Emergency Proclaimed

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

Mrs. Gandhi proclaimed a state of Internal Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution on the morning of 26 June, suspending the normal political processes, but promising to return to normalcy as soon as conditions warranted it. The proclamation suspended the federal provisions of the Constitution and fundamental rights and civil liberties. The government imposed strict censorship on the Press and stifled all protest and opposition to the government. In the early hours of 26 June, hundreds of the main leaders of the Opposition were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). Among those arrested were Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, and Atal Behari Vajpayee and Congress dissidents such as Chandra Shekhar. Several academics, newspapermen, trade unionists and student leaders were also put behind bars. Many of the arrested were gradually released: JP in 1975 on grounds of health and others, including Charan Singh and Vajpayee, during 1976. Popular organizations such as Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) were banned.

In all, more than 100,000 were arrested during a period of nineteen months. Among those arrested were also a large number of anti-social elements such as smugglers, hoarders, black marketers and known goondas.

During the Emergency the parliament was made utterly ineffective. The opposition of a few brave MPs, who had not been arrested, was nullified, as the speeches were not permitted to be reported in the Press. The state governments were rigidly controlled. The two non-Congress governments of DMK in Tamil Nadu and Janata in Gujarat were dismissed in January and March 1976 despite being quite compliant. The Congress chief ministers of U.P. and Orissa, were replaced for not being reliable enough. The Congress party was also strictly controlled. Internal democracy within the party was more or less completely snuffed. From the second half of 1976 the Youth Congress led by Sanjay Gandhi became more important than the parent organization.

While a section of the intelligentsia reacted to the Emergency with marked hostility, the large majority of the people initially responded to it with passivity, acquiescence, acceptance or even support. It was only from the beginning of 1976 that the Emergency started becoming unpopular .Why was this delayed reaction? For one, the people had no experience in recent memory, which is since independence, of an authoritarian rule. There was bewilderment as also personal fear of the unknown. Moreover, apart from the arrest of opposition leaders, the repressive measures were almost entirely directed against anti-social elements. The number of persons arrested in the first few days in the entire country was approximately 10,000. But many of the detenus were released within a short span of time. Above all, a large number of people were impressed by the positive outcome of some of the well-publicized Emergency measures most of which could, of course, have been taken without an Emergency.

With the restoration of public order and discipline, many felt relieved that the country had been saved from disorder and chaos. There was less crime in the cities; gheraos and uncontrolled, often violent, demonstrations came to an end; there was a perceptible lessening of tension in the air; there was calm and tranquility on the campuses as students and teachers went back to classrooms.

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