The emergency regime, 1975-1977

The year of unrest and agitation

Victory of Bangladesh

The unique victory of the Bangladesh war of 1971, Indira Gandhi indulged in using her popularity and power in pursuit of the personalized objectives. In 1973, she became imperious. The controversial appointment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, A.N. Ray, was only a tip of the ice burg.  She rendered the cabinet ineffective. Congress became subservient to her whims and fancies. She brook no criticism. She never trusted anyone completely. She lost her after the Bangladesh war. Sanjeev Gandhi was in complete control.

Discontent and unrest

The popularity of Indira Gandhi and her government started warning by the end of 1972. The unbearable cost of Bangladesh war and conquest sheltering of millions of milling refuges upset the apple cart of Indian economy. Successive failures of Indian monsoon in 1972 and 1973 offset the achievements of the green revolution. The result was food scarcity, rising prices and famine and inflation escalated by 20%. The oil-shock in October 1973 sky rocketed the price of crude oil and resultant price rise of petroleum. Rigid regulations of private sector prevented private investment from pouring into manufacturing industries. Large scale industrial unrest spread through the country. Corruption and scandals particularly the Maruthi car project and Nagarwala episode undermined the credibility of Indira Gandhi. Wholesale state trade in food grains was a disaster. India was facing growing ‘social turbulence’. Indira Gandhi was haunted by her slogan Garibi Hatao.

Gujarat agitation, Jan 1947

Chimanbai patel, the congress chief minister of Gujarat mismanaged the state. He was hand in gloves with the mill magnets of edible oil so that he could get election funding for the forthcoming state elections in U.P. The public distribution system was deplorable. They were perennial shortage of food supplies. Restrictions of inter-state movements of food grains made matters worse. The farmers were offered unremunerative prices. The government was corrupt to the core. The chief minister was making lot of money by running private colleges. His nagging interference with the functioning of the Gujarat university was resented by the teachers and the students alike. All these factors contributed to social unrest in the state.

The students started and spearheaded the protest movements in the state. Trouble started at the government engineering college in the first week of January 1974. Soon the agitation spread to other parts of the state. Students were joined by workers and opposition leaders. The Nav nirman yuvak samiti, composed of students and youth leaders, demanded that 1) the chief minister to resign, 2) the state assembly to be dissolved and  3)Iresh election held . The agitation turned violent . The central reserve police and the border security force were summoned to control the law and order situation. The chief minister resigned on 9th February and president’s rule imposed on 15th March. The Gujarat assembly was dissolved.

Bihar agitation, March 1947

In 1974 Bihar one of the most backward states of the Indian union, was the citadel of corruption, callousness, poverty and in-efficiency. Bihar politics and murky and its administration was in shambles. Only 20% of its people were literate. There was widespread discontent against the government. Trouble started on 18th march 1974, when the students’ action committee, representing several Patna college students and youth groups, held demonstrating in front of state assembly, protesting against maladministration, corruption and spiralling of prices they were backed by the Jan Sangh, the socialistic party, the Samyuktha socialist party and the congress decidents. The strong arm methods of the police had driven the agitators to violence, which raged for four days. Government officers, legislative assembly, municipal corporations and education institutions were paralysed.

Jayaprakash narayan re-entered politics, assumed leadership and converted the violent agitation into a mini-movement and gave the clarion cal for, what he called, total revolution. All the political parties including the naxalities ralled round the JP movement. He brought students, farmers, landless labours and other deprived sections of the society under the umbrella of the movement. Jp branded Indhira Gandhi as the ‘worlds’ greatest ‘dictator’ and called for the ouster of the congress chief minister, dissolution of the state assembly and holding of fresh elections. He led several processions and addressed meetings. The agitators were subjected to repression. Indhira Gandhi refused to dissolve the assembly and challenged jp to face the general elections and JP also accepted the challenge.

The railway strike, April-May 1974

Indian Railways strike of 1974 is a saga of heroism of ordinary railway workers and their families who dared to stand up against the might of the Indian state. It is the most widespread revolt by the working class in independent India and the biggest strike in the history of Indian Railway. The strike commenced on 8 May 1974. The strike was brutally suppressed by government with thousands being sent to jail and losing their jobs. The strike was called off on 27 May 1974. The 1974 strike forced political parties across the spectrum to spell out their stand clearly. The strike also provided a stunning launch pad to mass appeal for those like George Fernandes who, as the president of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), was the main leader of the strike. Although portrayed as a failure, the strike achieved later what it sought to achieve then.

