Book Extract Literary Review

The Midnight Drama: Declaration of the Emergency

The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years; Pranab Mukherjee  

A few minutes before midnight on 25 June 1975, the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, proclaimed a ‘State of Emergency’ under Article 352 of the Constitution. I was in Calcutta for my Rajya Sabha election, scheduled for 26 June, and got to know of this development on the morning of the 26th. Indira Gandhi asked me to return to Delhi as soon as the election was over and meet her at the earliest. D.P. Chattopadhyaya — who was then the Minister of State for Commerce and also in Calcutta for the Rajya Sabha election — told me he had received similar summons from Delhi.

I got to the assembly building at about 9.30 a.m. It was teeming with state legislators, ministers and political leaders, some with questions and others with conspiracy theories. Some went to the extent of suggesting that, a la Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi had abrogated the Constitution and usurped power for herself, with the army in tow. I corrected these prophets of doom, saying that the Emergency had been declared according to the provisions of the Constitution rather than in spite of it. I argued that if the Constitution had indeed been abrogated, why would the Rajya Sabha election take place at all? The logic worked and people started to see reason. Around 11 a.m., Siddhartha Shankar Ray — the then Chief Minister of West Bengal — returned to Calcutta from Delhi and called me to his chamber. I met him there along with D.P. Chattopadhyaya and a couple of state ministers, one being Abdus Sattar, and discussed the developing scenario. Siddhartha babu briefed us about the happenings in Delhi the night before.

It is believed that Siddhartha Shankar Ray played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency: it was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it. In fact, Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the constitutional provisions allowing for the declaration of a state of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance, particularly since a state of Emergency had already been proclaimed as a consequence of the Indo-Pak conflict in 1971.

According to Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s deposition before the Shah Commission (set up by the Janata government to investigate the ‘excesses’ of the Emergency), he was summoned to Indira Gandhi’s residence on the morning of 25 June 1975. He reached 1 Safdarjung Road and met Indira Gandhi, who said that she had received a slew of reports indicating that the country was heading into a crisis. She told him that in view of the all-round indiscipline and lawlessness, some strong corrective measures needed to be taken.

Siddhartha babu told the Shah Commission that Indira Gandhi had, on two or three previous occasions, told him that India needed some ‘shock treatment’ and that some ‘emergent power or drastic power’ was necessary. He recalled to the Shah Commission that on one such occasion (before the announcement of the Allahabad High Court judgement on 12 June 1975), he had told her that they could take recourse to the laws already on the statute books, and cited to her the success with which he had tackled the law and order problems of West Bengal within the framework of the law. According to Siddhartha babu, Indira Gandhi then read out intelligence reports of Jayaprakash Narayan’s public meeting scheduled for that evening. The reports indicated that he would call for an all-India agitation to set up a parallel administration network as well as courts, and appeal to policemen and those in the armed forces to disobey what were supposed to be illegal orders. Indira Gandhi, he maintained, was firm in the understanding that India was drifting towards chaos and anarchy.

Excerpted with the permission of Rupa & Co.

The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years ; Pranab Mukherjee, Aleph, Rs.595.

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