On June 28th 1975, as a response to anti-government demonstrations, India imposed the toughest press censorship since Independence.
On June 21st 1975, the then President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared a state of emergency upon the request of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Emergency, as it is called, lasting until March 21st 1977, was marked by a “rule by decree” and suspension of civil rights of citizens, including holding elections. This period of 21 months has often been referred to as the India’s darkest hour.
There were many questionable and controversial events which led to the declaration of emergency. It all began with Indira Gandhi being blamed of using unfair means to win the 1971 elections. Jayprakash Narayan, a political leader was in complete opposition to Indira Gandhi’s government and hence was seeking to direct people against the central Government. The Congress eventually lost in Gujarat and also faced an all part no confidence motion in Parliament.
On June 12th 1975, the Allahabd High Court, upon an allegation by Jai Narain (who had been defeated in parliamentary elections by Gandhi) found Mrs. Gandhi guilty of misusing government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared Mrs. Gandhi’s election baseless and expelled her from the Lok Sabha. She was also further banned from contesting in elections for the following six years. The court had also accused her for bribing voters, misusing government property and using electricity from the state’s electricity department. Meanwhile, there was deluge of strikes across the country by trade unions and student groups, led by J.P Narayan, Raj Narain and Moraji Desai among others. Protests were carried out near the Parliament and the Prime Minister’s residence. Raj Narain was persistent in his claim that Gandhi had used fraudulent means to win the election and four years later the Allahabad High Court, passed a decision against Gandhi. This would soon prove to be one of the biggest reasons for Indira Gandhi declaring Emergency in the future.
The Indian government alleged threats to national security, since India had just then concluded a war with Pakistan. The economy of the country was in a poor shape due to the recent war and drought and 1973 oil crisis. The government said that the strikes and protests had done serious damage to the government and the economy. The declaration of Emergency led to great turmoil across the country and many loyal Congress supporters deserted Mrs. Gandhi, who had by then assumed the role of a tyrant. Democracy, in Indira Gandhi’s own words, was “brought to a grinding halt” and she advised the President to continue the Emergency over every six months, until she was ready to hold elections in 1977.
The twenty one months of emergency saw mass arrests. Leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K Advani, Charan Singh, Moraji Desai and J.P Narayan among others were put in jail. Elections for Parliament and state governments were stalled and Gandhi and her parliamentary majority re-wrote the laws of the nation since her party had the required mandate to do so. She also went ahead and declared President’s rule in states likes Gujarat and Tamil Nadu where non-Congress parties were in power. Indira Gandhi’s son, Sanjay Gandhi seemed particularly perturbed by the challenge of over population plaguing the country and ordered a mass sterilization program, primarily vasectomies, in which even unwilling men were not spared.
The Emergency also saw the imposition of a censorship of the press. The press was used as a tool in the hands of the government and news was used as per the convenience of the government to serve their motives. An absolute mockery had been made of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Editors of some newspapers in Delhi pretended to be campaigners against the Emergency, but were nothing more then mere puppets in the hands of the government.
The Emergency was finally called off on March 21st 1977 and in the Lok Sabha elections which followed saw Indira Gandhi and son Sanjay Gadhi lose their Lok Sabha seats. The Janata Party gained a massive majority and Moraji Desai went on to become the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India.
The Emergency has found a place for itself in popular culture and features in books like Midnight’s Children by Booker prize winning author Salman Rushdie, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and India: A Wounded Civilization by V.S Naipaul among others. Films which have touched upon the Emergency have been Kissa Kursee Ka by Amrit Nahata, Hirak Rajar Deshe by Satyajit Ray, Aandhi and Maachis by Gulzar and Nasbandi by I.S Johar.
Also on this day:
1921 - P.V. Narasimha Rao is born.
1928 - Famous painter Baburao Sadvelkar is born.