Read The Hindu Notes of 15th April 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 15th April 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 15th April 2019
  • Beyond the free trade idealism

    An ambitious ‘Employment and Incomes Policy’ must be the top priority for the next government

  • The U.S. has begun trade skirmishes with India. It objects to India increasing import duties on electronic goods and wants India to reduce duties on U.S.-made motorcycles. Meanwhile the World Trade Organisation seems to be in the intensive care unit. It is time to apply fundamental principles to reshape a trade regime that is fair to all.
  • On free trade

  • The macro-economic case for free trade is that if each person would do only what he or she does better than everyone else and all would trade with each other, everyone’s welfare will increase. Also, the size of the global economic pie would be larger because there will be no inefficiencies. The problem is that, at present, many people in the world are doing what others, in other countries, can do better than them. To get to the economists’ ideal state, many people will have to stop doing what they are doing and learn to do something else.
  • Dani Rodrik has estimated that for every unit of overall increase in global income, six or seven units of incomes will have to be shuffled around within. Moreover, according to this theory, people should not start producing what others are already producing, because they will produce less efficiently until they learn to do it well. According to this theory of free trade, Indians should not have bothered to learn how to produce trucks, buses and two-wheelers when the country became independent. They should have continued to import them from American, European and Japanese companies.
  • Free trade purists say that easy import of products from other countries increases consumer welfare. Consumers everywhere welcome a lowering of import barriers because it brings products into their shops they could only dream of before. Milton Friedman had observed that, in international trade, exports help companies and imports help citizens. Therefore, resistance to free trade does not come from consumers. It generally comes from companies which cannot compete: companies in less developed countries which are not able to compete until their country’s infrastructure is improved and they have acquired sufficient capabilities, or even from companies in developed countries when producers in developing countries overtake them.
  • Job growth

  • However, to benefit from easy imports, citizens need incomes to buy the products and services available. Therefore, they need jobs that will provide them adequate incomes. Any government responsible for the welfare of its citizens has to be concerned about the growth of jobs in the country. Domestic producers can provide jobs. Ergo, a developing country needs a good ‘industrial policy’ to accelerate the growth of domestic production, by building on its competitive advantages; and by developing those capabilities, it can compete with producers in countries that ‘developed’ earlier.
  • When the ‘no barriers to free trade’ movement went into overdrive with the Washington Consensus in the 1990s, the concept of ‘industrial policy’, which had become associated with the idea of ‘protection’ of domestic industries, became a taboo. India liberalised imports in the 1990s and Indian consumers have benefited greatly since then from the variety of products available to them from around the world. However, by 2009, when the second United Progressive Alliance government was formed, the weakness of Indian manufacturing industries had become a great concern. The manufacturing sector in India and China had comparable capabilities in 1990. By 2009, China’s was 10 times larger than India’s, and its capital goods production sector was 50 times larger. Not only was the Indian market being flooded with Chinese hand-tools and toys, China was also selling high-tech electrical and telecommunication equipment to India (and around the world too).
  • Signs were already visible then that India’s impressive GDP growth was not generating enough employment for India’s large youth population. Whereas India’s economy should have been a powerful job generator, the employment elasticity of India’s growth — the numbers of jobs created per unit of GDP growth — was among the lowest in the world. Some people in government recommended the need for an ‘industrial policy’ to stimulate the growth of domestic production. However, many Indian economists, along with others from the World Bank and the U.S., pushed back. ‘Industrial policy’ was a backward idea associated with Soviet-era planning, they argued. If Indian industry was not growing, it was because India had not ‘reformed’ enough: India should reduce trade barriers further and government should get further out of the way of industry, they said.
  • The next step

