The Emergency (India)

The Emergency (India)

: "See also State of Emergency in India"

The Indian Emergency of [25th June 1975–21st 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.


Political unrest

Opponents had long made allegations that Indira's party, Congress, had practiced electoral fraud to win the 1971 elections. The Gandhian socialist Jaya Prakash 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.

The Allahabad conviction

Raj Narain, who had been recently defeated in the parliamentary election by Indira Gandhi, lodged cases of election fraud and use of state machinery for election purposes on Mrs Gandhi in Allahabad High Court. On June 12 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 Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years. Ironically some serious charges such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held guilty on comparatively less important charges such as building of dais by state police and provision of electricity by the state electricity department and height of the dais from which she addressed the campaign rally. Some of these charges were in reality an essential part for the Prime Minister's Security protocol. Further one other point for which she was held responsible for misusing the government machinery was a government employee, Mr. Yashpal Kapoor, started campaigning for her before his resignation from government service was accepted. 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 Narayan and Morarji Desai flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the PM's residence.

Declaration of Emergency

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.

The Emergency Administration

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. Indira herself had the right to appeal to the Supreme Court of India and had no legal obligation to resign until then. 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, 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. Innumerable Communist leaders and masses were arrested and brutally tortured.

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. Many of the opposition leaders were tortured in jail, some till death. Slums were demolished at midnight and in heavy rains in Delhi, and when the people protested, firing orders were issued to police.

One of the causes 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.

Elections of 1977

"See Also": Janata Party, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Morarji Desai

On January 23, 1977, Indira Gandhi called fresh elections for March and released all political prisoners. Emergency officially ended on March 23, 1977.

It is suggested that official intelligence sources told the Prime Minister that her administration was popular across the country. It has also been known that Indira feared that Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, then Chief of Army Staff threatened to depose her if she did not immediately call electionsFact|date=February 2007, even though Maneckshaw denied any intentions in a later interview to The Times of India.

Janata movement's campaign warned Indians that the elections might be their last chance to choose between “democracy and dictatorship.” In the 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 Tribunal

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.

The Debate over its Legacy

Indira's emergency rule lasted 19 months, and its legacy remains intensely controversial.

upport for Indira's Decisions

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. Some have argued that India badly needed economic recovery after the 1971 Indo-Pak war had strained the exchequer. Indira's 20-point economic program increased agricultural production, manufacturing activity, exports and foreign reserves. The national economy achieved high levels of growth and investment, and as strikes were non-existent, productivity increased rapidly. Communal Hindu-Muslim riots, which had re-surfaced in the 1960s and 70s, virtually ceased, and initially the government seemed to be working with vigour. Police in cities had sweeping powers to destroy gang and syndicate structure

Charges against the Government

Criticism and Accusations of the Emergency-era may be grouped as:
* Wanton detention of innocent people by police without charge or notification of families
* Abuse and torture of detainees and political prisoners
* Use of public and private media institutions, like the national television network Doordarshan, for propaganda
* Forced vasectomy and even castration of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative. Indira's son, Sanjay Gandhi, was blamed for this abusive and forcible treatment of people.
* Arbitrary destruction of the slum and low-income housing in the Turkmen Gate and Jama Masjid area of old Delhi.

In Fiction

The plot of the Indian film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi revolves around the period during which the Indira Gandhi government declared a state of emergency . The film, directed by Sudhir Mishra, also tries to portray the growth of the Naxalite movement during the emergency era.

The book "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry takes place during the Emergency and highlights some of the abuses that occurred during that period.

The book "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie has the protagonist Saleem Sinai in India during the Emergency. His home in a low income area called the "magician's ghetto" is destroyed as part of the national beautification program.

Shashi Tharoor in his book "The Great Indian Novel" speaks of the emergency period and compares Indira Gandhi to Duryodhan who is considered as the leader of the evil forces in the Indian epic Mahabharat.

The Hindi novel "Katra bi aarzoo", written by Rahi Masoom Raza, also tells a lot about the people in a small village who are greatly affected by the state of emergency.

The book Life of Pi by Yann Martel takes place during this time, and the Emergency is referenced in the plot.


* "The Judgement" by Kuldip Nayar
* " [ India Country Study] "
* [ "Memories of a Father," a book by Eachara Varier, father of a student killed in police custody during the emergency]
* "Indira Gandhi: A Personal and Political Biography" by Inder Malhotra
* [ Economic policy and political insights into the Emergency]

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