June 26, 2024: Golden Jubilee of the Blackest Day

Three generations of Indians who grew later remained illiterates about the very fact of Emergency and about how Constitution ceased to exist and autocracy was institutionalised by it.
The Emergency was imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The Emergency was imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. (Photo | PTI)

Rahul Gandhi was waving the Constitution of India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was taking oath as member of the 18th Lok Sabha on June 24. Rahul was a five-year six-day baby when his grandmother and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared Emergency 50 years back on the midnight of June 25/26 to smoke out the Constitution, snuff out all freedom and terrify the nation into submission. Here is a snapshot of what happened on and after that blackest day half a century ago.

1975 June 25/26 midnight

On June 25 midnight, Indira tore and binned the very Constitution her grandson Rahul holds out now, arrested all Opposition, even dissenting leaders in her own party, cut off electricity to newspapers to prevent the people from knowing the news of the arrests. Jayaprakash Narayan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Madhu Dandavate, L K Advani and others were arrested under the infamous MISA intended for anti-nationals and anti-socials.

On June 26 morning, she called the cabinet whose approval was mandatory to declare Emergency, informed them that Emergency had been imposed and asked them to ratify it. The terrified and corrupt cabinet succumbed. Thus began the horrendous dictatorship of her family for 21 months till March 1977. In that period, she turned the IAS, IPS, IFS officers into a bunch of slaves, arrested and cut advertisement and made the media other than the Indian Express and the Statesman crawl before her, and terrified judges of the Supreme Court into submission.

The frightful Emergency continued till Indira was shockingly thrown out of power in an anti-climax of an election, which she had called miscalculating she would win. But alas her party lost and so did she and her son Sanjay Gandhi who ran the autocratic government.

3 generations of illiterates — including Rahul’s

How Indira institutionalised dictatorship by perverting the Constitution, subverting Parliament, coercing the media and subordinating the judiciary would have been the subject of study, awareness and caveat for the future of Indian democracy. Also how the darkness of the very Emergency she had imposed made her believe only what her courtiers said and emboldened her to call elections that she lost, too, is a warning for dictators. But that entire and educative story of the Emergency was suppressed from the nation when the very perpetrators of the national crime, the Congress, rode back to power in 1980 and ruled for almost the next two decades.

All records, including the Justice Shah Commission report on the Emergency crime against the nation were done away with when Indira Gandhi, decisively defeated by the people in 1977, equally decisively came back to power in 1980. The Shah Commission report was recovered after four decades by DMK leader Era Sezhiyan who fought Emergency in Parliament. He republished it in 2010 with the title, Shah Commission Report — Lost and Regained, and got it released in Chennai by BJP leader L K Advani, who was in jail during the entire 18-month Emergency.

Three generations of Indians who grew later remained illiterates about the very fact of Emergency and about how Constitution ceased to exist and autocracy was institutionalised by it. That Rahul, who belongs to the first of the three illiterate generations, too, is illiterate about the Emergency imposed by his grandmother is therefore no surprise. And now, why the Emergency?

Emergency — to pave way for dictatorship

Why did all the crimes against the Constitution, nation and the now celebrated human rights that began on that fateful night of June 25/26, 1975 happen? It was no sudden development. For a year before, a massive anti-corruption movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan was shaking the country and Indira’s party and government. Six months before Emergency, on December 31, in his diary Indira’s Joint Secretary in the PMO had written: “I am filled with foreboding...a crisis is building up...The main cause of the crisis is the PM…she is completely lacking in tolerance... She is not at all interested in the values which her father had done so much to foster.

Nor is she deeply acquainted with our Constitutional framework of our country…she will not relinquish power regardless of what happens. In brief, the PM is only concerned with her power and rule. Such persons tend rapidly towards fascism. They have no reservations about becoming dictators.” This insider’s prophesy that Indira would turn a fascist and dictator came true six months later on June 25/26.

Even as the JP campaign supported by the Indian Express and its Chairman Ramnath Goenka was delegitimising Indira on June 12, the Allahabad High Court declared her election marred by corrupt practices as null and void and unseated her from Parliament. Following her appeal, the Supreme Court on June 24 granted stay on the High Court order but on the condition that she can’t speak or vote in Parliament. A Prime Minister without vote and voice in Parliament? The Opposition held a massive rally on 25th June demanding her resignation. This set the stage for the midnight operation on 25/26. What is the consequence of the Emergency imposed on that midnight? Here is an unbelievable example.

“Government can kill — court is helpless”

Under the proclamation of Emergency on that fateful night, Indira suspended all fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 — freedom of speech, right to equality and also the right to life and liberty. As many as 1,11,000 people were place under preventive detention by invoking MISA. After 11 different high courts ruled that detention is illegal if grounds are not disclosed, the matter came to the Supreme Court.

The central issue before the Supreme Court was whether the right to life, too, remained suspended during Emergency. Indira’s Attorney General Niren De told the court that so long as the Emergency was in force, no citizen could move the court to enforce the right to life and personal liberty. Justice H R Khanna confronted Niren De, asking whether, in view of his submissions, there would be any remedy “if a police officer because of personal enmity killed another man?” Without batting an eyelid, Niren De shamelessly said, “there would be no judicial remedy even in such a case — of murder — so long as the Emergency lasts.” De further said, “It may shock your conscience, it shocks mine, but consistent with my submission, no proceedings can be taken in courts of law on that score.”

