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Impact of 1975 emergency on Indian legal system and Indian economy

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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.

Impact of Indira Gandhi’s rule over Indian democracy with respect to power consolidation

If we make a list of the worst characteristics of a human being, then lust for power will surely top the list. It was Duryodhana’s lust for power that he refused to give 5-villages to Pandavas and therefore invited his doom. The decisions taken by both father-daughter have many things in common. The policies of Nehru and his way of ruling India became an inspiration for Indira. If we grade Nehru’s lust for power on a scale of 1-10, Nehru would have scored 5/10 and his daughter 10/10.

Whatever decisions were taken by Nehru seven decades ago through the First Amendment to the Constitution of India became a source of inspiration for Indira to bring the deadliest amendments during the Emergency. Going down the lanes of Indian history, Nehru and Indira seem to enjoy clamping down on the critical voices of the Government—starting with Nehru, who decided to clamp down on the Organiser (an English weekly by RSS), which was very critical of Nehru. A pre-censorship order was issued under the East Punjab Public Safety Act. It was made mandatory for the editor and publisher to get approval from the Government if the content is related to communal issues or Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi did the same thing by imposing an emergency and making it mandatory for media houses not to publish anything against the Government. The difference between the above two incidents is that the order issued by Nehru was challenged in the Apex court and was quashed by the Court as a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution. However, the order by Indira could not be challenged as the atmosphere in the nation was that of fear. Therefore, in terms of power consolidation, I think Indira’s rule has a much more significant impact on Indian Democracy and our lives at large.

‘Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler’ and ‘Indira is India and India is Indira’, the two slogans are synonymous. The darkest phase of Indian Democracy was during 1975 when an ‘internal emergency was declared, media was censored, and opposition imprisoned.

The situation resembled the same in 1930 in Germany when Adolf Hitler used the provisions of the German Constitution to proclaim a state of Emergency. After detaining 1,10,000 citizens of the nation, Madam Prime Minister brought the 42nd Amendment Act to the Constitution, which was against Article 83(2) of the Indian Constitution. She also amended the Representation of People Act, 1951 with retrospective effect to save her. Nevertheless, was the Emergency all about unconstitutional amendments and detentions? No, the strings and effects of the Emergency are connected with India’s socio-political and economic aspects too!

The Kesavananda Bharati case and its impact today on Indian Democracy

In March 1970, Kesavananda Bharati, the founder of “Edneer Mutt,” decided to challenge the decision of the Kerala Government to impose restrictions on the management of its property. In order to keep the judicial system of India under her control, Madam PM delivered a chain of Constitutional amendments along with the twenty-fourth Amendment, twenty-fifth Amendment, and twenty-ninth Amendment. Using the identical amendments, the Kerala Government delivered the Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969, through which they attempted to accumulate a specific sect’s land of “Edneer Mutt .”Senior Advocate Nani Palkhivala was representing Swami Ji (Kesavananda Bharati), and through this case, he decided to challenge all the unconstitutional amendments done by Indira Gandhi.

The 703-page judgment Kesavananda Bharati Vs. State of Kerala & Others [1973] led to the formation of the basic structure or essential features of the Indian Constitution, which is today used to test the constitutionality of the acts passed by the Parliament. Be it striking down the NJAC Bill or the provisions of the recently passed Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, the Supreme Court cited the Basic Structure as the principle while giving the final judgment. In India, the issue as to whether the Court can strike down legislation for violating the “basic structure” or “unwritten constitution principles” is still not settled.

The JP Movement and its impact on Indian Democracy

On June 25, 1975, JP recited Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem, ‘Singhasan khaali karo ke Janata Aati hai .’On the night of June 25, the historic Ram Lila ground was covered with lakhs of people and leaders like Morarji Desai, Chimanbhai Patel, Raj Narain, Nanaji Deshmukh, and Madan Lal Khurana. Though the rally is said to be the starting point of Emergency, the seeds had been planted much earlier. It all started from Gujarat in 1973 when the protestors had hit the streets to speak against the price of grains shooting up along with the price of meat, edible oil, butter, and kerosene. At this hour, the then Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel was busy colluding with the state’s leading groundnut oil barons, pushing prices up even higher. After a huge protest by 160,000 university students, Chimanbhai Patel was expelled from the party, and then Morarji Desai went on a hunger strike. The Gujarat protest ended after this, but the effect was seen 1500 kilometers to the east, where the protest started with the slogan ‘Bihar Bhi Gujarat Banega.’

