The Indian Emergency of 25 June 1975 – 21 March 1977 was a 21-month period, when President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, upon advice by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, declared a state of emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution of India, effectively bestowing on her the power to rule by decree, suspending elections and civil liberties. It is one of the most controversial times in the history of independent India.
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Modern India|
|British Raj (1858–1947)|
|Indian independence movement (1857–1947)|
|Partition of India (1947)|
|Political integration of India (1947–49)|
|States Reorganisation Act (1956)|
|Non-Aligned Movement (1956– )|
|Green Revolution (1970s)|
|Indo-Pakistani War of 1971|
|1990s in India|
|Economic liberalisation in India|
|2000s in India|
|History of India|
|History of South Asia|
Opponents had long made allegations that Indira's party, Congress, had practiced electoral fraud to win the 1971 elections. The Gandhian socialist Jayaprakash Narayan had been agitating in Bihar for a change in provincial government, and increasingly sought to direct popular action against the Central Government through satyagrahas.
Narayan and his supporters sought to unify students, peasants, and labour organisations in a 'Total Revolution' to nonviolently transform Indian society. Indira's party was defeated in Gujarat by a coalition of parties calling itself the Janata Party (People's Party), and even faced an all-party, no-confidence motion in Parliament.
Raj Narain, who had been defeated in parliamentary election by Indira Gandhi, lodged cases of election fraud and use of state machinery for election purposes against Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court. On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court found the Prime Minister guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years. Some serious charges such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held responsible for misusing the government machinery, and found guilty on charges such as using the state police to build a dais, availing the services of a government officer, Yashpal Kapoor, during the elections before he had resigned from his position, and use of electricity from the state electricity department. Because the court unseated her on comparatively frivolous charges, while she was acquitted on more serious charges, The Times described it as 'firing the Prime Minister for a traffic ticket'. However, strikes in labor and trade unions, student unions and government unions swept across the country. Protests led by J.P.Narayan, Raj Narain, Satyendra Narayan Sinha and Morarji Desai flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the Prime Minister's residence. The persistent efforts of Raj Narain, was praised worldwide as it took over four years for Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha to finally pass judgement against Indira Gandhi. The ruling later became the primary reason for the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the West Bengal chief minister, proposed to Ms. Gandhi the imposition of "internal emergency". He drafted a letter for the President to issue the proclamation on the basis of information Ms. Gandhi had received that "there is an imminent danger to the security of India being threatened by internal disturbances". He showed how democratic freedom could be suspended while remaining within the ambit of the Constitution.
As the constitution requires, Ms. Gandhi advised and President Ahmed approved the continuation of Emergency over every six-month period until her decision to hold elections in 1977.
Elections for the Parliament and state governments were postponed. Invoking article 352 of the Indian Constitution, Indira granted herself extraordinary powers and launched a massive crackdown on civil liberties and political opposition. The Government cited threats to national security, as a war with Pakistan had recently been concluded. Due to the war and additional challenges of drought and the 1973 oil crisis, the economy was in bad shape. The Government claimed that the strikes and protests had paralyzed the government and hurt the economy of the country greatly. In face of massive political opposition, desertion and disorder across the country and the party, Indira stuck to the advice of a few close party loyalists and her younger son Sanjay Gandhi, who had become a close political advisor.
The Government used police forces across the country to arrest thousands of protestors and strike leaders. J.P. Narayan, Raj Narain, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Jivatram Kripalani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Satyendra Narayan Sinha and other protest leaders were immediately arrested. Organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, along with some opposition political parties were banned. Numerous Communist leaders were arrested along with many others involved with the party.
Indira attempted to re-write the nation's laws with the help of the Parliament, where the Congress controlled over a two-thirds majority. When she felt the existing laws were too slow, she utilized the President to issue "extraordinary laws" (Ordinances) that bypassed Parliament altogether, allowing her to rule by decree. She constructed a 20-point economic program to increase agricultural and industrial production, improve public services and fight poverty and illiteracy. Also, she had little trouble in making amendments to the constitution that exonerated her from any culpability in her election fraud case, declaring President's Rule in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu where anti-Indira parties ruled (state legislatures were thereby dissolved and suspended indefinitely), and jailing thousands of opponents. The 42nd Amendment, which brought about extensive changes to the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India, is one of the lasting legacies of the Emergency.
One of the consequences of the Emergency era was that the Supreme Court of India ordered that, although the Constitution is subject to amendment (as used by Indira), changes that are ultra vires to its basic structure cannot be made by the Parliament of India.