For asking this question and dissenting against Emergency, H R Khanna was superseded by Indira Gandhi in the appointment of the Chief Justice of India. Even as Khanna condemned the Emergency, one judge shamelessly praised the Emergency as the vision for “diamond-hard, diamond-bright future” for the country and another without shame asked what is the grouse when all arrested leaders were being well-looked after in jails with “maternal care”. The Supreme Court bent and accepted the Indira government’s position that during Emergency dictatorship, even if the government murdered an innocent, the courts would be helpless.

And the Congress government in Kerala did kill. It tortured and killed Rajan, an engineering student who protested against Emergency. Indira also amended the Defence of India Act to make internal disturbance a ground for imposing pre-censorship on newspapers and imposed pre-censorship. This is what is Emergency and dictatorship. Does Rahul, who cries for the Constitution today, know that this is what his party, his grandma did?

Laws to protect Indira, family

What Indira did on 25/26th night and later for 21 months was entirely to protect herself, her power and her family. She had handed the entire power over the party and the government to Sanjay Gandhi and his gang to rule the nation as an extra-constitutional authority, as the Shah Commission had found. Indira imposed Emergency on the fake ground that the JP movement was creating internal disturbances. There was not a single instance of violence in the JP movement. In fact, JP was sought to be killed by the Bihar Police. But Nanaji Deshmukh, who took the lathi blow on himself to save JP, had had his forearm fractured.

Indira imposed Emergency not to restore internal peace but to protect herself and her family. During Emergency, Indira amended the Constitution five times — 38th to 42nd amendments. Of which two amendments — 39th and 41st amendments were solely to save Indira from losing power and from being criminally charged even if she lost power. How the 39th Amendment was passed was a joke on Parliament and a mockery of democracy. The amendment was to protect Indira from being unseated by the Supreme Court by upholding the Allahabad High Court’s verdict.

The retrospective amendment preempted the case before the Supreme Court by declaring that no election petition against a Prime Minister, Speaker, President or Vice President shall be heard by it, directing that it be heard by a Parliament committee instead. How was the 39th Constitutional Amendment passed? It was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 7th August 1975 and passed on the same day. Taken to the Rajya Sabha on the 8th and passed on the same day. On 9th August, a Saturday, it was passed by majority of the state legislatures.

And on Sunday, August 10, it was signed by the President. Why such breakneck speed? The Supreme Court was to hear Indira’s election case the next day, on 11th August. The Supreme Court willingly obliged the Emergency regime by upholding the retrospective validation of Indira’s election, which was declared null and void by the High Court. Emergency meant an atmosphere of terror in which even the Supreme Court was frightened and endorsed a retroactive law to protect the Prime Minister from losing power.

Does Rahul know this is what is meant by Emergency? Does such an atmosphere exist in India today? Now come to 41st Amendment. It prescribed that no civil or criminal proceedings can be taken by anyone against the Prime Minister, President or Governor during his/her term in office and even after ceasing to be in office! That is lifelong pardon! This was introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 11 and passed on that very day.

42nd Amendment – Constitution can be repealed!

The most frightening act of Indira during Emergency was the 42nd Amendment, which was intended to perpetuate dictatorship. It completely defaced and defiled the Constitution. It said no amendment to the Constitution could be questioned in courts; that fundamental rights could be amended — which means done away with — and the courts cannot interfere; that Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is unlimited “by way of addition, variation or repeal”, that is Constitution can be totally done away with; that courts cannot disqualify MPs for corrupt practices; that High Courts cannot sit in judgment over the constitutionality of central laws; that unlawful associations can be banned and the courts cannot interfere.

This meant that political parties could be declared unlawful and banned — leading to one party, the Congress, rule forever. The 42nd Amendment was passed by Parliament and the President assented to it on December 17, 1976. The date is critically important. This set the stage for Indira’s decision a month later, on January 19, 1977 to hold general elections without lifting Emergency. Indira was confident she would win the elections and after her victory, the 42nd Amendment she had passed would institutionalise her family-run party dictatorship forever.

Has Rahul or Sonia who are crying for the Constitution and freedom today ever read the 42nd Amendment Indira had passed to perpetuate her family autocracy?

Fortunately, the ordinary people of India massively voted the Emergency regime out and saved our democracy. The Janata Party which came to power repealed all amendments passed by Indira’s Emergency regime and restored the pre-Emergency Constitution. It is that Constitution Rahul is holding in his hands today. Not the destroyed Constitution passed by his grandma. Does Rahul know that? Till today he or his mother hasn’t expressed any remorse for the destruction of the Constitution then. He remains blissfully illiterate. Why only Rahul, the entire national discourse is illiterate about Emergency today.

S Gurumurthy
Editor, Thuglak Tamil Magazine. Chairman, Vivekananda International Foundation Strategic Think Tank.

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