Here is a quiz question for all readers. Who told London’s Sunday Times, “It is wholly wrong to say that I resorted to Emergency to keep myself in office… The extra-constitutional challenge was constitutionally met.”
The “emergency was declared to save the country from disruption and collapse;” it had “enabled us to put through the new economic programme” and led to “a new sense of national confidence”.
If you guessed General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, you guessed wrong. It was Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. She also told the Saturday Review, “What has been done… is not an abrogation of democracy but an effort to safeguard it”.
Although she came from a democratic dynasty, Indira Gandhi fell into the authoritarian temptation when on June 26, 1975 she imposed Emergency in India.
Most observers thought she was acting to avoid the consequences of the judgement by the Allahabad High Court annulling her election to parliament from Rae Bareilly in 1971.
Gandhi’s explanation of the Emergency reads uncannily similar to Musharraf’s recent statements though, given his general aversion to extensive reading, it is unlikely that he had read Gandhi’s statements before making his own. Quite clearly all rulers in authoritarian mode think alike instinctively and do not need to read the other’s words to be influenced by them.
After administering what she described as “bitter medicine” necessary for the good of a sick “child”, Gandhi decided to secure a mandate from what she expected to be a grateful Indian populace.
Elections were held in the third week of March 1977 and when results were announced on March 20, the ruling Congress party was routed by an unusual alliance of all anti-Indira forces joined under the banner of the Janata Party. Indira Gandhi lost her own seat in parliament from Rae Bareilly.
For all her authoritarian disposition, Gandhi did not have it in her to try and rig a general election. India’s strong democratic tradition and its independent Election Commission and judiciary would have made it difficult, if not impossible, to thwart the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box.
Over the next three years, Gandhi reorganised her party and apologised to the Indian people for the excesses under Emergency rule and in the subsequent election, a chastened Gandhi and Congress were returned to power.
In Pakistan’s case, Musharraf is not a politician willing to lose power for a few years to return to office in a subsequent election.
Pakistan’s Election Commission and post-Emergency judiciary are mere instruments in the hands of the Executive branch of government, which is firmly controlled by Musharraf.
Public opinion polls indicate that 70 per cent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to quit.
Will Musharraf learn from Indira Gandhi and let the people vote him out by letting the opposition win a two-thirds majority on election day as the polls clearly indicate or will he compound Pakistan’s misery by rigging the polls and creating a new round of confrontation? The future of Pakistan hinges on the answer to that question.
The article was published in Gulf News on February 13, 2008