Today marks the 71st Independence Day for the Republic of India. It marks the day when the Britishers finally left our country after looting it of its enormous resources. Independence as envisioned by our freedom fighters was the concept of Swaraj (self rule) but this begs the question that after 70 years of independence, have we really been independent all this while?
The political history of modern day India began on this day in 1947. First of all, there was the partition which resulted in deaths of millions of people both sides of the border. People had to leave their own homelands and go settle in a different region entirely because one of the states was going to be established on lines of religion. You know which state I am talking about. After the partition, the constitution of India was established and India was declared a secular, democratic republic on 26th of January 1950. So who ruled India between 1947 and 1950 you ask? Why, it was Jawaharlal Nehru, who not only facilitated the partition but also became the Prime Minister just because he was associated with the Indian National Congress (INC) which was regarded as the party that made us achieve independence (saying which is a disservice to all the freedom fighters who fought tooth and nail for us). The first elections were contested in 1951 and had a 60% turnout. Due to the lack of a quality opposition, it was won overwhelmingly by INC. This whole facade lasted for decades. Nehru won subsequent elections in 1957 and 1962. Subsequently he was the prime minister till his death in 1964, for a whopping 16 years and 286 days. If the same person is the prime minister for 16 years where elections are supposed to happen every 5 years and only death can do him and the chair apart, then is it really a democracy?
Anyhow the elections in 1964 were again won by (big surprise) INC and the eminent Lal Bahadur Shastri took office. Unfortunately though, he died while on a visit to Russia under mysterious circumstances only a year into his tenure. The next election was again won by INC and the daughter of Nehru, Indira Gandhi took office and remained in office till 1977. Her tenure was quite interesting to say the least. She was the first female prime minister of India (the US is yet to have a female president). It was a ruthless reign but it had its positives. Indira’s ascent was backed by her charismatic appeal among the masses that was aided by her government’s near-radical leftward turns. These include the July 1969 nationalization of several major banks and the September 1970 abolition of the privy purse; these were often done suddenly, via ordinance, to the universal shock of her opponents. Subsequently, unlike the Syndicate and other opponents, Indira was seen as “standing for socialism in economics and secularism in matters of religion, as being pro-poor and for the development of the nation as a whole. “The prime minister was especially adored by the disadvantaged sections—the poor, Dalits, women and minorities. For them, she was their Indira Amma, a personification of Mother India.
The final nail in the coffin for the so called “democracy” in India came when a state of emergency was declared in 1975. Officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352(1) of the Constitution because of the prevailing “internal disturbance”, the Emergency was in effect from 25 June 1975 until its withdrawal on 21 March 1977. The order bestowed upon the Prime Minister the authority to rule by decree, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties to be curbed. For much of the Emergency, most of Gandhi’s political opponents were imprisoned and the press was censored. Several other human rights violations were reported from the time, including a forced mass-sterilization campaign spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s son. The Emergency is one of the most controversial periods of independent India’s history. Documents that have surfaced over the past few years indicate that Indira Gandhi had planned to impose the emergency only temporarily for some time till the violence that was erupting in the country had subsided. So dear reader, tell me, if people are being sterilized under compulsion, any opposition to the government leads to arrest, the public broadcast (All India Radio and Doordarshan) is busy peddling government propaganda, then are the citizens really independent?
Finally, on 18 January 1977, Gandhi called fresh elections for March and released all political prisoners though the Emergency officially ended on 23 March 1977. The opposition Janata movement’s campaign very aptly warned Indians that the elections might be their last chance to choose between “democracy and dictatorship.” In the Lok Sabha elections, held in March, Mrs. Gandhi and Sanjay both lost their Lok Sabha seats, as did all the Congress Candidates in Northern states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Many Congress Party loyalists deserted Mrs. Gandhi. The Congress was reduced to just 153 seats, 92 of which were from four of the southern states. The Janata Party’s 298 seats and its allies’ 47 seats (of a total 542) gave it a massive majority. Morarji Desai became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India and that is the time when India finally became politically independent.
The political landscape has widely changed since 1977. INC has come back in power plenty number of times, and so has the modified Janata Party (contemporary Bharatiya Janta Party). I am not saying that one is better than the other, or that INC is inherently bad, but it feels nice to know that there is a choice for the people to select their leaders at the national scale. If there is a party in power, there also is an able opposition, because that’s what democracy is really all about.
Now as today we complete 70 years of independence, let us not forget the contributions made by our freedom fighters that gave us Swaraj. Let us work towards the betterment of the country as a whole, by improving the living standards of people, eliminating social evils, making the country a safer place for women. The government should do its part, the opposition should make sure the government does its part and the citizens should do whatever is in their capacity to make things better.