Emergency: revisiting the darkest hours of democracy

The past of a country, any country, is dotted with such momentous moments, dates and events. They serve as catalysts and change the potential trajectory of their existence, and they are impactful. The morning of 26 June 1975, India woke up to the Emergency declared at midnight by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. It was the beginning of the darkest political time in India that lasted for 21 months and that, thankfully, has never been replicated by any later Prime Minister, yet. I look back at the time as a marker of my political education, as another June 26 approaches and India recalls the Emergency, a time that profoundly influenced not only my politics, but also my personal career choices. Politics has become private! The Emergency was enforced after orders under Article 352(1) of the Indian Constitution were released by India ‘s President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to plunge the nation into what is now regarded as the “darkest time” in post-Independent India. Indira Gandhi had given herself special powers under the powers of the emergency law to arrest opposition leaders. There is an fascinating storey about George Fernandes, who later became the Minister of Defence of India. He was living underground, trying to avoid the encounter with the police. His socialist friends had made a scheme to call Mark Tully, the BBC’s correspondent. If the cops come calling. It happened, true to their suspicions, and they called Mark Tully, and the news blinked from the BBC. Many believe George Fernandes may have saved his life. Finally, Indira Gandhi called for fresh elections in January 1977 and freed all political prisoners. That was two months prior to the lifting of the emergency. Indians were warned by the opposition and said it was the last chance to choose between democracy and dictatorship. Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, both lost their seats in the elections. Morarji Desai became India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister and amended the Indian Constitution, rendering it difficult for any government to crack down on an emergency in the future. Whether It was a monarchy, a definitive reaction to a situation of disorder and unrest Or a single person’s personalisation of power?

The ‘Emergency’ case per se was the excesses that were committed during those nineteen months were troublesome enough, but threatened the very foundations of democracy’s values enshrined in free India’s Constitution. The Emergency was a time of total authority and a complete collapse of the Peace and rule. It was a time when all fundamental rights were clamped down by the press, suspended the opposition put in jail.  Anyone daring to protest so much as a murmur has got the under the infamous MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security), countless individuals, including opposition leaders, influential journalists, and members of the intelligentsia, were imprisoned under the infamous MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act), in which no reasons had to be provided for arresting someone but the threat to the nation.. The Emergency was too short to become a full-fledged one, Dictatorship, too long to be considered a brief emergency era, saw excesses that exposed excesses. The state ‘s authoritarian strike, and yet it did not include a military takeover or the dismantling of the basic institutions of democracy, even though there was pressure to execute these as per the wishes of the government. An interesting was to categorising this regime as “anocracy”. Under this emergency the  legislature, because all political opposition was behind bars, every state institution was brought to its knees; the executive was made toothless and impotent and the judiciary subverted by the doctrine of being committed to a certain ideology and the fear of incarceration. Saying that this was the darkest hour for a fledgling democracy would not be hyperbole.

The emergency in Indian history is not really an isolated occurrence; rather, it is a very tangible occurrence. The product of the events which preceded it. It is the expression of that chaos and disarray which in the Indian framework, he was already there. The emergency significantly changed everything. I discovered that the rule of law and the so-called checks and balances that we hear about in school textbooks meant little in my country, in the face of a powerful political leader in control. In fact, there was little sense of the constitutional division of power between the executive, the legislature and even the judiciary. The public officials throughout each level and the police showed no respect for the rights of people. They were able to do almost anything to impress their political bosses and to advance their careers.

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  1. To compare any political period or dispensation, even that of Narendra Modi by his worst critics, to the Emergency of Indira Gandhi is to trivialise the import of the Emergency and its far-reaching consequences for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, including the basic one to life. The onslaught on the Constitution to project a personal ideology of misplaced socialism and to her personal self by Mrs Gandhi was without regard to and without the semblance of any democratic propriety. Every institution of the state was brought to its knees — the legislative, because all the political opposition was behind bars; the executive was made toothless and impotent and the judiciary subverted by the doctrine of being committed to a certain ideology and the fear of incarceration. It would not be hyperbole to say that this was the darkest hour for a nascent democracy.


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