21 March 1977
The Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi on 25 June 1975 ended after 21 months on 21 March 1977.
- The Emergency of 1975 is often described as independent India’s “darkest hour”.
- It was imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the pretext of “imminent danger to the country’s security because of internal disturbances”. Article 352 was used by Gandhi to ‘advice’ the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to impose an internal emergency.
- This was the third time a national emergency was being imposed on the country. The first two times were during the wars with China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1971.
- Indira Gandhi became the prime minister for the first time in 1967. She soon began to wield autocratic powers and reduced the role of her cabinet in important decisions.
- Her pro-poor and leftist moves like the Privy Purse abolition and the nationalisation of major banks gained her a huge popular support. Her party won a huge majority in the 1971 general elections. The victory in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 further increased her popularity.
- In 1974, the then congress party president D. K. Barooah remarked, “Indira is India, India is Indira”. Gandhi had almost absolute control over the government, which was not ideal for a functioning democracy.
- The situation of the country was not encouraging either. The war with Pakistan had diminished the GDP growth. There were droughts, unemployment and an oil crisis.
- In 1974, George Fernandes led a railway workers’ national strike which led to severe suppression by the government. The government also tried to control the judiciary. The Allahabad High Court had declared her election to the Lok Sabha void on the grounds of electoral malpractice.
- Political leader Jay Prakash Narain (JP) called for a national-level revolution to remove the autocratic government.
- Gandhi, on realising that things were getting out of control, chose to impose Article 352 on the nation. The reasons given were threats to security and bad economic conditions.
- During emergency which was declared without warning on the night of 25 June 1975, several leaders in the opposition were arrested. Even Congress leaders opposed to Gandhi were arrested. The government used the state machinery to crackdown on all political rivals. Leaders arrested included JP, Morarji Desai, JB Kripalani, AB Vajpayee, Vijayaraje Scindia, Charan Singh, LK Advani, etc.
- Civil liberties were also crushed during this period. Severe restrictions were imposed on the freedom of the press. Non-congress state governments were dismissed. The number of people detained ran into thousands.
- Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi wielded extra-constitutional powers during this period. He is said to have organised mass sterilisation campaigns in many areas most of which were forced. Up to 8.3 million sterilisations happened then. Slums in Delhi were destroyed and people killed in police firing.
- There were gross human rights violation in the country.
- The constitution was also amended many times during this time. (This was undone after democracy was restored.)
- The police had the authority to impose curfews and also detain people indefinitely.
- Any published material had to go through the scrutiny of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
- Gandhi basically ruled by decrees through the use of ordinances which did away with discussions in the parliament.
- The emergency was extended two times as required by the constitution every six months.
- In January 1977, Gandhi called for fresh elections and freed all political prisoners. The emergency officially ended on 21 March 1977.
- She had misread public sentiments and the election results handed her and her party a heavy defeat. Both Indira and Sanjay Gandhi lost their parliament seats. The Janata Party and its allies won the election and Morarji Desai went on to become the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India.
- The emergency is still remembered as a dark blotch on the otherwise steady Indian democracy.
Also on this day
1913: Shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan was born.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.