Emergency in India (25 Jun 1975 – 21 Mar 1977)

The darkest phase in Indira’s tenure as PM.

The declaration of emergency in India, in 1975, under the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi, is often criticised as a move that threw India’s democratic policy out of the gear.

On June 25, 1975, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed issued emergency in India under Article 352(1) of the Constitution that stretched for 21 long months until March 21, 1977.

During the early 1970s, political unrest and public dissatisfaction against the Indira Gandhi led government was on its peak. Even the top leaders in the Congress were unhappy with the leadership of Indira Gandhi, which led to a split in the Congress in 1969.

Indira Gandhi|IndiaToday

Events before the Emergency

Here’s is a timeline of catalyst events-

1973: The ‘oil crisis’ fuelled inflation and resulted in increasing unemployment. Unemployed and already poverty driven youth was highly unsatisfied with the inefficiency of the central government.

1974: A student agitation by the Bihar Chatra Sangharsh Samiti with the support of socialist leader –Jayaprakash Narayan, also referred to as JP, against the Bihar government made headlines. Disgusted by the corruption, he joined politics to restore public life and the values of the national movement.

In Patna, JP called for a “total revolution”, asking the agitating students, peasants and labour unions to protest non-violently to bring a change to the Indian society. He demanded the resignation of the State government, but this was not accepted by the Centre.

JP during protests in Bihar|IndiaToday

Bihar saw a series of protest including a protest in Gaya, where police fired on unarmed people, and another protest in Patna, where the police lathi-charged on protesters including JP.

Gujarat saw a similar protest, that turned violent, that year against an increase in canteen prices. Soon the protest against rising corruption in government services, food scarcity and unemployment engulfed the state and led to the resignation of the Gujarat government in 1974.

1975: Raj Narain, candidate opposite to Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareli during Parliamentary elections of 1971, filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court accusing Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices, bribing voters and misuse of the government machinery to win the elections.

On June 12, 1975, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of Allahabad High Court found the prime minister guilty of the misuse of government machinery during elections and thus declared her election null and void. The court gave the Congress twenty days to make arrangements to replace Indira as the PM. Indira challenged this verdict in the Supreme Court, who granted her a partial stay on the HC order – till her appeal was decided, she could remain an MP but couldn’t take part in the Lok Sabha proceedings.

Internal disturbance

In response to the rapid changing political situation and JP Movement in Bihar, the Government of India on 25th June, 1975 recommended the imposition of emergency to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. The President issued the proclamation immediately declaring an emergency on the grounds of internal disturbances. The cabinet was informed about it at a special meeting at 6 am on 26th June 1975 after all this had taken place.

Indira Gandhi backed the imposition of the Emergency on ‘national interest’ grounds.

What is an Emergency under Article 352?

The emergency under Article 352 gave the Prime Minister the authority to rule by decree, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties and all fundamental rights to be curbed.

Arrests on the basis of preventive detention were allowed.

Regulation of press through censorship was allowed.

Excesses during the Emergency

Federal distribution of powers

The federal distribution of powers no longer remained in order. All the powers were concentrated in the hands of the Union government.

Restrictions on fundamental rights

The government got powers to restrict/limit the fundamental rights of the citizens during the emergency, and made use of this power without limits. The curtailed rights included the right of citizens to move to the Court for restoring their fundamental rights.

Preventive detention

The government made extensive use of its power to put leaders of the opposition party into prison under the grounds of preventive detention. People were arrested and detained on the doubt that they may commit an offence. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jamaat-e-Islami were banned and some of its leaders jailed. Protests, strikes and public agitations were disallowed.

The Shah Commission, appointed by Government of India in 1977 to inquire into all the excesses during the Indian Emergency, estimated that nearly 1,11,000 people were arrested under preventive detention laws. Torture and custodial deaths also took place in huge numbers during this time.

Sanjay Gandhi and forced sterilisation

The PM’s younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, didn’t hold any official position during that time. Yet, he gained control over the administration and allegedly interfered in the functioning of the government during the Emergency. His role in the forced sterilisation in Delhi is highly criticised.

Censorship of the press

The Gandhi government laid some rules for the journalists and the printing presses nationwide. These guidelines were mandatory to be followed.

All the newspapers in the country were asked to take permission before publishing anything, from the Press Advisor.

Amendments to the Indian Constitution

The powers of the Constitution were curtailed in the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution. Due to its utmost modifications of the Constitution, the amendment in often called “mini-Constitution” and the “Constitution of Indira”.

It called for restricting the power of the Supreme Court and the High court in declaring judgements.

The amendment provided the Prime Minister of India with uncontrolled powers to amend any section of the Constitution without any judicial intervention.

The Act dismissed the powers of the courts in dictating any judgment for office for profit cases. It eroded the federal structure of the Constitution completely.

The Preamble was changed from “sovereign, democratic, republic” to “sovereign, socialist, democratic, republic”

The End of Emergency and After

After 18 months of emergency, in January 1977, elections were finally held in March 1977. All the leaders and activists were released from jails. The opposition united and quickly formed a new party- Janta Party, under the leadership of JP.

Focussing on the dictatorial character and the various offences committed by the Congress government during the emergency, the Janata Party turned the elections into a referendum on the experience of the emergency, at least in North India. Public dissatisfaction against the Congress and the formation of Janata Party ensured that the non-Congress votes would not be divided. For the first time since independence, the Congress party was defeated in the Lok Sabha elections.

The newly formed Janta government made the 44th amendment in the Indian Constitution, reversing the amendments in the 42nd amendment.

An important constitutional amendment done was substitution ‘armed rebellion’ in the place of ‘internal disturbance’ and making the advice to the President to proclaim emergency be given in writing by the Council of Ministers.

References:

Quiz Time!

1._______________ was appointed by the Government of India in 1977 to inquire into all the excesses during the Indian Emergency.

a. The Allahabad High Court        b. The Shah Commission        c. Raj Narain       d. Janta Party

2. The emergency in India was declared on _______

a.January 11, 1975        b. July 25, 1975         c. June 25, 1975         d. July 25, 1974

3. The Preamble was changed  to “sovereign, ________, democratic, republic” in the amendment during the emergency.

a. socialist b. secular c. emergency d. liberal

4. Fill in the blanks-

a. ___________ was the candidate opposite to Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareli during Parliamentary elections of 1971 who filed a petition in _________________ accusing Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices, bribing voters and misuse of the government machinery to win the elections.

b. On June 12, 1975, ______________ of Allahabad High Court found the prime minister guilty of the misuse of government machinery during elections.

c. The Government of India on 25th June, 1975 recommended the imposition of emergency to _________________ on the grounds of ______________.

d. The powers of the Constitution were curtailed in the _______________ of the Constitution and due to its utmost modifications of the Constitution, the amendment in often called _____________ and the Constitution of Indira.

e. The newly formed ______ government made the _____________ in the Indian Constitution, reversing the unfair amendments brought during the emergency.

5. Describe the excesses during the emergency in India.

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