  • By 2019, it has become clear that India’s policy-makers must find a way for economic growth to produce more income-generating opportunities for Indian citizens. Employment and incomes are the most pressing issues for Indian citizens according to all pre-election surveys of what citizens expect from the next government. All parties are responding in panic with schemes for showering various versions of unearned ‘universal basic incomes’ on people who are not able to earn enough. This approach is unlikely to be economically sustainable. Therefore, an ambitious ‘Employment and Incomes Policy’ must be the highest priority for the next government.
  • While India seeks to capture larger shares of global markets, India’s own billion-plus citizens’ economy can become a stimulus for growth of millions of enterprises. If citizens earn more, they can spend more. The ‘Employment and Incomes Policy’ should guide the Industrial Policy to where investments are required, and also what is expected from those investments to produce more income-generating opportunities for young Indians.
  • The scope of ‘industry’ must be broadened to include all sectors that can build on India’s competitive advantages. For example, the tourism and hospitality industry, taking advantage of India’s remarkable diversity of cultures and natural beauty, has the potential to support millions of small enterprises in all parts of the country. By building on India’s competitive advantage of large numbers of trainable youth, and with digital technologies to increase the reach of small enterprises, manufacturing and services can provide many domestic and export opportunities that India has so far not seized.
  • There are lessons India can learn from its own history. With the government’s insistence in the pre-liberalisation era that production and technology must be indigenised in phased manufacturing programmes, India’s automobile sector was able to provide Indian consumers with good products. It now provides millions of people with employment and incomes in widespread domestic supply chains. Moreover, Indian auto-component producers and commercial vehicle producers export to the world’s most competitive markets.
  • In contrast, the Indian electronics sector has languished, while China’s has flourished. India signed the Information Technology Agreement of WTO in 1996 and reduced import duties on IT-related manufactured products to zero. China withheld for some time until its electronic sector was stronger. Now the U.S. and Europe are trying to prevent China’s telecom and electronic goods in their markets.
  • To conclude, the WTO’s governance needs to be overhauled to promote the welfare of citizens in all countries, especially poorer ones, rather than lowering barriers to exports of companies in rich countries in the guise of free trade idealism. And Indian economists, distracted by the mathematics of universal basic incomes, should return to the fundamentals of economic growth — more opportunities to earn incomes from productive work with development of new capabilities. A robust ‘Incomes and Employment Policy’, supported by an imaginative Industrial Policy, must guide India’s trade policy.
  • Political careerism is fine but sad

    Why a party spokesperson’s defection to another group is especially unsettling

  • Last week, Priyanka Chaturvedi, till then national spokesperson of the Congress and convener of its communications cell, quit the party. She claimed her decision was triggered by the party’s move to reinstate some Congress workers who had been suspended for misbehaving with her. Had this been the only reason, her exit would have been truly unfortunate, both for her and the party. But the story did not end there. Within 48 hours of leaving the Congress, Ms. Chaturvedi joined the Shiv Sena.
  • The surprise factor

  • It is not unusual for politicians to switch parties. But there is something about this episode that makes it less palatable than the humdrum defections of Indian politics. It is not comparable to, say, a Shatrughan Sinha joining the Congress before the 2019 general election. On the face of it, Mr. Sinha’s defection is far more serious: he was a sitting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and a former Union minister. Ms. Chaturvedi, on the other hand, has never contested a national election. But Mr. Sinha’s defection barely raised an eyebrow, while Ms. Chaturvedi’s came as a big surprise to many.
  • She has been a prominent face of the Congress. Over the past few years, she quickly climbed the party ranks on the back of high-voltage visibility afforded by her prime time television appearances. Her identity was that of a forceful defender of the Congress and an articulate votary of the party’s ascribed values. Of course, these values have always been rather nebulous. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be affirmed about them, even if only in the negative.
  • If there is one thing that can be said about the Congress’s ascribed values — as opposed to the ones on display — it is that they are adversarial to those of the Shiv Sena, the BJP, and the extended Sangh Parivar. To be sure, this hasn’t deterred a regular osmosis of politicians between the two camps. In the moral desert of Indian politics, and the even more barren discourse that dominates its coverage in the media, such behaviour is more likely to be commended as a sign of political ambition than censured as opportunism. There is a strong element of this worldview in the responses that have greeted Ms. Chaturvedi’s switch, not least among other Congresspersons, who seem to harbour no sense of betrayal or resentment. On the contrary, her ex-colleagues have wished her well for her new gig in the Shiv Sena from where, presumably, she will now attack with zeal the very party she used to defend with conviction. Yet her case is different: she was a spokesperson.
  • There is a difference between an MP, MLA or a senior leader switching parties, and a spokesperson doing the same. A ‘plain’ party leader’s primary audience is her own constituency, and her party’s supporters. But a party spokesperson’s primary audience is the world at large, not merely her own or her party’s followers. She represents the party to the world. When she addresses the public, she is the voice of her party, not — and never — speaking for herself. In other words, a spokesperson is not like any other party member. A national spokesperson, by the very nature of the role, works closely with the top leadership. She has a deep understanding of, and affinity with, her party’s avowed ideology and the leadership’s vision. Typically, only a person whose loyalty is beyond question should get such a role.
  • At any rate, from a ‘civilian’ perspective, it is difficult to say which is more disturbing: the casual break with old-fashioned loyalty, or the cynical acceptance, and even admiration, of what, in plain sight, is a display of naked careerism.
  • Such careerism is par for the course in the corporate world, where you can be a spokesperson for Pepsodent one day and Colgate the next. God — and Mammon — forbid, it’s no one’s case that politicians cannot be careerists. Indeed, it would be difficult to pinpoint a politician today who isn’t one. The dominant register of political discourse today is so quick to justify a politician’s right to trample ideology and ethics in her fervid commitment to serving her own self that questions about public service are seldom asked. But asked they must be.
  • Commitment issues

