June 25: On this day in 1975, Indira Gandhi imposed emergency


GUWAHATI: June 25 marks a dark chapter in the history of Indian democracy. On this day in 1975, then president of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed announced internal emergency. The announcement was made on recommendation of prime minister Indira Gandhi to secure her political career.

The Emergency remained in effect from June 25, 1975, to March 21, 1977, and is, to this date, one of the highly-contentious chapters in academic and political circles when talking about modern Indian history.

Remembering the dark episode, prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “The #DarkDaysOfEmergency can never be forgotten. The period from 1975 to 1977 witnessed a systematic destruction of institutions. Let us pledge to do everything possible to strengthen India’s democratic spirit, and live up to the values enshrined in our Constitution.”

Assam chief minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote, “#NationalEmergency was not done to thwart any attempt of political violence or sedition. It was a sheer manifestation of Gandhi’s anger & her attempt to enjoy political supremacy.”

Reasons for emergency:

Allahbad High Court verdict

The June 12, 1975 verdict of the Allahabad High Court convicting then PM Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices and debarring her from holding any elected post was one of the factors that led to the imposition of the Emergency.

Indira Gandhi had won the 1971 Lok Sabha election from Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh convincingly defeating socialist leader Raj Narain, who later challenged her election alleging electoral malpractices and violation of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. It was alleged that her election agent Yashpal Kapoor was a government servant and that she used government officials for personal election related work.

While convicting Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices, Justice Sinha disqualified her from Parliament and imposed a six-year ban on her holding any elected post.

Navnirman Andolan in Gujarat

In December 1973, students of L D College of Engineering in Ahmedabad went on a strike to protest against a hike in school fees. A month later, students of Gujarat University erupted in protest, demanding the dismissal of the state government. It called itself the ‘Navnirman movement’ or the movement for regeneration. Gujarat at this point in time was governed by the Congress under chief minister Chimanbhai Patel. The government was notorious for its corruption, and its head popularly referred to as chiman chor (thief).

The student protests against the government escalated and soon factory workers and people from other sectors of society joined in. Clashes with the police, burning of buses and government office and attacks on ration shops became an everyday occurrence.

The JP movement

Following in the footsteps of Gujarat or rather inspired by its success, a similar movement was launched in Bihar. A student protest erupted in Bihar in March 1974 to which opposition forces lent their strength. First, it was soon headed by 71-year-old freedom fighter Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly called JP. Second, in the case of Bihar, Indira Gandhi did not concede to the suspension of the Assembly. However, the JP movement was significant in determining her to declare Emergency.

The railways’ protest

Even as Bihar was burning in agitations, the country was paralysed by a railways strike led by socialist leader George Fernandes. Lasting for three weeks, in May 1974, the strike resulted in the halt of the movement of goods and people. Guha, in his book, notes that as many as a million railwaymen participated in the movement. “There were militant demonstrations in many towns and cities- in several places, the army was called out to maintain the peace,” he writes. Gandhi’s government came down heavily on the protesters. Thousands of employees were arrested and their families were driven out of their quarters.

The very next day Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency suspending all fundamental rights, putting opposition leaders in jails, and imposing censorship on the media.

The Congress government cited threats to national security, highlighting the recently-concluded war with Pakistan as a plank for its argument. While many within the party still remained opposed to the idea of a declaration of a state of emergency, a few loyalists, including the then chief minister of West Bengal, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, advised Indira Gandhi to go ahead with the measure. The prime minister’s younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, too, had grown to be a proponent of “extra-constitutional” measures, according to historians, and hence was in support of his mother’s declaration of the Emergency.