‘People must respond to current crisis, we need inclusive nationalism’

He said that people can disagree with both the characterisation, as well as the way forward.
Arvind Narrain. (file photo)
Arvind Narrain. (file photo)

BENGALURU: Post Independent India has seen “two periods of Emergency; One was declared in 1975 (by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi) and the other is the undeclared emergency now, wherein we are seeing the rise of a prerogative state and the unrestrained use of power to arrest dissenters by the Centre without any check by judiciary and media”, said lawyer, visiting faculty, Azim Premji University, and author Arvind Narrain. He was speaking during a recent virtual discussion on his just-published book ‘India’s Undeclared Emergency -- Constitutionalism and the Politics of Resistance’.

Calling the two ‘emergencies’ the “lowest moments of democratic decline in India”, Narrain said there are two striking similarities between the two. “The untrammelled use of preventive detention laws by the authoritarian state, and the pervasive sense of fear in people then and now. Preventive detention laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and National Investigation Agency are being used as tools to instill fear in civil society,” he added.“The book is an attempt to make sense of the contemporary crisis by characterising it as an undeclared emergency, and also think of ways of responding to the crisis,” Narrain told TNIE.

He said that people can disagree with both the characterisation, as well as the way forward. “But the idea is really that today we are facing a fundamental threat, and if all those who have faith in constitutional values and all those who value diversity of the human kind, come together, understand the nature of the threat and work to defend our own Fundamental Rights,” he added. “People do have a sense of being Indian. We need to cultivate a sense of inclusive nationalism, drawing from the legacy of Tagore. The National Anthem is a paean to the land and its diversity,” said Narrain.

Quoting political philosopher Hannah Arendt, he said, “Totalitarianism imposes a sense of isolation in people because they start feeling that nothing they do would make any difference. The crude genius of the Nazis was to have corrupted the sense of human solidarity and make people believe that protest is meaningless,” he said. “Hope lies with people. There are diverse ways to keep up resistance. We need to build momentum. That is the way forward.”

Noted historian Ramchandra Guha congratulated Narrain on his book and said there is a “political, ideological and material intent to these laws to crush dissent”. He spoke about the personality cult behind the 1975-77 Emergency and now, and drew parallels between Gandhi and Modi. “The depressing departure from then to now is the creeping majoritarianism,” he added. Guha spoke about the transformation of the BJP from the Vajpayee days to now, and called former chief minister BS Yediyurappa the “last representative” of Vajpayee, while making a reference to the former’s measured response to the anti CAA/NRC protests in December 2019 in the city. ‘Undeclared Emergency’ is published by Westland, and the event was organised by the Environment Support Group.

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