The Emergency (India)

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In India, "the Emergency" refers to a 21-month period from 1975 to 1977 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had a state of emergency declared across the country.


  • This is precisely what happened in India, in June 1975, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought democracy under an eclipse by bringing India under Emergency Rule. Nineteen months later, the eclipse disappeared as the result of a glorious struggle launched by the people of India against the Congress party’s authoritarianism. If the Emergency was the darkest period in India’s post-Independence history, the righteous struggle for the restoration of democracy was undoubtedly the brightest. It so happened that I, along with tens of thousands of my countrymen, was both a victim of Emergency and a soldier in the Army of Democracy that won the battle against it.
  • You were merely asked to bend, but you chose to crawl.
    • L.K. Advani about press censorship during the Emergency. Quoted in NYT, . Full quote: When Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister, declared a state of emergency on June 25, 1975, she immediately imposed strict censorship of the press. With defiant exceptions, much of the press caved in quickly to the new rules, prompting L.K. Advani, one of the founders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who was jailed during the emergency, to comment later: “You were merely asked to bend, but you chose to crawl.”
  • Emergency was declared. Sanjay Gandhi took over. He created an army of morally corrupt, foreign-educated intellectuals with no track record. Their biggest strength was their unconditional loyalty to the Gandhi family. This tradition has continued. Loyalty over merit. Scheming over competence. Loot over contribution. Corruption grew. Guilt grew. Fear grew. With every scam, the family started making the intellectual wall bigger and bigger. Today this wall is full of scammers, crooks, agents, brokers, pimps, lobbyists, character assassins, land sharks etc. disguised as lawyers, journalists, NGOs, feminists, advisors, professors, socialists etc. Simply put, beneficiaries of Congress’s largesse.
    • Vivek Agnihotri, Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam (2018, Garuda Prakashan)
  • The Indian and Western elite did not regard any of Nehru’s successors as ‘thinking’ leaders. Indira Gandhi tried hard to win over India’s intellectual elite, but the Emergency broke a nascent link. When men like P.N. Haksar and P.N. Dhar were hounded out of her inner circle, India’s intellectuals deserted her. Rajiv Gandhi was never taken seriously by this elite. Narasimha Rao may have been a scholar in his own right, but he was an ‘outsider’ to India’s metropolitan elite. In Andhra Pradesh, among the Telugu-speaking elite he was known as an ashtavadhani, a literary master. But Delhi’s elite tended to conflate his intellectual achievements with the fact that he was fluent in many languages. Vajpayee too was a highly regarded poet. Indeed, Rao and Vajpayee enjoyed the company of intellectuals and could count many professors among their friends. But in the snobbish world of the metropolitan elite, an Oxbridge type like Dr Singh was regarded as a class apart from these home-grown politician-intellectuals.
    • Baru, Sanjaya (2015). The accidental Prime Minister.
  • Freedom became one of the beacon lights of my life and it has remained so ever since. Freedom with the passing of years transcended the mere freedom of my country and embraced freedom of man everywhere and from every sort of trammel—above all, it meant freedom of the human personality, freedom of the mind, freedom of the spirit. This freedom has become the passion of my life and I shall not see it compromised for bread, for security, for prosperity, for the glory of the state or for anything else.
    • Jayaprakash Narayan, (said at the height of the Emergency when Indira Gandhi stated that ‘food is more important than freedom’), quoted in L.K. Advani, My Country My Life (2008), also quoted at [2]
  • The Emergency that followed in June 1975 was by no means an ad hoc idea accepted for meeting an abrupt situation. The idea of imposing an authoritarian regime on the country had been maturing for a long time in the minds of the communist mafia that Pandit Nehru had promoted. The situation, too, was being shaped in the same direction by the self-righteousness and consequent high-handedness which accompanied the idea. The seeds sown by Pandit Nehru were bearing fruits. All those who stood up against Mrs. Indira Gandhi's guiles and greed were denounced as agents of the CIA. The "progressive" flock was one again in the forefront of the "fight against forces of fascism". And by the time Mrs. Indira Gandhi realized what was happening, much mischief had been done.
    • S.R. Goel, Genesis and Growth of Nehruism, Second Preface (1993)
  • In his book My Eleven Years with Fakhruddin Ahmad, Mr. Fazle Ahmed Rehmany quotes an incident which throws interesting light on the psychology of secularism and its need to keep Muslims in isolation and in a sort of protective custody. During the Emergency period some followers of the Jamaat-e-Islami found themselves in the same jail as the members of the RSS; here they began to discover that the latter were no monsters as described by the 'nationalist' and secularist propaganda. Therefore they began to think better of the Hindus. This alarmed the secularists and the interested Maulvis. Some Maulvis belonging to the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind met President.. Fakhruddin Ahmad, and reported to him about the growing rapport between the members of the two communities. This 'stunned' the President and he said that this boded an 'ominous' future for Congress Muslim leaders and he promised that he would speak to Indiraji about this dangerous development and ensure that Muslims remain Muslims.
    • Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6 (quoting Ram Swarup and citing Fakhruddin Ahmad)
  • During the Emergency, many socialists were left untouched by Indira, while the RSS was made to bear the brunt of the repression. But when the Janata government was formed, the same socialists, who had come to power on the blood and sweat of the RSS workers, demanded that the RSS members of the government choose between their seat and their RSS membership. There was no come out in their defense, no front or committee of intellectuals of expose the utter dishonesty and absurdity of the whole dual membership issue. Everybody thinking was moulded by the Left, and had no affinity or sympathy with RSS thought. Everybody felt some allegiance to socialism and would not go against a socialist demand. And in shame the RSS people were sent into the wilderness.
    • Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • “… I came under obvious suspicion within days of my arrival in the country (India)… After arranging meetings by telephone, odd characters would turn up to observe who I was seeing each morning, others would be waiting in red settees in the entrance of the Delphi Hotel. People I spoke to openly would be later stopped and questioned. At least twice my hotel room was broken into and searched…” Sweeney further recounted: “When I complained of the continued harassment by Government agents and asked Mr Haksar (A N D Hakasar was the chief government spokesperson) to explain why it had been necessary to organise breakings to my hotel rooms, he replied that unless I left the country, as soon as possible, there would be a ‘further prospect of physical inconvenience’.”
  • “The shock troops of the movement [against the Emergency] largely come from Jana Sangh and its ideological affiliate, the RSS, which claim a combined membership of 10 million (of whom 80,000, including 6000 full-time party workers, are in prison).”
  • “…Pro-CPI (Communist Party of India) journals in India are being given some latitude by the censors because the party is in favour of even stronger measures to suppress the non-communist opposition.”
  • “The underground campaign against Mrs Gandhi claims to be the only non-left wing revolutionary force in the world, disavowing both bloodshed and class struggle. Indeed, it might even be called right wing since it is dominated by the Hindu communalist party, Jan Sangh and its ‘cultural’ (some say paramilitary) affiliate the RSS. But its platform at the moment has only one non-ideological plank; to bring democracy back to India. The ground troops of this operation (the underground movement), consist of tens of thousands of cadres who are organized to the village level into four men cells. Most of them are RSS regulars, though more and more new young recruits are coming in. The other underground parties which started out as partners in the underground have effectively abandoned the field to Jan Sangh and RSS.”
    • The Economist on December 12, 1976 [3]
  • “We were not able to capture even 10 per cent of the RSS workers. They all have gone underground and the RSS did not disperse even after the ban, on the contrary it was striking roots in new areas like Kerala”.
    • Indira Gandhi, quoted in The People Versus Emergency: A Saga of Struggle, 1991, also quoted in [4]
  • “Among the groups which carried on this work with heroic persistence the RSS group stands out for its special mention. In organizing satyagraha, in maintaining the all-India communication network, in quietly collecting money to finance the movement, in arranging distribution of literature without any bottleneck and in offering help to fellow prisoners even of other parties and other faiths, they proved that they constitute the nearest answer to Swami Vivekananda’s call for an army of sanyasins to take up social and political work in this country. They are a constructive force who has won the admiration of fellow political workers and respect of even their erstwhile opponents.” (Ibid)
    • Editor of Modern Review M C Subramaniam,quoted in The People Versus Emergency: A Saga of Struggle, 1991, also quoted in [5]
  • “When elections were announced the one anxiety that filled my mind was , who are the persons who will carry the message of freedom to the people and make them aware of the things at stake? The workers of RSS came forward in thousands and my anciety was set at rest. Even prior to elections the main burden of the struggle was borne by them. It is they who had kept up people’s morale. More than 80 per cent of the fighting cadres had been drawn from the RSS. I have personally seen thousands of their youngmen solely inspired by a spirit of idealism, without any desire or expectation in return, plunging into the struggle. Often they had nothing to eat, no place to rest, but their zeal remained unabated.”
    • Dr Shivram Karanth, quoted in The People Versus Emergency: A Saga of Struggle, 1991, also quoted in [6]
  • A large part of the rationale for the Emergency, it must be remembered, stemmed from the Congress claim that it was protecting the nation from the fascism embodied by the RSS and its allied forces.
    • S. Muralidharan, the legacy of the emergency, Frontline, 21-7-2000 . and in Elst, K. (2010). The saffron swastika: The notion of "Hindu fascism". p 717
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