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The Emergency (India)


The Emergency (India)

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed proclaim a state of national emergency from 25 June 1975 to 21 March 1977

In India, "the Emergency" refers to a 21-month period in 1975–77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unilaterally had a state of emergency declared across the country. Officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352(1) of the Constitution for "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. For much of the Emergency, most of Gandhi's political opponents were imprisoned and the press was censored. Several other atrocities were reported from the time, including a forced mass-sterilisation campaign spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister's son. The Emergency is one of the most controversial periods of independent India's history.[1]


  • Prelude 1
    • Rise of Indira Gandhi 1.1
    • Increasing government control of the judiciary 1.2
    • Political unrest 1.3
    • Raj Narain verdict 1.4
  • Proclamation of the Emergency 2
  • Responsibility for the Emergency 3
  • Administration 4
    • Arrests 4.1
    • Laws, Human Rights and Elections 4.2
    • Family planning 4.3
    • Criticism against the Government 4.4
  • Resistance movements 5
    • The role of RSS 5.1
    • Sikh opposition 5.2
  • Elections of 1977 6
  • The tribunal 7
  • Legacy 8
  • In culture 9
    • Literature 9.1
    • Film 9.2
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Sources 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


Rise of Indira Gandhi

"Indira is India, India is Indira."

—Congress president D. K. Barooah, c. 1974[2]

Between 1967 and 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came to obtain near-absolute control over the government and the Indian National Congress party, as well as a huge majority in Parliament. The first was achieved by concentrating the central government's power within the Prime Minister's Secretariat, rather than the Cabinet, whose elected members she saw as a threat and distrusted. For this she relied on her principal secretary, P. N. Haksar, a central figure in Indira's inner circle of advisors. Further, Haksar promoted the idea of a "committed bureaucracy" that required hitherto-impartial government officials to be "committed" to ideology of the ruling party of the day.

Within the Congress, Indira ruthlessly outmanoeuvred her rivals, forcing the party to split in 1969—into the Congress (O) (comprising the old-guard known as the "Syndicate") and her Congress (R). A majority of the All-India Congress Committee and Congress MPs sided with the prime minister. Indira's party was of a different breed from the Congress of old, which had been a robust institution with traditions of internal democracy. In the Congress (R), on the other hand, members quickly realised that their progress within the ranks depended solely on their loyalty to Indira Gandhi and her family, and ostentatious displays of sycophancy became routine. In the coming years, Indira's influence was such that she could install hand-picked loyalists as chief ministers of states, rather than they being elected by the Congress legislative party.

Indira's ascent was backed by her charismatic appeal among the masses that was aided by her government's near-radical leftward turns. These include the July 1969 nationalisation of several major banks and the September 1970 abolition of the privy purse; these were often done suddenly, via ordinance, to the universal shock of her opponents. Subsequently, unlike the Syndicate and other opponents, Indira was seen as "standing for socialism in economics and secularism in matters of religion, as being pro-poor and for the development of the nation as a whole."[3] The prime minister was especially adored by the disadvantaged sections—the poor, Dalits, women and minorities. For them, she was their Indira Amma, a personification of Mother India.

In the 1971 general elections, the people rallied behind Indira's populist slogan of Garibi Hatao! (get rid of poverty!) to award her a huge majority (352 seats out of 518). "By the margin of its victory," historian Ramachandra Guha later wrote, Congress (R) came to be known as the real Congress, "requiring no qualifying suffix."[3] In December 1971, under her proactive war leadership, India routed arch-enemy Pakistan in a war that led to the independence of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. Awarded the Bharat Ratna the next month, she was at her greatest peak; for her biographer Inder Malhotra, "The Economist‍ '​s description of her as the 'Empress of India' seemed apt." Even opposition leaders, who routinely accused her of being a dictator and of fostering a personality cult, referred to her as Durga, a Hindu goddess.[4][5][6]

Increasing government control of the judiciary

In the famous Golaknath case, the Supreme Court said that the Constitution could not be amended by Parliament if it affects basic issues such as fundamental rights. To nullify this judgement Parliament, dominated by the Indira Gandhi Congress, passed the 24th Amendment in 1971. Similarly, after the government lost a Supreme Court case for withdrawing the privy purse given to erstwhile princes, Parliament passed the 26th Amendment. This gave constitutional validity to the government's abolition of the privy purse and nullified the Supreme Court's order.

