The Emergency: The Undoing of Indira Gandhi

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On 26 June 1975, the people of India woke up to find that they had lost their constitutional rights and liberties. Their cherished democracy had been crushed in one fell swoop when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency at midnight.

After reaching the zenith of her rule in 1971, Indira found herself in a sea of trouble. The Bangladesh War had led to a massive influx of refugees, food prices soared, corruption was rampant and the economy was in tatters.

Jaiprakash Narayan | Asian Age
Jaiprakash Narayan | Asian Age

Then, on 12 June 1975, Indira was found guilty of electoral malpractices. When her opponents, most notably Jayaprakash Narayan, demanded her resignation, she responded with “shock treatment”. She declared Emergency.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Zee News
Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Zee News

It was one of the darkest chapters in Modern India. Indira arrested her top political opponents, including Jayaprakash Narayan, A B Vajpayee and L K Advani and Congress dissidents under Chandrashekhar. She reduced Parliament to a rubber stamp and gagged the media.

George Fernandes in shackles | Deccan Herald
George Fernandes in shackles | Deccan Herald

George Fernandes, the only prominent Opposition leader to evade the police net, was arrested in the Baroda Dynamite case in 1976. The iconic image of George in shackles became a powerful metaphor of the Emergency, reminding the people of the loss of their freedom.

The Press took a body blow. While most newspapers caved under heavy censorship, on 28 June 1975, The Indian Express and The Statesman left their front-page editorial sections blank as a symbolic protest. Noted journalist and author Kuldip Nayar too was arrested.

Indira’s son Sanjay emerged as an extra-constitutional authority in mid-1976. He had top politicians and bureaucrats dancing to his tune. His family-planning programme spread terror among men and women, as they were forced to undergo sterilization procedures.

On 18 January 1977, Gandhi called general elections and released several Opposition leaders. The Emergency ended on 21 March 1977. In the elections that month, Indira lost and the Janata Party led by Morarji Desai came to power. It was the dawn of a new era.

Cover Image: Indian Express

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