On Gyan Prakash’s “Emergency Chronicles”

I have personally been a fan of books and articles that provide a primer(s) on a specific topic(s). I appreciate Gyan Prakash’s Emergency Chronicles primarily for that same reason. While the overall topic of discussion in the book is the Emergency imposed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the book excels in its description of a lot of the ancillary elements of the Emergency.

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A thorough discussion on the origins and motivations behind the inclusion of Emergency powers in the constitution by Dr. Ambedkar, Sardar Patel, and others form the initial chapters. Personally, this was the most insightful chapter in the book as it takes us into the minds and thinking of the framers of the Indian Constitution – what was the state of the country, why they included it, what they expected out of it, etc. Then there is the chapter on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He provides the history behind its creation, its inner workings, influences, objectives, inherent communism, etc. with just the right amount of detail. For a university that is always in the news today for all the wrong reasons, this primer on its origins appears timely.

No book on the Emergency is complete without a sizable discussion on Jayaprakash Naryan (JP) – Indira’s nemesis – and this author duly gives him the necessary space. But my favorite part of the book was the chapter on the history of Automobile manufacturing in India – and how Sanjay Gandhi used his position and power to (unsuccessfully) launch an indigenous automobile. The evil tentacles of state monopoly, socialism, and licensing requirements are fully exposed in Sanjay Gandhi’s pursuit of his indigenous car – and it serves as a timely reminder for those who are harking for more socialist policies all around the world today. Staying with Sanjay Gandhi, the author then provides a thorough discussion on the infamous and dreaded ‘Sterilization Camps’, the Ford Foundation’s active role in it, and explains how this was part of an overall global approach towards population control in the 60’s and 70’s. The book closes with chapters on the jailed leaders’ time in prison, the formation and ultimate demise of the Janata Party, and Indira’s return to power (and her assassination).

The author appears to treat the Emergency itself to be just the common theme around which all these different topics are discussed in just the right amount of detail – and this feature is its strength. Yes there are a couple of chapters dedicated to the actual events during the Emergency, but the real highlight of the book is the discussion of all the ancillary topics related to it. I would definitely recommend it. (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads).

The only criticism I have of this book are the contents of the prologue and epilogue. Though the book itself is largely devoid of any bias, the author betrays his biased beliefs in the prologue and epilogue in the form of an anti-Modi, and anti-BJP rant. First of all, it is just plain unnecessary and completely out of place. The book is first rate on its own standing and doesn’t need the stamp of an anti-Modi rhetoric to validate it. Yet, the author doesn’t mince words and states all the standard talking points one can find in the Washington Post and the New York Times. So, maybe just skip the Prologue and Epilogue?

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