This judiciary–executive battle would continue in the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case, where the 24th Amendment was called into question. With a wafer-thin majority of 7 to 6, the bench of the Supreme Court restricted Parliament's amendment power by stating it could not be used to alter the "basic structure" of the Constitution. Subsequently, Prime Minister Gandhi made A. N. Ray—the senior most judge amongst those in the minority in Kesavananda Bharati—as Chief Justice of India. Ray superseded three judges more senior to him—J. M. Shelat, K.S. Hegde and Grover—all members of the majority in Kesavananda Bharati. Indira Gandhi's tendency to control the judiciary met with severe criticism, both from the press and political opponents such as Jayaprakash Narayan ("JP").

Political unrest

During 1973–75,political unrest against the Indira Gandhi government increased across the country. (This led to some Congress-party leaders to demand for a move towards a non-violently transform Indian society. He also demanded the dissolution of the state government, but this was not accepted by Centre. A month later, the railway-employees union, the largest union in the country, went on a nationwide strike. This strike was brutally suppressed by the Indira Gandhi government, which arrested thousands of employees and drove their families out of their quarters.

Even within parliament, the government faced much criticism. Ever since she took charge as prime minister in 1966, Indira Gandhi 's government had to face ten no-confidence motions in the Lok Sabha.[7]

Raj Narain verdict

Raj Narain, who had been defeated in the 1971 parliamentary election by Indira Gandhi, lodged cases of election fraud and use of state machinery for election purposes against her in the Allahabad High Court. Shanti Bhushan fought the case for Narain. Indira Gandhi was also cross-examined in the High Court which was the first such instance for an Indian prime minister. 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. Serious charges such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held responsible for misusing 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 trade, student and government unions swept across the country. Led by JP, Narain, Satyendra Narayan Sinha and Morarji Desai, protestors flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the Prime Minister's residence. The persistent efforts of Narain were praised worldwide as it took over four years for Justice Sinha to pass judgement against the prime minister.

Indira Gandhi challenged the High Court's decision in the Supreme Court. Justice Mahatma Gandhi's motto during the freedom struggle. Such a statement was taken as a sign of inciting rebellion in the country. Later that day, Indira Gandhi requested a compliant President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to issue a proclamation of a state of emergency. Within three hours, the electricity to all major newspapers was cut and the political opposition arrested. The proposal was sent without discussion with the Union Cabinet, who only learnt of it and ratified it the next morning.

Proclamation of the Emergency

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 paralysed the government and hurt the economy of the country greatly. In the face of massive political opposition, desertion and disorder across the country and the party, Gandhi stuck to the advice of a few loyalists and her younger son Sanjay Gandhi, whose own power had grown considerably over the last few years to become an "extra-constitutional authority". Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, proposed to the prime minister to impose an "internal emergency". He drafted a letter for the President to issue the proclamation on the basis of information Indira 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.[8]

After a quick question regarding a procedural matter, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared a state of internal emergency upon the prime minister's advice on the night of 25 June 1975, just a few minutes before the clock struck midnight.

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.

Responsibility for the Emergency

  • Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1917-1984): Orchestrated the implementation and administration of the Emergency.[9]
  • President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (1905-1977): Signed the decree allowing the Emergency under the Prime Minister's rule.
  • Siddhartha Shankar Ray (1920-2010), Chief Minister of West Bengal (1972-1977): Supplied legal justification and encouragement for the implementation of a State of Emergency in a January 1975 letter to Indira Gandhi, outlining the "plan to be put in operation."[9][10]
  • Sanjay Gandhi (1946-1980): Younger son of Indira Gandhi; responsible for several significant actions during the Emergency, including the razing of slums, forced sterilisations and the intimidation and imprisonment of opponents.[9]
  • A. N. Ray (1912-2010), Chief Justice of India (1973-1977): As Chief Justice, instrumental in issuing a 1976 decree permitting the suspension of habeas corpus[11]
  • Bansi Lal (1927-2008), Chief Minister of Haryana (1968-1975), Minister of Defence (1975-1977): Close confidant of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay; facilitated the latter's forced sterilisation programme.[9]
  • Vidya Charan Shukla (1929-2013), Minister of Information and Broadcasting (1975-1977): Implemented a national press black-out on news coverage and media criticism of the Emergency; supervised film, radio and television censorship.[9]
  • R. K. Dhawan, Additional Personal Secretary to the PM: Passed on directives from Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi to senior officials and bureaucrats.[9]
  • Om Mehta (1927-1995), Minister of State for Home Affairs (1975-1977): Closed courts and newspapers and wrote up lists of individuals to be jailed.[9]
  • Navin Chawla (b. 1945), civil servant: Confidant of Sanjay Gandhi; implicated in numerous false imprisonments and the commission of atrocities.[9]


Indira Gandhi devised a '20-point' economic program to increase agricultural and industrial production, improve public services and fight poverty and illiteracy, through "the discipline of the graveyard".[12] It was famously said that during the Emergency trains would run on time, employees would still be able to attend to their duties and work could still be carried out in government offices.


