Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Darkest Phase of Indian Democracy

Written By Darshan M (Grade 11)


The year was 1975 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, and the fundamental rights of the citizens were taken away for the next two years. The democratic structure was destroyed and dictatorship was established in India, and those 2 years are still being considered as the darkest phase of Indian democracy. We talk about this emergency a lot, but do we know what happened during the emergency? Why was the emergency imposed in the first place?  

A national emergency is a situation where there is a restriction on the fundamental rights of the citizens. As per Article 352 of the Indian Constitution, an emergency can be declared if any extraordinary situation arises that may threaten the security, peace, stability, and governance of the country. This article also states that if the President is satisfied because the security of the nation is threatened due to external aggression or armed rebellion he/she can declare an emergency. So, National Emergency can be declared for 3 reasons – due to war, external aggression, and internal disturbances. 

1975 was not the first time India went through an emergency before that independent India faced emergency two times. The first one was in 1962 declared by Jawaharlal Nehru when the Indo-China war broke out. During this emergency, the government increased its power to control the media and the ability to detain a common citizen of India without any trial. Even though the war ended within a month Nehru did not revoke the emergency and it was officially lifted after 5 and a half years in 1968.  The second emergency was declared by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1971 when Indio- Pak war broke out. Although the war ended in 2 weeks the state of emergency was not lifted until 1977 which is almost 6 years. 

With India’s second emergency still in force PM Indira Gandhi declared India’s third emergency on June 25th, 1975 and this emergency was a different one. The other 2 emergencies were declared based on external aggression because India was at war with Pakistan and China. So that didn’t directly affect the common people even though it was imposed for a long time. So, what was the reason for the third emergency? 

It all started with the 1971 Lok Sabha elections when Congress got a massive victory securing 352 seats out of 518. Mrs. Gandhi won from the Raebareli constituency by defeating Raj Narayan by 1, 10,000 votes. But, Raj Narayan filed an election petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging Indira Gandhi’s victory. Section 123 of the Representation of peoples act mentions that if a particular candidate was involved in certain corrupt practices the election of that candidate can be declared invalid. Raj Narayan raised a list of allegations against Mrs. Gandhi but most of them were turned down by the high court. But, the high court did consider 2 significant findings on which Indira Gandhi’s election was invalidated. So, what were those 2 findings?

Number one, the use of government missionaries to set up the stage and loudspeakers. The placement of the stage, loudspeakers, barricades, and the posting of policemen for the election campaign was arranged by Yashpal Kapoor, who was the Home Secretary of the Uttar Pradesh government and this was a violation of law. Number two is the use of government officers as election agents. Yashpal Kapoor was on special duty at the prime Minister’s secretariat, but he did submit his resignation and then was appointed as an election agent. So what was the problem? This is where it gets complicated, Yashpal submitted his resignation on Jan. 13th, 1971 and his resignation was accepted the very next day. Since he was working in the Prime Minister Secretariat he also needed their approval and that came on 25th Jan. 1971 by then he was appointed as an election agent. The usage of a government officer as an election agent is a violation of law.

Based on these findings Allahabad High Court passed a judgment that Indira Gandhi was engaged in election fraud and disqualified her to hold any elected positions for 6 years. Then an appeal was made in the Supreme Court which allowed a partial stay under the judgment given by the high court on June 1971.

The Supreme Court allowed her to continue as the Prime Minister until the next hearing but she was not satisfied with that. She wanted a complete stay on the judgment given by the Allahabad high court. Indira Gandhi knew that this was just a stay order if she lost the case in the future she would have to step down as Prime Minister. There was only one way to escape this and that was to declare a state of emergency. She asked then-President Ali Ahmad and advised him to declare a state of emergency. Mrs Gandhi should have fought it legally but being a prime minister she turned a democratic nation into a dictatorship, just because she was being punished. 

People are justifying this saying there were internal disturbances at that time that’s why she declared an emergency. There will be internal disturbances, what do you expect when a prime minister is disqualified there was internal disturbance but that disturbance was not against India it was against Mrs Gandhi. The emergency was declared in 1975 that was right after the Supreme Court order and there was no discussion about this in the parliament. Forget about the discussion, most of the Cabinet Members were not even informed about this, they got to know just a few hours before the announcement was made. So per the advice, a state of emergency was declared on 25th June 1975.

Within a few hours, a lot of opposition Party leaders were arrested including LK Advani, Maharaj Desai, and JP Narayan. The power supplied to the newspaper offices in Delhi was disconnected that night so that no newspaper could be printed. The very next morning Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced on the radio about this. This was a period in Indian democracy where the fundamental rights of the citizens were taken away. People who protested against it were arrested and convicted without any trial, one lakh innocent people were arrested and even the Congress leaders who spoke against it were made to resign. 

The emergency was finally withdrawn and democracy was restored on 21st March 1977 after 21 long months. People were so furious that both Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi were badly defeated in the 1977 election and Janata Party came to power which was the first time a non-congress government was established in India. This was indeed the darkest phase of Indian Democracy where leaders tried to destabilise the country’s democratic structure.  


Featured Image Courtesy – The Statesman



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