  • In Ms. Chaturvedi’s case, the questions are obvious. Was she ever committed to the values of liberty, equality (especially gender equity) and fraternity that she upheld as a Congress spokesperson? If yes, what does one make of her commitment to these values now that she has joined a party whose political capital is rooted in the wilful desecration of those very values? If her espousal of those values was mere posturing, was she then making a fool of all those who took her seriously? Or is this question silly because no one took her seriously in the first place and everyone had known all along that one day she would join a party with a legacy of hate?
  • Perhaps Ms. Chaturvedi’s defection rankles because she doesn’t come from typical political stock. It rankles for the same reason that the kind of doublespeak seen as commonplace coming from other parties is suddenly outrageous when it comes from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Perhaps it’s because one has — or had, in the case of the AAP — higher expectations. There was something AAP-like about Ms. Chaturvedi. Not anymore. She was a political outsider who led us to believe that she joined politics for much the same reasons that many joined the AAP — to serve society, to do some good, ridiculous as this sounds. We know not to believe such posturing. But sometimes, one does so anyway. And when disappointment comes, as it invariably must, it carries a whiff of sadness.
  • Just recompense

    Compensation for Bilkis Bano underlines the state’s obligation for horrific crimes

  • Compensation to victims is a relatively less recognised component of criminal justice. In a system that focusses mainly on the accused, an order of compensation is a recognition of the state’s obligation to victims of crime, especially horrific acts. In ordering the Gujarat government to pay ₹50 lakh to Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano, a gang-rape survivor of the 2002 communal pogrom in the State who has bravely fought her case, the Supreme Court has endeavoured to achieve restitutive justice. Handing over the fine amounts paid by the accused as part of their sentence is one aspect of such justice; another aspect is for the court to ask the government to compensate the victim from its own coffers. A group of rioters had raped her as well as two other women, and killed seven members of her family at Randhikpur village on March 3, 2002. The court noted that she had the misfortune of witnessing her daughter being smashed against a wall, as well as the devastation suffered by her family. She was also pregnant at the time of the incident. Further, the court was told that she was leading an itinerant, hand-to-mouth existence. It is in these circumstances that the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi awarded her ₹50 lakh, besides asking the State government to provide her with a government job and a house.
  • Ms. Bano’s case is indeed a rare one: criminal prosecution resulted in conviction and life sentences to 11 persons. The sentences were upheld by the Bombay High Court. Further, the court found deliberate inaction on the part of some police officers and that the autopsies were perfunctory and manipulated. The Supreme Court has asked for the pension benefits of three police officers to be withdrawn. In short, this is a concrete instance of state inaction and negligence that would normally justify the payment of a hefty compensation. Not every crime would have a similar set of circumstances. While convictions are not easy to come by in cases of mob violence, victim compensation may often be the only way to ensure some justice. The Code of Criminal Procedure was amended in 2008 to insert Section 357A under which every State government has to prepare a scheme to set up a fund from which compensation can be paid to victims of crime and their dependants who have suffered loss and injury and who may require rehabilitation. The Centre has a Central Victim Compensation Fund. On Supreme Court directions, the National Legal Services Authority has prepared a compensation scheme for women victims and survivors of sexual assault and other crimes. Many States have notified schemes on these lines. While on paper there is a mechanism to assess rehabilitation needs and pay compensation, there is a need to streamline the schemes and ensure that the compensation process is not done in an ad hoc manner, but is based on sound principles.
  • Comedian’s triumph

    Ukraine’s new President must quickly take on the geopolitical and governance challenges

