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Indira and Emergency: The history

The emergency was declared in India on 25th June 1975, by the then President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, upon the advice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It lasted for 21 months. It was declared due to “internal disturbances.” It bestowed powers extraordinary in their sense of governance on the Prime Minister.

Indira Gandhi was the only child of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become the 3rd prime minister of the country. She used her popularity to mold democracy into the shape she wanted.

As the leader of the Congress, she created a divide in her party; she was different; she supported the cause of the underprivileged; and she brought about sudden and radical changes in the country’s social and economic atmosphere. She nationalized banks, abolished the privy purse, and became almost the dominator of the judiciary itself.

Her government passed the 24th Amendment, giving the parliament powers to amend fundamental rights, a direct attack on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Golaknath case. Upon retaliation from the Supreme Court yet again, she made A. N. Ray, the minority to oppose this retaliation, the CJI, who was a junior in consideration.

In early 1974, Bihar experienced political and social unrest, powered by Jayaprakash Narayan, against the Bihar government, suggesting its dissolution, which was dismissed by Indira Gandhi’s government in the center.

A major political and social unrest allowed Gandhi to find a cause to declare an emergency; major instances included the Navnirman Andolan in 1974 in Gujrat against a major economic crisis and corruption in the state, pioneered by the students at L.D. Engineering College who were agitated by a hike in their mess fees. This led to the dissolution of the ruling party and the imposition of the President’s rule in the state. The railway sector, too, went out on a nationwide strike under the leadership of George Fernandez. This led to eventual conflict with Gandhi’s government, leading to arrests and evictions from government quarters.

In 1971, Raj Narain lost the parliamentary elections to Indira Gandhi, who accused her of election fraud and filed cases in the Allahabad High Court, Indira’s birth city. She was indeed found guilty, her victory was declared null and void, and she was unseated from Lok Sabha. This was a key event, leading up to the declaration of emergency.

Indira Gandhi challenged this judgement in the Supreme Court, and on 24th June 1975, the Supreme Court announced that it upheld the Allahabad High Court’s judgement. Immediately, the opposition invested in anti-government rallies and protests, calling for the derecognition of Indira as the Prime Minister.

Gandhi approached the President that very day, advising him to declare a Nationwide emergency. Electricity was wiped out, the opposition leaders were arrested, and the proposal was sent out without the Union cabinet’s discussion.

The next day, June 25th, 1975, marked the declaration of this emergency.

What ensued was chaos amid an illusion of security. Arrests were made throughout the nation of opposition leaders, the dismissal of all elections, the phasing out of trade unions, and protests, which were met with further arrests and displays of violence and the passing of ordinances, allowing Indira to rule by decree. An integral mass crime against human rights was the compulsory sterilization under Indira’s son, Sanjay Gandhi, supervision to limit population growth. The extent of his role, however, is debated.

The emergency marked an important and controversial period in India's history; its impact is profound, its relevance is deep, and to decipher it is to decode the collective Indian memory. To recall it is to trace the trajectory of the country. Indira Gandhi was the first woman prime minister of India and is, to date, the only one. She was later assassinated in 1984. Her legacy was not limited, however, to her gender, but to the change she brought. During her time in office, the country saw change. The Emergency marked a period of remembrance of this legacy, highly controversial and volatile to opinions and criticism, but truly unforgettable. 


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