BJP vs Congress: The Deafening Silence to India’s Overlooked Authoritarianism

Today, we inhabit an India that surpasses the wildest dreams of my generation, We almost take for granted what we couldn't even imagine possible ten years ago.

By Nandini Bahri Dhanda 

The deafening silence surrounding the Partition of our country, the largest human migration and displacement in history, then only thirty-three years ago, despite its profound scars of death and violence but also, yes, the silence about the Emergency that India had experienced only two years back surprised me when I returned from France in 1979.

Whereas at the same time in France, the echoes of World World II still reverberated through conversations, films, books, and media: the haunting images of the Holocaust, Concentration Camps, heroic tales of the Resistance, France’s role in deportations and collaboration, the towering but controversial figure of Charles De Gaulle. Even the personal story of Simone Veil, the Health Minister and later President of the European Parliament, with her Auschwitz tattoo, found its place in the collective consciousness of the nation.

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Perhaps it comes from the luxury of having cities that were never decimated by plunderers and marauders through the times. The fact that sieges and wars were fought in other lands. Except for brief periods, of never having to put your head down or not speaking up because of an unspoken fear of drawing attention to oneself. Of never having constantly to forget and rebuild, forget and rebuild.

By 1980, Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay were back in power after a few years of being in the wilderness.

The collective amnesia that seemed to shroud the chilling reality of the Emergency era was astounding.

If I hadn’t seen a smuggled-out docu-film on French TV on the Emergency that captured the depth of authoritarianism and the horror of men being brought for sterilization packed in an open truck like goats, with a well-coiffed woman proudly declaring she was in charge of bringing in *these* people…I would have thought through Indian newspapers available, that the Emergency at best, was about trains being on time and people queuing up for buses!

As I wrote in my blog– It was not until the release of the film ‘Tamas’ in 1988, forty-one years after Partition, that my grandfather found the key to unlocking his suppressed emotions. The film served as a catalyst for him and his peers to confront their past with honesty, and courage and that led to some healing. And through them, for us the younger ones, a process of learning and understanding. 

That is why Partition Horrors Remembrance Day observed since 14 August 2021 is an important first step for a Nation to acknowledge the sufferings and sacrifices of Indians during 1947.

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So on the subject of Emergency, I delved, spoke, saw old film footage, read up everything I could on what led to it; what was the rationale if any to impose it and the political landscape that developed later.  

For me, the trigger to bring out the darkest period of our post-Independence history to a generation that did not live through it or people who are simply not interested in knowing more, even if they were around, is because of the political discourse today in certain quarters is of obfuscation and that it accuses the present government, Narendra Modi in particular, of fascism, authoritarianism and at the drop of a hat cries Death of Democracy! Seriously?!

Until we break this chronic cycle of silence, denial and worse avoiding confrontation with facts. we risk perpetuating the crimes of the past and compromising the integrity of our democracy.

The same goons would not have returned to perpetuate the Pogrom of 1984 if we had spoken up post-emergency and more important if the law had taken its course.

No doubt, the evasiveness was due to a fear of repercussions and consequences because the perpetrators were back running the government. 

Also, our collective instinctive reaction – when asked to bend, we chose to crawl – (famously said by LK Advani) played its role.

It is noteworthy that there are only a few films on the Emergency and that too very recent and books on the subject were published much after Indira Gandhi had left  

this world, beyond exacting her revenge on mere mortals.

In that black and white single-channel Doordarshan, news-read-to-us scenario, which many hark back to, as the good old days, our quest for basics, left us with no time or strength to ask questions and seek answers from the exalted.

And when we did, predictably things were hushed, buried, left unanswered. The same people accused of the worst crimes continued as judge and jury.

There was a reason we were kept in a perpetual state of want.

A billion people expected nothing because they had come to believe no one, trust no one and lived in continued indebtedness for a roof over their head, water, a few hours of electricity, a much sought-after LPG cylinder, an education, a berth on a train and perhaps a hospital bed when required.

So, here is a reminder for the younger generation and those who turn a blind eye to the era of fascism, authoritarianism, and dictatorship….

That it continued much after the Emergency in some form or the other but tragically our battered selves had normalised and accepted it.


In 1974, there were widespread protests and strikes led by the Opposition, unleashing significant disruption across the country, and deeply impacting both governance and the economy. 

The tipping point came on June 25, 1975, when Indira Gandhi, in response to an adverse court ruling, declared a National Emergency. Under the guise of national security, elections were postponed, press censorship was imposed, and certain constitutional freedoms were suspended. 

The sweeping measures ousted non-Congress governments nationwide and led to the arrest of numerous dissenting voices, prominent figures, and members of the Opposition.

In the midst of this turbulent political climate, Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s younger son, ascended as a pivotal advisor to his mother. Despite lacking an official mandate or elected position, his influence surged dramatically. Mark Tully observed, “His inexperience did not deter him from wielding the power his mother, Indira, had seized, effectively establishing a quasi-police state.”

