On the night of 25th June 1975; just a few minutes before midnight, a ‘State of Internal Emergency’ was declared by the then President of India Shri. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed; on the advice of the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
Invoking article 352 of the Constitution, Indira Gandhi granted herself extraordinary powers and launched a massive crackdown on civil liberties. All Constitutional Rights of the citizens were suspended and leaders of political parties across the spectrum were arrested and jailed. Gandhi did not spare her own party officials who dissented with her abuse of power and these dissenters either resigned from the Congress Party or were summarily dismissed and sent to jail. In a span of a few weeks, jails across the Nation were over-crowded as political luminaries and those who Indira or her son Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie did not like, were incarcerated. It is estimated that more than 180,000 citizens were detained and put into prison, regardless of their political affiliations or even any connection to politics. Foremost amongst those who were the leadership and volunteer-workers of the RSS (Rashtriya Svyamsevak Sangh).
The RSS was banned because it was considered as a real threat to the political ambitions of the Gandhi family. With its large organizational base and ethical leadership, the fears of the Gandhi’s were not misplaced. Initially, the RSS protested the ban with peaceful protest rallies across the Nation. However, each and every rally inevitably ended with the protestors being dispersed violently by the Police using lathi-charge (assault with Indian batons) and ever increasing detentions and arrests. The RSS changed its tactics and formed an underground movement for the restoration of democracy and fundamental Rights of the Citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution.
I was in my early teens during those days. Unaware of the gravity of the situation, my friends and I were happily part of the logistics network that distributed literature about Democracy – literature that was banned by the Indira Gandhi government. We used to load these papers and pamphlets on our bicycles and deliver it across the city. My territory was Chembur and its outlying areas of Ghatkopar and Mankhurd. We used to be detained at police check-points and road-blocks; and it must be mentioned that our city Police persons in those days were patriots under their government issued uniforms. They were well aware of the cargo we were transporting but never did they use either violence upon us or detain us beyond a few minutes. The most aggression that we teenagers faced was having the air being removed from our bicycle tires. The pure violence and torture by Police was reserved for the seniors who bore the brunt of human rights abuse; mostly in North India.
One incident stands out starkly in my mind during the period of Emergency. My father, who was a medical doctor, was subjected to a raid by the Police to investigate the possibility of “subversive material” being stored in our house. He was under the scanner because one of his patients and close friends was Hashu Advani, an active RSS leader from our suburb. During the “raid’ on our home, the officers sat in our living room, had a pleasant conversation with my parents and left having enjoyed a cup of tea. While the slaves of Congress party sitting in Bombay Sachivalaya (now renamed Mumbai Mantralaya) were trying to enforce emergency rule on the People, the humanity and patriotism of Maharashtra Police prevented a large amount of damage from being done to society. It is my personal opinion that while the Police in our State maintained law-and-order, they rarely crossed the line of moral responsibility or transgressed on the fundamental rights of fellow citizens.
In this period of Emergency rule, Indira Gandhi had two-thirds majority in Parliament. This allowed her to re-write the laws of our nation and if necessary ‘rule-by-decree’ as a Dictator. She amended the Constitution of India to protect herself from legal prosecution in the election-fraud case that had earlier removed her as Member of Parliament (Refer the 12 June 1975 judgment from Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court that found Indira Gandhi guilty of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The Court declared her election null-and-void and effectively removed her from her seat in the Parliament. She was also banned from contesting elections for six years).
The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution of India that brought about extensive changes to the letter and spirit of the Constitution is one of the darkest and evil legacies of the Emergency.
Note: You can read an analysis of the 42nd Amendment here
Author: ‘Sardar’ Sanjay Matkar