The 1975 Emergency Retold in 180 Seconds

Witness the history of this dark chapter in Indian democracy.

Updated
Explainers
5 min read
Decoding the before, during and after of the 1975 Emergency. 
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Snapshot

(This article was first published on 24 June 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the anniversary of the imposition of Emergency in 1975.)

Vaqt ne kiya, kya haseen sitam...Tum rahe na tum, hum rahe na hum.

The good folks at All India Radio had some sense of timing, playing this song from Guru Dutt’s 1959 classic ‘Kagaz ke Phool’, right after the announcing that Indira and her son Sanjay Gandhi had lost the election from their respective constituencies.

This was in 1977.

The general election was delayed by a year, thanks to Prime Minister Indira extending the life of the Lok Sabha by a year. The Emergency allowed her to do just about anything without being questioned.

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

The 1975 Emergency Retold in 180 Seconds

  1. 1. Why Did Indira Gandhi Impose the Emergency?

    Six years earlier, in 1971, Indira dismissed all doubt over her ability as a leader after the split in the Congress party, when she led her party to victory on the back of the ‘Garibi Hatao’ campaign.

    While she had consolidated her position as the undisputed leader of the Congress party, she was losing her grip on the country.

    The monsoon was delayed, prices were skyrocketing, economic growth was at a standstill and to make matters worse, a union leader by the name of George Fernandes led 14 lakh railway workers in strike. The Indian Railways, the backbone of the country, were paralysed for three long weeks, before Indira jailed and/or sacked thousands of workers, crushing the strike with an iron hand.

    In Gujarat, the student-led Navnirman movement had cornered the Congress government. Chants of ‘Chiman Chor’ had come to embarrass the party and Indira was forced to dissolve the Assembly.

    In Bihar, a 26-year-old law student named Lalu Prasad Yadav was part of a group of student leaders who had made life hell for Congress Chief Minister Abdul Ghafoor. They even got Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he was fondly called, out of political retirement.

    JP was a freedom fighter who knew Indira well, but had come to condemn her domineering leadership style. JP held sway over the masses, much like Indira herself.

    So, when he gave a call for ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ or ‘Total Revolution’, lakhs of students readily gave up one year of their studies to protest.

    But Indira was adamant and refused to repeat Gujarat and dissolve the Bihar assembly.

    On 12 June 1975 came the biggest blow.

    The Allahabad High Court found Mrs Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractices and disbarred her as an MP and from contesting elections for six years.

    The same day, JP led a massive rally at the Ram Lila Maidan and declared the ‘Indira Resign’ movement.

    Incidentally, Raj Narain was represented by Shanti Bhushan, who would later be Law Minister in the first non-Congress government that would be voted in, in 1977.

    Speaking to The Quint on the 42nd anniversary of the Emergency, the legendary lawyer and anti-corruption crusader, recounted how he fought the case against Indira’s lawyer Nanabhoy Palkhiwala.

    Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

    Expand
  2. 2. What Happened During the Emergency?

    Although the Supreme Court granted her partial relief on 24 June 1975, it was enough for Indira to seek an end-all solution.

    Her lawyer friend and West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhatha Shankar Ray had told her about a legal loophole that would allow her to impose internal emergency. The rationale was that since JP called to army men and government servants to join his movement, it could be justified as a call for a rebellion.

    On the night of 25 June 1975, Indira Gandhi got the proclamation of Emergency signed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad. The police now had Constitutional powers, they did not even know existed. They were instructed to not allow press vehicles, carrying the next day’s newspapers to leave the office. In fact, journalists recall how the power to their printing units was cut through the night.

    Indira Gandhi also invoked the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Under this, opposition leaders – Morarji Desai, JP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were all dragged out of their homes after midnight and jailed.

    At 6 am, on 26 June 1975, Indira Gandhi got the proclamation of Emergency ratified by the Cabinet and an hour later, she informed her country via a 15-minute address on All India Radio.

    Expand
  3. 3. Did Nobody Speak Out Against this Draconian Emergency?

    Two days after the proclamation of Emergency, the Editor of the Express News Service Kuldip Nayar rallied fellow journalists to protest at Delhi’s Press Club. He passed a resolution condemning the Emergency and demanding it be repealed.

    Late in the night, on 28 June 1975, Kuldeep Nayar was arrested from his house. The veteran Editor spoke to The Quint about his association with Indira and how the foodie in him survived three months in Tihar, with a Jan Sagh leader for a cellmate.

    Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

    Only a handful of news organisations protested the Emergency. The Indian Express, for instance, published a blank editorial every day as a mark of protest, the Financial Express republished Rabindranath Tagore ‘Where the mind is without fear’ and a journalist called Ashok Mahadevan published a 22-word obituary for democracy.

