It’s rare to see political leadership to acknowledge their mistakes. Still rare is a political leader owning up the blunders of his/her predecessors. Against this backdrop, Rahul Gandhi’s statement that the Emergency, imposed by Indira Gandhi, former prime minister and was his grandmother, was a mistake came as a surprise for many.

Opposition parties have been criticising the Congress party for the Emergency for quite some time. In fact, the much-derided emergency period has, over the years, become an Achilles heel for the party. But what prompted the Congress leader to come up with such a sweeping statement? This is the question on everybody’s mind.

The former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said the Emergency imposed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a “mistake” but sought to differentiate the situation in 1975 and now in terms of “capture of democratic institutions”.

In an online conversation with Cornell University Professor of Economics and chief economic advisor to the Manmohan Sigh government Kaushik Basu on Tuesday, Gandhi said what happened in 1975 was “wrong”. However, he tried to differentiate the state of emergency of 1970s from the present regime where, he alleged no institution, be it judiciary, bureaucracy, election commission and the press, is immune from governmental control.

Gandhi further said that “democracy was not just eroding but it has been strangled”. “I think that was a mistake. Absolutely, that was a mistake. And my grandmother (Indira Gandhi) said as much,” he confessed in response to a question on imposition on the Emergency.

Asked about internal democracy within the Congress, Gandhi shot back saying why nobody asked questions on lack of internal democracy in the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Samajwadi Party (SP) and focused only on the Congress and went on to answer himself.

“There’s a reason. We are an ideological party and it is the ideology of the Constitution. Therefore, it is more important for us to be democratic,” he said.

But it is still not clear why he sought to set the matter straight on a move like emergency which has been used by the opposition as a red rag against the Congress all these years. What was the motivation behind the Gandhi scion’s sudden turn-around now on a crucial policy matter?

Emergency no doubt was an ill advised move where the Fundamental Rights under Article 19 of the Constitution remained suspended for 21 months in the country till the end of the emergency from 1975 to 1977. During the period, elections were suspended and civil liberties curbed while the prime minister ruled by decree in an authoritarian manner.

Indira Gandhi had to pay a heavy price for imposition of emergency when her party suffered heavy electoral losses immediately in the elections held soon after the removal of emergency. After all these years, the ghost of emergency still haunts the Congress.

While neither Rahul Gandhi nor his party can disown the Emergency nor can they deny the excesses committed during the period, his confession in today’s context is meant to serve one purpose – put the incumbent ruling party on the defensive vis-à-vis style of governance.

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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi

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