Indira era vs Modi era: Is History repeating itself?

Both Indira and Modi, known for their flamboyance and audacity had been perceived as a godly figure by their respective party members. “My way or high way” is the tag line that describes them precisely. Indira banning RSS during the emergency and BJP’s “congress mukt bharat” says everything for the utter disregard they have for the opposition. Though Gandhi was totally secular which may not be the case with Modi, there is striking similarities between the Indira era that people saw and the Modi era that the people is witnessing.

The 5th Lok Sabha General Elections that held in 1971, Indira Gandhi won by a landslide victory thanks to the “Garibi Hatao” campaign. Indian national Congress won over 43 % of the total seats. In 2014, riding on the Modi-wave, the NDA won over 38% of the total votes to from the Government with the BJP vote share being 31%. Indira and Modi managed to win general elections for their respective party comprehensively. It would not be wrong to say that both these leaders possess charismatic personalities to inspire devotion among masses.

In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared emergency which lasted for 21 months. Most of the Gandhi’s opponents were imprisoned, one of them were veteran BJP leader LK Advani. Later Mr Advani said to the media “You were asked only to bend, but you crawled”. The Modi Government abrogated Article 370 and put Kashmir under lockdown with key Kashmir political leaders such as Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, under arrest or detention. Many Indian media houses are also criticised by several intellectuals for being a minion to the central government and are popularly acronymed as the “godi media”.

 “Under Modi, India’s press is not so free anymore” read an article on The New York Times alleging Indian Government of pressurising advertisers and shut down channels in order to distort the information received by 130 crore people of the country. Many media houses has been pressurised to fire journalists criticising Prime Minister Modi. Even cynical journalists are reluctant to say anything about Mr Modi, afraid of being labelled as anti-national in a country where patriotism is equated with support for Mr Modi. A BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra even called Modi as “the father of the nation” in a heated debate on an Indian News Channel reminding us the 1976 Emergency when the then Congress President DK Barooah known for his sycophancy to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, declared “India is Indira, and Indira is India”. The Indira Government also told journalists across the country to follow certain guidelines. Some were threatened to be fired and some were put in jail. Prior permission was made necessary for all the newspapers before publishing any piece by the Chief Press Advisor, a position created to censor the news.

When Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, Justice AN Ray went on to become the Chief Justice of India in the most controversial manner in 1973 superseding three senior judges of the Supreme Court, JM Shelat, AN Grover and KS Hegde. It was observed as a black day in Indian democracy and as a direct attack on Judiciary. Justice Md Hidyatullah termed it as an attempt to lure judges to look forward for constitutional positions under the Governement.

“this was an attempt of not creating ‘forward-looking judges’ but the ‘judges looking forward’ to the plumes of the office of Chief Justice”

Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah- former CJI

Recently, Justice Arun Mishra while addressing an International Conference organised by the Supreme Court in New Delhi, expressed his admiration for PM Modi and termed him as a “versatile genius”.

“India is a responsible and most friendly member of the international community under the stewardship of internationally acclaimed visionary Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. We thank the versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally, Shri Narendra Modi, for his inspiring speech which will act as a catalyst in initiating the deliberations and setting the agenda for the conference.” 

– Justice Arun Mishra.

The controversial nomination of Ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi to the Rajya Sabha drawn heavy criticism from ex-judges and also from a section of political class. The former chief justice of the Delhi High Court remarked that this judge (Justice Gogoi) has destroyed the independence of the judiciary.

“It sends out the message that if a judge gives ruling in favour of the executive, he/she will be rewarded. “

Justice AP Shah, former Delhi HC CJ

Also, the former SC judge Kurian Joseph alleged that the former CJI had compromised the noble principles on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Both Gandhi and Modi enacted controversial laws. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), 1971 which armed Indira Gandhi and Indian law enforcement agencies with very broad powers such as indefinite preventive detention of individuals, search and seizure of property without warrants and wiretapping. The two laws enacted by the Modi Government, known as NRC or National register of Citizens and CAA or the Citizenship Amendment Act that would provide a way to acquire citizenship to several minority groups and foreigners in India but not muslims. These laws were even termed as “fundamentally discriminatory” by the United Nations.

Both Indira and Modi chose yielding leaders as President such as Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who stood beside Gandhi while enforcing the infamous emergency of 1975 and also Modi placing BJP loyalists as President and vice president. With similar story-lines in the 1970’s Indira era and the post 2014 Modi era, there’s no doubt that the way of administration of both Modi and Gandhi had been similar in many aspects.  

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