Friday, May 22, 2009

Role of The Communists In The Restoration Of Democracy



 (This article was published in Peoples' Democracy on '30TH ANNIVERSARY OF 'INTERNAL EMERGENCY’ )

26th June, 2005 


THE clamping down of internal emergency on June 26, 1975 and its operation over the next 19 months represents one of the darkest periods in the political history of India. For all practical purposes, the Indian Constitution was kept in suspense, parliamentary democracy was trodden brutally underfoot, and an authoritarian rule proclaimed. Three decades onward to that malevolent episode, the importance of carrying forward the struggle to safeguard democracy has to be realised in the proper perspective of what had happened thirty years ago.


The slogan mongering about removal of poverty (garibi hatao!) notwithstanding, the entire decade before the declaration of ‘emergency’ was riven with abject poverty. The number of people – 70 per cent of the population according to reliable estimates – under the poverty line went on increasing at an alarming rate. The Ford foundation-inspired ‘green revolution’ effectively robbed the rural poor of whatever little purchasing power they yet possessed. The falling prices of cash crops like jute, oil seeds, and cotton ruined the farmers even as black-marketeering and hoarding started to flourish. A 22 per cent increase in the general price level was noted during the early 1970s with the incidence of direct taxes adding to the extreme misery of the mass of the people.

The Indian industry was in deep crisis. Indira Gandhi had closed down 3,000 engineering and textile mills on returning to office in 1971. The industrial recession had a deep and pervading effect on the manufacturing sector. Meeting in Kolkata over June 10-12, 1975, the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) noted that the economy was in a state of dysfunction with spiralling unemployment, wide lay-offs, and a severely shrinking job market. The loot of the monopoly capitalists and of landlords was being ensured at the cost of extreme misery of workers, peasants, employees, professional groups, and small manufacturers.

In this dysfunctional economic background was the swing of political events that gave birth to the evil of ‘emergency.’




The fourth general elections depicted the unravelling of monopoly control of the Congress across the country. The fall-out was a severe internecine strife within the Congress itself. Two trends must be noted here. On one hand, the ‘syndicate’ Congress chose to veer towards the Jan Sangh-Swatantra Party political grouping. On the other, there was a rift within the Left and democratic forces. The 1972 Madurai party congress of the CPI(M) in 1972 had already noted that the leadership of several Left and democratic parties swung towards the Indira Congress and thus exposed their vacillating character. They also, noted the party congress, joined in the campaign of slander against the CPI(M).

It was the massive win that the Congress managed to post in this background of weakness of the Left and democratic forces that started the train of events. The Congress as the ruling party also claimed success over the events in Bangladesh where the struggle of the masses had triumphed. Posing as a ‘socialist,’ Indira Gandhi indulged in reckless counter-democratic ploys to win elections in states like Bengal while also triumphing elsewhere.


In Bengal, the Congress organised and put in place its assault on the CPI(M) as also on democratic forces and organisations led by it. Yet, the CPI(M) emerged as the biggest single political party in the 1971 Bengal state elections, winning 113 seats. Ignoring CPI(M)’s claim to form the government, a makeshift outfit of political coteries was asked to put up a coalition government. Two months later, under President’s rule, a swath of terror cut across Bengal, organised by the central paramilitary forces, and the thugs of the Congress.

The CPI(M) was the chief target. More than 1100 of CPI(M) workers were put to death. Party offices, TU offices, and the offices of mass organisations were ransacked and occupied. Thousands of people were implicated in false cases, thousands more incarcerated without the benefit of trial. In the circumstances, riding a wave of terror and openly rigging the polls, the Congress managed to ‘win’ the election of 1972.

Jyoti Basu wrote in his booklet entitled ‘The Decimation of Parliamentary Democracy in West Bengal’ that the people of West Bengal had remained in the front ranks of the resistance against the policies of the Congress. The Left and democratic forces in West Bengal posed a challenge to the Congress. The triumph of the masses in West Bengal would encourage people elsewhere to defy the authoritarian ploys of the Congress.

The Congress took recourse to semi-fascist terror to clamp down its sway on Bengal. The ninth congress of the CPI(M) noted how the Congress, desperate to cling to office, had trodden underfoot, parliamentary democracy, voting rights, and the dignity due to the opposition.


As far back as 1972 had the CPI(M) commented at the ninth congress of the Party that factors like the failure to provide relief to the mass of the people, the tendency towards using implements of oppression, the weaknesses of the Left opposition and of the bourgeois parties, and the intolerance shown towards the opposition per se were indicative of the danger of a one-party authoritarianism. The warning went largely unheeded.

