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Chapter 6 The Crisis of Democratic Order Class 12 Political Science II CBSE NCERT Notes
In this chapter we will study about the emergency period which is a crucial phase in the history of democracy in India.
We will try to understand why was Emergency imposed and what were the consequences of Emergency on party politics?
Background to Emergency
Indira Gandhi had emerged as a towering leader with tremendous popularity. This period also witnessed tensions in the relationship between the government and the judiciary.
The Supreme Court found many initiatives of the government to be violative of the Constitution.
The Congress party took the position that this stand of the Court was against principles of democracy and parliamentary supremacy.
The parties opposed to the Congress felt that governmental authority was being converted into personal authority.
The slogan of “garibi hatao” (remove poverty) was used by Congress in the 1971 elections, but little improvement was seen in the country’s social and economic conditions after 1971-72.
After the war the U.S government stopped all aid to India. In the international market, oil prices increased manifold during this period. This led to an all-round increase in prices of commodities. Prices increased by 23 percent in 1973 and 30 percent in 1974. Such a high level of inflation caused much hardship to the people.
The government froze the salaries of its employees to reduce expenditure, causing dissatisfaction among government employees.
Monsoons failed in 1972-1973. This resulted in a sharp decline in agricultural productivity
There was a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction with the economic situation, leading to effective popular protests by non-Congress opposition parties.
These Marxist-Leninist (now Maoist) groups, also known as Naxalites, were particularly strong in West Bengal, where the State government took stringent measures to suppress them.
Gujarat and Bihar movements
In January 1974, students in Gujarat began protesting against rising prices of essential commodities and corruption in high places.
The students’ protest was joined by major opposition parties and became widespread leading to the imposition of President’s rule in the state.
The opposition parties demanded fresh elections to the state legislature. Under intense pressure from students, supported by the opposition political parties, assembly elections were held in Gujarat in June 1975. The Congress was defeated in this election.
In March 1974, students in Bihar also began protesting against rising prices, food scarcity, unemployment, and corruption.
They invited Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), a prominent social worker and former politician, to lead the movement. Jayaprakash Narayan demanded the dismissal of the Congress government in Bihar and gave a call for total revolution to establish what he considered to be true democracy.
The government refused to resign, and a series of bandhs, gehraos, and strikes were organized in protest against the Bihar government.
JP wanted to spread the movement to other parts of the country. At the same time, the employees of the Railways called for a nationwide strike that threatened to paralyze the country.
In 1975, JP organized a peoples’ march to the Parliament, which was one of the largest political rallies ever held in the capital.
He was now supported by the non-Congress opposition parties like the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the
Congress (O), the Bharatiya Lok Dal, the Socialist Party and others. These parties were projecting JP as an alternative to Indira Gandhi.
The Gujarat and Bihar agitations were seen as anti-Congress and protests against Indira Gandhi’s leadership rather than the state governments.
The Naxalite Movement
In 1967, a peasant uprising occurred in the Naxalbari police station area of Darjeeling hills district in West Bengal under the leadership of the local cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
In 1969, the Naxalites broke off from the CPI (M) and formed a new party, the CPI-ML, under the leadership of Charu Majumdar. It argued that democracy in India was a sham and decided to adopt a strategy of protracted guerrilla warfare in order to lead to a revolution.
The Naxalite movement has used force to seize land from rich landowners and give it to the poor and landless.
The Naxalite movement has by now splintered into various parties and organisations. Some of these parties, like the CPI-ML (Liberation) participate in open, democratic politics.
Currently, about 75 districts in nine States are affected by Naxalite violence. Most of these areas are very backward and inhabited by Adivasis.
In these areas, sharecroppers, under-tenants, and small cultivators are denied their basic rights such as security of tenure, share in produce, and fair wages.
Governments have taken stern measures in dealing with the Naxalite movement.
Human rights activists have criticized the government for violating constitutional norms in dealing with the Naxalites.
The violence by the Naxalites and the anti-Naxalite violence by the government has led to the loss of many thousands of lives.
Conflict with Judiciary
During this period, the government and the ruling party had many differences with the judiciary.
The Supreme Court held that Parliament cannot abridge Fundamental Rights, cannot curtail the right to property by making an amendment, and rejected the provision that Parliament can abridge Fundamental Rights for giving effect to Directive Principles. This led to a crisis in the relations between the government and the judiciary.
This crisis culminated in the famous Kesavananda Bharati Case. In this case, the Court gave a decision that there are some basic features of the Constitution and the Parliament cannot amend these features.
The appointment of Justice A.N. Ray as the Chief Justice of India in 1973 became politically controversial because the government set aside the seniority of three judges who had given rulings against the stand of the government.
The climax of the confrontation was the ruling of the High Court declaring Indira Gandhi’s election invalid.
Declaration on Emergency
On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court declared Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha invalid.
The order came on an election petition filed by Raj Narain, a socialist leader and a candidate who had contested against her in 1971.
The petition challenged the election of Indira Gandhi on the ground that she had used the services of government servants in her election campaign.
The judgment of the High Court meant that legally she was no longer an MP and therefore could not remain the Prime Minister unless she was once again elected as an MP within six months.
