The Emergency 1975 - 1977





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The Emergency 1975 - 1977

The President issued the Proclamation of Emergency on the grounds of internal disturbances in June 1975. The Congress under Indira Gandhi committed several excesses during this phase, jailed opposition, censored press, passed arbitrary laws, thus tainting democratic experience in India irrevocably.

The Emergency 1975 - 1977

President Fakruddin Ali Ahmed
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
Date of Proclamation 25th - 26th June, 1975
Grounds Internal Disturbances
Date of Revocation March, 1977

The President of India, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed on the advice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, issued the Proclamation of Emergency under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution on the grounds of internal disturbances on the midnight of 25th-26th June 1975. [ref]

The Congress under Indira Gandhi committed several excesses during this phase, jailed opposition, censored press, passed arbitrary laws, etc. that tainted the democratic experience in India irrevocably.

Since the war with Pakistan in 1971 India was already in a declared stage of emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution.  This emergency was on account of external aggression.

The official reason for the proclamation was a threat to public order. Yet several scholars believe that a greater reason was that Mrs. Indira Gandhi had been unseated as a member of parliament in an election petition by the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court had only granted a conditional stay of the High Court order, in order to continue in power, she made an imposition of the emergency provisions. [ref][ref]

Towards Emergency

Poor Governance

Total Revolution

The unquestioned leader of the anti-Mrs Gandhi movement was Jayaprakash Narayan. His call for "total revolution" included preventing elected members of state legislatives from entering Vidhan Sabha buildings. He announced his intention to gherao Parliament House and even asked the police and the army to revolt against the government.

Raj Narain Vs Indira Gandhi

The Socialist leader Raj Narain who had lost the 1971 elections to Smt. Indira Gandhi, filed an election petition challenging the validity of her election before the Allahabad High Court. On 12th June 1975, news arrived that Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court had unseated Mrs. Indira Gandhi as a Member of Parliament and declared her election as null and void.

She was accused of spending more money on the elections than permissible and having secured services of Yashpal Kapoor, a public servant, to further her election process.  She was held guilty of corrupt practices.

By the evening of 12th June, large demonstrations were organized outside the Prime Minister’s residence that the judgement of Allahabad High Court should not be accepted.

An appeal to the Supreme Court was immediately prepared and filed by Mrs. Gandhi.  She succeeded in getting Nani Palkhivala to appear for her.  It was the month of June and the Vacation Judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer was to hear this appeal and the possible grant of interim order against the High Court judgement.  

Before the hearing, the Law Minister Gokhale wanted to meet Justice Krishna Iyer and discuss the case with him.  The judge asked Gokhale the purpose of the meeting which Gokhale told him honestly. The judge politely declined the meeting. [ref]

The Judge heard Palkhivala for Indira Gandhi and Shanti Bhushan for Raj Narain and passed the usual order which is passed in election appeals.  The appeal was admitted.  Palkhivala’s request for a stay on the judgement of the Allahabad High Court was rejected.  Indira Gandhi could attend Parliament but could not speak as a Member of Parliament.  She could speak only as the Prime Minister.


The first Act after the imposition of the Emergency was the detention of the political opposition under the Preventive Detention Law. District Magistrates and Collectors were handed over blank detention forms to enable them detain thousands of leaders and workers of the political opposition. Just the name, father’s name and address of each detainee was filled in hand. No grounds of detention existed in any case. Police stations were advised to register identical FIRs arresting ordinary political workers under the Defence of India Rules after alleging that they were either members of banned organisation or were threatening to overthrow the Government. Nine High Courts in the country held that the detention order were justiciable and in the absence of the grounds of detention the same could be quashed. The Supreme Court decided otherwise. [ref]

Pre-censorship was imposed on the entire news media. Not a word could be published in the newspaper without going through the censor. An officer of the censor stayed in the premises of every major newspaper. The entire activities of the opposition were blacked out and the media contained only governmental propaganda. 

Both the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Representation of the People Act were retrospectively amended so that each ground on which Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s election had been set aside could be statutorily reversed. The pliable Supreme Court upheld the retrospective amendments to the provision of the Representation of the People Act by upholding the power of Parliament to amend any law retrospectively.

The country witnessed forced sterilization, mass scale uprooting of the poor including the minorities from their homes and misuse of the mass media.

Emergency Provisions

On the midnight of 25-26 June, 1975 a proclamation was signed by the president on a state of internal emergency. Simultaneously another proclamation under Article 359 was issued suspending the fundamental rights under Article 14, 19, 21 and 22.

Arrests & Preventive Detention



During the Emergency, unlike other Opposition leaders and activists, Vijaya Raje had kept away from protests with the sole intent of avoiding arrest. In order to avoid detection, she had even discarded wearing the customary widow’s white sari and began wearing not only other colours, but also clothes other than the sari. Much like many of her peers, she was often forced to change her location.