With the leaders of all opposition parties and other outspoken critics of her government arrested and behind bars, the entire country was in a state of shock. Shortly after the declaration of the Emergency, the Sikh leadership convened meetings in Amritsar where they resolved to oppose the "fascist tendency of the Congress". The first mass protest in the country, known as the "Campaign to Save Democracy" was organized by the Akali Dal and launched in Amritsar, 9 July. A statement to the press recalled the historic Sikh struggle for freedom under the Mughals, then under the British, and voiced concern that what had been fought for and achieved was being lost. The police were out in force for the demonstration and arrested all those who raised the Sikh call of "Jo Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akal" (Whoever speaks, shall be fulfilled, Truth is Undying), including the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) leaders.
The Prime Minister seemed genuinely surprised at the strength of the response from the Sikhs. Fearing their defiance might inspire civil disobedience in other parts of the county, she offered to negotiate a deal with the Shiromani Akal Dal that would give it joint control of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. The leader of the protests, Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal refused to meet with government representatives so long as the Emergency was in effect. In a press interview, he made clear the grounds of the Save Democracy campaign.
While the civil disobedience campaign caught on in some parts of the country, especially at Delhi University, the government's tactics of mass arrests, censorship and intimidation curtailed the oppositions's popularity. After January, the Sikhs remained virtually alone in their active resistance to the regime. Hailed by opposition leaders as "the last bastion of democracy", they continued to come out in large numbers each month on the day of the new moon, symbolizing the dark night of Indian democracy, to court arrest.
According to Amnesty International, 140,000 people had been arrested without trial during the twenty months of Indira Gandhi's Emergency. Of them, 40,000 had come from India's two percent Sikh minority.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was seen close to opposition leaders, and with its large organizational base was seen potential of organizing protests against the Government, was also banned. Police clamped down on the organization and thousands of its workers were imprisoned.
The RSS defied the ban and thousands participated in Satyagraha (peaceful protests) against the ban and against the curtailment of fundamental rights. Later, when there was no letup, the volunteers of the RSS formed underground movements for the restoration of democracy. Literature that was censored in the media was clandestinely published and distributed on a large scale and funds were collected for the movement. Networks were established between leaders of different political parties in the jail and outside for the coordination of the movement.
'The Economist', London, described the movement as "the only non-left revolutionary force in the world". It said that the movement was "dominated by tens of thousands of RSS cadres, though more and more young recruits are coming". Talking about its objectives it said "its platform at the moment has only one plank: to bring democracy back to India".
On January 23, 1977, Indira Gandhi called fresh elections for March and released all political prisoners. The Emergency officially ended on March 23, 1977. The opposition Janata movement's campaign warned Indians that the elections might be their last chance to choose between “democracy and dictatorship.”
In the Lok Sabha elections, held in February, Indira and Sanjay both lost their Lok Sabha seats, as did most of their loyal followers. Many Congress Party loyalists deserted Indira. The Congress was reduced to just 153 seats, 92 of which were from four of the southern states. The Janata Party's 298 seats and its allies' 47 seats(of a total 542) gave it a massive majority. Morarji Desai became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India.
The efforts of the Janata administration to try government officials and Congress politicians for Emergency-era abuses and crimes were largely a flop due to a disorganized, over-complex and politically-motivated process of litigation. Although special tribunals were organized and scores of senior Congress Party and government officials arrested and charged, including Indira and Sanjay Gandhi, police were unable to submit sufficient evidence for most cases, and only a few low-level officials were convicted of any abuses.
The people lost interest in the hearings owing to their continuous fumbling and complex nature, and the economic and social needs of the country grew more important to them. An impression was created that corruption and political subversion stalled the process of justice.
Indira's Emergency rule lasted 21 months, and its legacy remains intensely controversial.
The Emergency was endorsed by Vinoba Bhave (who called it Anushasan parva or Time for discipline) and Mother Teresa. Pioneer industrialist J. R. D. Tata and writer Khushwant Singh were among the other prominent supporters, though Tata regretted later that he spoke in favor of emergency as cited in his biography Beyond the Last Blue Mountain by RM Lala. Some have argued that India badly needed economic recovery after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war had strained the exchequer. Others have argued that Indira's 20-point economic program increased agricultural production, manufacturing activity, exports and foreign reserves. Communal Hindu-Muslim riots, which had re-surfaced in the 1960s and 1970s, reduced in intensity, leading to increased productivity.
Criticism and accusations of the Emergency-era may be grouped as:
The Emergency years were the biggest challenge to India's commitment to democracy, which proved vulnerable to the manipulation of powerful leaders and large parliamentary majorities.
P. Rajan, a student of the erstwhile Regional Engineering College, Calicut, was arrested by the police in Kerala on March 1, 1976, tortured in custody until he died and then his body was disposed. The facts of this incident came out owing to a habeas corpus suit filed in the High Court of Kerala.