On 24 June, the Supreme Court granted her a partial stay on the High Court order. Till her appeal was decided, she could remain an MP but could not take part in the proceedings of the Lok Sabha.
Crisis and response
The opposition political parties led by Jayaprakash Narayan pressed for Indira Gandhi’s resignation and organised a massive demonstration in Delhi’s Ramlila grounds on 25 June 1975.
JP announced a nationwide satyagraha and asked the army, police and government employees not to obey “illegal and immoral orders”.
The government responded by declaring a state of emergency on 25 June 1975, citing a threat of internal disturbances under Article 352 of the Constitution.
Under the provision of Article 352, the government could declare a state of emergency on grounds of external threat or a threat of internal disturbances.
Once an emergency is proclaimed, the federal distribution of powers remains practically suspended and all the powers are concentrated in the hands of the union government. The government also gets the power to curtail or restrict all or any of the Fundamental Rights during the emergency.
On the night of 25 June 1975, the Prime Minister recommended the imposition of Emergency to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. He issued the proclamation immediately.
After midnight, the electricity to all the major newspaper offices was disconnected.
In the early morning, a large number of leaders and workers of the opposition parties were arrested.
The Cabinet was informed about these actions at a special meeting at 6 a.m. on 26 June, after they had already taken place.
This brought the agitation to an abrupt stop; strikes were banned; many opposition leaders were put in jail; the political situation became very quiet though tense.
Newspapers were asked to get prior approval for all material to be published. This is known as press censorship.
The government also banned organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jamait-e-Islami, and disallowed protests, strikes, and public agitations.
The government made extensive use of preventive detention. Under this provision, people are arrested and detained not because they have committed any offence, but on the apprehension that they may commit an offence.
The government’s actions were challenged by several High Courts and the Supreme Court, with some courts ruling in favor of citizens’ rights and others upholding the government’s actions.
In April 1976, the Supreme Court overruled the High Courts and accepted the government’s plea, allowing the government to take away citizens’ right to life and liberty during the emergency. This judgment is regarded as one of the most controversial judgments of the Supreme Court.
There were many acts of dissent and resistance to the Emergency. Many political workers who were not arrested in the first wave, went ‘underground’ and organised protests against the government.
Newspapers like the Indian Express and the Statesman protested against censorship by leaving blank spaces where news items had been censored. Magazines like the Seminar and the Mainstream chose to close down rather than submit to censorship.
Many journalists were arrested for writing against the Emergency. Kannada writer Shivarama Karanth, awarded with Padma Bhushan, and Hindi writer Fanishwarnath Renu, awarded with Padma Shri, returned their awards in protest against the suspension of democracy.
The Parliament brought in many new changes to the Constitution during the Emergency.
The forty-second amendment was passed, which consisted of a series of changes in many parts of the Constitution.
One change made by this amendment was to extend the duration of the legislatures in the country from five to six years, which was intended to be of a permanent nature.
During an Emergency, elections can be postponed by one year, effectively pushing the next election from 1976 to 1978.
Controversies regarding Emergency
Emergency is one of the most controversial episodes in Indian politics. As the investigations by the Shah Commission after the Emergency found out, there were many ‘excesses’ committed during the Emergency.
Was the Emergency necessary?
The Constitution simply mentioned ‘internal disturbances’ as the reason for declaring Emergency. Before 1975, Emergency was never proclaimed on this ground.
The government argued that frequent recourse to agitations, protests, and collective action is not good for democracy and distracts the administration from ensuring development.
Indira Gandhi wrote in a letter to the Shah Commission that subversive forces were trying to obstruct the progressive programmes of the government and were attempting to dislodge her from power through extra-constitutional means.
Some other parties, like the CPI that continued to back the Congress during the Emergency, believed that there was an international conspiracy against the unity of India.
The CPI believed that in such circumstances, some restrictions on agitations were justified. However, after the Emergency, the CPI realized its mistake in supporting it.
The critics of the Emergency argued that popular struggles were a part of Indian politics and people had the right to publicly protest against the government in a democracy.
The Bihar and Gujarat agitations were peaceful and non-violent, and those who were arrested were never tried for any anti-national activity.
The government had enough routine powers to deal with any agitations that overstepped their limits. The use of Emergency powers was unnecessary and undemocratic.
The critics say that Indira Gandhi misused a constitutional provision meant for saving the country to save her personal power.
What happened during emergency?
The government claimed that it wanted to bring law and order, restore efficiency, and implement pro-poor welfare programs through the Emergency.
For this purpose, the government led by Indira Gandhi announced a twenty-point programme and declared its determination to implement this programme. The twenty-point programme included land reforms, land redistribution, review of agricultural wages, workers’ participation in management, eradication of bonded labour, etc.
Initially, the urban middle classes were happy that the agitations came to an end and discipline was enforced on government employees.
Poor and rural people also expected effective implementation of the welfare programs promised by the government.
Different sections of society had different expectations and viewpoints about the Emergency.
Critics of Emergency point out that most of these promises by the government remained unfulfilled, that these were simply meant to divert attention from the excesses that were taking place.
