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The truth of 1975 emergency

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Ritwik Mehta
Ritwik Mehta
I am a policy research analyst with having a deep interest in economics. I am a freelance digital marketer and a data science enthusiast.

जब नाश मनुज पर छाता है,
पहले विवेक मर जाता है।

These are the popular lines of Rashmirathi, when Lord Shri Krishna tried to calm down Duryodhana and finish the dispute. He asked for just 5 villages but Duryodhana denied even that too! The same situation goes for Former PM of India – Smt Indira Gandhi.

The story is about how did Indira Gandhi made fool of the whole country by twisting the constitution, just for the sake of being in power.

So, let’s go back in 1969 when Congress was divided into two parts: Congress (R) led by Indira Gandhi and Congress (O) led by Morarji Desai. Indira Gandhi insisted the then President of India – V.V Giri to dissolve the Lok Sabha. Lok Sabha was dissolved on 27th Dec 1970 and the country was forced into elections!

Indira Gandhi fought election from Raibareilli and was given tough competition by Raj Narain. Raj Narain was a famous activist and had gone to jail multiple times while raising his voice for the poor, for justice. The D-Day arrived and Indira Gandhi won by a huge margin of 1 Lakh 10 Thousand votes. No one doubted her victory but Raj Narain was not satisfied. He approached Shanti Bhushan Ji (father of Prashant Bhushan Ji) to help him to file a case against her in the Allahabad HC.

After full investigation in to the case, it was found that chemical treated ballot papers were used during the elections. Therefore, it was now proved that the elections were rigged. Out of all the charges against Indira Gandhi, the major charge was a violation of Representation of People’s Act 1951 which says the following:

Using gazette officers, army, police for elections is prohibited under Section 123 (7); spending more than limit, and using a religious symbol for election”

The allegation was that Indira Gandhi took the help of Yash Pal Kapoor who was a gazette officer at that time! Yash Pal helped her throughout the elections, right from organizing the rallies, meetings, etc. So, now the question was, when did Yash Pal Kapoor resign?

Indira Gandhi said that Yash Pal resigned on 13th January 1971 and his resignation was orally accepted on 14th January 1971. The petition said that the official order of resignation was on 25th January 1971 when elections had already finished.

The hearing of the case went for three days – 18th, 19th and 20th March 1975. Indira Gandhi was going to become the first-ever PM to be in the trail. When questions were raised on Yash Pal Kapoor, Indira Gandhi said that under the Rules of Instructions for the Protection of PM when on Tour or Travel, which is also known as the blue book, it is written that her step was legal. Shanti Bhushan Ji requested the same book to be produced but Indira Gandhi refused the court by saying that it was confidential. She gave the reason of public safety for not producing it!

After insisting, the court got the chance to read the book. Shanti Bhushan Ji said that the same book during Nehru’s time said that the district administration is not responsible for arranging the election meetings but this book now validates the same. That means Indira Gandhi got the rules amended! So, now the biggest question in front of the court was, whether the amendment was done with her consent? Did she know about it?

This was an interesting scene now because if she had said no then the amendment would be declared null and void (invalidated) and if she said yes then it would be proved that she used corrupt practices!

Indira Gandhi Said YES!

According to Indian law, an action can be considered corrupt only after the candidate files the nomination! So, on what date did Indira Gandhi filed the nomination? Only this question will now end up the case. Indira said that she filed nomination on 1st February, 1971 but Shanti Bhushan produced a document in the court “Additional Written Statement by Indira Gandhi” which said that she took the decision of fighting the elections from Raibareilli on 29th January 1971, and the document had her signatures!


On 12th June, 1975, the Allahabad High Court declared the election of Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareilly constituency “null and void”, and barred Gandhi from holding the elected office for six years. The High Court, while rejecting the charges of bribery, found her guilty of misusing the government machinery for election campaign purposes.

15 June 1975 – Posters – HT Photo by Rane Prakash.

Indira Gandhi was in full anger now! She immediately approached the Judge through her council and got a stay for 20 days to appeal in Supreme Court. The worst part was that Shanti Bhushan Ji was not in Allahabad at that time. Had he been there, he would have raised voice against this demand of stay also, forcing Indira Gandhi to go to jail immediately. And had this been done, India would not have witnessed Emergency!

So, what happened next? Indira Gandhi approached Nani Palkivala, a popular Supreme Court lawyer. He helped her to get a conditional stay which said that she will continue to act as PM but will not vote in the Parliament. On 24th June, 1975, all the opposition party leaders demanded her resignation. Indira approached Faqruddin Ali Ahmed, the then President of India, to declare emergency. Reason given was threat to national security and civil war like conditions created by opposition.

During this time, she brought the 39th amendment act in the parliament and since all the opposition leaders were in the jail, she got it passed. The 39th amendment act validated her elections as it had a retrospective effect. And all these amendments were put under the 9th Schedule of the Indian Constitution by which even the Supreme Court can’t do anything. All this was done before the final Supreme Court judgement, within those 20 days of stay. Now, on 11th August, 1975, the court quoting the 39th amendment act dropped all the charges against her.

So long as the court did not dispute the validity of that legislation, it had no option but to exonerate Mrs. Gandhi of the charges against her. As Justice H. R. Khanna put in his opinion:
“The petition is being dismissed because of changes made in law during the pendency of the appeal.”

The Prime Minister’s opponent, Raj Narain, had asked the court to strike down the amendment itself, on the grounds that it was unfair to change the election laws retroactively, and that this change tampered with the “basic structure” of the Constitution.

He also maintained that the legislation was invalid because at least two dozen Members of Parliament were prevented from attending the session at which it was passed since they are in jail under the emergency.

But the judges, who wrote five separate though generally concurring opinions, did not accept these arguments.

So, this was all about the 1975 Emergency!

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Ritwik Mehta
Ritwik Mehta
I am a policy research analyst with having a deep interest in economics. I am a freelance digital marketer and a data science enthusiast.
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