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 periods in the history of independent India
President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared a State of Emergency upon the advice of the Prime Minister on 26 June 1975. In her own words, Indira brought democracy “to a grinding halt”.
As the constitution requires, Indira 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 recent war with Pakistan had just been concluded. It 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, Lal Krishna Advani and other protest leaders were immediately arrested. Organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and 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. She felt her powers were not amassing quickly enough, so she utilized the President to issue “extraordinary laws” 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.
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 areultra vires to its basic structure cannot be made by the Parliament of India.
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. Emergency officially ended on March 23, 1977. 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, who herself lost her constituency seat. The Congress was reduced to just 153 seats, 92 of which were from four of the southern states. The Janata Party’s 295 seats (of a total 542) gave it only a slim majority, but opposition candidates together represented more than two-thirds of the Lok Sabha. Morarji Desai became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India.
The bulk of the Indian media controlled by industrial houses close to the ruling Congress Party, did not highlight this infamous day. If for nothing else they could have emphasized that India’s democracy should never be allowed to be subverted by self-seeking politicians.
Against such a background, the only redeeming feature that strikes the mind is that the people of India did no hesitate to strike back in 1977 against Congress Party Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for her subversion of democracy and the Emergency excesses. They unseated her from power. Though she came back to power again, not because of any new found political popularity but because of the internal squabbles of the Janata Party, politically the things were never the same again for her. Her image took a dive.
In this lie many lessons for the India of today stretching from attempts to put into Rashtrapati Bhavan once again a pliant political non-entity as President by the Congress Party President, to the questioning of Supreme Court judgments on unconstitutional legislation passed by the Parliament by political leaders and contriving dubious legislative measures to perpetuate in office those unseated as happened in the Office of Profit controversy.
India’s middle class in1977 was small and yet they along with the rest of India unseated Indira Gandhi for her political transgressions and subversion of democracy. Today India’s burgeoning middle class is over 300 million strong and they must politically empower themselves not only to correct the distorted electoral arithmetic imposed by casteist political leaders and custodians of minority vote banks, but also to act forcefully as sentinels of Indian democracy.
Never again should the people of India ever allow another Internal Emergency to be imposed on India by self-seeking Indian politicians, however charismatic. It is well said that “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty” and every Indian citizen should be alive to it.
Vande India Recommands
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