    “O’CRACY, D. E. M., BELOVED HUSBAND OF T.RUTH, LOVING FATHER OF L.I. BERTIE, BROTHER OF FAITH, HOPE AND JUSTICIA, EXPIRED ON JUNE 26”

    Later opposition leader, LK Advani would make an apt remark:

    You were asked to bend, but you began to crawl.
    Expand
  4. 4. What Did Indira Do During the Emergency?

    1. Socio-Economic Reforms

    With no political opposition or media scrutiny, the government began a slew of socio-economic reforms. Indira Gandhi launched a 20-point program that included distributing land to landless laborers, increasing the limit of income tax exemptions and increasing agricultural wages.

    Although he was not an elected official, Indira’s son, Sanjay Gandhi was believed to wield considerable influence at the time. He announced his own 5-point program aimed at eradicating the practice of dowry, promoting literacy, tree plantation and family planning.

    Family planning, would, however, become a euphemism for mass, mostly forced sterilisations. An estimated 11 million men and women were sterilised within a year. Another 1 million had IUDs inserted . In Haryana, men were rounded up by the police and sterilised.   In other places, government officials who failed to meet sterilisation targets were denied salaries 

    But, none of these human rights atrocities were reported real time by the Indian press as the news flow was regulated.

    2. Constitutional ‘Reforms

    On 3 August 1975 , an amendment to the Representation Act was drafted to clear Indira Gandhi from the Allahabad HC ruling disqualifying her as an MP . 

    On 10 August 1975 , the 39th Amendment of the Constitution was enacted, placing the election of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Lok Sabha beyond the scrutiny of Indian courts.

    On 9 January 1976, Article 19 of the Constitution was suspended,  by which Indian citizens were stripped of basic Constitutional rights, like freedom of speech and expression .

    On 4 February 1976, the life of the Lok Sabha ws extended, giving PM Indira the power to rule by decree for another year.

    On 21 May 1976, the Lok Sabha passed the 42nd Amendment Bill . Election disputes were removed from the purview of the courts, more powers were transferred from state to Centre and the Parliament  was given unrestrained power to amend the Constitution without judicial review .

    Expand
  5. 5. What Made Indira Repeal the Emergency After 22 Months?

    Confident that she had passed enough measures to win back the support of the ‘gareeb aadmi’, Indira Gandhi announced the dissolution of the Lok Sabha and fresh elections.

    She gave the Opposition, that had been stewing in guest houses and jails across the country, only two months to regroup and campaign.

    But it was more than enough.

    On 24 March 1977, Indira’s most bitter political rival, Morarji Desai, took oath as Prime Minister of the first non-Congress government in independent India.

    Indira was voted out by the Indian people. And while her socialist measures set a roadmap for future governments, her legacy is incomplete without the ugly chapter on the Emergency.

    (This admission season, The Quint got experts from CollegeDekho.com on board to answer all your college-related queries. Send us your questions at eduqueries@thequint.com)

    Expand

Why Did Indira Gandhi Impose the Emergency?

Six years earlier, in 1971, Indira dismissed all doubt over her ability as a leader after the split in the Congress party, when she led her party to victory on the back of the ‘Garibi Hatao’ campaign.

While she had consolidated her position as the undisputed leader of the Congress party, she was losing her grip on the country.

The monsoon was delayed, prices were skyrocketing, economic growth was at a standstill and to make matters worse, a union leader by the name of George Fernandes led 14 lakh railway workers in strike. The Indian Railways, the backbone of the country, were paralysed for three long weeks, before Indira jailed and/or sacked thousands of workers, crushing the strike with an iron hand.

In Gujarat, the student-led Navnirman movement had cornered the Congress government. Chants of ‘Chiman Chor’ had come to embarrass the party and Indira was forced to dissolve the Assembly.

In Bihar, a 26-year-old law student named Lalu Prasad Yadav was part of a group of student leaders who had made life hell for Congress Chief Minister Abdul Ghafoor. They even got Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he was fondly called, out of political retirement.

JP was a freedom fighter who knew Indira well, but had come to condemn her domineering leadership style. JP held sway over the masses, much like Indira herself.

So, when he gave a call for ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ or ‘Total Revolution’, lakhs of students readily gave up one year of their studies to protest.

But Indira was adamant and refused to repeat Gujarat and dissolve the Bihar assembly.

On 12 June 1975 came the biggest blow.

The Allahabad High Court found Mrs Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractices and disbarred her as an MP and from contesting elections for six years.

The same day, JP led a massive rally at the Ram Lila Maidan and declared the ‘Indira Resign’ movement.

Incidentally, Raj Narain was represented by Shanti Bhushan, who would later be Law Minister in the first non-Congress government that would be voted in, in 1977.

