On June 26, 2022, a public meeting was organised by Lok Raj Sangathan in New Delhi, on the subject ‘National Emergency 1975-77: Lessons for today’. Representatives of several organisations that have been consistently working with Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS), in defence of human and democratic rights, attended the meeting and addressed the participants. Students and youth, women and working people from different sections of society vigorously participated in the serious discussion that took place and expressed their views.

Prakash Rao, Secretary of Lok Raj Sangathan, elaborated on the reasons why the National Emergency was declared in June 1975, and the lessons for today. (We are reproducing an edited version of his speech alongside of this report)

Following this, there were interventions by the participants.

Santosh Kumar of Mazdoor Ekta Committee drew attention to the increasing use of ordinances – emergency powers — by the government, to push through laws that take away the rights hitherto enjoyed by people. He gave examples of how the Covid-19 crisis was used to push through the anti-kisan laws and the anti-worker labour codes. The right to protest is being systematically attacked and criminalised, with people fighting for justice being locked up under draconian laws such as UAPA. Denouncing the authorities for the brutal demolition of workers’ homes, as well as the denial of drinking water, sanitation and decent living conditions to the vast majority of the working people, he called for a struggle demanding Constitutional guarantee of our rights.

Prof. Manbhanjan, a university teacher, spoke of the state of ‘undeclared emergency’ prevailing in our country, under which the rights of the people are constantly being violated and every form of dissent is being criminalised. The real target of the UAPA, the law against sedition, etc. are the youth, workers, kisans, adivasis, dalits, women and all those who are demanding their rights and fighting to end discrimination and oppression. Communal violence has been organised by our rulers, time and again, to smash the unity of our people. The Indian state works to advance the agenda of the big corporate houses. It has worked out newer and newer methods of crushing the people. We need to unite and fight for political power in our hands, he asserted.

Ms. Poonam of Purogami Mahila Sangathan raised the issue of state organised communal violence and state terror, which has always been a favourite weapon in the hands of our rulers, to smash our united struggle for our rights. Referring to the failure of the state in ensuring even the most basic rights of people – such as clean drinking water, education, health care, etc. – she drew the conclusion that the Constitution does not guarantee us our rights. Women face exploitation, discrimination and violence at every step, at work and in society. When we fight against injustice, the state victimises the women themselves, she said, eloquently describing “every day as a state of emergency for women”.

Mohammad Salim Engineer of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind thanked LRS for organising this very important discussion. Our people fought for independence with the dream of building a truly democratic and inclusive society, but that dream was cruelly betrayed, he said. The growing trend of our rulers, to criminalise and crush all those who are fighting for justice, is a sign of their weakness, their inability to fool the people, he pointed out. They can get away with it because people have no power, in this system. If we have political power in our hands, we can exercise control over our elected representatives and prevent those in power from taking away our rights, he said. He called for building a strong, united movement for empowerment of people.

Youth activists Lokesh Kumar and Rakesh powerfully showed, through numerous examples, that the real rulers are the big monopoly corporate houses, who pour in crores of rupees in every election, to bring to power the political party that can best implement its agenda while fooling the people. We do not have the power to select our candidates, to hold our elected representatives accountable or to recall them. We do not have the power to make laws. A mere change in government will not make any difference, they explained, appealing to the youth to come forward in the struggle for empowerment of people.

Nirmal spoke of the continuation of the colonial legacy in our society, including the institutions that keep people out of power, while keeping up the illusion that through elections they can exercise their power.

Advocate Kasana appealed to the participants to introspect whether we are better or worse off today, in terms of people’s rights, in comparison to 1977, when it was claimed that “democracy was restored”. Elaborating on various flaws in the present political system, he said that people are expected to hand over all their powers to the elected representatives, who do not defend the people’s interests. We need mechanisms to exercise people’s control over the elected representatives. He gave several examples to show how the Constitution concentrates all power in the hands of the central state, enabling it to take decisions by riding roughshod over the rights and aspirations of people in different states and regions. He called for building a powerful, united movement to bring about those changes in the political system and process which will ensure power in the hands of people.

Harish of Krantikari Lok Adhikar Sangathan cited various examples to bring home the point that in the present system, people are deprived of even the most basic rights, including the right to protest, without any formal declaration of ‘emergency’. Parliamentary democracy is a tool to keep people out of power, while fooling us that we can change our destiny through elections. We need to break out of this illusion (mayajaal) in which our rulers have kept us bound, and build a movement for people’s empowerment, he said.

In conclusion, Prakash Rao thanked the participants for contributing to and enriching this very vital discussion. We have to expose all the attempts of the rulers and their media to divide us, he said, and unite around the agenda of empowerment of people.

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