  • What is extraordinary about Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential runoff is that it turned out to be so predictable. The comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, a rank political outsider until he announced his candidacy over New Year’s Eve, recorded the expected landslide victory. He had consistently led in the opinion polls, way ahead of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and a former Prime Minister. The political neophyte’s prospects were enhanced by a sequence of events. In February, Ukraine’s top court struck down an anti-corruption law in a setback for several prosecutions and jeopardising aid flows to Kiev. Soon, Mr. Poroshenko was forced to ease out an ally in an arms trade scandal. The developments dented the government’s image ahead of the elections in a country where the drive against graft has been a live issue for years. And a landslide became a probability with every passing day after Mr. Zelensky beat Mr. Poroshenko by a hefty margin in the first round of polling on March 31. Since Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels in November, Mr. Poroshenko had pitched his campaign merely on the need to bolster national unity against the threat from Moscow, and assert Ukraine’s unique national identity. But the final battle turned brutal and bitter, even if the rival candidates’ campaigns were woefully short on substance. Mr. Poroshenko, an ex-oligarch in confectionaries, attacked his opponent as a puppet of another oligarch. The reference was to Igor Kolomoisky, whose TV channel ran Mr. Zelensky’s popular show, and has business interests spanning finance and media. The commercial bank he owned was nationalised by the outgoing dispensation as part of an economic clean-up, and Mr. Kolomoisky may have sensed an opportunity in the election to settle scores.
  • For his part, Mr. Zelensky used a final pre-election debate in Kiev to argue that his candidacy was a judgment on the incumbent, and that his bid was the result of Mr. Poroshenko’s mistakes. As President, Mr. Zelensky enters uncharted territory. The first challenge before him is the parliamentary election later this year, in which he will have to work with established institutions and parties he had railed against during the campaign. There is also the continuing conflict with Russia in the rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine, where his political inexperience might be a serious handicap. Finally, Mr. Zelensky will be expected to deliver results in the country’s crusade against corruption. Progress in each of these areas will be crucial determinants in Ukraine’s bid for European Union membership. The television star will soon discover that while theatre might be a good launchpad for the start of a political career, it is no preparatory ground for the real tasks of governance.
  • The days after in Sri Lanka

    It is important to focus on popular solidarities and commonalities, instead of yielding to insecurity

    Attack in Sri Lanka
  • The first reaction of disbelief after receiving news of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, with more than 350 now confirmed dead, has not dissipated. The emotions are reminiscent to what most of us felt when we first heard news of the 2004 tsunami. Sri Lankans are not unused to tragedy or shocks — we, after all, have lived with an ethnic conflict, two insurrections, riots, assassinations and constitutional coups.
  • Nor is the disbelief simply because the war had ended 10 years ago and we were somehow lulled into a state of peace and non-violence. Rather, like when the tsunami happened, it is simply impossible to make sense of what is happening. This is unprecedented, nothing like this has happened before and nothing that has happened before has prepared us for this.
  • As I obsessively search for and read the numerous live updates, reports, op-ed pieces and media analyses on the attack and talk to friends and colleagues, I am no closer to understanding what happened than I was on Sunday morning. And in this age of the 24-hour news cycle, status updates and instant sharing of feelings, information and thoughts, I long for the time to pause, to reflect, and to grieve, without interruption.
  • The IS hand

  • On the day after the blasts, we were told that an organisation known as the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) was responsible for the attack and that several individuals have been arrested. All arrested so far have been Sri Lankan. On Tuesday, the Amaq news agency of the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, and then a video was released of alleged bombers pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  • Disturbingly, various members of the government have intimated that intelligence information had been available, but had not been communicated to those responsible for decision-making, including the Prime Minister. That this is an obvious carry-over from the rift between the executive and legislative branches of government since the incidents of October 2018 is evident. The insouciance with which this is being discussed by government Ministers and officials shows an unbelievable lack of awareness, that far from making any party look good, this revelation reflects the sheer incompetence, inadequacy and arrogance of the government.
  • The immediate feelings of incoherent rage that many of us are feeling in response to this spectacular lack of leadership and statesmanship in the country are easier to understand and analyse. The pettiness and immaturity of the leadership are all too clear. In this, what is going to be, an election year in Sri Lanka, perhaps we can even do something about it. But the rest is far more incomprehensible and harder to deal with.
  • Who are the NTJ? What are their local and global networks? How could they have found the resources and expertise to carry out such a well-coordinated attack of this magnitude? As evidenced by the remarkable promptness with which arrests have been made and locations of suspects and explosives found, the military and security apparatus that defeated the LTTE is still functioning.
  • To my knowledge, researchers who have worked on radical Islamist groups in Sri Lanka have not to date found any with the strength to carry out an operation of this scale on its own.
  • Certainly, small groups, espousing various causes, some highly inflammatory, have been noted, and in fact, the NTJ had been reported for activities such as defacing Buddhist statutes. But these were mainly seen as linked to local politics and the religious tensions that have been seen recently. There are many gaps in the story so far.
  • The post-war fallout

