It was on June 26, 1975, people in India woke up to learn about the midnight promulgation of state of ‘internal emergency’ and arrest of most of opposition politicians including those from Indira Gandhi’s own Congress party, who had been for sometime critical of her domestic policies and her growing authoritarianism. In next 18-20 months, following that declaration of emergency, there was a total subversion of the entire system of Indian Constitution and suspension of habeas corpus. With incarceration of entire opposition, the central legislature was bulldozed into passing of a spate of constitutional amendments that undermined every institution of the state. Both judiciary and press were subjected to an unprecedented intimidation through inimical and coercive tactics and were forced to toe the official line. However, the most unsettling aspect of that era was sprouting of an extra-constitution power center headed by the notorious younger son of Indira Gandhi, which during major part of the period wrought social havoc through ill-conceived social engineering directed at curbing population growth and town planning. And more than that the withering effect of that extra-constitutional power wielded by Sanjay Gandhi was that it spawned such aberrant authorities in almost every nook of the country through overzealous bureaucrats driven by the lure of power.
The details of the excesses of that period have been subject of many books, columns and gossips. But none matches the reports issued by the Shah commission that went into causes and excesses of that period with damning indictment of not only Indira Gandhi but rather entire machinery including judiciary that barring a few glorious exceptions went into over drive to further authoritarian power during that period. However, it is curious that there are very few commentaries on the causes that lead to the declaration of that ordinance on that fateful night of June 25, 1975 that virtually ended democracy in India. The immediate impetus for declaration of that infamous emergency was a judgment by Jagmohan Lal Sinha of Allahabad High Court that disqualified Indira Gandhi from holding any political office, which virtually unseated her as prime minister and less than unqualified relief from Supreme Court following an appeal. The Allahabad High Court judgment on June 12, 1975 was based on a case related to misuse of official machinery by Indira Gandhi and her officials in her Rae Barelly constituency in the elections of 1971. It was Maverick Raj Narian, whom Indira Gandhi had soundly beaten in that election had brought that case against her. In his judgment, the concerned justice had followed law to the last letter. Pertinently, in a very recent judgment on Affordable Health Care, the US Supreme Court chose to overlook four words that were in not consonant with law and decided in favor of the administration. In the judgment written by Chief Justice Roberts, it is stated “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.” The justices of the US Supreme Court were aware of the havoc their decision to the contrary would create. In that context even Jagmohan Lal Sinha would have been aware of the consequences of unseating an elected Prime Minister would create. Congress Party under Indira Gandhi had won a huge mandate in the national election she had called in 1971 followed by another sweep in 1972 elections for state legislatures. The next parliamentary elections were already due in less than a year’s time.
To be continued….