The Emergency of 1975 was one of the darkest periods in the history of modern India. Imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the night of June 25, it took away the freedom and civil liberties of ordinary citizens, it saw her political rivals being jailed, and it crushed all opposition to her rule.
While Gandhi claimed she took the decision to check ‘internal disturbances’ in the country – Sarvodaya leader and former socialist Jayprakash Narayan had already given the ‘Indira Hatao’ cry – it is well known that the Iron Lady took this hugely controversial step to hold on to power.
While for most Indians, ‘Emergency’ is therefore synonymous with ‘Indira Gandhi’, did you know that a state of Emergency has been declared in India not once, but three times? On the first two occasions, in 1962 and 1971, a National Emergency had been proclaimed on grounds of war or ‘external aggression’ or ‘external threats to the nation’.
Emergency #1: 1962
The first Emergency was declared by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 26th October 1962, when the Indo-China War broke out. Even though a ceasefire was declared less than a month later, Nehru did not revoke the Emergency.
The first Emergency was still in force when the Indo-Pak War broke out in 1965. Although hostilities ended with the Tashkent Agreement being signed on 11th January 1966, the Emergency was lifted only on 10th January 1968.
Emergency #2: 1971
The second Emergency was declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 3rd December 1971, when the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out. Although the hostilities ended within two weeks, on 17th December, the state of Emergency was not revoked.
Emergency #3: 1975
With the second Emergency still in force, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared India’s third Emergency on 25th June 1975. Her election in 1971 had been challenged in court and the tide seemed to be turning against her. The previous day, on 24th June, the Supreme Court had given her a reprieve but if she lost the case, she would have to step down as Prime Minister.
There was only one thing left to do – declare a state of Emergency.
The third Emergency lasted 21 months, from 1975 to 1977 and remains one of the most controversial periods in Independent India’s political history. Both the proclamations of Emergency, of 1971 and 1975, were revoked in 1977.
Gandhi lost the elections that year and the Janata Party came to power. The Constitution was amended to stipulate the conditions under which an internal Emergency could be declared – the term ‘internal disturbance’ was replaced with ‘armed rebellion’.
DID YOU KNOW?
It’s called an ‘Emergency’ because the government invokes the ‘emergency’ provisions of the Constitution. During this time, citizens’ rights are curtailed, civil liberties suspended, and the powers of the Executive and Legislative branches of the government are expanded.
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