  • But more devastating are the implications of this attack for Sri Lanka’s post-war society. If international experiences are anything to go by, the response to such attacks has been increased levels of securitisation, surveillance and legal reforms aimed at strengthening the state and military apparatus. Sri Lanka has had a bitter experience of this in the past and what it has meant for ordinary people. Last year, a controversial Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) was placed before Parliament to replace the existing, draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Prior to this attack, many were working desperately for a simple repeal of the PTA, without it being replaced by the proposed CTA. This attack will make this effort very much harder.
  • Globally, there is plenty of evidence to show that widening socio-economic inequalities, increasing economic precariousness and the concentration of power within a closed circle of global (and local) economic and political elites can sow the seeds of discontent, intolerance and terrorism. We also know well that no longer are incidents simply ‘local’ — already, the narrative of what has happened in Sri Lanka has been globalised and there are many agendas which are riding on it. As one anguished post on Facebook noted, “we are no longer even allowed to name and interpret our own tragedies.”
  • In Sri Lanka, we have been struggling, especially since the end of the war, but also from long before, to combat ethno-religious nationalisms, entrenched social injustice and a political establishment that is increasingly out of touch with the people. We have been struggling to find a language and political strategies that can offer an alternative vision for the people, to find leaders who can inspire hope rather than contempt and cynicism. This attack is a huge setback for all those efforts. It has unleashed the kind of fears and insecurities that are demanding shrill rather than measured responses. And waiting in the wings are those who are harking back to the myth of a more ‘secure’ past and offering a return to a ‘strong’ leader. So when we try to make sense of these events, it is also important to consider which groups will seek to gain political advantage in the days to come.
  • Difficult as it is, we must continue to be sceptical of the narratives of terror and counter-terror as the only explanations and responses to what is happening. The conditions for extremism are within our own homes and communities. It must be countered not by suspicion and hate but by securing our relationships and challenging extremism in all its forms. Fear and insecurity are producing panic-stricken responses and a strengthening of anti-Muslim sentiments rather than a focus on our solidarities and commonalities.
  • It is important, therefore, to hold on, with all our hearts, to images and news of the winding lines of people wanting to donate blood at the National Blood Transfusion Service, the groups of people who are organising vigils in their homes and communities, visiting the bereaved and the injured, offering whatever comfort and support they can. The coming together of strangers in the most unexpected of ways to help each other and the grief (not anger) on the faces of people are indications that neither the attacks nor the dominant narrative being offered reflect the ‘true’ character, resilience and ethos of Sri Lanka and its people.
  • Taking advantage of BRI

    The China-led initiative’s global reach signals the advent of a new order led by Asia, which cannot exclude India

  • There are at least five reasons why India should have sent an observer to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum that begins in Beijing on April 25.
  • First, the defining feature of the 21st century is that Asia, not China, is at the centre of the world. The BRI is part of a transformation triggered by colonialism and industrial capitalism from the 1840s and influenced by the UN institutions and global rules from the 1950s. Of the estimated $30 trillion increase in middle-class consumption growth estimated by 2030, only $1 trillion is expected to come from Western economies and most of the rest from Asia. China’s population is nearly one-third of the total population of Asia but by 2050 its population of working age will shrink by 200 million people while in India the working-age population will increase by 200 million. Asians are not subscribing to a “China-led Asia”, which would imply returning to the colonial order.
  • Second, the global spread of the BRI signals the political end of the old order where the G7 shaped the economic agenda. Italy, a member of the G7, is joining the BRI, despite the publicly voiced objection of the U.S., just as Britain joined the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015. Asians are gravitating to the new as it better meets their needs, not because the old is crumbling.
  • Meeting infrastructure needs

