Home » 49 Years Since Emergency: Indira Gandhi’s Power Centralization

49 Years Since Emergency: Indira Gandhi’s Power Centralization

by Rajesh
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Indira Gandhi addressing the nation

On June 25, 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a 21-month state of Emergency in India, significantly impacting civil liberties.

Article 352 of the Indian Constitution authorizes the President to declare an Emergency if the nation faces a severe threat to its security, whether due to war, external aggression, or armed rebellion.

Here’s an overview of the Emergency of 1975:

Indira Gandhi announced the Emergency in a broadcast on All India Radio late on June 25, 1975. This came shortly after the Supreme Court issued a conditional stay on the Allahabad High Court’s verdict that had declared her election to the Lok Sabha invalid. The Supreme Court directed Gandhi to refrain from participating in parliamentary proceedings. In her midnight address to the nation, Gandhi stated, “The President has proclaimed Emergency. There is nothing to panic about,” leading to the arrest of numerous opposition leaders.

The Congress party, led by Indira Gandhi, had secured a significant victory in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, winning 352 seats in the 521-member Parliament. Her political standing was strong, bolstered by the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971. However, India was experiencing significant instability, marked by the Navnirman student agitation in Gujarat, Jayaprakash Narayan’s (JP) movement in Bihar, and the 1974 Railway strike led by George Fernandes. Additionally, on June 12, 1975, the Allahabad High Court invalidated Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli.

The Congress party’s defeat in the Gujarat elections to a coalition of five parties and an opposition rally at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi on June 26, 1975, increased pressure on Gandhi and contributed to the decision to impose the Emergency.

Key opposition leaders, including JP, L K Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Morarji Desai, along with numerous activists, were imprisoned soon after the Emergency was declared. The 21-month period is also remembered for its excesses, such as forced mass sterilizations, press censorship, suspension of constitutional rights, and centralization of power.

In a surprising move, Gandhi called for elections on January 18, 1977, in the same abrupt manner the Emergency had been imposed. The general elections took place between March 16 and March 20, and the Emergency was lifted on March 21, 1977.

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