The economic recession, unemployment, price rise, rampant inflation, and scarcity of goods led to widespread strikes and protests in the country during 1972-73. The anger of the common public fuelled higher when the younger son of Indira, Sanjay Gandhi, was given a license to manufacture 50,000 Maruti cars a year, spreading a general message that corruption under Indira has gone up!

Protests in Bihar started on March 18, 1974, when the students started a gherao of the Bihar assembly, leading to the death of twenty-seven people within a week. The most special element of the protest was its leader, Jayaprakash Narayan. ‘JP then toured the entire nation and drew large crowds in Delhi with the help of Jan Sangh. Jan Sangh, ABVP, the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsha Vahini formed the backbone of the JPs protest. The protest quickly was a political battlefield whilst JP regularly occurring Indira’s undertaking to allow the following well-known elections determine the destiny of his movement’s demands.

All those student leaders, be it Arun Jaitely, Lalu Prasad Yadav, or senior leaders like Vajpayee, Advani, etc. of them, became the future of Indian politics during the ’90s, and some of them became the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and Cabinet Ministers as well. A similar relevance can be seen in the last decade of Indian politics. It was in April 2011 when Anna Hazare went on a Hunger strike against the rising corruption in the country. The main faces of India Against Corruption Movement were Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, and Baba Ram Dev. After the protest ended, Kejriwal went on to establish his own political party, AAP, which is the fastest-growing party in the last decade, along with BJP got the biggest advantage of the IAC movement and won the 2014 elections.

Similarly, today in 2022, when the farmer’s protest has just ended, one can easily observe that those who actively participated in the protest are now going to contest in the Punjab and UP elections of 2022. Therefore, protests in India always start with a reason, whether it is against inflation, or corruption, or against any policy of the Government, and from the movement, many people become the new face of Indian politics. Needless to say that all these protests have similarities with the JPs movement that led to the Emergency.

The Fall of Judiciary during the Indira Gandhi Government and its Impact Today

Judges are trained in such a way that they can “sniff the approach of tyranny in every political breeze,” said Edmund Burke, a political thinker. The political stir was at its height during the 1971 general elections when Raj Narain, the leader of the Janta party, fought against Mrs. Indira Gandhi of the Congress. The streets of Rae Bareilly were echoed with two slogans “Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao” by the Janata Party and “Gareebi Hatao” by the Congress Party. On March 10, 1971, Indira Gandhi was declared the winner of the election, winning with a margin of 1 Lakh votes and her party securing 352 seats out of 518. As soon as the results were announced, Raj Narain filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court stating that Indira used government machinery for her election campaigns which are unconstitutional. It changed into the primary time withinside the records of India that a Prime Minister changed into going to wait for the courtroom docket proceedings, and that too changed into primarily based totally on corrupt and unlawful practices.

Indira Gandhi Caught by the Court

It was finally proved in the Court that in order to arrange rostrums, loudspeakers, and barricades for her rallies and campaigns, she took the help of Yashpal Kapur (her election agent), the DM of Rae Bareli, the Superintendent of Police of Rae Bareli and the Home Secretary of Uttar Pradesh government. All this was termed as ‘Corrupt Practices’ under Section 123(7) of the Representation of the People Act.

Yashpal Kapur, who was the OSD in the PM’s secretariat (a gazetted officer), resigned from his post on January 13, 1971, and became the election agent for Indira Gandhi on February 4, 1971. But it was proved in the Court that Yashpal delivered election speeches on January 7, 1971, at MunshiGanj and on January 19, 1971, at Kalan. This act, too, was in violation of Section 123(7) of the RPA.