In the period preceding the ‘emergency,’ several big movements took place. These included strike actions, particularly the 22-day railway strike that was brutally suppressed. Elsewhere, Jayaprakash Narayan led a movement that brought to the fore issues like the emergent needs of the people, the issue of safeguarding democracy, and fulminating against corruption.

A rift among the bourgeois political parties was apparent when, in March of 1975, Jan Sangh, Congress (O), Bharatiya Lok Dal, and other bourgeois parties placed a charter of demands in the parliament. The CPI(M) was self-critical about its inability to take part in the anti-Congress movements across the country.


On June 12, 1975, the Congress was routed in the Gujarat state assembly elections. On the same day, the Allahabad high court adjudged that Indira Gandhi had won from the Rai Bareili parliamentary constituency by adopting illegal means. The court countermanded the election and ruled that Indira Gandhi would not be able to contest elections for the next six years.

The developments caused ripples to rise against Indira Gandhi within the Congress itself. Rather than tender her resignation, Indira Gandhi chose to declare ‘internal emergency’ on June 26, 1975. She wanted to convince the world that the emergency had to be imposed in order to secure the nation from the right reactionary forces and from the ultra Left. Her arguments do not hold water. Congress had always been friendly with outfits like the RSS whom Indira Gandhi had often praised. The ultra Left Naxalites were in 1975 a disorganised and spent force. Her arguments in favour of the ‘emergency’ were attempts to justify authoritarianism.

The Left remained riven with disunity. CPI jumped on the bandwagon of Indira Gandhi. The CPSU and other communist parties of some socialist countries openly supported Indira Gandhi. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau while calling for a broad front declared that the drive to build up greater and stronger Left and democratic unity must go on relentlessly.




A K Gopalan who was the leader of the parliamentary party was stringent in his attack on the ‘emergency.’ He raised the following points in his speech in the Lok Sabha where the bill for approval of the ‘emergency’ was brought up on July 21, 1975.

A large number of opposition leaders were in jail, including 39 MPs, many of whom were Congressmen

The ‘emergency’ was an assault against the people and the people had been robbed of their constitutional rights to democracy

The union government did not tolerate opposition; nor did it put with criticism and movements and struggles were struck down

Three thousand CPI(M) workers were arrested in the name of an anti-rightist drive

The general fall-out of the ‘emergency’ were:

The parliament was deprived of all rights and privileges

Freedom of speech was suspended

Censorship of the media touched horrifying proportions

Thousands of political workers were jailed without trial, including MPs and MLAs

Opposition-run autonomous institutions were set aside

Oppression on the people was unleashed in the name of population control measures

Attempt was made to delete the fundamental rights from the Constitution through the 42nd amendment

The storm troopers of the Congress and the Youth congress created an atmosphere of terror in the country


The opposition to authoritarianism ran along two streams of resistance. The CPI(M) and some Left parties were engaged in continuous opposition. They were in the front ranks in the fight against semi-fascist terror in Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura. On the other hand, there were the rightist parties like the Congress(O), the Jan Sangh, and the Swatantra party who became vocal on the issue of democracy. The latter movement grew in stature under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan in parts of north and western India. After meeting with Jayaprakash Narayan in Delhi and Kolkata, the CPI(M) and the Left proposed joint, parallel, or coordinated movements on the issue of civic rights.

The central committee of the CPI(M) had in the meanwhile called for the formation of a broad front with eminent persons of all political parties for the restoration of democracy. It also called for the massing of broad forces, on the tactics of ‘united front from below’, of the supporters of the opposition political parties. It was said that the Left and democratic forces would act as the principal instruments of the broad assemblage of forces; and that the broad assemblage did not connote the formation of either a political party or an electoral front.

Based on this understanding, the struggle against authoritarianism grew across the country and it took covert as well as overt forms. The working class played a big role in this movement for the restoration of democracy. The movements took place despite the ban on such actions. Elsewhere, the Congress(O), the Jan Sangh, the Swatantra party, and the socialist parties combined to set up the Janata Party. The CPI(M) had no illusions about the programmatic understanding of the Janata Party. Its efforts were to ensure that the largest votes were cast against ‘emergency’ and that the opposition unity did not get to suffer. The election slogan of the CPI(M) was: Vote Against ‘Emergency’. In the 1977 elections, Congress(I) was defeated and the new Janata Party-Congress-for-Democracy government withdrew the ‘emergency.’ The struggle, however, had not ended.