Speaking to The Quint on the 42nd anniversary of the Emergency, the legendary lawyer and anti-corruption crusader, recounted how he fought the case against Indira’s lawyer Nanabhoy Palkhiwala.

Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

What Happened During the Emergency?

Although the Supreme Court granted her partial relief on 24 June 1975, it was enough for Indira to seek an end-all solution.

Her lawyer friend and West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhatha Shankar Ray had told her about a legal loophole that would allow her to impose internal emergency. The rationale was that since JP called to army men and government servants to join his movement, it could be justified as a call for a rebellion.

On the night of 25 June 1975, Indira Gandhi got the proclamation of Emergency signed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad. The police now had Constitutional powers, they did not even know existed. They were instructed to not allow press vehicles, carrying the next day’s newspapers to leave the office. In fact, journalists recall how the power to their printing units was cut through the night.

Indira Gandhi also invoked the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Under this, opposition leaders – Morarji Desai, JP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were all dragged out of their homes after midnight and jailed.

At 6 am, on 26 June 1975, Indira Gandhi got the proclamation of Emergency ratified by the Cabinet and an hour later, she informed her country via a 15-minute address on All India Radio.

Did Nobody Speak Out Against this Draconian Emergency?

Two days after the proclamation of Emergency, the Editor of the Express News Service Kuldip Nayar rallied fellow journalists to protest at Delhi’s Press Club. He passed a resolution condemning the Emergency and demanding it be repealed.

Late in the night, on 28 June 1975, Kuldeep Nayar was arrested from his house. The veteran Editor spoke to The Quint about his association with Indira and how the foodie in him survived three months in Tihar, with a Jan Sagh leader for a cellmate.

Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

Only a handful of news organisations protested the Emergency. The Indian Express, for instance, published a blank editorial every day as a mark of protest, the Financial Express republished Rabindranath Tagore ‘Where the mind is without fear’ and a journalist called Ashok Mahadevan published a 22-word obituary for democracy.

“O’CRACY, D. E. M., BELOVED HUSBAND OF T.RUTH, LOVING FATHER OF L.I. BERTIE, BROTHER OF FAITH, HOPE AND JUSTICIA, EXPIRED ON JUNE 26”

Later opposition leader, LK Advani would make an apt remark:

You were asked to bend, but you began to crawl.

What Did Indira Do During the Emergency?

1. Socio-Economic Reforms

With no political opposition or media scrutiny, the government began a slew of socio-economic reforms. Indira Gandhi launched a 20-point program that included distributing land to landless laborers, increasing the limit of income tax exemptions and increasing agricultural wages.

Although he was not an elected official, Indira’s son, Sanjay Gandhi was believed to wield considerable influence at the time. He announced his own 5-point program aimed at eradicating the practice of dowry, promoting literacy, tree plantation and family planning.

Family planning, would, however, become a euphemism for mass, mostly forced sterilisations. An estimated 11 million men and women were sterilised within a year. Another 1 million had IUDs inserted . In Haryana, men were rounded up by the police and sterilised.   In other places, government officials who failed to meet sterilisation targets were denied salaries 

But, none of these human rights atrocities were reported real time by the Indian press as the news flow was regulated.

2. Constitutional ‘Reforms

On 3 August 1975 , an amendment to the Representation Act was drafted to clear Indira Gandhi from the Allahabad HC ruling disqualifying her as an MP . 

On 10 August 1975 , the 39th Amendment of the Constitution was enacted, placing the election of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Lok Sabha beyond the scrutiny of Indian courts.

On 9 January 1976, Article 19 of the Constitution was suspended,  by which Indian citizens were stripped of basic Constitutional rights, like freedom of speech and expression .

On 4 February 1976, the life of the Lok Sabha ws extended, giving PM Indira the power to rule by decree for another year.

On 21 May 1976, the Lok Sabha passed the 42nd Amendment Bill . Election disputes were removed from the purview of the courts, more powers were transferred from state to Centre and the Parliament  was given unrestrained power to amend the Constitution without judicial review .

What Made Indira Repeal the Emergency After 22 Months?

Confident that she had passed enough measures to win back the support of the ‘gareeb aadmi’, Indira Gandhi announced the dissolution of the Lok Sabha and fresh elections.

She gave the Opposition, that had been stewing in guest houses and jails across the country, only two months to regroup and campaign.

But it was more than enough.

On 24 March 1977, Indira’s most bitter political rival, Morarji Desai, took oath as Prime Minister of the first non-Congress government in independent India.

Indira was voted out by the Indian people. And while her socialist measures set a roadmap for future governments, her legacy is incomplete without the ugly chapter on the Emergency.

(This admission season, The Quint got experts from CollegeDekho.com on board to answer all your college-related queries. Send us your questions at eduqueries@thequint.com)

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