As our Prime Minister on Thursday tweeted “We mark 40 years of one of India’s darkest periods- the Emergency, when the political leadership trampled over our democracy”, the Emergency brought back many memories from the past.
The “Emergency” in India refers to the 21 month period (1975-77), where Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency all over the country. It was issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who came into effect from 25 June 1975 until its withdrawal on 21 March 1977. In the 1971 General Elections, people of India gave mandate to the Indira Gandhi lead Congress with a huge majority. During her rule, Supreme Court said that the Parliament cannot amend Constitution if it affects fundamental rights. But Indira Gandhi used her mandate to amend the Constitution. Government had to face a lot of criticism. This gave way to a sudden upsurge in the political unrest against Indira Gandhi all over the country.
The Government of India cited threats to national security since the Indo-Pak war was recently concluded. Also, the economy was in a not-so-good shape. The Government claimed that the mass protests and strikes may pose a threat to national security and integrity. The President then declared a State Of Internal Emergency all across the country upon Prime Minister’s advice on the night of 25 June 1975, just minutes before the clock turned twelve. The Article 352 of the Indian Constitution came into effect and Indira Gandhi was granted enormous powers to suppress political oppositions and mass upheaval.
The period of Emergency saw the arrest of several top political leaders, detention of people without charge, censor on press bodies, ban on several organisations and political parties; and large scale enactment of laws illegally. The country was in a chaos. On 21st March 1997, National Emergency was called off thus giving way to fresh elections in which the Indira Gandhi led Congress Party lost losing all their major seats. The Emergency years saw the weakening of the three very basic pillars of the democracy- strong opposition, free press and independent judiciary. There may be a debate among political parties as to whether the period of Emergency was darkest days of Indian democracy or not ! But it undoubtly is the most controversial period of Indian democracy.