The sustained pressure of movements led and organised by the CPI(M) and the Left that finally saw the restoration over time of the democratic rights that the ‘emergency’ had abrogated. Withdrawal of MISA and of the 42nd amendment to the Constitution, too, saw the new regime drag its feet before the CPI(M) and the Left brought pressure to bear on the union government.

The tenth congress of the CPI(M) was very correct in pointing out that the struggle against overt attempts to clamp down authoritarianism was to be a long and sustained struggle. The defeat of the Congress in the elections never meant the defeat of the classes that created the ambience of authoritarianism. The correlation of class forces had not changed .The danger of parliamentary compromise on the question of removing the structure of authoritarianism continued to remain. The need of the hour was, noted the CPI(M), to unite the masses against authoritarianism.

Realising the importance of broad forum and democratic resistance, the CPI(M) spoke of the need to utilise the opportunity created by the rift in the bourgeois parties to set up the broad forum and to utilise it towards breaking down the authoritarian structure. It was found necessary to bring out from within the fold of the ruling classes and the parties of the ruling classes, those sections that opposed authoritarianism. It was Marxist strategy to mobilise any class and party for the safeguarding of democratic rights.

The tenth congress of the CPI(M) also noted that the danger of authoritarianism lay hidden, in the increasing domination of monopoly and big capitalists, and landlords, and in the increasing influence of foreign monopoly capital. The CPI(M) stated that while utilising the potential of wider resistance to authoritarianism, the CPI(M), and the working class must ensure that the domination and influence of these classes went on the wane.

To change the correlation of class forces and to free the masses from the twin bourgeois-landlord formations, it was necessary to build up a Left and democratic front. A priority of the Left and democratic front would be to continue unabated the struggle against authoritarianism. It was noticed soon enough after the formation of the Janata Party-CFD government that it had great and fundamental difference with the Left on the question of democracy.

Apart from hesitating in carrying forth the task of dismantling the ‘emergency’ structure, the union government, and Janata Party-led state governments, would chose to bring down oppression on the democratic rights and on democratic movements of the people across the country. Indira Gandhi was to take advantage of the disquiet the people felt at the economic policy of the new regime in Delhi and elsewhere.

The Left Front governments of Bengal and Tripura, on the other hand, engaged themselves in the task of expanding democratic rights. Among the issues of priority marked out by the LF governments were: abrogation of incarceration without trial, restoration of democratic rights, freeing of political prisoners, democratising the education system, and holding elections to the three-tier panchayat system. The policy of the LF governments gave relief to the working people, and as the forces of democracy became stronger, the forces of authoritarianism became weaker.


The analysis of the CPI(M) about the danger of authoritarianism was proved correct when Indira Gandhi came back to office in 1980. The National Security Act and the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) were put in place ––counter-democratic legislations each. The aim was to increase oppression as the protests against economic deterioration became widespread. ESMA was targeted to ban strike actions. Mail started to be censored. Parliament was to be made inconsequential. States rights started to be interfered with. A presidential form of government was talked about. The Constitution was being amended to suit authoritarian whims.

The rift in the opposition ranks, especially after the formation of the BJP, helped the Congress since the BJP was concerned only in becoming Congress’s alternative and was no longer interested in coalitions or fronts against authoritarianism. The eleventh congress of the CPI(M) (held in 1982) marked the challenge of authoritarianism as the principal danger.

Indeed, the Congress continued to be on the path authoritarianism even after the assassination of Indira Gandhi and of the triumph in the subsequent Lok Sabha polls. As the twelfth congress of the CPI(M) pointed out: the ruling classes and the ruling class parties could never implement their anti-people economic policies without organising an assault on the democratic norms. Democracy, indeed, continued to be attacked at the grass-roots level. NSA continued, MISA was re-imposed, strike actions were viciously attacked, the Andhra Pradesh state government was toppled, the government media was utilised to serve the interests of the Congress.

At the same time, the danger of separatism and secessionism started to raise their ugly heads in Punjab, Assam, north-eastern India and elsewhere — causing a threat to be poised against national unity and integrity. The opportunistic policy of the Congress increased the dimensions of the danger. As the twelfth congress of the CPI(M) noted: in office, the Congress endangers not only democracy but also national unity.


