In the year 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared an emergency throughout the country. For the next 2 years, the Fundamental Rights of the people get suspended. Several Opposition leaders get jailed. And this part of history is considered a black mark tarnishing Indian democracy.
Why was Indira Gandhi declared an emergency? What were the exact reasons for declaring an Emergency? Why was it done? And why is it considered so terrifying? You may be surprised to know, friends, 1975 was not the first time an emergency was declared in the country. Before this, during the 1962 Indo-China war, and during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war as well an emergency was declared.
Although Indira Gandhi Declared An Emergency in 1975 and it was different from the other two. Because it was not due to war or anyone reason. There were multiple events. There were several sequences of events whose outcome, was this 1975 emergency.
Deep History about why Indira Gandhi Declared An Emergency
This sequence of events actually began in 1969, when the Congress Party was in power and the Fourth Five-year plan was being implemented. In 1969 the Congress party decided that 14 private banks would be nationalized. It meant that the government would take ownership of those banks from the private companies.
Imagine that you are an owner of a company, or you have purchased the shares of a company and suddenly the government says that from the next day, the company would belong to the government. All your money would be wiped out. Obviously, you would not be happy with the decision. Several businessmen like J.R.D. Tata, investors, and shareholders opposed the decision of nationalization.
On 18th July 1969, the government decided to pass it through an ordinance. But soon the government realized that the Parliament session was due to begin on 21st July. And the President was due to leave his office on the 20th. So the Ordinance was drafted in a hurry, and almost overnight, it was signed by the President before the Parliament session began.
You can clearly see how important this policy was considered by Indira Gandhi for the welfare of the country. The justification from Indira Gandhi was that if banks would get nationalized, then the banks could reach everywhere in the Country, and could provide their services to even the poorest citizen.
Something a for-profit company may never do because they think of profits first. Basically, it is about socialism versus capitalism and its advantages and disadvantages. Then, there was a bank Central Bank of India. And one of its shareholders was R.C.Cooper. He approached the Supreme Court regarding this decision. And he had a small victory in the Supreme Court.
The court declared that the law enacted by the government was discrimination against the 14 banks which were nationalized. And that it was very unfair to the shareholders. And so the Ordinance gets rejected by the Court. Here begin the battles of the Indira Gandhi government versus Courts. When the Supreme Court rejected the ordinance of the Indira Gandhi government.
The government brought in a new amendment to the Constitution the next year. And this amendment, reversed the Supreme Court’s judgment, the Supreme Court’s decision. A few years later, there was a similar case Between the Indira Gandi government and the Supreme Court. Regarding the Privy Purse.
Pricy purse used to be a payment given to the royal families of the Princely States in India. It was practiced at one point because when the government united all the Princely States to form India in 1947, then a condition was laid down that their ruling families would be given a payment by the Indian government. But Indira Gandhi did not like these payments.
So her government introduced a Bill to abolish Privy Purse. But this Bill, could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha. That is why the government came up with a new technique. They came out with the proclamation that the Princely States would cease to be recognized as such.
It meant that there would be no more ruling families in the country. That is why Privy Purse would not be needed. Once again the matter reached the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court declared this proclamation null and void. You can guess what happened after this.
The Indira Gandhi government added another Constitutional Amendment, that clearly stated that the Privy Purse would be abolished for the ruling families, and the judgment of the Court was thus reversed. This happened in 1971. An interesting fun fact about this is the royal families were obviously quite angered by this decision then, so they thought to protest against this decision, by running for elections.
The Nawab of Pataudi at the time was Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Father of the Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan. He contested elections from Gurgaon, but he could not even get 5% of the votes. On the other hand, another royal family, Vijaya Raje Scindia, and her son Madhavrao Scindia contested elections, and they won the 1971 elections. And you’d see that the Scindia family is involved in politics even today. These Court versus Government battles is important because these were the events that finally influenced the decision of declaring an Emergency.
