Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Emergency Here and There

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

Many people all across the world believe that Emergency in Pakistan, now slated to be lifted by the will of ‘Mr’ Pervez Musharraf by the middle of December, was clamped mainly for the purpose of getting rid of unfriendly judges in the country’s Supreme Court. That establishes a link between the state of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in India in the 1970s, which of course had lasted 19 months against the (hopefully) six weeks of Pakistan’s Emergency.

Though some kind of political anarchy might have been brewing in the opinion of some, the more obvious reason for declaring a state of Emergency in India was an adverse verdict by the Allahabad High Court given on an election petition against the then Prime Minister. It provoked Mrs Gandhi to take that extraordinary step, one that also saw her stock plummet to the lowest levels almost overnight. But that is where any similarity behind the Emergency in the two countries ends.

Soon after the Emergency was declared in India a countrywide underground network sprang up to take on the might of the government. While a lot of leaders were arrested many found help from unexpected quarters to go into hiding. The underground ‘resistance’ in India might not have been the single most potent factor in pulling down the Emergency but it certainly showed that democracy had cast such a spell over the masses in the country that they would not hesitate to take risks to reject Emergency.

If media reports are to be believed it does appear that the masses of Pakistan refused to register, overtly or covertly, their protest against the Emergency (called Martial law by some). The visible resistance came from lawyers, journalists and ‘some’ opposition leaders because the role of the ‘main’ opposition party and one of the religious parties had looked dubious from the start.

True, under Emergency the masses are too scared to come on to the streets. But counter moves by the people need not come only in the shape of street protests and agitations. The outward signs during the Indian Emergency were almost the same as in Pakistan with people going about their daily vocation as they did before.

In fact, there were even some ‘positives’ from the Emergency in India. Attendance in government offices had improved dramatically and punctuality a rediscovered virtue. Trains were running on time and corrupt babus were said to be scared—some believed the Emergency had led to a steep hike in the bribe tariff. If such reports were not received from Pakistan it probably suggests that the Emergency actually held no terror for the ‘awam’ (masses) there. No underground network was perhaps needed in Pakistan to counter the government propaganda and fight the disinformation campaign because these had ceased to have any credibility even in normal times.

Press censorship in India had failed to achieve its objective because communications through the subterranean network was lightening fast. Remember, the telecom and 24x7 news channel revolution was still years away. Yet, it took a minute, for instance, for news about the arrest of a leader in a town in one part of the country to reach other parts of the country.

Underground opposition leaders had no difficulty in mobilising their supporters from their hideouts. One Opposition leader, who had gone underground, stunned the nation when he showed up in Parliament and after a short speech returned safely to his haven, which was not in any rugged mountain but actually in far off United States!

Though leaders like George Fernandes were said to be tinkering with the idea of using violent means—blowing up trains--to register their protest the overwhelming number of people in India had kept their faith in the Gandhian ways of protest. In the present day Pakistan, however, there is nothing surprising about violent protests though it does become difficult to say if a bomb was hurled in the name of democracy or jihad.

Undoubtedly the biggest difference in the two Emergencies was that in India the fight was led by the towering figure of Jayaprakash Narayan. He was the rallying point for the entire opposition. Even the ‘opposite poles’ in politics, represented by the ‘communal’ Jana Sangh on one side and a motley group of ‘secular’ parties on the other, had united under his influence. In fact, most opposition parties merged their identities to give shape to a single party for the battle against Emergency. It is besides the point that ultimately that single party proved to be an utter disappointment and has since shown an infinite capacity to split. Like the amoeba.

Pakistan does not have the equivalent of ‘JP’ nor is it likely to have one like him. Benazir Bhutto is supposed to head the country’s biggest political party. Despite the occasional anti-Musharraf tone in her public utterances many Pakistanis suspect that she has struck a ‘deal’ with Pervez Musharraf, though under compulsion from their common patron, the United States of America.

Since America is one of the trinity of deciders of destiny in Pakistan (others being Allah and the Army) the chances of the other politician with mass following, Nawaz Sharif, becoming a rallying point for the opposition are nil since Washington does not like him. Imran Khan, who did go underground for a short period, is more written about in the Indian media than in Pakistan and is hardly the kind who could have become an anti-Emergency or anti-Musharraf magnet. The Americans do not seem to have embraced him.

Interestingly, Imran Khan had chosen an elitist institution in Lahore to surface from his hiding, presuming his fans there would outnumber his detractors. In the event his calculation proved wrong and a section of the students of that very ‘elite’ institution handed him over to the police. The spark of protest by the cricketer-cum-playboy-turned born-again Muslim politician had extinguished all too soon.

It may be that the majority of students in that institution in Lahore were indeed opposed to the Emergency, even though the parents of most of them are part of the establishment. But what happened to Imran Khan perhaps shows that in these parts it is unwise to begin a political campaign for something as serious as taking on the Emergency from a centre of exclusiveness.

In India, some institutions of ‘repute’ did play a significant part during the Emergency, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, which may be ‘elitist’ in the eyes of some but hardly on a par with, say St Stephen’s, St Xavier’s or Presidency colleges of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Pictures and statements of Pak opposition politicians on Indian TV might have created the impression that there is a strong anti-Emergency mood in Pakistan but the apathy of the ‘aam admi’ is more visible.

Nevertheless, Pervez Musharraf has been forced, thanks to the American manoeuvres to announce that he would withdraw Emergency. It must have been a rare humble moment for the arrogant and self-righteous ex-General who was not under pressure from the ‘aam admi’ to take that step.

- Syndicate Features -

Share this


.