The Dark Days in Indian Democracy

Introduction

Emergency marks the dark chapters of History in India.

India is the world’s largest democracy with one well-defined Constitution that provides ironclad protection of our fundamental rights, but this same protection was challenged in an unprecedented manner. On this very day, 46yrs ago in 1975, Indians woke up to hear that the elected government led by Indira Gandhi proclaimed an eternal emergency. The announcement marked an immediate suspension of Fundamental rights, civil liberties were curbed, elections suspended, and voices of the dissents silenced for a period that lasted for 21months. Opposition leaders and others were jailed, habeas corpus was suspended, and censorship was imposed on the newspapers. June 26, 2021, marked the 46th year of that announcement.

Emergency was a seminal event in the history of Independent India. President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared an emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution on the recommendation of Indira Gandhi in response to widespread “internal disturbance,” and it was imposed from June 25, 1975, to March 21, 1977. On June 25, 1975, the Government declared that there was a threat of internal disturbances, and thus, it invoked Article 352 of the Constitution. Under this article, the Government could declare a state of Emergency on the grounds of external threat or a threat of internal disturbances.

The Consequences of the imposition of the Emergency

Provisions of Emergency grants the Executive certain special powers that the Government decided to put into effect and suspended the freedom of the press. Moreover, strikes were banned, and many opposition leaders were put in jail.

Press censorship was also imposed, and the newspapers were asked to get prior approval before publishing any material.

Most significantly, the fundamental rights were snatched away from the citizens, including the right to move the Court for restoring their basic rights. The provision of Preventive detention was also used extensively, and people were arrested and detained based on the ground that they may commit an offense.

The Supreme Court’s constitution bench overruled the High Courts in April 1976 and approved the Government’s plea. It meant that the Government might take away a citizen’s right to life and liberty during an emergency.

Many new amendments to the Constitution were also enacted by Parliament. Following the Allahabad High Court’s decision in the Indira Gandhi case, an amendment was introduced stating that the Prime Minister, President, and vice President could not be challenged in Court. During the Emergency, the forty-second amendment was also passed.

Types of Emergency

  • National Emergency – When the security of India or a part of it is threatened by war, external attack, or armed insurrection, the President can proclaim a   national emergency under   Article   352.   When    a national emergency is declared on the grounds of ‘war’ or ‘external aggression,’ it is known as ‘External Emergency.’
  • State Emergency – Article 356 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to act only if he believes that a situation has developed in which the Government of a State cannot be carried on, in conformity with the Constitution’s provisions.
  • Financial Emergency– Article 360 authorizes the President to declare a Financial Emergency if he believes a situation has emerged that jeopardizes India’s financial stability or credit in any area of the country.

44th Amendment

Specific changes were made in Article 352 under the 44th Amendment, which substantially altered the emergency provisions, and some changes were also restored, which were established by the 42nd Amendment.

  • As per Article 352, the term “internal disturbance” was superseded by “armed rebellion.”
    • An emergency can be proclaimed only after receiving the confirmation of the crisis by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
    • The Houses must proclaim the Emergency within one month.
    • Every six months, the Houses must re-approve to continue Emergency.
    • An emergency can be bypassing resolutions to that effect by a simple majority of the houses present and voting. A resolution can be moved by a tenth of a house’s members.
    • Article 358 states that Article 19 is only suspended upon war or

external aggression and not upon armed rebellion. Furthermore, any law that breaches Article 19 must recite that it is connected to Article 358. If a law violates Article 19, it can still be contested.

  • Article 359 states that the suspension of the right to move courts for

violations of Part III won’t include Articles 20 and 21.

  • The term of Lok Sabha from 6 to 5 years was reversed back.

Case Laws

Minerva Mills and Ors vs. UOI and Ors

In Minerva Mills and Others v. Union of India and Others, the Supreme Court held that just because the Court would require to examine a political problem, it will not step back from carrying out its constitutional role. The Supreme Court, with great precision, detailed its authority to review the President’s Proclamation of Emergency.

State of Rajasthan vs. UOI (1977)

On March 24, 1977, the Janata party secured the verdict of the electorate and formed the new Government at the Centre. This was an unprecedented event since, for the first time in the history of the country, the ruling party at the Centre was not in power in any of the federating States – Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. On the date that the Janata Party took office, Congress (R) was in power in various States. The Congress also lost its majority in the Lok Sabha as a result, which the Government at the Centre was formed by the Janata Party in coalition with the Congress for Democracy. On April 17, 1977, the Union Home Minister sent letters to the Chief Ministers of nine states asking them to advise their Governors to dissolve their respective legislatures and seek new mandates. Suits were filed by six of these nine states stating that the letter and the radio broadcast of the Law Minister constituted a clear-cut threat of dissolution of the Assemblies and disclosed grounds that are prima facie outside the purview of Article 356 of the Constitution.

According to Article 356 of the Constitution of India, the President can cease  from the Union the legislative and executive powers of any state “if he is satisfied that a situation has emerged in which the state’s administration cannot be carried out within the Constitution’s provisions.”

The Supreme Court held that one could not challenge the satisfaction of the President except because it has exercised malafide or irrelevant grounds.

Therefore the suits were upheld and dismissed by the Court.

Conclusion

The period of Emergency was the darkest phase in India’s tenure. On January 24, 1978, at a public meeting in Yavatmal, Indira Gandhi even apologized for the excesses committed during the Emergency and declared she was taking “the entire responsibility for the same.”

The Emergency ended, resulting in a defeat of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections of 1977. The most precious lesson learned from Emergency is that the 1977 Lok Sabha elections were announced as soon as the Emergency got over. The 1977 elections became a referendum on the Emergency’s influence, at least in North India, where it was most felt. The opposition campaigned on the slogan “Save Democracy.” The people’s judgment was decisively against the Emergency. The experience of the entire period of Emergency from 1975 – 77 ended up strengthening the foundations of democracy in India.

This article is written by Shruti Bose student of Christ (Deemed to be University), Lavasa.

This article is edited by Shreya Litoria, a student of Banasthali Vidpyapith University, Jaipur.

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