Indira Gandhi’s Emergency: The Truth Behind It

The year was 1975, Indira Gandhi had suddenly declared a national emergency and for the next 2 years the government had suspended all the fundamental rights of the citizens of India. Even many of the leaders from the opposition were imprisoned and many took this to be a black spot on the democracy of India. But, why was this step taken?

This was not the first time a national emergency was declared, it was the third time; for the first time in 1962 during the Indo — China war and later during the India and Pakistan war of 1971. But the emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was absolutely different from those declared earlier as there was no strong reason behind it and especially not a war instead a sequence of different events led to the declaration of a national emergency in 1975. The sequence of events that I have mentioned above, start taking place from 1969 when the Congress was in power and the 4th 5 — year — plan was being implemented.

The Congress decide that 14 private banks are to be nationalized which meant that the government of India would take the ownership of them. Many investors and businessmen like J. R. D. Tata opposed this decision as all their invested money was lost. On 18th July 1969, it was decided that this will be passed through an ordinance but they soon realize that parliament session was supposed to start exactly after 3 days i.e., 21st July 1969 and the President was going to leave his office on the 20th of July itself, therefore the ordinance was prepared in haste and overnight it was signed by the President before the resumption of the parliament.

Here we can clearly see how important Prime Minister Indira Gandhi thought this to be. Indira Gandhi’s justification was that after the nationalizing of banks, they can open branches of it in every corner of the country and can provide it’s services to the poorest of people in the country. The shareholders of the banks were absolutely not happy with this decision as told before. During that time, there was a bank by the name: Central Bank of India and had a person named Rustom C. Cooper was a shareholder in that bank. Mr. Cooper takes this matter to the Supreme Court where he gains a small win. The Supreme Court declared that this law was discriminatory towards those 14 banks and was also very unfair to the shareholders of those banks.

Henceforth the ordinance by the government gets rejected by court. From this point the battle starts (Indira Gandhi vs the Judiciary of India). Next year i.e., 1970, the governments brings about an amendment in the constitution. The fun fact was that this amendment reversed the decision of the Supreme Court. Few years later a similar conflict takes place between the Supreme Court and Indira Gandhi regarding the Privy Purse. Now what was ‘Privy Purse’? Basically, it was a payment that was given to royal families of princely states in India. This concept was started when different provinces were united to make India in 1947. The government offered the royal families a payment. The fact now was that Indira Gandhi did not like this concept and completely opposed it.

Therefore, her government proposed a bill to erase this concept off forever but this bill failed to pass in Rajya Sabha. Therefore, the government announced that the Princely states will never be recognized from now on. This meant that there will be no ruling families remaining in the country. Again this matter went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court declared this proclamation as ‘null and void’. As expected the government now came with another constitutional amendment to remove the privy purse and therefore the judgement of the Supreme Court was reversed. This happened in 1971.

The Royal families, obviously being angry with these events decided to run in the elections as a mark of protest against the government. During that time, the Nawab of Pataudi i.e., Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, famous cricketer and father of a famous bollywood actor, Saif Ali Khan. He fought the elections from Gurgaon and could not even secure 5% of the votes. On the other side, another Royal family stood in the elections. Vijaya Raje Scindia and Madhavrao Scindia. The best part about this that they even won the 1971 elections. And till date, the Scindia family is involved in politics.

These were the small and big events which ultimately led to Indira Gandhi declaring a national emergency. The year was 1971 and Indira Gandhi was re — elected as the Prime Minister of India and this time she becomes a very dominant Prime Minister. Under her, we could see centralization of power. Indira Gandhi was selecting her cabinet of ministers on the basis of their friendship. In today’s time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also is doing the same thing.

1971 was also the year when India was at war with Pakistan and both countries were hereby suffering from an economic crisis. Inflation was increasing and the price of essential commodities were rising rapidly. Congress at the same time had become so powerful that there had started be cases of corruption in there. Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary, Mr. P. N. Haksar had pointed this out. In the states, the corruption was even higher,

In 1974, the Chief Minister of Gujarat was Mr. Chimanbhai Patel. His huge scam was exposed where he was started to be called ‘Chima n— chor’ in Gujarat. Citizens and especially students had started protesting on streets. Buses were burnt and shops were robbed and also the police were attacked. This was called the ‘Navnirman Andolan’. The people of Gujarat strongly demanded that the current government of Gujarat needs to be dissolved. The government was dissolved as the Prime Minister had no choice left.

This was just a small matter, exactly a year ago, in 1973, we get to see an International Oil Crisis which is why the price of crude oil rose upto 300%. Once again the pocket of a common man was affected and inflation could be seen once again along with price rise. In the same year (1974), a movement starts in Bihar, which is lead by Mr. J. P. Narayan. Non — violent protests take place against the corruption in the Congress government and once again it is demanded to dissolve the government of Bihar. Another leader by the name George Fernandes carries out a 3 — day railway strike to demand better working conditions and better salaries for railway workers.

More than 1.7 million workers protest and later becomes the world’s largest industrial strike. Unlike in Gujarat, Indira Gandhi doesn’t dissolve the government in Bihar. She claimed that these movements started to destroy the density of democracy and were foreign — funded ‘anti national movements’. But the protests do not stop.

Constant strikes, extreme inflation and price rise, humongous protests and allegations of corruption, you can imagine the state of the country in 1975. In March 1975, another allegation is levelled against Indira Gandhi from Allahabad High Court. The allegation was ‘election malpractice’. In fact this case was somehow on for 2 years and was filed against a socialist named Raj Narain. He also stood up against Indira Gandhi in the 1971 elections. He straight forwardly said that it was a clear cut case of manipulation and 14 other crimes were also reported against Indira Gandhi. But, she was held guilty only for 2 crimes. Because of these two crimes, Indira Gandhi’s Lok Sabha seat was declared null and void which led to her being removed from the Lok Sabha. People called this a ‘traffic ticket violation’.

Indira Gandhi appealed against this judgement in Supreme Court. The opposition took a lot of advantage of the situation and came on to the streets to protest and said that the ‘corrupt Prime Minister must resign’. The Allahabad High Court’s judgement was made on 12th June, 1975 and what happened few days later on 24th June 1975, was no less than a movie. The Supreme Court stole all privileges from her and she could not stand in the elections for the next 6 years. But, she could still stay as the Prime Minister till the next hearing.

There was chaos on the streets, protests became even more intense. There was a lot of internal disturbance in the country right now. You must have heard this term somewhere I am sure because it is printed in the Article 352 of the Indian Constitution.

Hence, while declaring the emergency in 1975, internal disturbance was taken as a reason. Indira Gandhi then requests the President Mr. Fakhruddin to declare an emergency. He does this on the night of 25th June 1975. Within a few hours, many opposition leaders got arrested. The Government cut the power supply to newspaper offices in Delhi on the same night to avoid the newspaper from printing anything the following day. Next day morning, an announcement is made by Indira Gandhi via radio.

I believe that the judgement at the Allahabad High Court and the inciting riots and protests in Bihar were the most significant causes for the declaration of the national emergency on 25th June 1975. The next 2 years itself are historic. They are termed as the darkest times in India as a democracy. The people’s fundamental rights are snatched away from them and protestors were being imprisoned. More than 100K innocent people were arrested. Several members of the opposition and activists go off the grid to avoid getting arrested and the elections also get delayed. At the end, the time from 1969 to 1977, these 8 years were the darkest eight years of India as a democracy.

One of the many liberals living in the world of ‘bhakts’