Invoking article 352 of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jamaat-e-Islami along with some political parties were banned. Numerous Communist leaders were arrested along with many others involved with their party.

In Tamil Nadu the

  • Telegram 8557 from the United States Embassy in India to the Department of State, June 27, 1975
  • A. Z. Huq Democratic Norms, Human Rights and States of Emergency: Lessons from the Experience of Four Countries
  • "Memories of a Father," a book by Eachara Varier, father of a student killed in police custody during the emergency

External links

  • Aaron S. Klieman. "Indira's India: Democracy and Crisis Government", Political Science Quarterly (1981) 96#2 pp. 241–259 in JSTOR
  • Kuldip Nayar. The Judgement: Inside Story of the Emergency in India. 1977. Vikas Publishing House. ISBN 0-7069-0557-1.
  • P. N. Dhar. Indira Gandhi, the "Emergency", and Indian Democracy (2000), 424pp
  • Ramashray Roy and D. L. Sheth. "The 1977 Lok Sabha Election Outcome: The Salience of Changing Voter Alignments Since 1969," Political Science Review (1978), Vol. 17 Issue 3/4, pp. 51–63

Further reading


  1. ^ "India in 1975: Democracy in Eclipse", ND Palmer – Asian Survey, vol 16 no 5. Opening lines.
  2. ^ Guha, p. 467
  3. ^ a b Guha, p. 439
  4. ^ Malhotra, p. 141
  5. ^ Derichs,, Claudia (Editor); Thompson, Mark R. (Editor); Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Dagmar (2013). Dynasties and Female Political Leaders in Asia: Gender, Power and Pedigree Chapter THE PIONEERS: DURGA AMMA, THE ONLY MAN IN THE CABINET.  
  6. ^ Puri, Balraj (1993). "Indian Muslims since Partition,". Economic and Political Weekly 28 (40): 2141–2149. Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ NAYAR, KULDIP (25 June 2000). Yes, Prime Minister. The Indian Express.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Sanjay, VC Shukla to Bansi Lal: 10 villains of the Emergency". Catch News. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 2015-07-19. 
  10. ^ "S S Ray to Indira Gandhi six months before Emergency: Crack down, get law ready". The Indian Express. 13 June 2015. Retrieved 2015-07-19. 
  11. ^ "Closed-door tribute to Emergency judge". The Telegraph - Calcutta. 30 January 2011. Retrieved 2015-07-19. 
  12. ^ Jaitely, Arun (5 November 2007) – "A tale of three Emergencies: real reason always different", The Indian Express
  13. ^ Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "The Rise of Judicial Sovereignty," Journal of Democracy (2007) 18#2 pp. 70–83
  14. ^ The habeas corpus judgment was overturned by the 44th amendment to the Constitution
  15. ^ NCERT Text Book For Political Science on Emergency (p.112)
  16. ^ H. R. Khanna. Making of India's Constitution. Eastern Book Co, Lucknow, 1981.  
  17. ^ V. Venkatesan, Revisiting a verdict Frontline (vol. 29 – Issue 01 :: 14–27 Jan 2012)
  18. ^ "The case that saved Indian democracy". The Hindu (24 April 2013). Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  19. ^ PUCL Archives, Oct 1981, Rajan.
  20. ^, Report dated 26 June 2000.
  21. ^ "Fresh probe in Rajan case sought ". The Hindu, 25 January 2011.
  22. ^ Vinay Lal. "Indira Gandhi". Retrieved 1 August 2013. Sanjay Gandhi, started to run the country as though it were his personal fiefdom, and earned the fierce hatred of many whom his policies had victimised. He ordered the removal of slum dwellings, and in an attempt to curb India's growing population, initiated a highly resented programme of forced sterilization. 
  23. ^ Subodh Ghildiyal (29 December 2010). "'"Cong blames Sanjay Gandhi for Emergency 'excesses. Retrieved 1 August 2013. Sanjay Gandhi's rash promotion of sterilization and forcible clearance of slums ... sparked popular anger 
