It happened one night

Pranab Mukherjee’s account of what happened the day Emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi, and the people behind the move

The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years
Pranab Mukherjee
Rs 595
Pp 321

Excerpts: The Dramatic Decade—The Indira Gandhi Years

A few minutes before midnight on 25 June 1975, the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, proclaimed a ‘State of Emergency’ under Article 352 of the Constitution. I was in Calcutta for my Rajya Sabha election, scheduled for 26 June, and got to know of this development on the morning of the 26th. Indira Gandhi asked me to return to Delhi as soon as the election was over and meet her at the earliest. D.P. Chattopadhyaya—who was then the Minister of State for Commerce and also in Calcutta for the Rajya Sabha election—told me he had received similar summons from Delhi.
I got to the assembly building at about 9.30 a.m. It was teeming with state legislators, ministers and political leaders, some with questions and others with conspiracy theories. Some went to the extent of suggesting that, a la Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi had abrogated the Constitution and usurped power for herself, with the army in tow. I corrected these prophets of doom, saying that the Emergency had been declared according to the provisions of the Constitution rather than in spite of it. I argued that if the Constitution had indeed been abrogated, why would the Rajya Sabha election take place at all? The logic worked and people started to see reason. Around 11 a.m., Siddhartha Shankar Ray—the then Chief Minister of West Bengal—returned to Calcutta from Delhi and called me to his chamber. I met him there along with D.P. Chattopadhyaya and a couple of state ministers, one being Abdus Sattar, and discussed the developing scenario. Siddhartha babu briefed us about the happenings in Delhi the night before.
It is believed that Siddhartha Shankar Ray played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency: it was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it. In fact, Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the constitutional provisions allowing for the declaration of a state of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance, particularly since a state of Emergency had already been proclaimed as a consequence of the Indo-Pak conflict
in 1971.
According to Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s deposition before the Shah Commission (set up by the Janata government to investigate the ‘excesses’ of the Emergency), he was summoned to Indira Gandhi’s residence on the morning of 25 June 1975. He reached 1 Safdarjung Road and met Indira Gandhi, who said that she had received a slew of reports indicating that the country was heading into a crisis. She told him that in view of the all-round indiscipline and lawlessness, some strong corrective measures needed to be taken. Siddhartha babu told the Shah Commission that Indira Gandhi had, on two or three previous occasions, told him that India needed some ‘shock treatment’ and that some ‘emergent power or drastic power’ was necessary. He recalled to the Shah Commission that on one such occasion (before the announcement of the Allahabad High Court judgement on 12 June 1975), he had told her that they could take recourse to the laws already on the statute books, and cited to her the success with which he had tackled the law and order problems of West Bengal within the framework of the law. According to Siddhartha babu, Indira Gandhi then read out intelligence reports of Jayaprakash Narayan’s public meeting scheduled for that evening. The reports indicated that he would call for an all-India agitation to set up a parallel administration network as well as courts, and appeal to policemen and those in the armed forces to disobey what were supposed to be illegal orders. Indira Gandhi, he maintained, was firm in the understanding that India
was drifting towards chaos
and anarchy.
Siddhartha babu then asked Indira Gandhi for some time to consider the possible courses of action, and returned later that evening, at about 5 p.m., to tell her that she could consider, …if she so desired, Article 352 of the Constitution for the purpose of imposing internal emergency [whereupon] she asked Shri Ray to go along with her to the President immediately… She gave to the President a summary of what she had told Shri Ray with regard to the facts, that the President heard her for about twenty minutes to half an hour and then asked Shri Ray as to what were the exact words in the Constitution, that the President then told
the Prime Minister to make
her recommendation…
Pages 45-46

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, once it was declared, there were a whole host of people claiming authorship of the idea of declaring the Emergency. And, again not surprisingly, these very people took a sharp about-turn when the Shah Commission was set up to look into the Emergency ‘excesses’. Not only did they disown their involvement, they pinned all the blame on Indira Gandhi, pleading their own innocence. Siddhartha babu was no exception. Deposing before the Shah Commission, he ran into Indira Gandhi—draped in a crimson saree that day—in the Commission Hall and tossed a sprightly remark: ‘You look pretty today.’
‘Despite your efforts,’ retorted a curt Indira Gandhi.
Page 47

Excerpted with permission from Rupa


Prime Minister of India
New Delhi, June 25, 1975

Dear Rashtrapatiji,
As already explained to you, a little while ago, information has reached us which indicates that there is an imminent danger to the security of India being threatened by internal disturbance. The matter is extremely urgent.
I would have liked to have taken this to Cabinet but unfortunately this is not possible tonight. I am, therefore, condoning, or permitting a departure from the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rule 1961 as amended up-to-date by virtue of my powers under Rule 12 thereof. I shall mention the matter to the Cabinet first thing tomorrow morning.
In the circumstances and in case you are so satisfied, a requisite Proclamation under Article 352(1) has become necessary. I am enclosing a copy of the draft proclamation for your consideration. As you are aware, under Article 352(3) even when there is an imminent danger of such a threat, as mentioned by me, the necessary Proclamation under Article 352(1) can be issued.
I recommend that such a Proclamation should be issued tonight, however late it may be, and all arrangements will be made to make it public as early as possible thereafter.

With kind regards,
Yours sincerely,

(Sd/- Indira Gandhi)
Source: Shah Commission, interim report

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