With Thursday marking the 40th anniversary of the imposition of Emergency by former prime minister Indira Gandhi, her personal secretary R K Dhawan said that while some refer to the period as a ‘black day’, the declaration was nessesary to save India from forces of anarchy.
“Some people call it a black day, but for some it’s a day when decisive step was taken to save country from anarchy. It was appreciated by some people and she received some letters saying that the situation of the country had improved. For the first six to eight months, the situation was alright. But then, certain leaders tried to browbeat one another and tried to sort out their personal animosities and things started drifting,” Rajinder Kumar Dhawan said.
“MLAs were being forces to resign, there were attempts to dissolve the assembly, a climate of hatred was being created, there was an attempt on the life of the Chief Justice, agitations were taking place, false corruption charges were being levelled…seeing all this, leaders of the party felt that some drastic measures were required to control the situation. It was a threat to democracy,” he added.
Dhawan further claimed that the Allahabad High Court’s judgement, which ruled Gandhi’s Lok Sabha candidature to be ‘null and void’, had little to do with regards to the declaration of the Emergency.
“It’s very unfair to treat her like that. All these days many articles have appeared in the media but none of them bothered to find out as to what was the situation prevailing in country before the declaration of Emergency… People link the Emergency with the judgement by the Allahabad High Court. That is very unfair and is a simplistic view of a complex situation. After the judgement, the opposition, the frustrated parties stepped up their campaign against her resignation. They forgot that the High Court had also given her a stay of 20 days to appear before the Supreme Court,” he said.
“[The opposition] started agitations, called for the army to mutiny, appealed to the police to rebel and workers to go on strike… All these things were a threat to the unity and integrity of India, which is why Siddharth Shankar Ray suggested that Emergency be declared. President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was consulted and he was convinced, which is why he signed the declaration at night,” he added.
Indira Gandhi had imposed emergency in the country on June 25, 1975, with the government officially stating that the country was ‘paralysed’ after a hard-fought war with Pakistan and justified the imposition of the Emergency by citing threats to national security.
During this 22-month period, Gandhi invoked Article 352 of the Constitution to grant herself ‘extraordinary powers’ and launched a massive crackdown on civil liberties and political rivals, arresting opposition leaders like Vijayaraje Scindia, Jaiprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani.
Actions taken by the government during this period include the widespread censuring of all media, the detention of people by the police without notification, abuse and torture of detainees, and the forced sterilisation drives undertaken by Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay.
The Emergency officially ended on March 23, 1977, with Indira Gandhi having released all political prisoners earlier that year. Fresh elections were called, with the Congress losing by a large margin, resulting in the Janata Party’s Morarji Desai becoming the first non-Congress prime minister of India.
In an interview given to an English daily earlier this month, Advani had said that he did not see any sign in India’s current polity that assured him of any outstanding aspect of leadership, adding that he did not have the confidence that a situation like the Emergency would not be repeated in the country.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, referring to the period, said that nobody could forget June 25 and 26, when the nation was turned into a jail and bound with chains of Emergency.