  24. ^ Kumkum Chadha (4 January 2011). "Sanjay's men and women". Retrieved 1 August 2013. The Congress, on the other hand, charges Sanjay Gandhi of "over enthusiasm" in dealing with certain programmes and I quote yet again: "Unfortunately, in certain spheres, over enthusiasm led to compulsion in enforcement of certain programmes like compulsory sterilisation and clearance of slums. Sanjay Gandhi had by then emerged as a leader of great significance.". 
  25. ^ "Sanjay Gandhi worked in an authoritarian manner: Congress book". 28 December 2010. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  26. ^ India: The Years of Indira Gandhi. Brill Academic Pub. 1988. 
  27. ^ Gwatkin, Davidson R. 'Political Will and Family Planning: The Implications of India’s Emergency Experience', in: Population and Development Review, 5/1, 29–59;
  28. ^ Carl Haub and O. P. Sharma, "India's Population Reality: Reconciling Change and Tradition," Population Bulletin (2006) 61#3 pp 3+. online
  29. ^ Vinay Kumar (19 August 2005). "The spark that he was". Entertainment Hyderabad ( 
  30. ^ "A Star's Real Stripes". Times Of India. 25 March 2012. Retrieved 25 March 2012. 
  31. ^ Sharma, Dhirendra (1997). The Janata (people's) Struggle. Philosophy and Social Action. p. 76. 
  32. ^ Jaffrelot Christophe, Hindu Nationalism, 1987, 297, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-13098-1, ISBN 978-0-691-13098-9
  33. ^ Chitkara M G, Hindutva, Published by APH Publishing, 1997 ISBN 81-7024-798-5, ISBN 978-81-7024-798-2
  34. ^ Post Independence India, Encyclopedia of Political Parties,2002, Published by Anmol Publications PVT. LTD, ISBN 81-7488-865-9, ISBN 978-81-7488-865-5
  35. ^ 'The Economist' London, dt.4-12-1976
  36. ^ J.S. Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab,(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990) 213
  37. ^ Gurmit Singh, A History of Sikh Struggles, New Delhi, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 1991, 2:39
  38. ^ J.S. Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab,(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990) 214; Inder Malhotra, Indira Gandhi: A Personal and Political Biography,(London/Toronto, Hodder and Stoughton, 1989) 178
  39. ^ D.N. Dhanagare, "Sixth Lok Sabha Election in Uttar Pradesh – 1977: The End of the Congress Hegemony," Political Science Review (1979) 18#1 pp 28–51
  40. ^ Mira Ganguly and Bangendu Ganguly, "Lok Sabha Election, 1977: The West Bengal Scene," Political Science Review (1979) 18#3 pp 28–53
  41. ^ M.R. Masani, "India's Second Revolution," Asian Affairs (1977) 5#1 pp 19–38.
  42. ^
  43. ^ Austin, Granville (1999). Working a democratic constitution: the Indian experience. Oxford University Press. p. 295.  
  44. ^ "". theviewspaper. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  45. ^ Beyond the Last Blue Mountain by R. M. Lala.
  46. ^ Nandini Satpathy (in Oriya) by Ashisa Ranjan Mohapatra.
  47. ^ "New book flays Indira Gandhi's decision to impose Emergency". IBN Live News. 30 May 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  48. ^ O. P. Mathur. Indira Gandhi and the emergency as viewed in the Indian novel. Sarup & Sons. 2004. ISBN 978-81-7625-461-8.
  49. ^ Joseph Bendaña. "Rushdie Talk Recasts Role of Public and Private in Politics and Literature". Watson Institute, Brown University. 17 February 2010.
  50. ^ Gulzar; Nihalani, Govind; Chatterjee, Saibal (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema. New Delhi, Mumbai: Encyclopaedia Britannica (India), Popular Prakashan. p. 425.  
  51. ^ Farzand Ahmed, "1978 – Kissa Kursi Ka: Celluloid chutzpah". Cover Story, India Today (24 December 2009)