It was chiefly under the aegis and leadership of the CPI(M) that the process of building up unity among the Left and democratic forces started to gain momentum once more. The Bengal Left Front played a stellar role in this regard. Following discussions, and after the Bhatinda Congress, the CPI changed the line of cooperation with Congress and joined the Left forces. A coordination committee of the Left was set up at the parliamentary level. The unity of the Left was reflected in the expanding mass struggles. The Left unity also played a role in working out relationships with the opposition bourgeois parties.

In the case of the opposition bourgeois parties, two elements assumed importance. First, taking a secular stand became an effective indicator in the background of the enhanced danger of the forces of communalism. Second, the role of the regional parties became important in the task of safeguarding democracy as these parties gained in strength. Four conclaves of 17-18 opposition parties were held in Vijaywada, Delhi, Srinagar, and Kolkata in 1983-84. These developments saw an increase in the size and frequency of mass rallies on the question of safeguarding democracy.


It is not possible to discuss the struggle to uphold and strengthen democracy without referring to the menace of the communal forces. This is necessary for a correct analysis of the past, for a proper assessment of the present situation, and for the sake of struggle to be waged in the days to come to defend and strengthen democracy.

Before the elections of 1977, the Janata Party was formed. One of the constituents of that party was the Jan Sangh, which was guided by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh or the RSS. The latter started to control the new regime right from the beginning and encouraged the growth of Hindu communalism in a big way. The Jan Sangh soon claimed that its members must have the right to be the members of both Jan Sangh and the RSS. The crisis within the Janata Party deepened. The CPI(M) had long back issued warnings against the Jan Sangh and the RSS.

Calling the authoritarian Congress and the communal Jan Sangh-RSS the ‘twin dangers,’ the CPI(M) Polit Bureau had in 1974 called for a struggle against both. On the July crisis of the Janata Party, the assessment of the CPI(M) was that following the unravelling of that party, the remaining entity was under the control of the Jan Sangh-RSS with a few socialist and progressive personalities yet remaining within the fold of the party. The CPI(M) refused to support the regime. The central committee of the CPI(M) stated that the struggle against authoritarianism and communalism must be accompanied by the struggle against vested stakes to defend the interests of the people, and to provide at least temporary relief to the masses of the people.

Political parties did not always seriously view the gaining of strength of communal forces during 1987-88. The CPI(M) in contrast talked of fighting the authoritarian Congress by mobilising a comprehensive opposition unity, while working to isolate the forces of communalism. At the height of the struggle against the plethora of corruption at the highest places during Rajiv Gandhi’s premiership, the central committee of the CPI(M) pointed out that the anti-communal stand of the CPI(M) and the Left urged upon those parties, which would enlist the help of the forces of communalism to form electoral alliances against the Congress, to rethink their line.

The CPI(M) in fact continued with energy to bring to the secular platform even those parties that were keen to strike a compromise with the BJP. The CPI(M) spoke clearly of the ‘twin danger of authoritarianism and communalism’ in the election manifesto for the 1989 polls. The CPI(M) also refused to have any seat adjustments with the BJP and, indeed, the CPI(M) candidates won from constituencies like Kanpur and Nawada defeating BJP candidates. On the issue of building of a temple at Ayyodhya during the time the V P Singh-led government was in office at the centre, the CPI(M) made clear that a firm stand must be taken on the question of secularism and against communalism. The Congress and the BJP together proceeded to vote out the Singh government, enhancing manifold the communal danger to the nation.


Subsequently, the BJP government assumed office as a danger to democracy. The attacks on democracy included attacks on minorities, genocide in Gujarat, attempt to introduce presidential form of government through amendment of the Constitution, introduction of POTA, infiltration by the RSS not only in education institutions but also in the armed forces. Ideologically speaking, the communal drive is an attack on democratic values.

It is not correct to think that the danger to democracy would be forthcoming from a particular political party. The danger to democracy is inherent in the various forms of conflict between the people, the ruling classes, and the economic policy that the ruling classes would like to clamp down on the people. To take an example: those who argue forcibly in favour of liberal policies are also vocal in favour of curtailing the rights of the working people. Of late, the interference from the administration, and even from the judiciary, is increasingly witnessed on TU activities, against the right to strike, and against the right to hold rallies and meetings.

The policy of liberalisation, and the economic outlook that caters to the interests of the international finance capital, cannot be established in a full-fledged manner unless they are able to curtail the democratic rights of the people. Thus, the struggle for democracy is essentially important as a part of the struggle against the policy of liberalisation. (INN)