It is a coincidence but not insignificant that a plucky journalist has reported on the eve of August 15 that the Congress has "destroyed" all papers relating to India's "second independence" in January 1977. If history could, indeed, be so easily rewritten, Hitler would have been forgotten, along with all the atrocities and excesses he and his Nazi party committed.
India's first independence was ushered in by Mahatma Gandhi on August 15, only for Indira Gandhi to destroy all democratic institutions by imposing the state of emergency some 28 years later on June 25, 1975. Nonetheless, the nation celebrated its "second independence" when she was routed at the polls in January 1977.
Typical of Congress' furtive efforts to cover up its misdeeds, the Home Ministry claims it does not have the proclamation issued by president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declaring the emergency. Nor does it have any record of the decisions taken on the arrests of thousands based on false allegations, the appointment of certain people to key posts and the manner in which the statutory provisions governing detentions were breached.
This means that anyone aged 30 or younger will find it difficult to obtain any hard information about what happened during those dark days.
I am surprised that there was no furore in parliament after it was disclosed that the documents authorising the state of emergency. Neither Mulayam Singh nor Lalu Prasad Yadav, nor even the Bharatiya Janata Party raised the topic.
The Home Ministry has conveniently put the blame on the National Archives of India, saying that it is the "repository of non-current records". In turn, the National Archives has responded that it does not have any records because nothing was transferred to its safekeeping. This is surprising because the Shah Commission, which investigated the misdeeds committed during the state of emergency, said on the last day of its proceedings that it was depositing all the records with the National Archives.
The Shah Commission held 100 meetings, examined 48,000 papers and issued two interim reports. When the Janata government was still in power, I checked with the archives and was assured that the records of the commission's verbatim proceedings were intact.
Apparently, the process of destroying evidence started after Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. I recall that the copies of the Shah Commission report disappeared even from the shop where official publications were available. The report by the National Police Commission, which made praiseworthy recommendations to free the force from the pressure of politicians, was shelved because it had been constituted by the Janata government. Indira Gandhi walked out of a ceremony to award medals to top policemen when R.K. Dhawan, her aide, told her that the medals were for their work in exposing the excesses of the state of emergency.
Congress cannot rehabilitate Indira Gandhi by hiding the records of her deeds. The party has to face the facts of her authoritarian governance. No doubt, she did great things in her life, but she also had her limitations. She was responsible for removing morality from politics. India is still paying the price.
The extra-constitutional authority exercised by her son Sanjay Gandhi effectively smothered dissent and corroded India's democratic values. High-handed and arbitrary actions were carried out with impunity. It's a pity that the press caved in and conformed to the dictates of the government.
The system was derailed during the state of emergency and has not got back on track because of the unaccountability of bureaucrats and politicians. None of the people found guilty by the Shah Commission have been punished. In fact, those who indulged in excesses were rewarded with promotions and appointments to key posts.
The rulers should heed the advice of the Shah Commission. It would serve some useful purpose if the views of the government about the functioning of civil servants were set out unequivocally. As the commission put it, "The government's primary responsibility is to guarantee protection to those officials who refused to deviate from the code of conduct which should be accepted not only by the officials but also by the political authorities".
I am not surprised that Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has remained silent over the missing records. He is too close and beholden to the dynasty to be considered independent when it comes to releasing potentially embarrassing information.
Regarding the proclamation of the state of emergency, Indira Gandhi did not even consult the Cabinet before asking the president to sign it. The Cabinet was called in the following morning to retrospectively endorse what she had done. It's understandable that the Home Ministry cannot explain this without blaming Indira Gandhi personally. She even wanted to close the courts, but did not do so because she was assured that the judges would fall in line.
True, this is all history — but Congress cannot rewrite it. The failings of the government and its leaders should never be erased because the nation's conscience is at stake.
- Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.