After playing hide-and-seek with the police who were in hot pursuit of every Opposition leader, Vijaya Raje Scindia had escaped to the country of her origin, Nepal, before her ‘inner voice’ suddenly made her return to India and face Indira Gandhi. Her original plan was not to escape but surrender to authorities in her native country. She returned to India and went to Gwalior tos urrender to the police and was hailed as a true and fearless worker of the Jana Sangh. Vijaya Raje Scindia had a tough time in jail—the ex- Queen Mother was obviously not used to the mental, physical, and emotional stress of a prison life, after having spent years in the fabulous Jai Mahal palace in Gwalior.

Meanwhile her daughters, Vasundhara Raje Scindia (ex- chief minister of Rajasthan), and Yashodhara (also a member of the BJP and an ex-minister in Madhya Pradesh) were working frenetically to secure their mother’s release. Unlike other prisoners, the Rajmata had an expansive network of influencers who had volunteered to agitate for her release. Finally, after submitting an application to grant her temporary reprieve on health grounds, Vijaya Raje Scindia was released from Delhi’s Tihar Jail.


When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared the state of emergency in the country on June 25, 1975, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was one of the first organisations to be banned. The government banned the RSS on July 4, 1975. The then Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras had been taken into custody on June 30, 1975 at Nagpur railway station and was kept at Yerwada jail in Pune. A number of top leaders of the RSS were arrested, along with thousands of innocent swayamsevaks. At least 87 swayamsevaks  sacrificed their lives during the Emergency. Deoras, who led this movement from the front even when in jail, wrote twice to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In both the letters, he strongly condemned the misinformation campaign against the RSS being run at the behest of Gandhi.[ref]

All kinds of communication platforms, such as newspapers, magazines, forums, postal service and elected legislatures, were stopped during emergency. The RSS has built itself from the beginning through people-to-people contact and never relied on any kind of forum for communication. So the effect of stopping the media did not have even a minor impact on the RSS. Although all other organisations were badly affected. Its central decisions at the all-India level reach the village through the levels of the province, department, district and tehsil. This communication system ran smoothly throughout the Emergency period. The houses of swayamsevaks proved to be the greatest boon for taunting the underground movement and due to this, the intelligence officers could not find the whereabouts of underground workers. The 'Lok Sangharsh Samiti' was formed and Nanaji Deshmukh was appointed its convener. Once he got arrested, Sunder Singh Bhandari took his place. Out of a total of 1,30,000 Satyagrahis who performed Satyagraha under its banner during the Emergency, more than 100,000 were from the RSS. Of the 30,000 people held captive under MISA, more than 25,000 belonged to the RSS.[ref]

When Indira Gandhi finally announced the elections in 1977 after immense pressure from all across the world. She knew well that the RSS was the only orgainsation that could quickly reassemble and help the Janata Party to victory. Hence, she  asked Shri Deoras ji not to support Janata Party in order to lift the ban on RSS. But Deoras firmly declined. Anyhow finally the ban was lifted.[ref]

Noted thinker and social leader K.N. Govindacharya said that 70 percent of those arrested during the emergency belonged to RSS while 30 percent came from socialist and other background. They were subjected to inhuman tortures and they did not know the reason for their arrest.

The RSS suffered the most during the Emergency, but yet, Deoras, who himself was in jail throughout the period, said after the victory of Janata Party that it was time to "forgive and forget" and not be vindictive against anyone.[ref]

Press Censorship

The Times of India offices were told that censorship had been imposed on the press and they had to toe the line or get out. I was determined to resist and thought if editors of other papers published by Bennett, Coleman & Co would form a united front against censorship we would succeed in making the government change its mind against the press. I expected Sham Lal, editor of The Times of India, to become our leader. He bluntly refused to do so. Sham Lal's number two, Girilal Jain, resident editor in Delhi, went one better by lauding the emergence of Sanjay Gandhi as the new leader. Not one other editor was willing to risk his job. Editors of the Navbharat Times, Maharashtra Times, Dharmyug, Filmfare, Femina, Sarika decided to stay away from the protest meeting we organised. For three weeks I refused to publish The Illustrated Weekly.

