. But today it will be a badge of honour.”

Arun Shourie claims Indira Gandhi regretted the declaration of Emergency

Arun Shourie then went on to eulogise Indira Gandhi for calling off the Emergency and ordering fresh elections on January 18, 1977. “One of the prevailing theories was that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had misled her deliberately, saying that you will get 350 seats and so on,” he said during the show.

“She knew that she was going to lose but she had a great unease about what she had to do including the arrest of people known to her father. There was also the heritage of the freedom struggle and the values for which the rulers of that era and their parents had fought. But today there is no sense of shame,” he further alleged.

Sreenivasan Jain hopped on the opportunity to suggest that despite quashing the Fundamental rights of citizens for 21 long months, Indira Gandhi was a just and lenient ruler.

“The withdrawal of the Emergency and the allowing of the elections was not because of IB report or external pressure but as you say of Mariyada i.e. threatened democracy but within a certain limit?” he inquired.

“There was a certain sense of personal obligation,” Arun Shourie replied. He claimed that Indira Gandhi ‘regretted’ arresting her political dissidents, who were well-known in public life and fuelled by a spirit of patriotism.

“That sense of shame and regret was there. I heard it from (philosopher) J Krishnamurti himself because Mrs Gandhi had sought a meeting with him at (writer) Pupul Jaykar’s house. He told me how remorseful she was.”

Former BJP Minister suggests ‘New India’ is worse than that during the Emergency

Sreenivasan Jain then attempted to draw superfluous analogies between the Emergency era and India of 2021. He claimed that politicians now have no sense of limit aka Mariyada. Arun Shourie nodded in affirmation and said that there is no sense of shame on the 3 sides.

“On the rulers’ side – no sense of restraint and shame at all. On the side of the media- no sense of shame in puffing or covering up those deeds and on the side of the public who have now accepted all this as the new normal,” he claimed. Arun Shourie suggested that the Covid-19 data was misleading but the people have accepted it as the new normal.

By watering down the horrors of the Emergency, the former BJP Minister portrayed Indira Gandhi as a politician who knew her limits and insinuated that PM Modi lacked both shame and restraint. He also suggested that India of 2021 has leapt decades behind in safeguarding the rights of citizens as compared to the Emergency era.

Recounting the 1975 Emergency

Indira Gandhi, whose 1971-election victory against Raj Narain was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court in 1975, imposed a national emergency in the country to protect her political interests. Indira Gandhi, rather than accepting her defeat with all grace, imposed the draconian emergency and locked up her political opponents in 1975.

The Allahabad Court’s judgment to dismiss the electoral victory of Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareli came from the fact that she had indulged in corrupt electoral practices during the elections.

The court had also barred her from contesting any Lok Sabha elections for the next six years, which led Indira Gandhi to subvert the country’s democratic procedures stated in the constitution.

The Youth Congress played a critical role during the period. Bureaucrat Naveen Chawla, socialite Rukhsana Sultana (infamous for forced sterilisation campaign), police officer PS Bhinder, and Congress leader Ambika Soni oversaw the implementation of Sanjay Gandhi’s 5-point programme.

This included demolition of slums/ beautification drive, adult literacy, abolition of dowry, caste system and contentious family planning. Not only that, Indira Gandhi several times in the past misused the provisions of Article 356 to impose President’s Rule in various states for her political gains.

During her tenure as the country’s Prime Minister from 1966- 77 and 1980- 84, she had imposed President’s rule a total of fifty times, which is the highest for any Prime Minister. Today, Indira Gandhi is remembered for attempting to destroy India’s democratic credentials to satisfy her power-lust.

In the aftermath of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 elections from the Rae Bareli constituency.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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