45 Years of Emergency

45 years of emergency: When democracy was murdered

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Today that is June 25 is the 45th anniversary of the Emergency imposed by the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The BJP on Thursday lashed out at the Congress on the 45th anniversary of Emergency, reminding it of all the “excesses” during the period. Prime Minister Modi paid homage to all those who participated in the “struggle to protect democracy, withstanding all torture.”

Top BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda, remembered those who resisted “anti-democratic forces” and slammed the “dynastic grip and totalitarian mindset” of the Congress party. The BJP also posted a blog by late Arun Jaitley, ‘The Emergency Revisited: The circumstances leading to the imposition of Emergency’.

The bleak 21 months when democracy was murdered

Officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352 of the Constitution because of the prevailing “internal disturbance”, the Emergency was in effect from 25 June 1975 until its withdrawal on 21 March 1977. The order bestowed upon the Prime Minister the authority to rule by decree, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties to be curbed.

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In the 1971 general elections, the former prime minister came to power with a thumping majority. Congress had won 352 Lok Sabha seats out of 518.

It was on June 12, 1975, when Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court ruled on a petition filed by Rajnarayan, a candidate of the United Socialist Party from Rae Bareli. In the petition, Rajnarayan made a slew of allegations against Gandhi which included bribing voters with liquor, misusing Air Force planes for campaigns.

Also, the court found Gandhi guilty of misuse of government machinery in elections and canceled the election by also barring the former prime minister from contesting elections for six years. The High Court’s decision meant Indira Gandhi would have to leave the post of Prime Minister. An emergency meeting was called at the Prime Minister’s official residence and where Indira Gandhi sought advice from all the leaders.

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With the advice of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi appealed in the Supreme Court against the June 23 ruling of the High Court. On June 24 1975, the Supreme Court judge, Justice VR Krishna Iyer, said that he would not put a complete stay on the decision. And, the Supreme Court allowed Gandhi to remain Prime Minister, but she could not vote as an MP until the final verdict. It was after this time, several protests and demonstartions erupted all over the country. Indira Gandhi got the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to sign the Emergency Declaration on midnight of June 25. Internal unrest was cited as the reason behind imposing the Emergency.

Consequences of Emergency

  • Invoking article 352 of the Indian Constitution, Gandhi granted herself extraordinary powers and launched a massive crackdown on civil liberties and political opposition. The Government used police forces across the country to place thousands of protestors and strike leaders under preventive detention.
  • Vijayaraje Scindia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Raj Narain, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Jivatram Kripalani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Arun Jaitley, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Gayatri Devi, the dowager queen of Jaipur, and other protest leaders were immediately arrested.
  • Organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jamaat-e-Islami, along with some political parties, were banned. 
  • Congress leaders who such as Mohan Dharia and Chandra Shekhar, resigned their government and party positions and were thereafter arrested and placed under detention.
  • Elections for the Parliament and state governments were postponed. Gandhi and her parliamentary majorities could rewrite the nation’s laws since her Congress party had the required mandate to do so – a two-thirds majority in the Parliament.
  • Indira Gandhi imposed President’s Rule in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, where anti-Indira parties ruled and arrested thousands.
  • In September 1976, Sanjay Gandhi initiated a widespread compulsory sterilization programme to limit population growth. It was more of a forced sterilization.
  • Personal vengeance was at peak. For eg. During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi asked the popular singer Kishore Kumar to sing for a Congress party rally in Bombay, but he refused. As a result, Information and broadcasting minister Vidya Charan Shukla put an unofficial ban on playing Kishore Kumar songs on state broadcasters All India Radio and Doordarshan from 4 May 1976 till the end of Emergency.
  • A few days later censorship was imposed on newspapers. The Delhi edition of the Indian Express on 28 June, carried a blank editorial, while the Financial Express reproduced in large type Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Where the mind is without fear”.
  • Most of the mainstream media newspapers and magazines were under the wrath of Emergency. The scissors of censors cut through big publishers like HimmatJanataFrontierSadhanaSwarajya among many others. Some were threatened to be thrown out of publications and others were put in jail. The Indian Express and the Stateman were first ones to protest through their editions.
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Written by Ayushman Ojha, a Journalism student at Delhi School of Journalism, Delhi University. Covers Politics, Education and International Affairs.

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