Popular Discontent

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Home | Gujarat & Bihar unrest | Emergency Proclaimed | Popular Discontent

Sanjay GandhiWithin a few months, however, the people started getting disillusioned with the Emergency. Popular discontent from mid-1976 reached its zenith six months later. Economic growth of the first year of the Emergency was not sustained. Agricultural output declined; prices rose by 10 per cent by the end of 1976. The corrupt, black-marketers and smugglers resumed their activities as the shock of the Emergency wore off. The poor were disenchanted with the slow progress in their welfare and workers were unhappy because of limits on wages, bonus and dearness allowance and restrictions on the right to strike. The government servants and teachers became discontented because they were being disciplined in their work places and in many cases were being forced to fulfill sterilization quotas.

Reliance for the implementation of the Twenty-Point Programme and other developmental programmes was placed exclusively on the same old corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy and manipulative and discredited politicians. So far as the common people were concerned, matters took a turn for the worse, for there were no avenues of protest or any other mechanism for the voicing and redressal of their grievances. Even common people and not merely intellectuals and political workers lived in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. The bureaucracy and the police now got increased power that was unchecked by criticism and exposure from the Press, courts, MLAs and MPs, political parties and popular movements. This affected all but eventually the poor were the most affected.

Delay in lifting the Emergency began to generate the fear that the authoritarian structure of the rule might be made permanent or continue for a long time, particularly as Mrs Gandhi had got parliament to postpone elections by one year in November 1976. The intelligentsia-teachers, journalists, professionals, and small town lawyers—and middle classes in particular viewed the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, passed in September 1976, as an effort to subvert democracy by changing the very basic structure of the Constitution. The Emergency, earlier acceptable, began to lose legitimacy.

A major reason for the growing unpopularity of the Emergency regime was, however, the development of an extra-constitutional centre of power associated with the rise to political power of Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, who held no office in the government or Congress. By April 1976, Sanjay Gandhi emerged as a parallel authority, interfering at will in the working of the government and administration. He was courted and obeyed by Cabinet ministers, Congress leaders, chief ministers and senior civil servants. Within Congress, he emerged as the leader of the Youth Congress that soon rivaled the parent party in political weight.

In July 1976, Sanjay put forward his four points that gradually became more important than the official twenty points. The four points were: don’t take dowry at the time of marriage; practise family planning and limit families to only two children; plant trees; and promote literacy. Sanjay Gandhi was also determined to beautify the cities by clearing slums and unauthorized structures impeding roads, bazaars, parks, monuments, etc.

Pushed by Sanjay Gandhi, the government decided to promote family planning more vigorously and even in an arbitrary, illegitimate and authoritarian manner. Incentives and persuasion were increasingly replaced by compulsion and coercion and above all by compulsory sterilization. Government servants, schoolteachers and health workers were assigned arbitrarily fixed quotas of number of persons they had to ‘motivate’ to undergo sterilization. The police and administration added their might to the enforcement of the quotas. The most affected were the rural and urban poor who often protested in all sorts of everyday ways, including recourse to flight, hiding and rioting.

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