50th Anniversary Of Emergency: What Triggered Indira Gandhi To Censor Press, Gag Opposition And Declare Emergency

50th Anniversary Of Emergency: What Triggered Indira Gandhi To Censor Press, Gag Opposition And Declare Emergency

Indira Gandhi was under pressure due to the country's struggling economy, rising unemployment, inflation, and food shortages, which dented her popularity.

Rahul MUpdated: Tuesday, June 25, 2024, 02:57 PM IST
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​​​Photo: Twitter

On this day in 1975, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency in the country. This Emergency ended 21 months later, on March 21, 1977.

Indira Gandhi, driven by personal political interests, pushed the entire nation into the quagmire of Emergency, stripping ordinary Indians of their fundamental rights. Article 352 of the Indian Constitution, which allows for the declaration of an emergency, was intended for situations of war, external aggression, or armed rebellion. However, it was used to counter internal political opposition.

Imposing the Emergency was Indira Gandhi's biggest political mistake, which the Congress Party has acknowledged on multiple occasions. However, the party continues to pay the price for this mistake even today.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, Prime Minister Modi, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, and Home Minister Amit Shah remembered the Emergency, calling it a 'black day' in the history of democracy.

Why was the Emergency imposed?

After the Congress Party won more than 350 seats in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister. As the 1976 elections approached, Indira Gandhi began to realise that if the elections were held on time, her party would lose, and she might have to relinquish the Prime Minister's chair.

In June 1975, an incident occurred that made it clear to Indira that if the general elections were held, her return to power was nearly impossible. This incident took place on June 12, 1975, when Allahabad High Court judge Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha delivered a verdict on Raj Narain's petition challenging the prime minister's election. In this verdict, he found the prime minister guilty of 'electoral malpractices' and ordered her to vacate the prime minister's position.

After the High Court's verdict, there were protests in various parts of the country. Opposition leaders strongly demanded Indira Gandhi's resignation. Indira Gandhi was under pressure due to the country's struggling economy, rising unemployment, inflation, and food shortages, which dented her popularity.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court relieved Indira Gandhi by staying on the Allahabad High Court's decision. Immediately after the stay, the President declared a state of Emergency. It is said that the President was in the bathtub when he was asked to sign the documents.

Cartoon by Abu Abraham Showing President Fakhruddin Ahmed, Signing Proclamation of Emergency Fom His Bathtub

Cartoon by Abu Abraham Showing President Fakhruddin Ahmed, Signing Proclamation of Emergency Fom His Bathtub | Social Media

On the midnight of June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi announced the implementation of Emergency in a radio broadcast. "The President has declared Emergency. There is no need to panic," Gandhi stated in her midnight address to the nation, which triggered a wave of arrests of opposition leaders.

What had happened after declaration of Emergency?

Shortly afterward, newspaper presses throughout Delhi went dark due to a power cut, preventing any printing for the next two days. Meanwhile, in the early hours of June 26, hundreds of political leaders, activists, and trade unionists opposing the Congress Party were imprisoned. The press was censored, and the voices of the opposition were silenced.

Indira Gandhi justified the Emergency by claiming that India's security and democracy were at risk due to the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan. She defended her severe decision by stating it was necessary for swift economic development and the upliftment of the underprivileged. She also accused foreign powers of intervening to destabilize and weaken India.

In March 1977, Indira Gandhi finally announced general elections. In this election, the Congress Party suffered a crushing defeat. Indira Gandhi was unable to retain her Rae Bareli seat, and her son Sanjay Gandhi also lost from the Amethi seat.

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