Despite lacking an elected mandate or formal office, Sanjay swiftly asserted his influence in collaboration with associates, notably Bansi Lal, over Cabinet ministers, high-ranking government officials, police officers and even his own mother.

He consolidated power around the Prime Minister’s Residence rather than the Prime Minister’s Office. His recruitment of thousands of young party members, who employed coercion to stifle dissent, further cemented his grip on authority.

His unchecked power led to the resignation of numerous Cabinet ministers and officials who protested against his interference. Sanjay reportedly handpicked their replacements, consolidating his authority further.

One notable instance involved Inder Kumar Gujral, who resigned from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting after Sanjay attempted to dictate its affairs and issue directives. Sanjay promptly replaced him with Vidya Charan Shukla, a loyal follower.

In another incident, popular Bollywood singer Kishore Kumar faced consequences after declining to perform at an Indian Youth Congress event, as demanded by Gandhi. In retaliation, his songs were banned from airing on All India Radio, showcasing Sanjay’s authoritarian control over cultural expression.

In September 1976, Sanjay Gandhi spearheaded a far-reaching compulsory sterilization program, purportedly aimed at curbing population growth. It is believed that this initiative was driven by pressure from the IMF and the World Bank, reflecting concerns over India’s burgeoning population. The suspension of democracy during the Emergency provided an opportune moment for the program’s implementation. 

The irony of self-proclaimed socialists resorting to coercive sterilization to appease Western financial institutions was not lost on observers, underscoring how ideals like socialism had been overshadowed by economic pressures.

Khatakhat Khatakhat!

During a visit to Turkman Gate in Old Delhi, Sanjay Gandhi, accompanied by Jagmohan, the vice-chairman of Delhi Development Authority (DDA), became frustrated by the obstructed view of the historic Jama Masjid due to the maze of tenements. Consequently, on April 13, 1976, the DDA team bulldozed the tenements. The demolition sparked widespread demonstrations, met with police firing to suppress the dissent. Tragically, the firing resulted in at least 150 fatalities, with over 70,000 people forcibly displaced. These displaced residents were relocated to a new, underdeveloped housing site across the Yamuna River.

Turkman Gate

Kissa Kursi Ka a satirical film directed by Amrit Nahata in April 1975 ridiculed Sanjay Gandhi’s car manufacturing ambitions and targeted Congress supporters such as Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, R.K. Dhawan (Indira Gandhi’s private secretary), and Rukhsana Sultana. 

During the Emergency, all copies of the film, including the master print, were seized from the Censor Board office and burned at the Maruti factory in Gurgaon. 

The ensuing Shah Commission, established in 1977 by the Janata party-led Government of India to investigate the excesses of the Indian Emergency, found Sanjay Gandhi and V. C. Shukla, the Information and Broadcasting minister during the emergency, guilty of burning the negative prints. 

Following an 11-month legal battle, the court pronounced its verdict on February 27, 1979, sentencing both Sanjay Gandhi and Shukla to a prison term of two years.

Sanjay Gandhi was denied bail. District Judge O. N. Vohra at Tis Hazari in Delhi found the accused guilty of various charges including criminal conspiracy, breach of trust, mischief by fire, dishonestly receiving criminal property, concealing stolen property, and disappearance of evidence. 

However, the verdict was later overturned. 

When entitlement knows no bounds.

Sanjay Gandhi, a Member of Parliament for five months. Samadhi at Shanti Van. A postage stamp was released on his first death anniversary.

Corruption, with no consequences.


With the entire Opposition in jail.

Without informing the people of India

Minority appeasement and religious opportunism.

Today, we inhabit an India that surpasses the wildest dreams of my generation. We almost take for granted what we couldn’t even imagine possible ten years ago. As I write, the list of achievements and accomplishments of the Narendra Modi’s Government only grows longer. 

Highways, high-speed trains, airports, digital transformation, Aadhar, toilets, homes, gas connections, Ayushman Bharat, startups, Ram Mandir, Abrogation of Article 370, the economy, foreign policy, empowered armed forces…

Ask yourself why were we deprived of even the basics of a civilised society. Have you seen people defecate in the open anywhere in the world? Why did our esteemed leaders think we did not deserve that dignity? Yet they found new ways to control us, debase us, to remain forever supplicant.

Therefore I take it upon myself to constantly remind the younger generation that those who once inflicted harm upon our Nation are still around and capable of swiftly reversing our progress with a mere flick of their hand before we even realise what hit us between the eyes! 

These are the Merchants of Fascism, Authoritarianism and Death of Democracy that we should fear. They lurk just around the corner. They brook no dissent!

NOTE: All pictures, cartoons, and newspaper screenshots have been taken by the author from the internet with the sole purpose of critique. There is no commercial intent nor purpose. 

Author: Nandini Bahri Dhanda (@NAN_DINI_) is an Interior Architect who has lived across sixteen states in India & travelled all over the world. Her interest in art, culture, history politics and above all a passion for communicating & chatting with people across the board, finds her voice in her blog.

Disclaimer: The review was first published on her blog spot and has been republished here with kind permission from the author.

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