National Emergency 1975

The emergency was declared in 1975 by the government of Indira Gandhi and was in effect for 21 months. The reasons for the declaration were cited as risks to national security and poor economic conditions. "A renowned historian Coomi Kapoor observed, considering it as a black chapter," The number of those in Indira Gandhi's prisons during the Emergency far exceeded the total number imprisoned during the Quit India Movement of 1942."



It all started in January 1974 with a youth and students' movement in Gujarat. The agitation was aimed at the removal of Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel for leading what the protesters called a "corrupt and inept" administration, calling itself the Nav Nirman movement. Morarji Desai, who had lost the race for Prime Minister to Indira Gandhi twice in 1966 and 1967, blessed the campaign. The veteran leader, still nursing his aspirations, saw the unrest of the students as a golden opportunity and plunged himself into the movement's head. At the same time, agitation in Bihar for the removal of Bihar CM Abdul Ghafoor began. This was led by Jayaprakash Narayan, a leader of Sarvodaya, and once a close associate of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the struggle for liberty, who after the mid-1950s kept himself away from politics. For what he called "Sampuran Kranti," or Total revolution, JP, as he was popularly known, initiated a nationwide agitation, starting with Bihar.

JP asked students to boycott classes, abandon their schools and colleges for a year, and campaign for his "Total revolution" to organize the people. He told the students of Bihar: "You will have to make sacrifices, face lathis and bullets misery and fill up gaols." Adding fuel to the fire was George Fernandes, a labour leader who led railway workers in a national strike in 1974 in an attempt to paralyze the transportation system of the country and its economy. JP called on all opposition parties to join his movement, although some of them, like Jan Sangh and the Communists, were ideologically separated from each other. His first and foremost mission was to "throw out Mrs. Gandhi's government" and then create a "partyless democracy" after crushing Congress. This was a vague idea that was never completely established and attracted media scrutiny.

On January 2, 1975, the Minister of Railways, L.N. Mishra was blown up by a bomb planted on a platform in Samistipur, where he was attending a function. It was alleged that trade unionists loyal to George Fernandes were involved. On February 15, in New Delhi, JP addressed government employees and urged the Army and the police not to follow "illegal" orders. Morarji Desai started a "fast to death" in Gujarat on March 11, demanding the dismissal of the state government and new elections. The 79-year-old Gandhian leader worked on this pressure strategy and Mrs. Gandhi decided to dissolve the Assembly and hold fresh elections in June. The elections were held where the five-party alliance of JP and Morarji Desai defeated the Congress badly.

Yet there was worse to come. The lightning bolt hit on June 12, 1975, the same day. The news was received on the PMO's ticker machine that an Allahabad high court judge had ruled that Indira Gandhi was guilty of electoral malpractice during the 1971 general election. The verdict invalidated the election of Mrs. Gandhi as an MP and for six years debarred her from holding an elective office. There were fairly minor charges in which Indira Gandhi was found guilty but the nation's mood was different. "Indira must go" was the cry from one end of North India to another. Jayaprakash Narayan announced that "the existence of democracy in India will be incompatible with her remaining in office."
In the Supreme Court, the order of Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha was open to appeal. One of the most renowned constitutional lawyers in the world, Nani Palkhivala, happened to be in New Delhi on the day of the verdict. He decided to appeal the verdict on Mrs. Gandhi to the Supreme Court and told her that there was no political or legal justification for her to step down until her appeal had been heard. On June 24, the holiday judge of the Supreme Court, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, gave his decision. He permitted the Allahabad verdict to remain conditional. But the order to remain just strengthened JP and Janata Morcha's demand for the resignation of the Prime Minister. On June 25, Morarji Desai said, "We intend to overthrow her, compel her to resign ... The lady will not survive our campaign ... Thousands of us will surround her house to stop her from leaving." Both JP and Morarji Desai had conveniently set aside the Gandhian values they had adopted in their public life before they became obsessed with the removal of an elected prime minister, ignoring even the Supreme court. 

