The 2019 election could see a replay of the 1977 polls when the ruling Congress was routed if opposition parties are successful in reflecting discontent on the ground, says author-historian Gyan Prakash, drawing parallels between post-Emergency India and now.
Like Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also has traits of an authoritarian leader, said the professor of history at Princeton University whose latest book "Emergency Chronicles" hit the stands recently.
He also believes the situation in the country is far more "ominous" today than it was in 1975 when Gandhi imposed Emergency and Modi enjoys the same position she did at that time.
"It is clear that there is a very enduring crisis in the farms. The farmer crisis is real. Job growth hasn't happened even for young people. So if political parties actually reflect the discontent on the ground on the issues, you could have a replay of 1977," Prakash told PTI while discussing his recently out book.
In the 1977 elections after the end of Emergency, the Janata Party -- a hurriedly stitched alliance of several parties against then prime minister Gandhi -- defeated the ruling Congress and formed the government under the leadership of Morarji Desai.
There are many comparisons to be made between Modi and Gandhi, Prakash said.
"Recently I was reading a news item in which PM Modi said 'every booth in the country should know him'. He didn't say my political party but 'me', it is as if the whole fate of democracy rests entirely on his 56-inch chest.
"So that's a very, very big claim. This is what leads to the rise of an authoritarian leader. You could see shades of the same in Indira Gandhi too. He looms as large in Indian politics as Indira once did. His photographs, slogans... appear everywhere as hers once did," the historian said.
The regime today enjoys unprecedented power and you don't really need to declare an Emergency, he argued.
"Support by ground troops -- Bajrang Dal and the like -- which Indira's Emergency rule never enjoyed, and a largely compliant or corporatized electronic media, which did not exist in 1975-77... this regime enjoys unprecedented power.
"It is also equipped with the powers of the administrative state, including the law against sedition, AFSPA (Armed Forces [Special Powers] Act) for use in so called 'disturbed areas'... with all these resources available you don't have to declare an emergency," he said.
In Gandhi's case, Prakash added, the decision to impose Emergency was, in a way, an "acknowledgment of her weak power". She might not have resorted to Emergency had the verdict of the Allahabad High Court gone in her favour.
The Allahabad High Court in 1975 convicted Gandhi of electoral malpractices, debarring her from holding any elected post.
"Today, there is no formal declaration of Emergency, no press censorship, no lawful suspension of the law. But the surge of Hindu nationalism has catapulted Narendra Modi into the kind of position that Indira occupied only with the Emergency," he writes in the book.
But Indian voters, especially the poor of the country, are very smart and have consistently "spoken loudly" with their votes, showing the door to those who they thought didn't fulfil their expectations, the author told PTI.
"You think those (poor) people are not educated so they will not understand the true value of democracy? The truth is that they do understand. It is the middle and upper class who have abandoned democracy, the poor understands its value
"In fact, I think one of the lessons of Emergency was they spoke, they spoke loudly, they corrected her (Indira), and three years later when Janata Party did not delivered they corrected them too," Prakash noted.
Prakash, who is the Dayton-Stockton professor of history at Princeton University, is also the author of several books, including "Bonded Histories" and the widely acclaimed "Mumbai Fables", which was adapted for the film "Bombay Velvet".
Published by Penguin Random House India, his latest "Emergency Chronicles", priced at Rs 699, argues that Emergency, from June 25, 1975 to March 21, 1977, was as much Gandhi's doing as it was the product of Indian democracy's troubled relationship with popular politics, and a turning point in its history.
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