In hindsight, it appears that the biggest mistake that Indira Gandhi committed during the Emergency was not in declaring it, bypassing constitutional and political propriety; it was rather in the way she handled the ire of the young men and women, who had come out on the streets protesting the clampdown on constitutionally guaranteed liberties.
As history has shown, she grossly underestimated the organic angst of the youth, a motley crowd of millions cutting across class, caste and regional barriers, rising as one against an authoritarian regime, risking lives and careers. From Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, George Fernandes to Sitaram Yechuri, a pack of young leaders emerged out of the movement and they went on to determine the future of the country in myriad ways. In the process, they ensured that a strong, palpable sentiment against the excesses of the Congress regime stayed alive in India. These young turks and their followers paved the way for a new phase of politics in India, which benefited, among others, the BJP. The latter was able to make a pitch for its divisive brand of politics as an alternative to the “corrupt” Congress. The rest, as they say, is history.
However, the top duo in government and the BJP do not seem to have studied the Emergency the way they should have, considering how the regime has been dealing with country-wide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Even though the country’s minority communities are the alleged victims of the new law, the agitation against the legislation is being led by youngsters; evidently, the government has failed in gaining their confidence. The use of police force and Section 144 to suppress them has not worked, it appears.
The government could pay a price for its high-handedness. It could have a long-term impact on the electoral future of the ruling party. The Congress would surely understand that.