See also

  • Gulzar's Aandhi (1975) was banned, because the film was supposedly based on Indira Gandhi.[50]
  • Amrit Nahata's film Kissa Kursi Ka (1977) a bold spoof on the Emergency, where Shabana Azmi plays 'Janata' (the public) a mute, dumb protagonist, was subsequently banned and reportedly, all its prints were burned by Sanjay Gandhi and his associates at his Maruti factory in Gurgaon.[51]
  • Yamagola a 1977 Telugu film (Hindi re-make Lok Parlok) spoofs the emergency issues.
  • I. S. Johar's 1978 Bollywood Film Nasbandi is a sarcasm on the sterlisation drive of the Government of India, where each one of the characters is trying to find sterlisation cases. The film was banned after its release due to its portrayal of the Indira Gandhi government.
  • Although Satyajit Ray's 1980 film Hirak Rajar Deshe was a children's comedy, it was a satire on the Emergency.
  • The 1985 Malayalam film Yathra directed by Balu Mahendra has the human rights violations by the police during the Emergency as its main plotline.
  • 1988 Malayalam film Piravi is about a father searching for his son Rajan, who had been arrested by the police (and allegedly killed in custody).
  • The 2005 Hindi film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is set against the backdrop of the Emergency. The film, directed by Sudhir Mishra, also tries to portray the growth of the Naxalite movement during the Emergency era. The movie tells the story of three youngsters in the 1970s, when India was undergoing massive social and political changes.
  • The 2012 Marathi film Shala discusses the issues related to the Emergency.
  • Midnight's Children, a 2012 adaptation of Rushdie's novel, created widespread controversy due to the negative portrayal of Indira Gandhi and other leaders. The film was not shown at the International Film Festival of India and was banned from further screening at the International Film Festival of Kerala where it was premièred in India.


  • Writer Rahi Masoom Raza criticised the Emergency through his novel Qatra bi Aarzoo.[48]
  • A Fine Balance and Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry take place during the Emergency and highlights many of the abuses that occurred during that period, largely through the lens of India's small but culturally influential Parsi minority.
  • Booker Prize-winner 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. He is forcibly sterilised as part of the vasectomy program. The principal antagonist of the book is "the Widow" (a likeness that Indira Gandhi successfully sued Rushdie for). There was one line in the book that repeated an old Indian rumour that Indira Gandhi's son didn't like his mother because he suspected her of causing the death of his father. As this was a rumour there was no substantiation to be found.[49]
  • India: A Wounded Civilization, a book by V S Naipaul is also oriented around Emergency.
  • The Plunge An English novel by Sanjeev Tare is their own story told by four youths studying at Kalidas College in Nagpur. They tell the reader what they went through during those politically turbulent times.
  • The Malayalam novel Delhi Gadhakal (Tales from Delhi) by M. Mukundan highlights many abuses that occurred during the Emergency including forced sterilisation of men and the destruction of houses and shops owned by Muslims in Turkmen Gate.
  • Brutus, You!, a book by Chanakya Sen is based on internal politics of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi during the period of Emergency.
  • Vasansi Jirnani, a play by Torit Mitra is inspired by Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden and effects of emergency.
  • The Tamil novel Marukkozhunthu Mangai (Girl with Fragrant Chinese Mugwort ) by Ra.Su. Nallaperumal which is based on the history of Pallavas & People' rising in Kanchi during 725 A.D explains how the widow Queen and the Princess kill the freedom of the people. Most of the incidents described in the novel are resembling with emergency period. Even the name of the characters in the novel are resembling with Mrs Gandhi and her family.
  • The Malayalam autobiographical diary by political activist R.C. Unnithan penned while the author was imprisoned as a political prisoner during emergency under MISA for sixteen months at Poojappura state prison in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, gives a personal account of his travails during the dark days of Indian democracy.


In culture

In the book JP Movement and the Emergency, historian [47]

However, the Emergency also received support from several sections. It was endorsed by social reformer Vinoba Bhave (who called it Anushasan parva, a time for discipline), industrialist J. R. D. Tata, writer Khushwant Singh, and Indira Gandhi's close friend and Orissa Chief Minister Nandini Satpathy. However, Tata and Satpathy later regretted that they spoke in favour of the Emergency.[45][46] Others have argued that Gandhi's Twenty Point Programme increased agricultural production, manufacturing activity, exports and foreign reserves. Communal Hindu–Muslim riots, which had resurfaced in the 1960s and 1970s, also reduced in intensity.

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".[44]

The Emergency lasted 21 months, and its legacy remains intensely controversial. A few days after the Emergency was imposed, the Bombay edition of The Times of India carried an obituary that read


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.

