Amitabh Tiwari & Subhash Chandra
After having won 1971 elections in an emphatic style, Indira was seen fighting two serious battles soon after – one in Bihar and the other in Gujarat – both predominantly student led movements. Coupled with a worrisome economic situation for which she alone cannot be put to blame, things were getting too hot for her to handle. She was also fighting a court case against Raj Narain, whom she defeated in Lok Sabha polls held in 1971 from Rae Bareli seat. Raj Narain alleged that Indira used unfair/corrupt electoral practices and misused her official position to win the seat.
Rout in Gujarat
Morarji Desai and opposition parties were exerting pressure on Indira to order fresh polls in Gujarat. The house was dissolved in Mar. 1974 but govt. was not holding elections. Morarji Desai sat on a fast unto death to exert pressure on Indira. Indira succumbed to this and elections were held on 10th June 1975. Results were declared on 12th June.
Congress faced a rout in the elections with its seats reduced to half compared to 1972. Janata Front comprising of BJS, INCO, KLP, and independents formed the government with Babubhai Patel as Chief Minister.
Indira’s Disqualification as MP
More bad news awaited Indira. On the same day, Allahabad High Court upheld the allegations of Raj Narain and set aside the election of Indira Gandhi. She was disqualified from contesting Lok Sabha elections for the next 6 years. Indira was found guilty of dishonest election practices, excessive election expenditure and misuse of government machinery/officials for party purposes. The judge, however, rejected more serious charges of bribery against her. The court gave Congress twenty days to replace Indira.
After the news of her verdict spread, hundreds of supporters demonstrated outside her house, pledging loyalty. Indira retained the support of her party which issued a statement backing her. Indira appealed against the verdict in the Supreme Court of India. The vacation bench of Justice V R Krishna Iyer gave a conditional stay on the HC order, ruling that she could remain PM, but could not speak or vote in Parliament pending a decision by a larger bench.
The order galvanized the opposition parties and gave them a much-needed issue to take head on Indira Gandhi under the leadership of JP Narayan. He announced a week long Satyagraha for Indira and Congress CMs to resign. He exhorted the military and police to defy unconstitutional orders of these Congress leaders. At a massive rally against the Indira govt., held in Ramlila Grounds, Delhi on 25th June 1975, in front of a strong 1 lakh crowd, JP gave a call to Indira to step down. He recited Rashtrakavi Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem – ‘Shinghasan khaali karo ke Janata aati hai!’.
Imposition of Emergency
This massive show of strength shook up Indira and she recommended to the then President Fakhruddin Ahmad to declare a state of emergency on the same day on the pretext of disorder and lawlessness following the Allahabad High Court order.
Accordingly, President of India declared a State of Emergency caused by the internal disorder, based on the provisions of Article 352(1) of the Constitution. In the days that followed, civil liberties were suspended, media censored, and amendments were brought that threatened to alter the basic character of the Constitution. Draconian laws like MISA were strengthened. The government suspended the right to move the court for enforcement of Fundamental Rights. The cabinet was not consulted. At 8 am on June 26, she made an unscheduled radio broadcast to tell the nation about the emergency. Many newspapers in Delhi had power supply cut off the previous night and had not reached readers. They reported the news only on June 27.
Young Turks opposed the Emergency
The entire Congress Parliamentary Party barring five dissidents — Chandra Shekhar, Mohan Dharia, Ram Dhan, Krishan Kant and Laxmikanthamma who were known as Young Turks opposed Indira’s decision. All five were suspended from the party.
All Congress state units and Chief Ministers passed resolutions declaring faith in Indira’s leadership. The CPI wholeheartedly supported the Emergency, and the Soviet Union described it as a “blow to a right-wing plot”.
Emergency united the opposition
JP was the face of the opposition. Congress (O), Jana Sangh, Bharatiya Lok Dal, Socialist Party, Akali Dal, CPM, and DMK openly opposed it. Fali Nariman, who was Additional Solicitor General, quit. The RSS, Ananda Margis, and Jamaat-e-Islami were banned. Naxalites faced the brunt of police brutality.
Supreme Court Justice H R Khanna took a principled stand against attacks on the Constitution and attempts to subvert justice. He was the only dissenter in the five-member Bench that ruled against habeas corpus, allowing the government to detain a person indefinitely.
Who Is to Blame for Imposition of Emergency?
Dr. Jagannath Mishra, then CM of Bihar and prominent Congress leader had put forth an alternative theory on who imposed Emergency.
“My elder brother Lalit Babu had called Chandra Sekhar to arrange a meeting of Indira Gandhi with JP. My brother died in the blast and the meeting never took place. On June 12, 1975, I went to Delhi to attend Congress CM’s meeting with PM Indira Gandhi. She offered to resign in the wake of Allahabad High Court setting aside her Lok Sabha election. She had suggested names of Jagjivan Ram or Pandit Kamalpati Tripathi as her successor till she got court relief. But it was West Bengal CM Siddarth Shanker Ray who came up with the idea of internal Emergency citing constitutional provisions. Indira was hesitant. Ray later met Sanjay Gandhi with the idea. JP’s 25 June Total Revolution Call from Ramlila Ground provided the final trigger and convinced Indiraji to clamp Emergency.”1
R.K. Dhawan, then private secretary to Indira, echoes a similar sentiment. In an interview to Indian Express, he says that her first response on hearing the Allahabad High Court order was to quit and she dictated a resignation letter. “It was typed but never signed. This is because her cabinet came to see her and insisted that she must not resign.”
Some historians blame Indira saying she always had dictatorial tendencies, some blame Sanjay and his coterie and some blame SS Ray. It was a combination of all the three we would say and the twenty-one months of Emergency were indeed the darkest phase of Indian democracy.
1Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar by Santosh Singh.
Extract from our upcoming book on Congress Party – ‘Political & Management Lessons from the Grand Old Party’.