Indira Gandhi Won the Election after which she became dominant & Indira Gandhi Declared An Emergency
Coming to the year 1971, was the year when Indira Gandhi won the elections again. And this time becomes a very dominant Prime Minister. Under her, centralization of power was evident. And it is said that the chief ministers of the various states and the cabinet ministers, were being selected by Indira Gandhi based on who was favored by her.
An accusation that is being levied on Prime Minister Narendra Modi nowadays. That the Chief Ministers of the various BJP stated are basically puppets in his hand. They are not given much power. And the Prime Minister selects them based on whom he favours. 1971 was also the year when the India-Pakistan war took place. It had a terrible impact on the Indian economy. Inflation rose.
The prices of essential commodities increased rapidly. At the same time, the Congress Party had become so powerful that corruption had crept into it. The Principal Secretary of Indira Gandhi had pointed it out himself. The corruption in the State Government was worse. In 1974, the Chief Minister of Gujrat was Chimanbhai Patel. A major scam involving him surfaced. People started calling him ‘Chiman Chor (Thief)’ in Gujrat.
People came out on the roads to protest. Students protested. Busses were burned. Shops were looted. And the Police were attacked. It is known as the Navnirman Movement. This was a strong demand from the people of Gujrat to dissolve the then-state government. Indira Gandhi was left with no other choice, so the dissolved the State government. But this was only the beginning. (Beginning to Indira Gandhi Declared An Emergency).
One year prior to this, in 1973, there was a terrible international oil crisis. Because of this, by 1974, crude oil prices went up by 300%. Once again, the common people are affected. And a devasting inflation and price rise is seen. In the same year, a movement similar to the one in Gujrat began in Bihar by students.
It was led by J.P.Narayan. Non-violent protests were held against the corruption of the Congress government and the dissolution of the Bihar government is demanded. Another leader George Fernandes carries out a 3-day-long railway strike. For demanding better working conditions and better salary for the railway workers.
More than 1.7 million workers protested in it. And it became the largest industrial strike in the World at the time. FULL PAY; FULL WORK, IF NOT; NO WORK. People are speaking their hearts making Indira’s throne shudder. These were some of the slogans from the slogan from that protest.
A year passes, but Indira Gandhi did not soften. Like she dissolved the Gujrat State Government because of the pressure, she does not do so in Bihar. In fact, she claims that the movements were trying to end democracy. Calling them ‘Foreign-funded anti-national movements.’ But the protests continue.
Constant strikes, devasting inflation, price rise, unending protests, and allegations of corruption. You can imagine the state of the country in 1975. As if all of these were not enough. In March 1975, Indira Gandhi gets another shock from the Allahabad High Court. The thing was that for the previous 2 years there was an ongoing case against Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court.
This case was filed by a socialist election candidate Raj Narain. He had contested the elections against Indira Gandhi in 1971. From the same seat as Raibareilly in Uttar Pradesh. Raj Narain was also an Indian Freedom Fighter. But he is more popularly known for this case against Indira Gandhi. Raj Narain accused Indira Gandhi directly that she won her seat in the election using unfair means.
That she had manipulated the ballots. 14 crimes were reported against Indira Gandhi. But you will be shocked to know that She was convicted for only 2 of those crimes by the court. The first crime was using the UP government to build a huge stage to give up her speech.
And the second crime was that her election agent Yashpal Kapoor was a government employee even at the time of the elections. Which was wrong. Because of these 2 crimes, the court declared Indira Gandhi’s Lok Sabha seat as Null and Void. And Indira Gandhi was removed from the Lok Sabha.
Then the newspaper printed as if the decision of the court had basically unseated the Prime Minister from her seat. Because of a traffic ticket violation. Basically, they were saying that the crime was insignificant, and the consequence of it was disproportionately large. Because this decision was taken by the Allahabad High Court, Indira Gandhi moved the Supreme Court to appeal this judgment.
The opposition exploited this opportunity. They took to the roads to demand that the ‘corrupt Prime Minister’ should resign. Moraji Desai said that a do-or-die movement was beginning against Congress. The decision by Allahabad High Court had come on 12th June 1975, and what happened after 24th June, was not less than a filmy drama.