Indira Gandhi Imposed Emergency

Indira’s ego was shattered, pride beaten, and she was declared corrupt publicly. The High Court disqualified her from holding public office for six years. Infuriated by this event, Indira immediately appealed to the Supreme Court. Luckily, the Supreme Court was on vacation at that time and therefore granted a conditional stay on the matter on June 24, 1975. The matter was decided to be heard on August 11, 1975, and till then, Indira was allowed to act like a Prime Minister, but her voting rights in the Parliament were snatched away. On the next day, i.e., June 25, 1975, an Emergency was declared in the nation by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, citing internal disturbance. Using the Defence of India Rules and MISA, all the opposition leaders, party workers, youth activists, and protestors were jailed. The media was censored.

The Parliament was convened on July 21, 1975, and the 38th Constitution Amendment Act was passed. Through the 39th Constitutional Amendment Act, the elections of the Prime Minister, Vice President, and Speaker could not be questioned before any court.

The validity of this AmendmentAmendment was tested in the Court on November 7, 1971. The judgment held that the impugned Amendment Act violated the simple shape of the Indian Constitution (taking reference from Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case). A healthful democracy can handiest feature whilst there’s the opportunity of loose and honest elections. The impugned Amendment Act destroyed that opportunity and consequently violated the primary shape of the Constitution,” stated Mathew J.

Judicial Appointments Under Indira Gandhi

The practiced convention of appointing the judges was that the most senior-most Judge was appointed as the Chief Justice of India. But two days after the Kesavananda Judgement, Indira Gandhi superseded Justice Hegde and appointed Justice A.N Ray (a Junior Judge) as CJI. It was believed that Justice Ray was pro-government and always spoke in their favor, and appointing him as CJI would probably end the confrontation between the Judiciary and the Government. This shameful act was repeated again by Indira Gandhi in 1975 when Justice Khanna was superseded by Justice M.H Beg. The reason was the case of ADM Jabalpur V. Shivkant Shukla (1976), when the right to approach the courts was suspended.

It seems that Indira inherited this habit of breaking the rules from her father as Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. Post-independence, Pt. Nehru wanted to supersede Justice Shastri and appoint Attorney General MC Setalvad or Justice M.C Chagla or Justice BK Mukherjee as CJI. For the second time, in 1954, he wanted to supersede Justice M.C Mahajan, and then in 1957, Nehru wanted to supersede Justice AC Shah.

The Economic Aspect of Emergency

Today in 2021, we talk about privatization, but it was in 1975 when the private sector was hard to find, all thanks to Command Economy and Licence-Quota-Permit Raj. The classical dictatorship led to increased efficiency in the functioning of various machinery of the Government. The Gross National Product during 1970-71 grew at the rate of 8.9%, the agricultural production at 15.6%, food grain production at 21%, industrial production at 6.1%, and exports were flying high at 21.4%. The very next year, this bubble of economic growth burst when the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) rose by 11.9% (26.03.1977), which had earlier declined by 11.6% between 28.09.1975 and 20.03.1976. This was because of the shortfall in the production of a few basic commodities and the re-emergence of a substantial imbalance between aggregate supply and demand in the economy (Source: Economic Survey 1976-77).

Indira’s Love for Soviet Model of Political Centralization and Planned Economy

Indira was exposed to the radical ideas in England and inherited the idea of a socialist state from her father. This led to the implementation of the liberalization trend in many East and South-East Asian countries. Two Wars and Successive years of drought proved to be the worst regarding the food situation of India. The US Government, the World Bank, and IMF forced Indira Gandhi to accept the proposal of a 35% devaluation of the Indian rupee. All this, along with the poor performance of Congress in the 1967 elections, forced Congress to take help from their leftist friends.

This led to the nationalization of the coal sector and bank sector. The gareebi hatao plan of Indira was a complete failure. This was followed by monsoon failure in 1972 and a rise in oil prices in 1973 due to the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. As early as May 1967, after her electoral setback, she had the Congress Working Committee adopt a Ten-Point Programme, a wish list of socialist desiderata. While her Twenty-Point Programme suggested her leftist inclinations, very few progressive reforms were, in fact, implemented. The parts of the program that were followed through, the disciplining of labor and liberalization of the economy, were the bits intended to please India’s capitalists. In this respect, the Emergency shows affinities with a particular type of social organization: corporatism.

