Arvind NarrainNov 10, 2022
India's Undeclared Emergency
Constitutionalism and the Politics of Resistance
Arvind Narrain is a lawyer and writer based in Bangalore. He is visiting faculty at the School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University. He is the co-editor of Law Like Love: Queer Perspectives on Law and co-author of Breathing Life into the Constitution: Human Rights Lawyering in India and The Preamble: A Brief Introduction. He was a part of the team of lawyers that challenged Section 377 of the IPC right from the High Court in 2009 to the Supreme Court in 2018.
In 1975, the Indira Gandhi government declared Emergency in India, unveiling an era of State excesses, human rights violations, the centralisation of power and the dismantling of democracy. Nearly half a century later, the phrase ‘undeclared emergency’ gathers currency as citizens and analysts struggle to define the nature of India’s present crisis.
In India's Undeclared Emergency: Constitutionalism and the Politics of Resistance (Context, 2021), Arvind Narrain presents a devastatingly thorough examination of the nature of this emergency—a systematic attack on the rule of law that hits at the foundation of a democracy, its Constitution. This clear-eyed legal analysis of its implications also documents an ongoing history of constitutional subversion, one that predates the Narendra Modi-led NDA government—a lineage of curtailed freedoms, censorship, preventive detention laws and diluted executive accountability. Is history repeating itself then? Not quite. This book is an account of an inaugural era in Indian history. Narrain shows that the Modi government, unlike the Congress government of 1975, draws on popular support and this raises the dangerous possibility that today’s authoritarian regime could become tomorrow’s totalitarian state. A lament, the Undeclared Emergency is also a war cry. It charts an alternative inheritance of resistance, acts big and small from the Emergency of 1975, the current day and times long gone. Dissent, he says, is an Indian tradition. The Second Coming is at hand, and Narrain reckons that we have a responsibility to determine what it will look like.
Alok Prasanna Kumar is Co-Founder and Lead, Vidhi Karnataka. Sarayu Natarajan is the Founder of Aapti Institute. In the past, she has worked in management consulting and the venture fund industry before the plunge into researching politics.