“The President has proclaimed Emergency. There is nothing to panic about.” - When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi proclaimed these words on All India Radio, few were aware that it would be the start of a dark period in Indian politics.
Gandhi made the announcement just hours after then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed the order on her advice late night on 25 June. As the nation recalls one of the most tumultuous periods in its history since independence, here’s a look at all you need to know about the Emergency:
While Gandhi was wildly popular in the domestic arena after India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war, she had to face several issues - scarcity of food, growing unemployment and rampant inflation. The situation was further compounded by student protests led by Jayaprakash Narayan, which lambasted the corruption under the Congress rule and demanded Gandhi’s resignation.
In another development, Gandhi’s win in the 1971 Rae Bareli parliamentary elections came under scrutiny. Socialist leader Raj Narain, who had contested against her, filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court, accusing Gandhi of having won the election through corrupt practices and misuse of government machinery.
On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha declared Gandhi’s election as null and void. He also barred her from contesting an election for six years, but gave the Congress 20 days to find a replacement Prime Minister. Gandhi appealed against the verdict in the Supreme Court. On 24 June 1975, the apex court granted a conditional stay, but ordered her to not oversee any parliamentary proceedings.
Parallel to this developments, JP Narayan called for a nationwide satyagraha to remove the Prime Minister. Many people from her party also called on her to resign.
The government, however, responded by declaring a state of emergency. In her radio address, Indira Gandhi said that the Emergency was imposed to curb “internal disturbance”.
What happened during the Emergency?
Constitutional rights were suspended. Several of Gandhi’s political opponents were imprisoned including LK Advani, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, Morarji Desai and JP Narayan. The period saw censorship of the press. A mass sterilisation programme was also enacted by Sanjay Gandhi.
All powers were vested in the hands of the Union government. The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution was also passed during this period.
The Emergency lasted for 21 months. In January 1977, the government stated that it would soon hold elections. In the March 1977 polls, Congress suffered a huge defeat. Opposition leaders united to establish the Janata Party, which formed the first non-Congress government in independent India.