Historically in Indian Railways the trade unions played to the tunes of government and Railway management , to keep the working class “disciplined” . The leaders has always been “rewarded” for this “job”.  By and by the distance between the officially recognised unions and the rank and file widened because ordinary railwaymen no longer saw the unions as representing their interests before the government.  And by 1974 the working class discontent led to the brink of a revolt. AIRF in some ways has been forced to accept this reality.The 1974 rail workers’ strike was a unique event for several reasons. It occurred at a time when labour militancy was at its highest in independent India. The strike and the manner in which it was put down marks a turning point in history in India.  Indhira may have won this round but the brutal suppression of the railway strike was uniting and galvanizing for opposition.

The strike was held to demand a raise in pay scale, which had remained stagnant over many years, in spite of the fact that pay scales of other government owned entities had risen over the years. The Railways, although government-owned, remained an organization in which the accepted worldwide standard of an eight-hour working day was violated with impunity.

The Pokharan test, May 1974

On 18th may 1974, in the midst of railway strike, an underground nuclear test was conducted at Pokharan in Rajasthan. The pokharan test eclipsed to railway strike. India became the sixth nuclear power in the world. The nation acclaimed the nuclear detonation but countries like US, Canada , Britain , Pakistan and few other countries criticized India . The Pokhran demonstrated the high level of scientific expertise attained by Indian scientists. Indhira Gandhi maintained that India had the right to harness the atom for peaceful purposes.

Scheme of compulsory deposits, July 1974

To mitigate the rigour of mounting inflation, the government drastically cut and imposed programmes of compulsory savings or salaries and incomes. Tax payers whose income exceeded 15,000 were directed to put an additional 4% to 8% of their income into compulsory deposists. These measures coupled with souring prices and increasing un employment, alienated urban middle classes-government servants, teachers, lawyers, professionals, officers in the armed forces and traders.

MISA, Sept1974

The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was a controversial law passed by the Indian parliament in 1971 giving the administration of Prime Minister Indhira Gandhi and Indian law enforcement agencies super powers – indefinite preventive detention of individuals, search and seizure of property without warrants, and wiretapping – in the quelling of civil and political disorder in India, as well as countering foreign-inspired sabotage, terrorism, subterfuge and threats to national security. The law was amended several times during national emergency (1975-1977) and used for quelling political dissent. MISA was a repressive reform with enormous potential for misuse and abuse.

Circumstances leading to emergency

Murder of L.N.Mishra , January 1975.

On 2 January -1975, Narayan Mishra, the Railway minister and  a notorious party fundraiser was killed in a bomb blast in the Samastipur railway station, Bihar. It was alleged that the assassination was the hand work of the trade unionist after the crushing of the railway workerstrike.  Indhira Gandhi stated herself that Mishra’s murder was a rehearsal for which she herself was the real target. The killers were never traced and Mishra’s murder remained as a mystery.

 J.P. Provocation, Feb 1975

Encouraged and enthused by the agitational success in Gujarat and Bihar, JP on 15 February 1975, exhorted government servants, soldiers and police officers were obliged only to abide by the constitution, and not the will and whim of the government and its leaders including the prime minister. He also asked the force of authority and law and order to join a coup d’etat by paralyzing the government and its leaders.

Marathon march, March 1975

On 6 March 1975, Jayaprakash Narayan led an 8 km mighty marathon procession through Delhi to parliament. Several thousand people participated in the march. He presented a charter of demands to the speaker of Lok sabha and the chairman of Rajiya sabha. Later at a public rally, JP called for Indhira Gandhi’s resignation. He compared the largest demonstration the capital city had ever witnessed to the Dandhi March led  by Gandhi in 1930 against the british imperialism.


