The Emergency period of the 1970s – which saw people's rights curtailed and all but cemented Congress leader and then prime minister Indira Gandhi's status as a near-dictator – is back in the news 43 years later.
The BJP is raking up the injustices from the period just one year before Lok Sabha elections are due. Detractors say this is just another ploy to divert attention from the incumbent government's failure.
However, it may well be used in a three-pronged attack – hence the trident in the headline – in West Bengal, a former Left bastion currently occupied by the Trinamool Congress (TMC), and one that the BJP is desperately trying to breach.
Indira Gandhi was a Congress leader, and the BJP has been using the Emergency as a tool to target the Congress at the national level. However, many consider former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray – also a Congress leader – as a catalyst for the Emergency.
Ray himself is often blamed for the Naxalite insurgency and his brutal crackdown on it. However, it has come to light more recently that Ray might have also been the one to have egged Indira on to impose Emergency, according to an Indian Express report.
The Congress as of now may not have a strong hold on the political discourse in West Bengal, and raking up the Emergency may further erode its electoral prospects in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections.
Against Trinamool Congress
The Trinamool Congress may have risen to power in West Bengal on the back of popular sentiments in 2011.
However, by the time the 2016 Assembly elections rolled around, much of those sentiments had been eroded due to what many saw was TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's appeasement politics aimed at a minority community.
Since then, several allegations have been levelled at Banerjee and the TMC, not the least of which was voter-fraud. In fact, videos of ballot papers being indiscriminately stamped and put in ballot boxes by TMC workers during the recently-concluded civic-body elections also emerged.
These and the BJP's continued allegations that the TMC was committing political crimes can give the saffron party some easy currency to use the Emergency bogey against the current dispensation. The BJP can easily claim that the TMC has infringed upon the rights of the masses in West Bengal, and imposed an undeclared Emergency.
Against Left parties
The Left parties – the CPM, the CPI, the Forward Bloc, et al – were not exactly supporters of the Emergency. In fact, they may soon join the burgeoning group of people who are claiming it is the BJP that has implemented an undeclared nationwide Emergency.
The case is slightly different in West Bengal. The state was once a Left bastion, but Banerjee and the TMC not only breached it but reduced the Left parties to just small patches across the entire landscape.
With the BJP looking to emerge as a big power, the Left parties cannot exactly look to align with it to defeat the TMC. On the other hand, if they choose to support the Congress, they too will be put in the same League of Emergency supporters by the BJP.
What now remains to be seen is what other issues the BJP can bring to the table in a state that is seeing a right-wing surge only in recent times.
[The author is a journalist who now teaches Reporting and Editing at St Joseph's College Autonomous, Bengaluru. The views expressed are his own.]