History of Emergency Imposed by Prime Ministry Indira Gandhi (1975-1977)

Context: The new session of the Lok Sabha (18th) started with an intriguing development when the newly-elected Speaker initiated a motion to condemn the Emergency imposed in 1975. 

Introduction: In 1975, India experienced its greatest political crisis since independence when Internal Emergency was declared on 26 June. The Emergency  was a 21-month period from 1975 to 1977. 

Crisis in the Pre-Emergency period:

  • By the beginning of 1973 popularity of the Government led by Indira Gandhi began to decline.
  • Little dent was being made in rural or urban poverty or economic inequality, nor was there any lessening of caste and class oppression in the countryside.
  • The immediate provocation for the rising discontent was the marked deterioration in the economic situation. A combination of recession, growing unemployment, rampant inflation and scarcity of foodstuffs created a serious crisis.
  • The burden of feeding and sheltering nearly 10 million refugees from Bangladesh during 1971 had depleted the grain reserves and, combined with the cost of the Bangladesh war, had led to a large budgetary deficit. The war had also drained foreign exchange reserves. 
  • Monsoon rains failed for two years in succession during 1972 and 1973, leading to a terrible drought in most parts of the country and a massive shortage of foodgrains, and fuelling their prices.
  • The year 1973 also witnessed the notorious oil shock when world prices of crude oil increased fourfold, leading to massive increase in the prices of petroleum products and fertilizers. This drained foreign reserves, further increased the budgetary deficit and deepened economic recession.
  • Economic recession, unemployment, price rise and scarcity of goods led to large-scale industrial unrest and a wave of strikes in different parts of the country during 1972 and 1973, culminating in an all-India railway strike in May 1974. The railway strike lasted twenty-two days but was broken in the end. 
  • In May 1973, there was a mutiny in Uttar Pradesh by the Provincial Armed Constabulary , which clashed with the army sent to discipline it, leading to the death of over thirty-five constables and soldiers.
  • To tackle the deteriorating economic, political and law and order situation firm and clear leadership was needed, as exhibited during the Bangladesh crisis and in the handling of foreign affairs.

The Emergency: 

  • The then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed proclaimed Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution because of prevailing “internal disturbance”
  • The proclamation suspended the federal provisions of the constitution and Fundamental Rights and civil liberties.
  • The government imposed strict censorship on the Press and stifled all protest and opposition to the government.
  • The main leaders of the Opposition were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), 1971. Among those arrested were Jay Prakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress dissidents such as Chandra Shekhar.
  • A series of decrees, laws and constitutional amendments reduced the powers of the judiciary to check the functioning of the executive.
  • The Defence of India Act and MISA were amended in 1975 to the detriment of the citizens’ liberties.
  • Another law, Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act passed in 1974, was also frequently used to target political opponents
  • In 1976, an effort was made to change the basic civil libertarian structure of the constitution through its 42nd Amendment.
  • Popular hopes were raised and in 1975, Twenty-Point Programme by Indira Gandhi was announced. Its aim was the socio- economic upliftment of the vast mass of the rural poor.
    • The programme promised to liquidate the existing debt of landless labourers, small farmers and rural artisans and extend alternative credit to them, abolish bonded labour. 
    • It aimed to implement the existing agricultural land ceiling laws and distribute surplus land to the landless, provide house sites to landless labourers and weaker sections, revise upwards minimum wages of agricultural labour, provide special help to the handloom industry, prevent tax evasion and smuggling. 
    • Three million house sites were provided to the landless and the Dalits.
    • About 1.1 million acres of surplus land was distributed to the landless; this was, however, less than 10 percent of the surplus land.
    • The Bonded Labour System stands abolished throughout the country with the enactment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

Discontentment among people:

  • Within a few months, however, the people started getting disillusioned with the Emergency.
  • Popular discontent from mid-1976 reached its zenith six months later.
  • Relief to the people did not last long. Economic growth of the first year of the Emergency was not sustained.
  • Agricultural output declined; prices rose by 10 per cent by the end of 1976.
  • The corrupt, black marketeers and smugglers resumed their activities as the shock of the Emergency wore off.
  • The poor were disenchanted with the slow progress in their welfare and workers were unhappy because of limits on wages, bonus and dearness allowance and restrictions on the right to strike
  • Government servants and teachers became discontented because they were being disciplined in their workplaces and in many cases were being forced to fulfil sterilization quotas. 
  • So far as the common people were concerned, matters took a turn for the worse, for there were no avenues of protest or any other mechanism for the voicing and redressal of their grievances. Even common people and not merely intellectuals and political workers lived in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity .
  • The bureaucracy and the police now have increased power that ‘was unchecked by criticism and exposure from the Press’. 
  • A major reason for the growing unpopularity of the Emergency regime was, however, the development of an extra-constitutional centre of power associated with the rise to political power of Sanjay Gandhi, who held no office in the government or Congress.
  • Pushed by Sanjay Gandhi, the government decided to promote family planning more vigorously and even in an arbitrary, illegitimate and authoritarian manner. Incentives and persuasion were increasingly replaced by compulsion and coercion and above all by compulsory sterilization.
  • Thus, the climate of fear and repression, corruption and abuse of authority and excesses committed by the authorities prevailed. 

Prelims Previous Year Question (2018): 

  1. Consider the following events:
  2. The first democratically elected communist party government formed in a State in India. 
  3. India’s then largest bank, ‘Imperial Bank of India’, was renamed ‘State Bank of India’. 
  4. Air India was nationalised and became the national carrier. 
  5. Goa became a part of Independent India. 

Which of the following is the correct chronological sequence of the above events?





Answer: (b)

  • In 1953, India nationalized all Indian airlines, creating two corporations—one for domestic service, called Indian Airlines Corporation (merging Air-India Limited with six lesser lines), and one for international service, Air-India International Corporation.
  • The Reserve Bank of India, which is the Central Bank of India, acquired a controlling interest in the Imperial Bank of India in 1955. On 1 July 1955, the Imperial Bank of India became the State Bank of India.
  • First democratically elected communist party government formed in a state in India in 1957. The Kerala Legislative Assembly election of 1957 was the first assembly election in the Indian state of Kerala. 
  • In 1961, India took control over Goa and integrated it into India.

Practice Question for Prelims:

  1. Consider the following statements with reference to Post Independent developments in India:
  2. The National Emergency in 1975 was proclaimed by the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. 
  3. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was introduced by the Union Government during the period of emergency. 
  4. During the period of emergency, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was enacted. 

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a)1 and 2 only 

(b)2 and 3 only 

(c)1 and 3 only

(d)1, 2 and 3 

Answer: (c)

  • The then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed proclaimed Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution because of prevailing “internal disturbance”. Hence, statement 1 is correct. 
  • Before the emergency, the government passed draconian laws. One of these was the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), 1971. The Defence of India Act and MISA were amended in 1975 to the detriment of the citizens’ liberties. Hence, statement 2 is not correct. 

The Bonded Labour System stands abolished throughout the country with the enactment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. Hence, statement 3 is correct.

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