The Emergency, when first imposed, was generally welcomed by the people. There were no strikes or hartals, schools and colleges re-opened, business picked up, buses and trains began to run on time. People are under the impression that the Emergency administrators were very efficient. They were not. A few days after it was promulgated I got a call from H.Y. Sharada Prasad asking me to come over to see the prime minister. I was not to tell anyone about the appointment. The next day I met her in her South Block office. I pleaded with her to withdraw censorship on the press. "Editors like me who support you have lost credibility. Nobody will believe that we are doing so of our free will and not being dictated to," I argued. She remained adamant. "There cannot be any Emergency without censorship on the press," she maintained. I returned to Bombay disappointed. The same afternoon four leading members of the rss against whom warrants of arrest had been issued boldly walked into my office and for half-an-hour questioned me about what had passed between the PM and me. And as boldly walked out.

Censorship was also selective and eccentric. Some papers like The Indian Express were made targets of Mrs Gandhi's ire. Others like The Times of India and The Hindustan Times were left alone. As was the weekly Blitz owned by the most unprincipled editor of our times, Rusi Karanjia, who enthusiastically supported Mrs Gandhi. Kuldip Nayar was arrested. For no reason whatsoever, so was his 82-year-old father-in-law, Bhim Sain Sachar, once chief minister of Punjab. Ramesh Thapar, once very close to Mrs Gandhi, closed down his Seminar.

In Bombay, censorship had its lighter sides. Vinod Mehta, who edited the sleazy girlie magazine Debonair, was asked to have his articles and pictures cleared before they were sent to the printer. The censor looked over the pages. "Porn? Theek hai! Politics no." Most of it was soft porn. It was quickly cleared. I happened to be at a luncheon reception given by Governor Ali Yavar Jang in honour of President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. Out of the blue the President turned to me and said loudly, "What is all this you keep publishing in your journal? Don't you know there is an Emergency?" I didn't know what he was referring to. Nor did S.B. Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, who overheard the President's remark. When I returned to office I found a pre-censorship order slapped under the CM's orders on The Illustrated Weekly. The offending article had in fact appeared in Femina and not in my journal. I rang up Sharada Prasad. Mrs Gandhi was due to go abroad the next day. Chavan was ordered to withdraw the censorship order immediately.

Public Policy

Excesses & Abuse of Power

Arbitrary arrests, the ruthless way Jagmohan bulldozed slums in Delhi made people believe the wildest canards of the way men were picked up from bus and cinema queues to be forcibly sterilised as true.

Sanjay Gandhi

In some ways Sanjay Gandhi epitomised the slogan he had coined: Kaam ziyaada, baatein kum - work more, talk less. He was a young man in a hurry to get things done. He had no patience with tedious democratic processes and red tape, no time for long-winded politicians or bureaucrats. The fact that he had no legitimacy for imposing his fiats on the country besides being the son of the prime minister was of little consequence to him.

Legislative Maneuver



The Emergency, which was well received when it was imposed, and even justified by a sage like Acharya Vinoba Bhave.

Virtually the only party which kept a passive resistance movement throughout the period were the Akalis. 


The Times, London, carried a full-page appeal for the release of Jayaprakash Narayan. It was signed by some of the most ardent supporters and friends of India. I shall mention a few: Mrs Laski, wife of the late Harold Laski, Lady Cripps, wife of Sir Stafford, activist and politician Fenner Brockway, Dame Sybil Thorndike, journalist Anthony Howard, historian John Grigg, and several members of the British parliament, media barons and writers.

Lord Mountbatten, at a reception held by Queen Elizabeth II, upbraided High Commissioner B.K. Nehru and complained about the imprisonment of his friends, indicating towards Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia of Gwalior, Gayatri Devi of Jaipur & Maharaja Brigadier Bhawani Singh who were lodged in Tihar Jail by Indira Gandhi.

Sanjay Gandhi was put on the cover of The Economist: ‘The Son Also Rises’ ran the heading.

But the most persistent voice was that of Fenner Brockway. He was a Labour MP. He took up the case of Jayaprakash Narayan, whom he knew well.

Natwar Singh, the former Minister of External Affairs and then the Deputy High Commissioner in London sought an appointment to present India's case and JP’s conduct in the weeks before the proclamation of the Emergency. 

Brockway as quoted by Natwar Singh in his book Walking with Lions said - 

"You people sent him to London in 1971 to talk to British parliamentarians about the situation in East Pakistan and how the government was dealing with it. I arranged a meeting in the House of Commons for him to talk to many members. He made an excellent impression. Now you tell me he is ttraitor. No one believes you."

The Indian High Commission was though successful in inviting Michael Foot, the second in command in the cabinet of Prime Minister James Callaghan to India. He met Mrs Gandhi and other leaders. We also succeeded in persuading him to make a trip to Kashmir, the first and only member of the British cabinet to visit the Valley. His was a lone voice. The media did not let up.

Post - Emergency

General Elections 1977

Revoking External Emergency of 1971

Shah Commission Report

44th Constitutional Amendment

Minerva Mills Case

Termination of Indira Gandhi from Parliament


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