24th June 1775, Supreme Court Judgment after which Indira Gandhi declared an emergency
On that day, Indira Gandhi’s appeal was heard in Supreme Court. And the judges said that all her privileges can be withdrawn. That she may not vote or consent to an election for the next 6 years. But she could remain the Prime Minister till the next hearing. After the Court’s statement, there was an uproar on the streets.
The intensity of the protests of the opposition increased further. Some Congress leaders started protesting in favour of Indira Gandhi. The rallies being taken out against Indira Gandhi, one of those rallies was led by JP Narayan. He urged the students to come out and protest.
He argued the people to stop obeying the police and told the police and armed forces the Indian Army, the Indian Airforce, that they refuse the orders by the government. This was a kind of civil disobedience. Another word for this is Internal Disturbance.
Article 352 of the Indian Constitution
If you read Article 352 of the Indian Constitution, it states that an emergency can be declared by the President of India. If India’s security is threatened by “war or external aggression or internal disturbance”.
Meaning that in India, an emergency can be declared for 3 reasons.
1. If India goes on a war with another country.
2. external aggression.
3. Rebellion in the country.
2 emergencies prior to Indira Gandhi declared an emergency
The last 2 emergencies being declared in India, were based on the reason for war. But for this emergency of 1975, the internal disturbance was used as a reason.
Finally, Indira Gandhi declared an emergency
On 25th June 1975, Indira Gandhi consulted with some of her ministers and on their advice, sends a written note, to the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, requesting that he declare an internal in the country. Using the third reason of internal disturbance. And he does so, on the night of 25th June.
Within a few hours, several opposition leaders were arrested including Moraji Desai, JP Narayan, LK Advani, and Charan Singh. The government cuts the power supply to the newspaper offices in Delhi that night. So that no newspaper could be printed the next day.
The next morning, it was announced on the radio by Indira Gandhi. So there were several root causes and reasons actually. But this High Court judgment declaring Indira Gandhi’s seat to be null and void, and the slogans of JP Narayan, basically became the trigger point because of which the emergency was declared. Or you may say that they became the excuses for Indira Gandhi, for justifying declaring an emergency.
What happened in the next 2 years after Indira Gandhi declared an emergency
What happened in the next 2 years after Indira Gandhi declared an emergency, is historic in itself. This is known as the Darkest Period of Indian Democracy. The Fundamental Rights of the people were taken away. And the people continuing to protest were arrested. More than 100,000 innocent people were arrested.
Many opposition leaders and activists go underground during this period. The elections were delayed. Several organizations like RSS and Jameet-e-Ialami were banned. Several Communist leaders were arrested. In fact, several congressmen leaders who were speaking gout against the emergency, who were against Indira Gandhi, were made to resign from the party position and they were also arrested.
Another scary thing at the time (after Indira Gandhi declared an emergency) was the Mass Sterilization Program. Initiated by Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi. To reduce the population of the country, the government sterilized some men forcefully in an unsafe manner.
some positive changes in the country after Indira Gandhi declared an emergency
Interestingly, in some people’s opinion, there were some positive changes in the country as well. It is said that during the emergency, the trains were always on time. Everyone was punctual and the business ran efficiently. Perhaps a very simple reason for this was that the people living through emergency had also lived through the years preceding it. The inflation was terrible then. There were regular protests, and strikes were common in railways.
So obviously, after the emergency was declared and all the protests and movements were stopped, there were no strikes and the trains were on time. And the industries worked efficiently as well. This is the reason why some industrialists like J.R.D.Tata gave positive comments regarding the emergency.
Although later, he did change his opinion. On 21st March 1977, the emergency finally gets called off and elections are held. Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi, both lose their seats and the Janta Party came into power for the first time. This was the first time that a party other than Congress formed government in India.
It is another story that this government does not last long and elections were held again in 1980and in 1980, Indira Gandhi came into power again. But this time around, her economic policies had changed a lot. Perhaps she had learned her lesson. And her economics became a bit more right-learning. More capitalist-oriented. This is all about the history of Indira Gandhi declared an emergency.