This book has been widely discussed and commented upon. The main reason for this, I imagine, is the enduring fascination with the personality and leadership of Indira Gandhi. Opinions about her remain sharply divided between uncritical admirers who see only her achievements and determined critics who emphasize only her failures. The Emergency, in particular, has dominated the discussion on her role in national affairs.
In view of this I have tried to broaden the context of analysis and make the reader aware of the fact that the Emergency was not simply the result of personal failings in the Prime Minister, but also an outcome of the frailties within our political system. The Emergency ended more than two decades ago, yet the system continues to suffer from these frailties.
While many reviewers have accepted the validity of my explanation, some have argued that I ignore the inherent strength of Indian democracy. A British commentator, for instance, feels that I have 'painted a dismal picture of the democratic process in India'. An Indian critic says that Indian democracy 'deserves at least one cheer'. Others point out that India had regular periodic elections with high voter turn-out and when that process was interrupted by Indira Gandhi in 1975, she was severely punished by the enraged voter. This, they emphasize, contrasts sharply with the record of Pakistan.
It is true that I have not taken comfort from comparison with Pakistan whose democratic roots are not so deep. While the Indian freedom movement had strong and explicit democratic commitments, Pakistan's principal ideologue, Sir Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of the Islamic renaissance, warned his fellow Muslims against democracy. He described democracy as a system in which people are merely counted and not weighed. He exhorted them to shun democracy and follow obediently a mature leader, his reasoning being that even if hundreds of asses get together, it is not possible for them to produce a single human thought.
By contrast the founding fathers of India's polity perhaps had excessive faith in the democratic instincts of their fellow citizens. They believed it was possible to develop without difficulty a participant society in which the ordinary citizen would be politically relevant. They wanted Indian democracy to be a part of the modern world, but were complacent about social indiscipline and disruptive political practices which were to cause more serious challenges later.
In his classic study Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed: 'Among the laws that rule human societies, there seems to be one more precise than all others. If men are to remain civilized, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which equality of condition is increased.' A dozen general elections and more than that number in the states have rapidly created conditions of political equality, i.e. the consciousness of equal citizenship rights based on universal adult franchise. Large sections of people who were outside the political arena have gained entry into it and have realized the power of the vote. Thus the rate of participation due to mobilization through the electoral process has been rapid but the art of associating together has not grown equally rapidly. Periodic elections are a necessary condition for ensuring the citizen's participation, but they alone do not make a stable democracy. They have to be complemented by increasing institutionalization of political organizations and procedures.
If I have drawn attention to the frailties of our system and to the distortions that have crept into our political culture making orderly governance difficult, it is only to stress the urgency for reforms.
Beyond this, I hope the book speaks for itself.
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