Posted on: October 17, 2020 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Author : Shriya Khurana, Bennett University, Greater Noida


One of the main principles of constitutionalism is, separation of powers. Every article in our constitution has been drafted with great care to avoid any scenario which might give rise to dictatorship that is, a regime of centralised powers and a little to no freedom guaranteed to the citizens. India is a proud democracy which textually grants a huge amount of freedom to its citizens.

However articles 352, 356 and 360 have also been drafted with bonafide intentions providing extraordinary power to the president to meet with any threat ever faced by India. That is imposition of emergency ( national, internal, financial). Emergency is highly regarded as a grave period for the citizens where several of the rights previously granted are suspended lying dormant and the powers lying with the government are centralised in a structural way to battle any kind of threat faced by the nation.


On 25th of June, 1975 national emergency was imposed in India the reasoning behind the same still remains unclear. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrote to the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed asking for the formal declaration of imposition of National emergency under Article 352 of Indian constitution due to the existence of imminent danger to the security of India. On the basis of this the president invoked Article 352, suspending the majority rights of the public including their right to approach the court and to know the reason behind their detention. The emergency continued for a period of 21 months. During this period elections were also suspended only to be conducted in 1977 right before the emergency was called off.


There have been mixed reasonings regarding the same thereby explaining the floating ambiguities. Any substantiated reasoning behind the same has still not been established clearly however we do have a number of theories to work with.


An excerpt from News 18 provides us with one view. There was high socio-economic instability in India following the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war and increasing amount of refugees encroaching upon Indian soil. There existed some tensions between the Indian and US Government, all aids coming to India were abruptly stopped which resulted in a sudden increase in the domestic inflation rate. In January, 1974 President’s rule was imposed in the state of Gujrat due to protests led by students regarding the inflation and ever widening disparity between the rich and the poor. After the imposition of Presidential rule the demand for fresh elections arose.

Bihar on the other hand witnessed social protests led by Jayaprakash Narayan. On 25th of June a huge rally surged through the veins of Delhi demanding Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s resignation under the umbrella of Satyagraha (Holding on to the truth). Indira Gandhi perceived this as a threat to the very concept of Democracy and soon after railway employees went on a nationwide strike. All of these situations together birthed Emergency of 1975-1977.[1]


The largely prevalent school of thought talks about internal disturbance as the main reason behind the emergency. However this was later contradicted by the Prime Minister herself in 1978, in an interview with journalist Mr. Jonathan Dimbleby. When PM Gandhi was questioned on the reasoning behind the emergency she defended her decision by referring to the ‘destabilization’ of the continent. According to her the threat faced by India was both internal and external. She defined the 21 month period as a state of war in order to justify all the baseless and arbitrary arrests that took place. When questioned on the arrest of Mr. Moraji Desai she called him as well as several other opposing ministers as great threats to the very institution of democracy.

On the matter of restrictions on press Mrs Gandhi replied by saying that newspapers are a party of force which is there to obstruct the social and economic changes. The exact text of government regulation imposed on the press is as follows, “Guarantees Certain safeties for the state the chief censor must see everything before it’s published and the speeches of members of parliament must not be published in any manner only the speeches of ministers.” Mrs. Gandhi termed this step as proper management of censorship and justified all the alleged atrocities that took place during the state of  emergency under the name of internal as well as external war.[2]


The Shah commission was constituted under section 3 of the Inquiry Act 1952 by the Janata party in 1977. The commission was set up to inquire into the illegalities and the excesses conducted during the period of emergency. It was headed by Justice Shah former chief justice of India. There exist three volumes of the report dated from March 1978 to August 1978. The commission was criticised on the grounds of carrying out an investigation instead of an inquiry which was later rectified by Justice Shah. All the three reports served different purposes

 The first report dealt with the reasoning behind the imposition of emergency, according the commission the only viable reason backed with evidence for imposition was due to the Allahabad High Court judgement. The judgment so passed declared Mrs. Gandhi’s elections fraudulent and stripped her of her position of MP. When this decision was appealed by her in the Supreme Court the court put a stay on her. The commission regarded the survival of her power as the reason for emergency rather than the survival of the state. They contended that no records, police reports, parliamentary discussion were ever found to substantiate the state of internal disturbance prevalent in India.

The working of media during the emergency was also criticised under the first report along with several cases that hinted towards unlawful appointments of several executive officials by the Prime Minister.[3]

The second report dealt with misuse of media in order to portray the emergency in a positive light it also talks about the arrests and detentions of prominent ministers that took place during that regime. The report further discusses various demolitions that took place in Delhi such as Karol Bagh, Turkman Gate, Arya Samaj Mandir, Arjun Nagar and so on. The next chapter discussed the gravity of the Turkman Gate firing incident and the involvement of Mr. Sanjay Gandhi in the same. The report concluded with general observations which talked about setting up special courts in order to hear the appeals of the victims that suffered gravely during the period of emergency. Parliament passed an act to set up the same but when Congress came back in power in 1980 the courts were abolished by India Gandhi on the grounds of illegally setting up of the same.[4]

