India’s State of Emergency

A state of emergency in a country is called upon by the president of the nation when it is perceived that the country is at utmost threat and risk either from internal or external sources or from extreme financial crises. The president can consult with the advice of his cabinet, and through article 352 of the Constitution of India, he can overrule the provisions of the Constitution that he feels are necessary to help curb the situation. He can also overrule provisions that guarantee the fundamental rights of the citizens. To date, India has had three emergencies declared. The first Emergency was declared in 1962 during the India-China War. The second Emergency was declared in 1971 during the Indo-Pakistan War. The third state of Emergency was declared with effect on June 25, 1975. It lasted till March 21, 1977, which was a vast period of twenty-one months. This period of the Emergency is regarded by many as a very dark and controversial time in the history of India. To get a better understanding of the situation, it is important to understand what happened in 1975.

What happened in the third emergency?

The Emergency was issued by the then-president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who was influenced by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. According to the order issued, the Prime Minister had the right to cancel elections, to take any decision alone, and to cancel civil liberties. Indira Gandhi had just been issued a court order by the Supreme Court, which stated that her election result was null and she would not be allowed to contest in the elections for the next six years. This order was issued because she had been found guilty of malpractices in the elections. After this order was issued, the Congress party was given twenty days to find a replacement for their leader and Prime Minister India Gandhi. Within days of the order, Indira Gandhi proposed a state of Emergency to the president, who then passed it. She declared a state of Emergency on the entire country under the pretext of internal disturbance. In this Emergency, political opponents of Indira Gandhi were imprisoned, the press and media were censored, human rights were violated, and a mass countrywide forced and compulsory sterilization campaign was conducted, headed by her son, Sanjay Gandhi. By invoking Article 352, Indira Gandhi gave herself multiple extraordinary powers. Police forces were used to arrest and hold thousands of protestors in detention. There were many amendments made to the Constitution, which were later nullified by the next government.

The grave situation of loss of democracy and freedom was shown by the media in quiet and silent protests. The Financial Express printed Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high…….. Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”. The Indian Express carried a blank page instead of an editorial. The Times of India posted an obituary in the Bombay edition of their newspaper. It read as, “D’OCracy – D.E.M., beloved husband of T. Ruth, loving father of L.I. Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope, Justicia, expired on June 26”. This cleverly worded obituary showed the sorry and dark state of democracy and the country. Even entertainment media was censored by the government. Movies that spoke either about Indira Gandhi, the Emergency, her involvement in the ongoings or the situation in the country were banned, and the movie posters were burned at various places. When Kishore Kumar refused to sing for a Congress rally, even his songs were banned from being played on the radio. In spite of the division throughout the country, the military did not join sides. They chose to remain apolitical throughout the Emergency. The army even refused to provide help with the water requirement at a huge Congress rally at the India Gate. They made their stand very clear that they would not be doing anything to support the state of Emergency in the country.

In January of 1977, Indira Gandhi released her opposition leaders and supporters who had been held as prisoners in the jails throughout the Emergency. She again called for elections in March, when she actually and officially ended the state of Emergency of the country. She did not win in this election due to the overwhelming majority against her and the Congress party after the Emergency. The Emergency was one of the most controversial political events in the history of independent India. It shows that despite all the fundamental rights of citizens, people in power can abuse their powers and take it all away. Therefore, it is very important to choose who leads us so that we choose someone who leads us towards the light, not someone who leads us into the dark.