Emergency in India (1975-1977)

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: September 13th, 2023

PM Mrs Indira Gandhi in the morning of 26th June 1975 through All India Radio addressed the country, “The President has proclaimed Emergency. There is nothing to panic about”. This led to the national emergency in 1975 which is marked as the darkest hour of Indian Democracy. This made the starting of the 21-month long run of democracy into the darkest tunnel. It was for the first time that the emergency was imposed on the grounds of “Internal disturbances in the country”.

Reasons given by the Government for the proclamation of emergency in 1975:

  • Danger to the security of the country and parliamentary democracy owing to the movement by Jai Prakash Narayan.
  • PM opined that the proclamation has been necessary to give pace to the economic development and uplifting the underprivileged.
  • The government informed that security agencies were warning against the intervention of powers from abroad which could destabilize and weaken India.

Reasons for the proclamation

Months before the emergency, the entire country was facing a crisis at all spheres, whether social, economic or political.

  • Economy of India was at very dismal condition, with unemployment at its peak, inflation was galloping, and food was scarcely available.
  • Monsoon, the life of India was dismal. There were droughts in 1972-73. Power generation had dropped.
  • Prices of crude oil increased four times putting pressure on the import bill for both fuel and fertilizers.
  • Although there was minimal or no trouble across the border during this year, country had just come out of the 1971 war, although winner there was a huge refugee crisis. Lakhs and lakhs of people from Bangladesh had arrived and were a burden on the already limited resources of the country. Even after 3-4 years, the expatriation of those had been a challenge for the country.
  • There were protests, riots and ansans across the country which started from Gujarat, because of a fee hike in L D College of Engineering and reached Bihar and to the heartland. The movement was called Navnirman Andolan in Gujarat, asking for dismissal of state government, which was highly corrupted.
  • Coming in of Jai Prakash Narayan in the ground, added fuel to the fire. He was staunch Gandhian, a hero of the freedom struggle and a selfless activist and hence got support from all the parts. All of the opposition supported him. It got so popular that movement was henceforth called as JP Movement.
  • JP called for a total revolution in the streets of Patna, He asked the government to resign. Students became the backbone, boycotting classes, protesting and raising the collective conscience of the society.
  • At the same time, the country was grappled with railway strikes by socialist leader George Fernandes. The strike lasted three weeks and halted movements of goods and people. Historians like Guha notes that the participation exceeded millions of railwaymen.
  • The Raj Narain verdict of the Allahabad High court was the last nail in the coffin. Raj Narain, a socialist leader contested against Smt Gandhi from Raebareli in 1971 parliamentary elections. He petitioned in the court that her campaign involved government officials and also breached the amount allowed as an expenditure. Gandhi had to testify in the court and she became the first Indian PM to do so. The court declared the election as null and void but was given a span of 20 days to appeal to Supreme Court.
  • SC put a conditional order on the High Court, saying that she could attend parliament, but would not be allowed to vote till the verdict.
  • The day after the judgment, the ordinance was passed proclaiming emergency. In the letter to President requesting the declaration of emergency, Gandhi wrote, “Information has reached us that indicate imminent danger to the security of India”.

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Government during Emergency

  • There was a complete blackout for the next two days in Delhi and Newspaper across sank into darkness.
  • Every other leader from opposition including Vajpayee, Advani etc, hundreds of political leaders, activists and trade unionist, journalists who opposed the government were arrested and jailed.
  • All constitutional rights including fundamental rights were suspended. Freedom of speech and press was withdrawn.
  • The tragic incident of Turkmen gate occurred where police opened fire on the protestors who were protesting against the demolition of their houses.
  • National family planning campaign was launched and millions were forced to undergo sterilization through operations.
  • Concept of committed bureaucracy and committed judiciary took place. Several judges were sidelined to make the favourable as Chief Justice of India.
  • Several of the non-congress government were sacked and dismissed. Extra-constitutional powers were used highly.
  • Finally, the most draconian impact was the passing of the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act. It is termed as the mini-constitution and had once altered several of the basic nature of the constitution. It included several amendments like subverting fundamental rights to DPSPs, no question on elections of PM, amending Article 368 etc.
  • Several ordinances were passed. Laws were subverted and democracy was seen as a mockery. General elections were deferred twice and the session of parliament was increased.

After Emergency

  • The government on 21st March 1977 revoked the emergency and declared elections. Entire opposition rose against the incumbent under the Janata Party and fought the elections. Congress was decimated and the popularity of Indira Gandhi was at the bottom.
  • Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of the first non-congress government formed. However, the government remained at loggerheads internally and there was rarely any improvement in governance. Much of the energy was used to prove charges against Mrs Gandhi rather than providing an alternative.
  • Government-appointed Shah Commission was appointed to look after the misdeeds of the government.
  • The government, however, amended all the autocratic provisions made through the 42nd and 44th Constitutional Amendment Act.
  • The proclamation of the emergency was made stringent and more difficult. “Internal disturbance” as a ground of proclamation was replaced with armed rebellion.
  • Several other amendments like passing in both the houses, approval from cabinet and not the PM alone were put in place.
  • Mrs Gandhi also prescribed a 20-point plan for economic revival. There was good economic progress however this can never justify the enormous disregard for liberty and political expression. Indian state during that time failed on the three fundamental tenets of a large democracy, Rule of Law, freedom and liberty and federalism.

Alex de Tocqueville puts for democracy as “Let us endeavour to make the best of that which is allotted to us and, by finding out both its good and its evil tendencies, be able to foster the former and repress the latter to the utmost.”

We need to learn from the darkest era of democracy and treat democracy as a blessing rather a gift.

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