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Revisiting India’s 1975 Emergency through the Lens of the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls

23 Apr '24
5 min read


Numerous ministers from the INDI alliance and their supporters have repeatedly labelled Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi as a dictator, fascist, or authoritarian. Several social media influencers have proclaimed that India is currently experiencing its darkest period under the current Modi government, suggesting that the nation is veering towards dictatorship or Modi is a dictator. This claim gains significance as India is in the process of electing its next Prime Minister, and it is important for the public to be aware of what dictatorship could look like and vote wisely. The primary objective of this article is to shed light on what I consider to be India's darkest moment in its democratic history and not to settle this debate about whether Modi is a dictator or not.

The Indira Gandhi Emergency: A Dark Chapter in Indian Democracy

Indira Gandhi's imposition of Emergency on June 25, 1975, marked one of the most testing periods in India's democratic journey. The sequence of events leading to this authoritarian decision began with the Bihar student agitation, supported by Jayaprakash Narayan, rallying against the state government.

Indira Gandhi's victory in the 1971 Lok Sabha election from the Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh was followed by legal challenges from socialist leader Raj Narain. Accusations of electoral malpractices and violations of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, led to the Allahabad High Court nullifying her election and barring her from contesting for six years. The High Court's verdict on June 12, 1975, convicted then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices, further exacerbating the political turmoil.

In response to the High Court's decision, Indira Gandhi challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court, which, on June 24, 1975, upheld the verdict and revoked all privileges granted to Gandhi as a Member of Parliament, as well as debarring her from voting. 

Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, proposed the imposition of an "internal emergency" to the Prime Minister, citing imminent threats to India's security due to internal disturbances. Consequently, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared a state of internal emergency upon the Prime Minister's recommendation on the night of June 25, 1975, granting Indira Gandhi extraordinary powers under Article 352 of the Constitution. 

This led to a crackdown on civil liberties and opposition leaders, resulting in widespread arrests, including those of prominent figures like Jayaprakash Narayan and Atal Bihari Vajpayee


Economic Impact of Emergency

The Emergency of 1975 had profound economic repercussions on India, affecting growth, inflation, and GDP. Preceding the Emergency, India faced economic challenges stemming from the 1971 Bangladesh War and successive droughts, which contributed to hyperinflation, economic stagnation, and a decline in industrial production.

During the Emergency, economic conditions worsened. If not for the Emergency, India's real GDP per capita in 1985 would have been more than 70 percent higher. Inflation reached unprecedented levels during the Emergency period, with wholesale prices soaring by 22.7%. By 1976-77, inflation stood at a staggering 16%, exacerbating the economic challenges faced by the country.

The Emergency also had a significant impact on the private sector, which experienced extreme stagnation despite the government's purported pro-industry policies. Industrial raw material prices surged, with a 50% increase by August 1977 compared to March 1976 levels.

Overall, the economic impact of the Emergency was detrimental to India's growth trajectory, deepening existing economic woes, widening income disparities, and hindering efforts to address inflation and industrial stagnation.


Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatraya's Personal Account

Bandaru Dattatraya  (Image Source: Wikipedia)

Personal accounts shed light on the dire consequences of the emergency. Bandaru Dattatraya, now Haryana Governor, recounts his ordeal as an RSS worker during the emergency. Dattatraya, currently serving as Haryana Governor, shared his personal journey during the emergency in his article - "My Tryst With Emergency: The Darkest Phase of Indian Democracy" highlighting the sacrifices made for democratic principles. As an RSS Pracharak, Bandaru Dattatraya faced persecution and imprisonment for his activism against the emergency regime.

Amidst widespread fear and uncertainty, individuals like Dattatraya, found themselves thrust into a struggle against authoritarianism. Forced underground, Dattatraya and his colleagues navigated a landscape of censorship and persecution, clandestinely mobilizing opposition against the Emergency regime. Recounting harrowing experiences, Dattatraya vividly describes encounters with law enforcement, including a narrow escape from police surveillance at a temple gathering.

Despite relentless interrogation and torture, Dattatraya remained resolute, refusing to disclose his identity or betray his comrades. His steadfast defiance, echoed by countless others, symbolized a collective resistance against the erosion of democratic values. Amidst personal tragedies and familial challenges, Dattatraya's commitment to the cause remained unshaken, buoyed by the unwavering support of his community and the resilience of his mother's unwavering faith in justice. Through his narrative, Dattatraya offers a poignant reflection on the sacrifices made during India's darkest hour, underscoring the enduring legacy of those who dared to defy tyranny in defense of democracy.

The Indira Gandhi Emergency serves as a stark reminder of what dictatorship may look like. As you reflect, consider the present: Are widespread protests happening across the nation against the Modi government? How does India's growth trajectory compare to other nations? Are Opposition leaders jailed without any reason, similar to 1975? Have these detentions been upheld or overturned by the High Court and Supreme Court? Is the media stifled? Is there scope for dissent by citizens?

Answering these questions will help you settle the debate on whether Modi is a dictator or not.

Category : History


Written by Prasad B Y

Foodie, Coffee Lover & Techie