44th Anniversary of Emergency in India: What Happened and Why

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1975 Emergency

It was the morning of 26th June in the year 1975 when the voice of Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of that time echoed on the All India Radio to inform the nation about the emergency. She said “The President has proclaimed Emergency. There is nothing to panic about,”. It was the time when most Indians don’t even know the effects of this emergency and those who knew the seriousness of this were either jailed or went to some secret place to hide.     

 It has been 44 years since the Emergency declared under Article 352(1) of the Constitution for ‘internal disturbance.’ It was not the first time when the nation had to face the tough situation like emergency before 1972 India had an emergency on October 26, 1962, because of Indo-China war and in then in 1971 during the Indo-Pakistan war. But in 1975 the situation was different, it was ‘National Emergency’ which affected the Indians directly.

What Happened During Emergency 

Though Emergency was declared by the then President but it was the lone decision of then PM Indira Gandhi. She kept the decision of implementing emergency so secret that many of her cabinet ministers come to know about it on the next day when it was already implemented.  

That time the emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi to control ‘internal disturbance’. Still, this period is known as the black chapter of Indian history of post-independence because the citizen’s rights were curtailed and freedom of the press was curbed on the name of National Emergency.

Here are a few actions that happened after the implementation of Emergency;

Censorship on Press

Electronic media were not as widespread that time as it is now and newspapers were the main source to get news. The government released the guidelines for all the newspapers and media houses were directed to not to publish the plainly dangerous news or anything against the emergency. All the newspapers were instructed to get prior approval for the articles to be published. News reports of international newspapers had left the country due to threats they were receiving.

Opposition Leaders put in Jail

Many opposition leaders were sent in jails on the name of Emergency in the country. Though the official announcement of emergency was done on 26th June 1975 many leaders from opposition party have picked from their home from police on the night of 25th June 1975 and were sent to jail. Not only the leaders from the opposite party but the Congress leaders that opposed the emergency were also sent to jail.

Citizens rights’ curtailed

As per the constitution during the emergency, the fundamental rights of citizens get curbed along with the right to freedom. After the declaration of emergency, the President issued another order on 27 June 1975 to suspend the citizen’s right to move to the court for the enforcement of a fundamental right. 

Forced Sterilization

The most painful part of the emergency was to force men to undergo vasectomy in order to control the population of the country. The mass sterilization program was undertaken by Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of PM Indira Gandhi. Men, elder than 75 years and as young as 18 years had to undergo vasectomy as the scheme was implemented forcefully.

Constitutional Amendments

During the Emergency period, several amendments were done to the constitution. The Constitution Act of 1977 introduced by the Indira Gandhi government was even mocked as ‘Constitution of Indira’. The amendments in the constitution restricted the power of the High court and Supreme Court and made the judiciary too powerless to intervene in the matter of emergency.  

Why Emergency was Imposed

 Indira Gandhi declared the Internal Emergency to control the “internal disturbance”. She said the constitution of the country is in danger due to the movement launched by the Jayaprakash Narayan. Secondly, she said the country needs rapid economic development and emergency will help in it and third she said the intervention of powers from abroad is making India weak. These were the reason for Indira’s side to prove the emergency a wise decision.

The other part of the story has one more reason that had played an important role in the declaration of emergency and that is ‘The Raj Narayan Verdict’. The socialist leader Raj Narain who had lost out to Gandhi in Raebareli parliamentary elections of 1971   alleged her to spent more money in election campaign than the limit.  The Allahabad High court declared Gandhi’s election to Parliament as null and void and she was given to the time of 20 days to appeal in Supreme court.

On June 24, 1972, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court judgment and ordered all privileges Gandhi received as an MP to be stopped. The Supreme Court allowed her to continue her term as Prime Minister. This verdict gave a chance to the opposition leaders like JP Narayan and Morarji Desai to make their protest stronger against Indira Gandhi. And from the early hours of 26 June 1972, the emergency came into effects.  

The Bottom Line

Many young readers may not have born during the emergency so they may not experience the fear of it but when you read the memories of those who were taken to jail without informing to their family members then you may feel the helplessness of living in an independent country without freedom.

We would end this post with lines from Aung Suu Kyi, “It is not the power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” 

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