With the decision of nationalization, Indira became a hero instantly. The results were that per-capita income increased from 775 /month in 1969-70 to just 815/month in 1976-77 at 1999-2000 prices. There was no reduction in poverty, and therefore India lost an entire decade.

The impact of Indira’s economic policies was that the successive Congress and NDA governments in State and Centre kept the poor at the core of their agenda.

The Abysmal State of Economy Under Indira

General rhetoric used by the NDA government whenever asked about their mistakes is “Yeh Congress Sarkar Ke 70 Saal Ki Vajah Se Hai” (All this is because of the 70-year rule of Congress). The question arises, did India’s growth really suffer because of the policies of the Congress, especially during the Nehru-Indira Gandhi rule?

Note: Annual percentage growth rate averaged over the relevant period. Low & Middle refers to Low and Middle-income countries according to the World Bank Definition. Source: World Bank

The above data clearly shows how the economic policies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, especially their socialist approach along with license-control Raj, were the biggest hurdle in India’s growth.

India started lagging behind China and South-East Asia in terms of per capita incomes when Indira Gandhi was in office. Our nation also started to fall behind the rest of newly independent Asia during the Indira Gandhi era. The information additionally debunks Indira’s slogans of Gareebi Hatao because the poverty estimates display that poverty declined at a far quicker price withinside the post-Indira Gandhi era.

We should look at things in either black or white. Looking at the policies of Indira Gandhi – I, one might paint her as black, but there are shades of grey during her second term. It was in 1982 when Mrs. Gandhi took the historic decision of de-regulating the cement industry. The immediate result was the disappearance of the black market, a bump in production, and a drop in actual market prices. This started the beginning of liberal economic policies.

The Rise of Naxalism Under Indira Gandhi and its Impact Today

On June 13, 1967, the then Home Minister Y B Chavan addressing the Lok Sabha, termed the armed clash in Naxalbari as mere lawlessness. The reality of the unrest is already known today, that the central and state governments neglected the landlessness and indebtedness of millions of peasants.

The governments let them deliberately suffer at the hands of landowners and the correlated issue of debt bondage. This was further aggravated by the food crisis in several parts of the country, the Bihar Food Famine and Food riots in Bengal. While Congress will always term it as agrarian unrest to hide their failure, the movement had two special features. Firstly, the agrarian movement soon transformed into a political one, and secondly, the rebellion proved to flame the countryside. Former Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray is credited with taming the Naxal violence in Bengal, where over 1,600 lives were reportedly lost during the 1972-77 Congress rule.

There were allegations galore of extra-judicial killings during this period. Indira Gandhi launched Operation Steeplechase in 1971, under which 8400 Naxals were arrested. Indira silenced the voice of Naxals with this operation. Sumantra Banerjee provides that “if the motion continues to be surviving, the credit score is due now no longer a lot to the prescience of its leaders, as to the Indian nation which, with its abysmal disasters in socio-financial areas, persists in nourishing the soil for the continuation of the Naxalite motion.”After analyzing the Naxal movement and the incidents that happened recently, it can be observed that the movement is still alive because of the dissatisfaction of the marginalized and the alienation of the population. Until the Government implements employment, poverty alleviation, and land reform programs, counterinsurgency measures can not gain much. Social justice and inclusive boom are the planks on which the Government ought to construct its program. Only with consolidated efforts at the part of the criminal and political framework can socio-financial reforms be applied and the trouble of Naxalism tackled.


Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, in his poem ‘Krishna Ki Chetavni,’ quotes a very beautiful ‘Jab Naash Manuj Par Chhaata Hai, Pehle Vivek Mar Jaata Hai.’ The line was used for Duryodhana but seemed to be applicable to Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi’s rule was the darkest phase in the history of Indian Democracy. India surely suffered a lot under Nehru’s rule, but under Indira, India suffered twice. An attack on India’s Judiciary, Constitution, economy, fundamental rights, and people in general, history will never forget the decision of Indira Nehru Gandhi.

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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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