  • Third, the Asian Development Bank, not China, drew global attention to infrastructure as the key driver of economic growth in Asia and the financing gap of $26 trillion. The most visible feature of the BRI is the network of physical and digital infrastructure for transport, energy transmission and communications, harmonised with markets for advanced manufacturing and innovation-based companies.
  • Two-thirds of the countries funded by the initiative have sovereign debt ratings below investment grade, and their being part of supply chains is a catalyst for growth. A recent analysis identified only eight out of 68 countries at risk of debt default, which does not affect the overall viability of the $3 trillion reserves of China for potential investment. There are cases of excess debt, political corruption and policy shifts following change in governments but overall the BRI remains popular. For example, Nepal has just chosen the Chinese gauge over the Indian one for its rail network.
  • Fourth, the BRI, faced with criticism over lack of transparency and insensitivity to national concerns, is evolving towards standards of multilateralism, including through linkages with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The International Monetary Fund describes it as a “very important contribution” to the global economy and is “in very close collaboration with the Chinese authorities on sharing the best international practices, especially regarding fiscal sustainability and capacity building”. China is now also seeking co-financing with multilateral institutions as well as private capital for a Silk Road Bond.
  • Fifth, for the BRI to have strategic objectives is not unusual. The Marshall Plan in the 1950s also required recipients to accept certain rules for deepening trade and investment ties with the U.S. Chinese control over supply-chain assets like ports provides the ability to project naval power, which will however remain minuscule compared to that of the U.S. — comprising 800 overseas bases. The BRI’s commercial advantage has certainly increased China’s international weight and India needs to shape the new standards to benefit Indian technology companies .
  • India’s China dilemma, as it ends its ambivalence towards China, revolves around assessment of the extent the Asian giants need each other for the Asian century. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared a cooperative vision of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, contrary to the containment-based view of the United States. China also recognises the difficulties inherent in the interlinked international and domestic agenda of the BRI, and needs India’s support for reform of global governance, which was an important part of last year’s discussion at Wuhan.
  • India should respond to the strategic complexity arising from the BRI, a key part of which cuts through Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, through three related but distinct diplomatic initiatives.
  • First, India needs to highlight that a British-led coup by the Gilgit Scouts led to Pakistani occupation of this territory and seek appropriate text recognising India’s sovereignty — a drafting challenge but not an insurmountable one.
  • Second, New Delhi should give a South Asian character to the two BRI corridors on India’s western and eastern flanks, by linking them with plans for connectivity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Third, India needs work towards ‘multilateralising’ the BRI with a set of rules.
  • Revisiting the Emergency

    Gyan Prakash’s book on the turbulent period comes at an opportune moment

  • The BJP election theme slogans phir ek baar Modi sarkar and Modi hai to mumkin hai have echoes of “Indira is India” — the slogan raised by acolytes of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the 1970s. That catchphrase encapsulated the spirit of the Emergency that she imposed in 1975.
  • It is commonly assumed that the Emergency was “a momentary distortion in India’s proud record of democracy,” to quote historian Gyan Prakash from his recently-published book, Emergency Chronicles.
  • In a few sentences which form the kernel of his argument, Mr. Prakash refutes this simplistic notion. He argues that, “The battle was not new; the blows were not the first. Critics in the Constituent Assembly had repeatedly raised voices against emergency powers and the elimination of due process. But the constitution drafters working amid the turmoil of Partition had successfully argued that the fledgling state’s executive needed extraordinary powers without judicial interference to deal with exceptional circumstances.”
  • The roots of the Emergency, Mr. Prakash argues, can be traced to these “extraordinary powers”. He locates the origins of the Emergency especially in the decision of the Constituent Assembly, despite vigorous opposition, to replace the phrase “due process” with “procedure established by law” in Article 21 of the Constitution, which in its final form read: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” This left it to the whims of lawmakers to decide the procedure to be followed.
  • The imposition of the Emergency was related not only to the existence of extraordinary powers provided in the Constitution but also to the failure of Mrs. Gandhi’s populist rhetoric, including the garibi hatao slogan, to buy her rule legitimacy. A groundswell of opposition led by Jayaprakash Narayan to her increasingly arbitrary governance threatened to upend her rule. The Allahabad High Court judgment merely acted as the proverbial last straw.
  • There are important lessons that can be drawn from the experience of the Emergency that are applicable to the current situation in India. Draconian laws curbing Fundamental Rights, including the provision for preventive detention and the colonial-era sedition law, continue to remain on the books. Additionally, populist rhetoric, including the dubbing of Opposition politicians as “anti-national” and the use of national security issues for electoral gain, reminds one of the 1970s. In Emergency Chronicles, the analysis of the roots of a turbulent period in Indian post-colonial history comes at an opportune moment to help us understand the constitutional and historical background of that episode. More important, it acts as a warning against the danger of arbitrary rule that the country faces at a time of excessive polarisation not witnessed since the 1970s.