Emergency: The Dark Age of Indian democracy

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The Emergency was set in motion by the Indira Gandhi government on June 25, 1975 and was in place for 21 months till its withdrawal on March 21, 1977. The order gave Ms. Gandhi the authority to rule by decree wherein civil liberties were curbed. An external Emergency was already in place even before the imposition of the internal one.


The Emergency was officially issued by the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. With the suspension of the Fundamental rights, politicians who opposed Ms. Gandhi were arrested. Threat to national security and bad economic conditions were cited as reasons for the declaration. In Tamil Nadu, the Karunanidhi government was dissolved. The DMK leader’s son M.K. Stalin was arrested amidst protests under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act.

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    Chennai’s newspapers go blank

    Writer Gnani, who was the working as a reporter in a newspaper in Chennai, recalls how the city reacted. “Among the politically aware, there was confusion as to what will happen... “The Censor wanted to kill newspapers by delaying approvals. Along with letting pages go blank, sometimes innocuous stuff like how to make onion raitha (salad) would be printed since political news could not be taken,” he says.

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    Calcutta’s prophets of doom

    “I was in Calcutta for my Rajya Sabha election, scheduled for 26 June,” writes President Pranab Mukherjee in his book The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Years. “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.”

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    Gun shots in Delhi

    There was nothing wild or exaggerated, however, about what the bush telegraph said concerning the police firing at Delhi's Turkman Gate where slums were demolished and those living in them "relocated". Soon thereafter, gunfire was heard also at Muzaffarnagar, a town in Uttar Pradesh, 100 km away from the national capital. Above all, forced vasectomies, in pursuance of one of the five points in Sanjay's personal agenda, were to spread both fear and revulsion across North India.

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    Arrests in Bangalore

    Several senior BJP leaders now, including the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani and socialist leaders such as Shyam Nandan Mishra and Madhu Dandavate, were arrested in Bangalore on June 26... With so many leading figures in the same jail, Bangalore became an important point in the movement to oppose Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

>Unlearnt lessons of the Emergency - Subramanian Swamy

When attempts at seeking homogeneity of Indian society are carried beyond a point, it is dangerous for democracy... Those of us who can stand up, must do so now.

>Mastering the drill of democracy - Gopalkrishna Gandhi

The Emergency is a distant memory today because the nation’s collective spine did not bend, the media stayed unbent and the judiciary remained independent.

>BJP uses Emergency to target Congress

The PM recalled the “darkest days” of Indian democracy when “the nation was bound with chains and turned into a jail due to one person’s lust for power”.

>Declaration of the Emergency

The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years by Pranab Mukherjee gives an insider’s account of one of the most turbulent times in Indian history.

>Advani fears another Emergency

“Now, the forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger,” says the veteran leader.

The Emergency in 7 seconds: Check out The Hindu's Vine video!

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 12:57:57 PM |

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