News / 44th anniversary: When Indira Gandhi declared Emergency after these setbacks

India Today : Jun 25, 2019, 12:02 PM

Little after midnight on June 26, 1975, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made this announcement on All India Radio: "The President has declared a state of Emergency. There is no need to panic." These words spelt doom for the fundamental rights that Constitution gave to the citizens of the country. All rights except the right to life were suspended.

In one sweep, leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Asoka Mehta and all other Opposition leaders of any significance were deposited behind the bars. A number of activists and journalists were also arrested under Defence of India rules and Maintenance of Internal Security Act.

The news, however, was broken to public by BBC World Service broadcast at 7.30 am on June 26. It reported that large-scale arrests had taken place during the night. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad was the President who signed the declaration of Emergency proposed by Indira Gandhi despite it having not been approved by the Union cabinet.

A January 8, 1975 note written by the then West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray to Indira Gandhi makes it clear that Emergency had been planned in advance.

Indira Gandhi was clearly paranoid with the developments that threatened her tenure as the prime minister of the country despite having won the last Lok Sabha elections against all odds and earning the epithet of Goddess Durga after the 1971 war with Pakistan.

Here are the five incidents that shook Indira Gandhi, who responded with declaring National Emergency for the third and the final time:

Gujarat agitation

Chimanbhai Patel was the Gujarat chief minister when trouble began for the Congress. Corruption was the order of the day. "Chiman chor" was the nickname used by his opponents in Gujarat. Public anger was rising.

A hike in fee -- tuition and canteen charges -- brought the students of LD College of Engineering in Ahmedabad out on the streets in December, 1973. They resorted to a strike. The protest turned infectious with students from other colleges joining hands.

In a month's time, the Gujarat University erupted in protest with students demanding dismissal of Chimanbhai Patel government. They called their movement, the Navanirman Movement.

Morarji Desai, who had lost out to Indira Gandhi in the race for prime ministership in 1967 and also in 1971 saw an opportunity in students' anger. Desai threw his weight behind the movement and launched a fast-unto-death agitation. Indira Gandhi budged and dismissed the Patel government placing Gujarat under President's Rule in February 1974.

JP movement in Bihar

Bihar too had an inefficient and unpopular chief minister in Abdul Ghafoor. Taking cue from Gujarat, the students of Patna University launched a similar movement in Bihar in March 1974. The agitation gathered momentum with students from other universities coming together. But the government responded with repression.

Police action against the students created a sympathy wave for the student leaders -- including Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. The veteran Gandhian JP Narayan, who had refused a cabinet berth offered by Indira Gandhi's father Jawaharlal Nehru, came out of political oblivion to provide leadership to the student movement.

In June 1974, JP led a march giving call for "Sampoorna Kranti" (total revolution) and removal of Indira Gandhi. JP's entry in the students movement changed the complexion of anti-Indira agitation making it a national campaign.

Railway strike led by George Fernandes

During early 1970s, George Fernades had emerged as a magnetic trade union leader. He commanded almost the entire 14 lakh workforce of the Indian Railways. While Bihar was divided into two sharp camps and was the theatre of violence and protests, George Fernandes paralysed the transportation network of the country in May 1974.

A nationwide strike of transport workers had been led by George Fernandes for three weeks bringing the country practically to a standstill. He had challenged the might of Indira Gandhi.

The protests against Indira Gandhi and strikes by trade unions continued throughout 1974. While chaos prevailed in the matters of governance, a highly influential and a potential rival to Indira Gandhi in the central government, LN Mishra -- the then Railway Minister and an MP from Bihar -- was killed on January 1975 in a bomb attack at Samastipur railway station.

Mishra was a popular figure in Bihar. Doctors were apparently not allowed to attend to the injured Union minister. The delay in treatment and subsequent death of Mishra gave further ammunition to anti-Indira political tank.

Jagmohan Lal Sinha's order

After his defeat in 1971 elections at Rae Bareli, socialist leader Raj Narain filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging the victory of Indira Gandhi from the constituency. He had accused Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices including misuse of official position.

On June 12, 1975, the Allahabad High Court judge Jagamohan Lal Sinha delivered his verdict holding Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractice. The judgment declared Indira Gandhi's election as invalid. The order was subject to appeal in the Supreme Court. The same day, the Congress lost election in Gujarat to a five-party coalition that had support of JP and Morarji Desai.

Indira Gandhi roped in top lawyer of the time Nani Palkhiwala to represent her in the Supreme Court. It was summer break time in the Supreme Court. The vacation bench of Justice VR Krishna Iyer ordered a stay on the Allahabad High Court judgment on June 24, 1975. Indira Gandhi didn't have to resign.

The Supreme Court stay order worked to JP and Desai's advantage. They organised a rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on June 25, 1975 -- a day after the Supreme Court order. At this rally, JP gave a call to the army and police not to follow the orders of Indira Gandhi government.

Morarji Desai said, "We intend to overthrow her, force her to resign" before declaring that "the lady won't survive our movement".

Hours after Desai and JP finished speaking at Ramlila Maidan, Indira Gandhi - coaxed by her son Sanjay Gandhi -- decided to impose National Emergency. Before dawn, the task was accomplished and for 21 months Indira Gandhi presided over a reign of repression.