The efforts of the Janata administration to get government officials and Congress politicians tried for Emergency-era abuses and crimes were largely unsuccessful due to a disorganised, over-complex and politically motivated process of litigation. The Thirty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution of India, put in place shortly after the outset of the Emergency and which among other things prohibited judicial reviews of states of emergencies and actions taken during them, also likely played a role in this lack of success. Although special tribunals were organised and scores of senior Congress Party and government officials arrested and charged, including Mrs. Gandhi 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 tribunal

The elections in the largest state Uttar Pradesh, historically a Congress stronghold, turned against Gandhi and her party failed to win a single seat in the state. Dhanagare says the structural reasons behind the discontent against the Government included the emergence of a strong and united opposition, disunity and weariness inside Congress, an effective underground opposition, and the ineffectiveness of Gandhi's control of the mass media, which had lost much credibility. The structural factors allowed voters to express their grievances, notably their resentment of the emergency and its authoritarian and repressive policies. One grievance often mentioned as the 'nasbandi' (vasectomy) campaign in rural areas. The middle classes also emphasised the curbing of freedom throughout the state and India.[39] Meanwhile, Congress hit an all-time low in West Bengal because of the poor discipline and factionalism among Congress activists as well as the numerous defections that weakened the party.[40] Opponents emphasised the issues of corruption in Congress and appealed to a deep desire by the voters for fresh leadership.[41]

In the Lok Sabha elections, held in March, Mrs. Gandhi and Sanjay both lost their Lok Sabha seats, as did all the Congress Candidates in Northern states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Many Congress Party loyalists deserted Mrs. Gandhi. 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.

On 18 January 1977, Gandhi called fresh elections for March and released all political prisoners. The Emergency officially ended on 23 March 1977. The opposition Janata movement's campaign warned Indians that the elections might be their last chance to choose between "democracy and dictatorship."

Elections of 1977

According to Amnesty International, 140,000 people had been arrested without trial during the twenty months of Gandhi's Emergency. Jasjit Singh Grewal estimates that 40,000 of them came from India's two percent Sikh minority.[38]

"The question before us is not whether Indira Gandhi should continue to be prime minister or not. The point is whether democracy in this country is to survive or not."[37]

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 Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) leaders.

Sikh opposition

The Economist 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".[35]

[34] 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 co-ordination of the movement.[33]

The role of RSS

Resistance movements

The Emergency years were the biggest challenge to India's commitment to democracy, which proved vulnerable to the manipulation of powerful leaders and hegemonic Parliamentary majorities.

  • Detention of 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 government propaganda
  • During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi asked the popular singer Kishore Kumar to sing for a Congress party rally in Bombay, but he refused.[29] 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.[30][31]
  • Forced sterilisation.
  • Destruction of the slum and low-income housing in the Turkmen Gate and Jama Masjid area of old Delhi.
  • Large-scale and illegal enactment of laws (including modifications to the Constitution).

Criticism and accusations of the Emergency-era may be grouped as:

Criticism against the Government

In September 1976, Sanjay Gandhi initiated a widespread compulsory sterilisation program to limit population growth. The exact extent of Sanjay Gandhi's role in the implementation of the program is somewhat disputed, with some writers[22][23][24][25] holding Gandhi directly responsible for his authoritarianism, and other writers[26] blaming the officials who implemented the program rather than Gandhi himself. The campaign primarily involved getting males to undergo vasectomy. Quotas were set up that enthusiastic supporters and government officials worked hard to achieve. There were allegations of coercion of unwilling candidates too.[27] In 1976–1977, the program counted 8.3 million sterilisations, up from 2.7 million the previous year. The bad publicity led the new Janata party government to change the name of the program. Furthermore, every government since 1977 has stressed that the family planning is an entirely voluntary program.[28]

Family planning

In the Rajan case, P. Rajan of the Regional Engineering College, Calicut, was arrested by the police in Kerala on 1 March 1976,[19] tortured in custody until he died and then his body was disposed which was never recovered. The facts of this incident came out owing to a habeas corpus suit filed in the Kerala High Court.[20][21]

A fallout of the Emergency era was – the Supreme Court laid down that, although the Constitution is amenable to amendments (as abused by Indira Gandhi), changes that tinker with its basic structure[17] cannot be made by the Parliament. (see Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala)[18]

If the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper, it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people. Imbecility of men, history teaches us, always invites the impudence of power."[16]

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. And when she felt the existing laws were 'too slow', she got the President to issue 'Ordinances' – a law making power in times of urgency, invoked sparingly – completely bypassing the Parliament, allowing her to rule by decree. Also, she had little trouble amending the Constitution that exonerated her from any culpability in her election-fraud case, imposing 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, is one of the lasting legacies of the Emergency. In the conclusion of his Making of India's Constitution, Justice Khanna writes:

Laws, Human Rights and Elections


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