Indhira Gandhi was becoming unpopular. The election reflected the mood of the people. The opposition won a spectacular victory in the keenly contested by-election to the Lok sabha from Jadalpur, Madhya Pradesh. The opposition Janta candidate won at the Govindpura by-election Madhya Pradesh. The congress lost in two of the three by-elections to the Haryana State Assembly. On 6 April 1975, Moraji Desai started elections to be held for Gujarat State assembly. Election was conceded. Congress campaigned for stability. JP campaigned for stability. There was strong anti-congress feeling in Gujarat. On 12 June 1975, the results were announced. The assembly strength of the congress was reduced from 140 to 75. The Janata front secured 87 seats and formed the ministry with Babubhai patel as Chhief Minister.

Allahabad judgement, 12 June 1975

Raj Narain, who had been defeated in the 1971 parliamentary election by Indira Gandhi, lodged cases of election fraud and use of state machinery for election purposes against her in the Allahabad high court. Shanthi Bushan fought the case for Narain. Indira Gandhi was also cross-examined in the High Court which was the first such instance for an Indian Prime Minister.

On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal sinha of the Allahabad High Court found the prime minister guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years. Serious charges   such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held responsible for misusing government machinery, and found guilty on charges such as using the state police to build a dais, availing the services of a government officer, Yashpal Kapoor. During the elections before he had resigned from his position, and use of electricity from the state electricity department.

Because the court unseated her on comparatively frivolous charges, while she was acquitted on more serious charges, student and government unions swept across the country. Led by JP, Narain, Sinha and Morarji Desai, protestors flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the Prime Minister’s residence. The persistent efforts of Narain were praised worldwide as it took over four years for Justice Sinha to pass judgement against the prime minister.

Indira Gandhi challenged the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, on 24 June 1975, upheld the High Court judgement and ordered all privileges Gandhi received as an MP be stopped, and that she be debarred from voting. However, she was allowed to continue as Prime Minister. The next day, JP organised a large rally in Delhi, where he said that a police officer must reject the orders of government if the order is immoral and unethical as this was Mahatma Gandhi’s motto during the freedom struggle. Such a statement was taken as a sign of inciting rebellion in the country. Later that day, Indira Gandhi requested a compliant President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to issue a proclamation of a state of emergency. Within three hours, the electricity to all major newspapers was cut and the political opposition arrested. The proposal was sent without discussion with the Union Cabinet, who only learnt of it and ratified it the next morning.

Pro-Indira demonstrations

Ever since the supreme court judgement wasdelievered on 12 June1975 , both the congress and the opposition geared their belts and orchestrated a series of pro Indhira and anti-Indhira demonstrations and marches. On 12 and 13 june, Sanjay Gandhi and his followers organised massive rallies in the support of Indhira Gandhi . it was at this rally the over enthusiastic D.K. Barooah floated the slogan ‘INDIRA IS INDIA AND INDIA IS INDIRA’.

 Coalition of opposition

Following the Allahabad judgement, Jayaprakash and the opposition parties called for a country wide campaign. On 16 June 1975 the opposition leaders met the president Fakruddin Ali Ahamed and presented a memorandum on the constitutional crisis due to Indira Gandhi continuance in office and urged her removal from office.

Ramlila ground meeting

On 25 June 1975, JP addressed a meeting. In the course of his speech, he announced a programme of civil disobedient movement in the capital and other cities, appealed to the police and the army to disobey illegal orders .JP’s speech was last straw on the camel’s back. Indhira Gandhi required to suspend parliament  and impose a state of emergency.

Imposition of Emergency, 26 June 1975


Indhira Gandhi retailiation by imposing internal emergency on the country. She consulted the chief minister of west Bengal on the situation. He advised indhira Gandhi that the president could impose an internal emergency and the president signed the declaration. On the morning of 26 June  1975, the cabinet approved of her action. Cabinet consent was not obtained prior to the declaration of emergency.

Pre Dawn arrests

Before the dawn of 26 June, prominent political leaders were arrested. Electricity was suddenly stopped to the Delhi based news paper presses, so that the imposition of the emergency and the pre planned mid night arrests of the leaders were not known . on 26th June 1975, prime minister Indhira Gandhi, in her broadcast over the AIR, defended the emergency.

Pliable parliament, July 1975

On 21 July 1975 the parliament was convened to discuss the proclamation of emergency. Question hour was abolished. Members were not allowed to submit motions or more private member bills. The parliament passed a resolution postponing to the Lok sabha schedule in Feb-mar 1976. The elections were again postponed to November 1976. Thus the parliament was emasculated and rendered ineffective.