It was these circumstances, on June 26, 1975, that led Mrs. Gandhi to enforce the emergency. 


Economic Issues:

  • India's support for the independence of Bangladesh has had a serious effect on India's foreign reserves.
  • In 1972 & 73, consequent monsoon failure affected the availability food and fuel prices in India.
  • Large-scale unemployment and economic contraction resulted in industrial strife and strike waves in various parts of the country, culminating in the May 1974 - All India Railway Strike.


Judiciary's executive tussle:

  • The constitution was amended by the Union government under Indira Gandhi's leadership to allow it to abridge fundamental rights thus giving effect to DPSPs. But, later, the Supreme Court ruled in the Kesavananda Bharti case that certain fundamental features of the constitution can not be amended.
  • Furious with the SC decision, the long-term precedence of naming most senior judges of SC as Chief Justice was modified by the Union Government.
  • While hearing the plea of Socialist leader Raj Narain on the legitimacy of Indira's victory over Lok Sabha, Allahabad HC ruled in his favour and set aside her victory and ruled her election invalid based on misuse of authority.

JP Movement:

  • In 1974, Gujarat students protested immensely against the increase in prices of food grains, cooking oil, and other basic commodities later joined by political parties.
  • Similar unrest was initiated in Bihar by students in March 1974, motivated by the efforts and progress of the Gujarat student movement.
  • JP Narayan called for "Sampooran Kranti" (Total Revolution) to protect democracy from the authorization of Indira Gandhi.



The union government misused its emergency powers and curbed the people, opposition parties, and the press' democratic rights.

  • Electricity was disconnected from the newspaper rooms, and leaders of opposition parties were arrested.
  • Via "Press Censorship," the government curtailed press freedom and made it necessary to receive its permission before publishing it.
  • No marches, strikes, and public unrest were permitted.
  • The government misused the provision of preventive detention and imprisoned the opposition parties' political staff.
  • During the emergency, torture and custodial deaths occurred, forced displacement of poor citizens, compulsory sterilization imposed for population control.



The Emergency Declaration highlighted the fault lines that can be manipulated to bring about an authoritarian rule in Indian democracy.

In 1976, during the time of internal emergency, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed, which strengthened the union executive and contributed to the further centralization of power.

There were four main purposes for this amendment:

  • Exclude the judiciary from election controversies entirely;
  • Strengthen the central government vis-à - vis the governments of states
  • To provide socially transformative legislation with full immunity from a judicial challenge;
  • To minimize judicial interventions in legislative matters. The amendments could not be challenged on any basis in any court; and there should be no restriction on the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution 'by way of extension, variation, or repeal.'


Prominent changes were made by the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act to include protections against the abuse of emergency provisions:

  • Under Article 74(1), the President may require the Council of Ministers to reconsider any advice submitted to him, but the President must act by the advice submitted following such reconsideration.
  • To restore the authority of the High Courts to issue writs on matters other than the protection of fundamental rights i.e. Article 226 was amended.
  • Article 352 was amended to provide that a declaration of emergency may be issued only if war or external invasion or armed rebellion threatens the security of India or any part of its territory. ‘Internal Disturbance’ which does not amount to armed rebellion shall not constitute the basis for such an Emergency Proclamation.
  • It became mandatory for the President to issue an emergency declaration only after the cabinet conveyed it to him in writing.
  • The Emergency Proclamation shall be approved by a resolution of the two Houses of Parliament within one month (instead of two months) and shall be approved by a majority of the total membership of each house and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting in each house, instead of a simple majority.
  • Approval by resolution of the two houses of parliament will be required every six months for the continuation of the emergency.
  • The Emergency Proclamation will be repealed once the Lok Sabha passes a resolution repealing it by a simple majority.
  • A special meeting to discuss a resolution disapproving of the proclamation may be convey if demanded by 10 percent or more Lok Sabha members.

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