Why is the National Emergency of 1975 seen as one of the most controversial times in the History of India?

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

1970s was the saddest time for many democracies all over the world. Amidst high inflation, unemployment and middleast crisis, democracies across the world grappled with plenty of existential crises.  In the US, Nixon & Agnew were threatening the foundation of US democracy by outright rigging & corruption. Both the President and Vice President were forced to exit in a period of a couple of years.

At the exact same time, India faced a much bigger existential threat under the worst of the tyrants. As her political position weakened, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought out a slew of constitutional amendments that threatened the foundation of Indian democracy.

  1. Constitutional Amendment 24 of 1971 allowed the Parliament to dilute the fundamental rights by amendments to the constitution (a meta amendment). This was in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling that stated that fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution cannot be altered.
  2. Amendment 25 of 1972 allowed the suspension of the right to private property allowing the government to take over anybody's property. 

But, the worst was yet to come.

In 1975, the High Court of Allahabad declared that the election of Indira Gandhi as fraudulent and nullified the election.  Although the nullification was based on minor charges, what followed was unexpected. To keep herself in power, Ms. Gandhi suspended Indian democracy with a variety of steps.

  1. Amendment 39 of 1975 allowed an Indian Prime Minister to ignore the courts. Thus, the Allahabad High Court order was rendered invalid.
  2. Invoked the rarest provision of the Constitution (Article 352) to declare an emergency (although no wars were in sight). Civil rights, Parliament and elections were suspended. The Prime Minister could now just rule by decree.
  3. 1000s of politicians & journalists were jailed all over the country. Protests were contained with an iron hand. Over 140,000 people were detained without trial.
  4. Censorship on newspapers was imposed. No one was allowed to write against the government.
  5. Dismissed more than 8 state governments on a single day (29th April 1977) that were against Ms. Gandhi. President's rule
  6. Forcible sterilization/family planning done on many people. In fact, this got her rule into trouble more than any of the constitutional amendments.
  7. Amendment 42 of 1977 significantly changed the nature of Indian constitution. It changed over a dozen articles and added "socialist secular" words to the Indian preamble.

After 21 months of tyranny, Ms. Gandhi restored democracy for inexplicable reasons. Elections were held immediately and expectedly Ms. Indira Gandhi was voted out. For the first time, India would elect a party other than the "Congress party".

India's popular newspapers defiantly protested the imposition of Emergency on June 26, 1975 in the following ways:
Indian Express had a blank editorial.

Times of India ran an obituary to bypass censorship

D.E.M O'Cracy beloved husband of T.Ruth, father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justica expired on 26 June

The species of Indicus is presumed exitinct.


Indira Gandhi was extremely adept at twisting the Indian institutions when it suited her. Although she had a few positive elements (even Richard Nixon did), her rule is one of tyranny, force and corruption. She strengthened terrorism movements (Sikh and Tamil) to help her score against her political opponents. She committed electoral frauds. She suspended democracy. She changed the nature of Indian constitution substantially (although the later amendments by the Janata Party helped nullify many of the amendments she did). Incidentally, she also recommended herself for the Bharat Ratna, which was eventually conferred upon her.

In short, there is nothing controversial about Ms. Gandhi. It was straightforward tyranny. Period.

Why is the National Emergency of 1975 seen as one of the most controversial times in the History of India?


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