On June 26, 1975 former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed proclaimed national emergency across India, under the directions of the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi – which lasted for 21 months. During this time elections were suspended and civil liberties curbed.
After 46 years, on Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi – Congress leader and grandson of late PM Indira Gandhi, said at an event that Emergency was a ‘mistake’ and what happened in that period was ‘wrong’.
Rahul Gandhi also said the Emergency, during which time constitutional rights and civil liberties were suspended, the media was severely restricted and many opposition leaders were jailed, was ‘fundamentally different from the current scenario’.
“I think that was a mistake. Absolutely, that was a mistake. And my grandmother (Mrs Gandhi) said as much. (But) the Congress at no point attempted to capture India’s institutional framework… frankly, it does not even have that capability,” Rahul Gandhi said in a conversation with renowned economist Kaushik Basu.
But what is Emergency and how did it come into effect and how it changed the entire political dynamics of this nation – is something this generation may not know. So here we bring you in simple words on what happened in 1975, which can easily be termed as the biggest political blunder of independent India.
Justification given for Emergency
The reason given for Emergency in the country was to control ‘internal disturbance’, for which the constitutional rights were suspended and freedom of speech and the press withdrawn.
Former PM Indira Gandhi gave three reasons to justify the extreme step – first, India’s security and democracy was in danger owing to the movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan.
Second reason cited was that Indira Gandhi was of the opinion that there was a need for rapid economic development and upliftment of the underprivileged.
Third, she warned against the intervention of powers from abroad which could destabilise and weaken India.
What led to the Emergency
1971 – In Parliamentary elections, Indira Gandhi had defeated Raj Narain from the Rae Bareli constituency, who subsequently had filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court accusing Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices.
January 1974 – students in Gujarat protested against rising prices of food grains and other essential commodities and corruption in the state government. Major opposition parties joined the protests. This led to the imposition of President’s rule in the state. Demands for fresh elections became intense. Subsequently, elections were held in Gujarat in June 1975, which the Congress lost.
1974 – Students in Bihar started a movement to protest against the same issues. Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), who had given up active politics and was involved in social work, lead the movement. This took the issue to a national level.
June 12, 1975 – Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha found the Prime Minister guilty of misuse of the government machinery during her election campaign and declared her election null and void and also barred her from contesting an election for the next six years. The court, however, gave the Congress 20 days to find a replacement to Gandhi as PM. Indira Gandhi moved the Supreme Court against the verdict.
June 24, 1975 – The Supreme Court granted her a partial stay on the High Court order till her appeal was decided and that she could remain an MP but could not take part in the proceedings of the Lok Sabha.
June 25, 1975 – JP Narayan led a huge political rally in Delhi’s Ramlila ground where he announced a nationwide Satyagraha for Indira Gandhi’s resignation. The employees of the Railways too called for a nationwide strike, led by George Fernandes.
June 25, 1975 – This fateful night a state of emergency was declared as a government response to the June 25 strike.
What happened during Emergency
All the powers were concentrated in the hands of the Union government.
The government restricted the fundamental rights of the citizens during the period.
All elections were suspended and civil liberties curbed.
Most political opponents were imprisoned.
Press was censored. All newspapers needed to get prior approval for the articles to be published.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Jamait-e-Islami was banned.
Constitution was amended in an autocratic manner, particularly in the 42nd amendment.
An amendment was made declaring that elections of Prime Minister, President and Vice-President could not be challenged in the Court.
Sanjay Gandhi, who did not hold any official position at the time gained control over the administration.
The period saw the shambolic forced mass-sterilization campaign spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi.