That an extra-constitutional centre of power controls much of what transpires in the Union government is a fact that is far too well known both within the country and outside. It is also no secret that the Congress President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, who became that supra-constitutional authority after the 2004 elections soon after the appointment of a pliable party man as Prime Minister, regularly exercises her veto power and keeps a tight rein on the government. The Congress Party however does not see this as violative of any principle, constitutional or otherwise, because the presence of such extra-constitutional entities is part and parcel of the Congress Party’s concept of governance. Since the Nehru-Gandhis play a pivotal role in the affairs of the Congress, the party runs on the premise that members of that family need no formal office to run the affairs of State.      

Contrary to popular belief, this process began during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, when his daughter Indira Gandhi began dabbling in politics and even got her father to appoint her as the President of the Congress in the later part of the 1950s.  The exercise of extra-constitutional power by members of this family came to be seen in a rather aggravated form in the mid-1970s when Sanjay Gandhi, as President of the Youth Congress, started issuing diktats to Union ministers and chief ministers. This approach to governance crossed the limits of decency during the dreaded Emergency in 1975-77. Encouraged by his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi established a parallel centre of power at the federal level and in the states, intimidated union ministers, chief ministers, IAS and IPS officers and unleashed a reign of terror across the land.  So appreciative was Indira Gandhi of the work of Sanjay Gandhi that she used her brute majority in parliament to extend the term of the 1971-76 Lok Sabha by a year. This dreadful phase only ended when the people threw out the Congress Party in a belated election called by her on the basis of “intelligence” inputs that suggested that the people were with her! 

This is the history of governance a la Congress, but many members of the government led by this party pretend as if none of this happened or probably hope that much of this is wiped off public memory. But those who have an abiding commitment to democracy should never let this happen because to forget the days of tyranny is to re-invite trouble. That is why for the sake of democracy, one needs to recall the dark days of the Emergency on its anniversary, which falls on June 25. This also enables us to dismiss with contempt the lectures that some union ministers deliver on the pitfalls of “creating a structure parallel to government”.

For instance, unwilling to tackle the problem of corruption head-on, the government has been dragging its feet on the issue of bringing the Prime Minister and MPs within the purview of the Lok Pal. This is a matter that is exercising the minds of large sections of the citizenry. Mr Anna Hazare and several other concerned citizens have announced their intention to agitate if the government does not yield to the basic demand that we have a strong anti-corruption law that will bring everyone from the Prime Minister downwards within its ambit. This is possible only if a strong Lok Pal with the power to investigate and prosecute the corrupt is established.

The Congress Party however is hell bent on scuttling this move because of its traditional unease with independent institutions.  For example, since the days of Nehru, it has ensured that only “pliable’ party members are appointed governors in the states. Similarly, it has always ensured that persons capable of independent judgement are not appointed Election Commissioners. The party also campaigned openly during the Emergency against an independent judiciary and media. One need only visit parliament debates on the Constitution ( 42 Amendment) Bill  to know the extent to which the party was willing to go to brow-beat the judiciary, the media and the few bureaucrats who still retained their vertebral columns. Persons like CM Stephen openly campaigned for a “committed judiciary” that was committed, not to the Constitution of India but to the Congress Party. In fact, nothing much has changed over the years. The effort has always been to appoint party sympathizers or persons of dubious distinction to such constitutional offices. The best example of this in recent times is the appointment of Mr Navin Chawla, who was declared “unfit for any public office” by the Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry, as Election Commissioner. Another example of the Congress Party’s brazen contempt for norms was the appointment of a man who is an accused in a corruption case as head of the Central Vigilance Commission.  

All this is indicative of the allergy that the Congress Party has to the appointment of independent-minded individuals and to the creation of independent institutions. Given this background, it is indeed strange to hear sermons from union ministers like Mr Kapil Sibal and Mr P Chidambaram, who incidentally piloted a draconian anti-media bill in the 1980s, on the virtues of constitutionalism.  Some days ago they addressed the media together and hit out at civil society and the demand for a strong Lok Pal by saying that it does not make sense to run a government but allow “decisions to be taken outside”.  The other argument against a strong Lok Pal was that the government “cannot create a structure parallel to the government”.  The two ministers also wondered how the government “can wantonly part with its power”.  But, is this not what the Manmohan Singh Government has been doing for the last seven years – “wantonly parting with its powers” to an extra-constitutional authority called Ms Sonia Gandhi? That is why this argument is truly weird when it is made by ministers in a Congress-led government.

Even more laughable was Mr Chidambaram’s argument that “there is a Constitution, the basic features of which cannot be altered”.  Dozens of Congress MPs and leaders have condemned the doctrine of Basic Structure, propounded by the Supreme Court, within parliament and outside. Members of this party had even warned Supreme Court judges who propounded the doctrine that the party had its “methods” to teach them a lesson. That is why one must be wary of the false respect that ministers like Mr Chidambaram show towards the idea of the basic structure of the Constitution and the lip service that they offer to the inviolability of this principle.Finally, let the anniversary of the Emergency also remind us of the dreadful constitutional “amendments” that the Congress Party introduced during the Emergency placing the Prime Minister above the Constitution, curbing the powers of the Supreme Court and the High Courts and giving the President the right to amend the Constitution through an executive order.  These amendments destroyed the foundations of a democratic Constitution.  Since the Congress Party still remains committed to extra-constitutionalism and to the appointment of pliant, unworthy persons to high constitutional offices, one should constantly be on guard. We must use June 25 to refresh ourselves of the mischief that a Congress-led Government is capable of and to pay homage to the lakhs of citizens who were killed, maimed and jailed by this party because it hated dissent.