Press censorship

Free press was a priority casuality during the emergency. Due to preemptive power cut most of the news paper in the Delhi could not appear on the morning of 16 June. Many independent magazines choose to close down their publications. As a result, the press was tamed and crippled. The press council of India was abolished. Several Indian journalists were jailed.

Draconian measures

A presidential order suspended the right to move any court for the enforcement of fundamental rights. The government of india was authorized to arrest the people without any warrant, to suspend civil rights and liberties, to limit the rights of courts to interfere, and to impose press censorship.

20 Point programme

On 1 July 1975, prime minister Indira Gandhi, in her broadcast to the nation announced the following 20 point programme.

  1. Steps to bring down the prices of essential commodities
  2. Implementations of agricultural land ceilings and speedier the distribution of surplus land and compilation of land records.
  3. Steeping up of provisions of house sites for the landless and weaker sections.
  4. Abolition of bonded labour
  5. Liquidation of  rural indebtedness
  6. Review of  law of minimum agricultural wages
  7. An accelerated power programme
  8. Production of more khadi
  9. More water  for irrigation
  10. Improvement in the quality and supply of cloth
  11. Socialisation of urban and urbanisable land
  12. Prevention of tax evasion
  13. Special legislation for confiscation of properties of smugglers
  14. Liberalisation of investment procedures
  15. New schemes for the association of workers with industry
  16. Better road transport
  17. Income tax relief
  18. Cheaper goods for  students
  19. Books and stationary at control prices
  20. New apprenticeship scheme

To the 20 point programme, Indhira Gandhi added five more items of national priority.

  1. National fitness
  2. Family planning
  3. Afforestation
  4. Child welfare
  5. Urban development

The 20 point programme was Indhira Gandhi’s pledge to the nation and she was determined to implement it.

Ban of organizations, July1975.

Opposition leaders were arrested and imprisoned. Voices against emergency were effectively stifled. Arrests continued through out te period of emergency. News papers were severely censored. On 4 July 1975, the government banned the activities of 26 extreme communal and ultra left organizations including the RSS and naxalites. The CPI  were spared because it endorsed the emergency.

Amendment spree

Amazing amendments

The 38th amendment decreed that the emergency proclamations could not be challenged in the courts.  The 39th amendment laid down that the election of the prime minister, the speaker, president could not be challenged before the court and could not be decided by the parliament committee. The 40th amendment struck down the clause 4 of the 30th amendment, which had placed the prime minister’s election beyond the scrutiny of the courts. The 41st amendment gave complete immunity from criminal proceedings  to president, prime minister or governor.The landmark amendment strengthened the  executive at the costof the judiciary. The 42nd amendment act uphld  the position of the parliament.

 Swaran singh committee

Swaran singh committe was appointed in February 1976 to go into this question. The committee rejected the proposal for a presidential form of  the  governmentand asserted than the parliamentary system was best suited to the country.

Emergency excess

Sanjay Gandhi was projected as Indhira Gandhi’s successor. His 5 programme gained national importance. Two of his measures roused the wrath of the people.

  1. Forced sterilization campaign.
  2. Forced slum clearance

Resistance to emergency

The public was paralysed when the emergency was imposed as a bolt from the blue.  The leaders used several clandestine methods to mobilize public opinions. On 27th June  1975, DMK passed a resolution demanding the revocation of the emergency. The DMK ministry was dissolved. the akalis were against the emergency.

JP’s Total revolution

Jayaprakash and the total revolution are the two sides of the same coin. JP indicated his mind about it when he visited Gujarat.

The total resolution had three objectives.

  1. Social change through peaceful peoples power.
  2. Social change through legal and administrative action
  3. Changing the  total framework of the individual and the institution.
  4. Radical changes in the institution.

JP movement based on total resolution was undemocratic, unconstitutional and unethical.

It’s weaknesses were:

  1. Lack of ideology
  2. Absence of well-knit organization
  3. Want of line of leadership
  4. Intellectual backing
  5. Constructive programme of social change and
  6. Alternative model of government.

Nonetheless, JP’s  total revolution  served as an effective instrument of mass mobilization against the authoritarian regime of Indhira Gandhi

Keywords: Bangladesh war of 1971, Indira Gandhi, MISA, Bihar, 20 point programme, Ramleela, Emergency, Pokhran test.