The Third report compiled several cases of torture during periods of detention. One such case was of Shri Lawrence Fernandes who was detained for over a day beaten with sticks and not provided with food and water all to force out some information from him. The report categorially mentions several other cases of abuse of power and blatant infringement of the basic fundamental and human rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution. Further chapters dealt with centralised abuse of authority, nationwide demolitions, the manner of disposal of complaints.[5]

In a later interview with the PM the report was criticised. Mrs. Gandhi described the report as an ‘one sided prejudiced report.’ She further went on to say that Justice Shah was an influenced party as he disliked the rule of congress and often disagreed with their policies even before his appointment such as the policy of nationalisation of banks was highly criticised by him. Another allegation made by her was that Justice Shah had often spoken against her on public platform and this made him a biased party to conduct the inquiry due to blatant conflict of interests. When she came back in power in 1980 she recalled all the copies of the report however the reports were printed in the form of a book by Jayantilal Chhotalal Shah, edited by Era Sezhiyan the book is known as Shah Commission Report: Lost and regained.


By many academicians the period of emergency is termed as the darkest hours of democracy. Everything that the constitution stands for was declared redundant within seconds, initially right after the imposition of emergency there was a power cut to stop the press from printing. The Union government further banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Several other autocratic decisions were taken by the Union.


Mrs Gandhi’s 20 point program made no mention of family planning however when the state of emergency was imposed mass sterilisation was one of the most cruel as well as tyrannical act that took place under the regime of Congress. Mr. Sanjay Gandhi allegedly conducted forceful mass sterilisation of the poor population. These people were abducted from their respective villages taken to hospitals where surgeries were forcefully performed on them. More than 70 lakh people were forcefully sterilised all to achieve a lower rate of population and to implement his agenda for the next election.[6] However this backfired on him and later he came to be known for his cruel acts and his directs swings to knock down the very basic principles that the constitution has bestowed upon us. Many women and men died due to botched sterilisation, one such incident that came to light was in Chhattisgarh where 15 women died in 2 state run sterilisation camps. There are statistics mentioned in several esteemed newspapers that back the allegation. According to BBC news around 2000 men all over India died due to botched sterilisations.[7]


The main function of the media is to conduct dialogue between the population and the government. During the emergency this bridge for open dialogue itself was dismantled, there was no sense of accountability and responsibility. Our democracy was ridiculed and turned into a regime of dictatorship. There was no space for public opinion and democratic dialogue the news printed was one sided and dictated by the government itself. Judiciary was for namesake the people had no right to approach the court. The entire system of justice that was built after years of hard work came crumbling down within days. Foreign correspondents were expelled and even the National as well as local dailies needed prior approval from government before printing anything. The media became a puppet in the hands of Congress.[8]


Several eminent personalities were detained without so much as an explanation all done in the name of some threat existing to the democracy.

  • Arun Jaitley was detained for 19 months and as a result lost an academic year. He was treated like a criminal without even knowing the reason behind his arrest.
  • Prakash Javedkar was initially refused medical treatment while in jail which he was in dire need of. It took a protest by the entire prison to draw attention to his medical needs.
  • Several other ministers such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandra Shekhar, Lal Krishna Advani, Sharad Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav etcetera. Citizens were also arrested under the acts of MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act), COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act), AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act).
  • Several thousands of people were imprisoned tortured and killed in prisons. Several of these stories never even came to light and were categorically buried by the government.
  • Our present Prime Minister Narendra Modi disguised himself as a Sikh in order to escape arrests[9].

All of this in itself paints a bloody and painful picture of the murder of democracy.


On 23rd of January, 1977 when the emergency was still in place Janata Party (People’s front) was formed by a coalition of several opposition leaders mainly Mr. Moraji Desai. The elections began on 16th of march and on 21st of march the state of emergency was abolished. Janata Party came in power with a clear majority. The government then set up the Shah commission to look into the period of emergency. On the basis of this Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Sanjay Gandhi faced criminal allegations and were imprisoned. This later backfired on Janata Party as people expressed themselves strongly against the arrest. After the coalition fell in 1980 Congress came back to power once again.


The emergency was an enigmatic and dark period in the India history. However we made a full recovery with minimal damages after the brutal attack on democracy it emerged out stronger than ever. Times like these remind us the importance of our constitution. We the people of India possess the power to make every person in the government accountable to us and that as long as democracy shall live in India we the people are accounted for.


[1] Ahona Sengupta, News 18, Emergency of 1975, June 25’ 2019

[2]  TV Eye / re-telecast by India Times. 1 October 1978. Retrieved 14 June 2018.

[3]Shah commission of inquiry, interim report 1, March 11, 1978

[4] Shah commission of inquiry, interim report 2, April 26, 1978

[5] Shah commission of inquiry, third and final report, August 6, 1978

[6] India Today, How did emergency get mixed up with sterilization, Ashish Bose, February 15, 1978

[7] BBC News, India’s dark history of sterilization, Soutik Biswas, 14 November 2014

[8] India Today, When media was muzzled: history retold, Prabash K Dutta, August 3, 2018

[9] Business Standard, From Vajpayee to Jaitley: Leaders who fought against 1975 emergency, 26 June 2018

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