The Shah Commission estimated that nearly one lakh eleven thousand people were arrested under preventive detention laws.
The Emergency led to serious allegations of misuse of governmental power by people who held no official position, such as Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s younger son, who gained control over the administration and allegedly interfered in the functioning of the government.
The Emergency had a direct impact on the lives of common people, with instances of torture, custodial deaths, arbitrary relocation of poor people, and cases of compulsory sterilization due to over-enthusiasm about population control.
These instances show what happens when the normal democratic process is suspended.
Lessons of the Emergency
One lesson of Emergency is that it is extremely difficult to do away with democracy in India.
Secondly, it brought out some ambiguities regarding the Emergency provision in the Constitution that have been rectified since. Now, internal’ Emergency can be proclaimed only on the grounds of ‘armed rebellion’ and it is necessary that the advice to the President to proclaim Emergency must be given in writing by the Union Cabinet.
Thirdly, the Emergency made everyone more aware of the value of civil liberties.
The Emergency raised questions about the balance between the routine functioning of a democratic government and the right to political protests.
The actual implementation of the Emergency was carried out by the police and administration, which were politicized and turned into instruments of the ruling party.
The Shah Commission Report found that the administration and police were vulnerable to political pressures during the Emergency.
Politics of Emergency
The most valuable and lasting lesson of the Emergency was the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, which turned into a referendum on the experience of the Emergency.
The opposition fought the election on the slogan of ‘save democracy’. The people’s verdict was decisively against the Emergency.
The experience of 1975 -77 ended up strengthening the foundations of democracy in India.
Lok Sabha Elections, 1977
In January 1977, after eighteen months of Emergency, the government decided to hold elections.
All leaders and activists were released from jail in preparation for the elections, which were held in March 1977.
The opposition parties had been coming together before the Emergency, but now they formed a new party called the Janata Party, led by Jayaprakash Narayan.
Some other Congress leaders also came out and formed a separate party under the leadership of Jagjivan Ram. This party named as Congress for Democracy, later merged with the Janata Party.
For the first time since Independence, the Congress party was defeated in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress could win only 154 seats in the Lok Sabha. Its share of popular votes fell to less than 35 per cent.
The Janata Party and its allies won 330 out of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha; Janata Party
itself won 295 seats and thus enjoyed a clear majority.
The Congress lost in every constituency in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and the Punjab and could win only one seat each in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Indira Gandhi was defeated from Rae Bareli, as was her son Sanjay Gandhi from Amethi.
The Congress retained many seats in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Orissa and virtually swept through the southern States. There are many reasons for this:
The impact of Emergency was not felt equally in all the States. The forced relocation and displacements, the forced sterilisations, were mostly concentrated in the northern States.
The middle castes from north India were beginning to move away from the Congress and the Janata party became a platform for many of these sections to come together.
The Janata Party government that came to power after the 1977 elections was not cohesive. There was stiff competition among three leaders for the post of Prime Minister – Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, and Jagjivan Ram.
Morarji Desai eventually became the Prime Minister, but the power struggle within the party did not end.
The Janata Party government could not bring about a fundamental change in policies from those pursued by the Congress.
The Janata Party split and the government which was led by Morarji Desai lost its majority in less than 18 months. Another government headed by Charan Singh was formed but it could remain in power for just about four months.
Fresh Lok Sabha elections were held in January 1980 in which the Janata Party suffered a comprehensive defeat, especially in north India where it had swept the polls in 1977.
Congress party led by Indira Gandhi nearly repeated its great victory in 1971. It won 353 seats and came back to power.
The period between 1977 and 1980 witnessed a dramatic change in the party system in India. The Congress party now identified itself with a particular ideology, claiming to be the only socialist and pro-poor party.
With the change in the nature of the Congress party, other opposition parties relied more and more on what is known in Indian politics as ‘non-Congressism’. They also realised the need to avoid a division of non-Congress votes in the election. This factor played a major role in the elections of 1977.
In 1977, there was a shift among the backward castes of North India which partly led to the results of the Lok Sabha elections.
Many states held Assembly elections in 1977 and the northern states elected non-Congress governments in which the leaders of the backward castes played an important role.
The issue of reservations for ‘other backward classes’ became very controversial in Bihar.
Following this controversy, the Mandal Commission was appointed by the Janata Party government at the centre.
The issue of welfare of the backward castes began to dominate politics since 1977 and set off the process of change in the party system.
The Emergency and the period around it can be described as a period of constitutional crisis because it had its origins in the constitutional battle over the jurisdiction of the Parliament and the judiciary.
The political crisis was caused by the decision of the ruling party with an absolute majority to suspend the democratic process.
The Constitution expected all political parties to follow democratic norms, including during the Emergency, but this was not the case during the actual Emergency.
The wide and open-ended powers given to the government during the Emergency were abused. The political crisis was more serious than the constitutional crisis.
There was clearly a tension between institution-based democracy and democracy based on spontaneous popular participation during this period.
In the two chapters that follow we shall study some of the manifestations of this tension, in particular, popular movements and debates around regional identity.