“Emergencies are of two types; one is declared and the other is undeclared. We are currently surrounded by an undeclared emergency”, said Swami Agnivesh, while replying to a question by journalist Sandeep Bhushan at a session titled ‘State of emergency: How similar is 2019 to 1975?.
This was part of the Tata Literature Live Fest being held at three locations in Mumbai this year and the current session was on at Title Waves Book store in Bandra last Saturday.
The former politician and Arya Samaj scholar, whose work in the field of bonded labour has won him awards and fuelled his books, Swami Agnivesh was facing BJP member Saurabh Tiwari and noted author Abhinav Chandrachud, with journalist Sandeep Bhushan acting as the moderator.
From the law to mob-lynching, everything came in for attention, as the discussed whether India can be said to be in a state of emergency.
Chandrachud went back into history and spoke of Justice H. R. Khanna, who was superseded by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi , “He was superseded for the post of the CJI as he dared to pass a judgement against the Government of India in the 1970s. Today such a thing is rarely seen, so no, we are not in a state of emergency.”
To this, Swami Agnivesh quickly responded by saying that India is in a state of an undeclared emergency. “I had gone underground and was later arrested in 1975 when emergency was declared. Today, I am not arrested but am in danger of being mob-lynched. The day the Supreme Court was passing a judgement against mob-lynching, I was being mobbed in Jharkhand by members of the BJP and the RSS. What else would you call it, if not an emergency? Why just this? Look at the Ayodhya judgement. It is only suiting Modi, nobody else. The media obeys him, so does the judiciary. Ranjan Gogoi was accused of molestation, but that case never came up. Why? Because he was the Chief Justice of India? This same Ranjan Gogoi threw my petition out, when I had submitted it, while fighting for more than 50 crore farmers as their petitioner in person. Why? Doesn’t he have even five minutes to spare to hear the plea of the farmers?” he asked passionately.
BJP spokesperson Saurabh Tiwari was quick to respond and condemn the mob-lynching Agnivesh suffered, adding, “It is unfortunate and I apologise to you for what happened, but the behaviour of a few individuals can’t be generalized as the ideology of the party.” He then rebutted Agnivesh, saying, “And I see you were criticising the Government just a while ago. I too do not agree with a number of things, but if people like you and I can openly criticize the government, then there is no emergency and free speech prevails.”
“It should come from the senior leaders of your party, only then will I accept it,” Swami Agnivesh shot back, and the moderator quickly stepped in to defuse the situation. None of this, however, stopped Chandrachud from jokingly suggesting that he was afraid his fellow panellist could end up being tried for sedition!
Thus ended just another day at the literature festival.