Chapter 6. The Crisis of Democratic Order

Background to Emergency
• In elections of 1971, Congress had given slogan of garibi hatao (remove poverty). However, social & economic conditions in country did not improve much after 1971-72. The Bangladesh crisis had put a heavy strain on India’s economy.
• About eight million people crossed East Pakistan border into India. This was followed by war with Pakistan. After war, US Government stopped all aid to India.
• Industrial growth was low, and unemployment was very high, particularly in rural areas. To reduce expenditure, government froze salaries of its employees. This caused further dissatisfaction among government employees.
• Monsoons failed from 1972 to 1973. This resulted in a sharp decline in agricultural productivity.
• There was a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction with prevailing economic situation all over country. In such a context, non-Congress opposition parties were able to organise popular protests effectively.
• Students’ protests in Gujarat and Bihar, both of which were Congress-ruled States, had a far-reaching impact on politics of two States and national politics.
• In January 1974 students in Gujarat started an agitation against rising prices of food grains, cooking oil, and other essential commodities, and against corruption in high places.
• The students’ protest was joined by major opposition parties and became widespread, leading to imposition of President’s Rule in State.
• The opposition parties demanded fresh elections to State Legislature.
• Morarji Desai, a prominent leader of Congress (O), who was main rival of Indira Gandhi when he was in Congress, announced that he would go on an indefinite fast if fresh elections were not held in State.
• Under intense pressure from students, supported by opposition political parties, assembly elections were held in Gujarat in June 1975. The Congress was defeated in this election.
• In March 1974 students came together in Bihar to protest against rising prices, food scarcity, unemployment, and corruption.
• After a point they invited Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), who had given up active politics and was involved in social work, to lead Student Movement.
• He accepted it on condition that movement will remain non-violent and not limit itself to Bihar.
• People from all walks of life entered movement.
• Jayaprakash Narayan demanded dismissal of Congress Government in Bihar and gave a call for a total revolution in social, economic & political spheres to establish true democracy.
• The government, however, refused to resign.
• Alongside agitation led by Jayaprakash Narayan, employees of Railways gave a call for a nationwide strike. This threatened to paralyse country.
• In 1975, JP led a peoples’ march to Parliament. This was one of largest political rallies ever held in capital.
• He was now supported by non congress opposition parties like Bhartiya Jana Sangh, Congress (O), Bhartiya Lok Dal, Socialist Party and others. These parties were projecting JP as an alternative to Indira Gandhi.
• This was period when government and ruling party had many differences with judiciary.
• Three constitutional issues had emerged can Parliament abridge Fundamental Rights? The Supreme Court said it cannot abridge Fundamental Rights. Second, can Parliament curtail right to property by making an amendment? Again, Court said that Parliament cannot amend Constitution in such a manner that rights are curtailed. Third, Parliament amended Constitution saying that it can abridge Fundamental Rights for giving effect to Directive Principles. But Supreme Court rejected this provision as well.
• This led to a crisis as far as relations between government and judiciary were concerned.
• Immediately after Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 in Kesavananda Bharati case, a vacancy arose for post of Chief Justice of India.
• It had been a practice to appoint senior-most judge of Supreme Court as Chief Justice. But in 1973, government set aside seniority of three judges and appointed Justice A. N. Ray as Chief Justice of India.
• The appointment became politically controversial because all three judges who were superseded had given rulings against stand of government.
• The climax of confrontation was, of course, ruling of High Court declaring Indira Gandhi’s election invalid.

Declaration of Emergency
• On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of Allahabad High Court passed a judgment declaring Indira Gandhi’s election to Lok Sabha invalid.
• This order came on an election petition filed by Raj Narain, a socialist leader and a candidate who had contested against her in 1971.
• The petition challenged election of Indira Gandhi on ground that she had used services of government servants in her election campaign.
• The judgment of High Court meant that legally she was no more an MP, and therefore, could not remain Prime Minister unless she was once again elected as an MP within six months.
• Jayaprakash announced a nationwide satyagraha for her resignation and asked army, police & government employees not to obey ‘illegal and immoral orders’.
• This threatened to bring activities of government to a standstill. The political mood of country had turned against Congress, more than ever before.
• The response of government was to declare a state of emergency.
• On 25 June 1975, government declared that there was a threat of internal disturbances, and therefore, it invoked Article 352 of Constitution. Under provision of this article, government could declare a state of emergency on grounds of external threat or a threat of internal disturbances.
• The government decided that a grave crisis had arisen which proclaimed a state of emergency necessary.
• Once emergency is proclaimed, federal distribution of powers remains practically suspended, and all powers are concentrated in hands of Union Government.
• Second, government gets power to curtail or restrict all or any of Fundamental Rights during emergency.
• From wording of provisions of Constitution, it is clear that emergency is seen as an extraordinary condition in which normal democratic politics cannot function. Therefore, special powers are granted to government.
• On night of 25 June 1975, Prime Minister recommended imposition of emergency to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. He issued proclamation immediately.
• The Cabinet was informed about it at a special meeting at 6 am on 26 June, after all this had been done.
• This brought agitation to an abrupt stop; strikes were banned; many opposition leaders were put in jail; political situation became very quiet though tense.
• The government suspended freedom of press. Newspapers were asked to get prior approval for all material to be published. This is called press censorship.
• The government banned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jamaat-e-Islami.
• Protests, strikes & public agitations were disallowed.
• Most importantly, under provisions of Emergency, various Fundamental Rights of citizens got suspended, including right of citizens to move Court for restoring their Fundamental Rights.
• The government made extensive use of preventive detention.
• The Parliament brought in many new changes to Constitution. In background of ruling of Allahabad High Court in Indira Gandhi case, an amendment was made declaring that elections of Prime Minister, President & Vice-President could not be challenged in Court. The forty-second amendment was passed during emergency.
• The emergency at once brought out both weaknesses and strengths of India’s democracy.
• Now ‘Internal’ Emergency can be proclaimed only on grounds of ‘armed rebellion’ and advice to President to proclaim an Emergency must be given in writing by Union Cabinet.

Lok Sabha Election after Emergency
• In January 1977, after eighteen months of emergency, government decided to hold elections.
• Accordingly, all leaders and activists were released from jail. The elections were held in March 1977. This left opposition with very little time, but political developments took place very rapidly.
• All oppositions came together on eve of elections and formed a new party, called Janata Party.
• The new party accepted leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan. Some leaders of Congress who were opposed to Emergency joined this new party.
• The Janata Party made this election into a referendum on Emergency. Its campaign was focused on non-democratic character of rule and on various excesses that took place during this period.
• For first time since Independence, Congress party was defeated in Lok Sabha elections. The Janata Party won 295 seats and thus enjoyed a clear majority.
• The Emergency and period around it can be described as a period of Constitutional Crisis because it had its origins in Constitutional battle over jurisdiction of Parliament and judiciary. On other hand, it was a period of political crisis. The party in power had an absolute majority and yet, its leadership decided to suspend democratic process.

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