From Vajpayee to Jaitley: Leaders who fought against 1975 Emergency

Illustration: Binay Sinha
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said the 1975-77 Emergency was a "dark period" that the nation could never forget and called for making democracy stronger by "writing, debating, deliberating, and questioning" its vital aspects.

"India remembers the Emergency as a dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created. Not only people but also ideas and artistic freedom were held hostage to power politics," he tweeted.

June 25 marks the day when Indira Gandhi had declared a state of Emergency in the country for a 21-month period from 1975 to 1977.

Officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352 of the Constitution due of the prevailing "internal disturbance", the Emergency was in effect from June 25, 1975, until its withdrawal on March 21, 1977.

The order vested upon the Prime Minister the authority to rule by decree, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties to be curbed.

The final decision to impose an emergency was proposed by Indira Gandhi, agreed upon by the President of India, and thereafter ratified by the Cabinet and the Parliament (from July to August 1975), based on the rationale that there were imminent internal and external threats to the Indian state.

Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu recently recalled that "in the name of internal disturbance", those seen as a threat to the government were jailed during the Emergency. This included Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Biju Patnaik, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani, Chandra Shekhar, Charan Singh, Nanaji Deshmukh, Balasaheb Deoras, H D Deve Gowda, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar, among others. 

Here are a few prominent politicians and leaders and their stories from during the Emergency:  

1) Jaitley detained for 19 months: Union Minister Arun Jaitley's Facebook post on the Emergency reveals that he was arrested and sent to Delhi's Tihar Jail for a week. Subsequently, he was shifted to the Ambala Central Jail.  

Jaitley writes that under the detention rules, the prisoners were allowed a daily ration within which they had to manage all their meals. The budget available per person for the daily food was Rs 3. He adds that after months of agitation, this amount was enhanced to Rs 5. 

Further, for the first few months, the detainees were not allowed to meet with family members. However, after a few months, family members could meet the detainees for a few minutes once every month, which was subsequently increased to once every week. 

Jaitley writes that he moved the court on several occasions for permission to write his law final year exams from jail but the Delhi University was asked to change the rules so that personal presence in the examination centre was essential to write the exam. Further, his plea that he be taken to centre under police custody to write the exam was rejected by the government on the ground that his presence in the examination centre was a threat to public order.

Jaitley writes that his detention lasted nineteen months. Therefore, he lost one academic year. 


2) Prakash Javadekar jailed while suffering from heart condition: During the Emergency, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar was also jailed. He had a heart condition that needed immediate surgery but the jail authorities refused permission to him to go to the hospital. It took a strike by the entire jail to enable him to have an operation, which he survived. 

Javadekar was arrested while he was an officer in a government-owned bank and was suspended. However, since the union was controlled by the BJP, his suspension was rescinded when the Emergency was lifted.

3) V-P Naidu jailed for 17 months: Vice-President Naidu went underground for two months, coordinating resistance to the Emergency. However, he was subsequently arrested and jailed for over 17 months. 

4) Ravi Shankar Prasad jailed for a year: In August of 1975, Union Minister of Law and Justice and Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad was arrested and sent to the Bankipur Central Jail in Patna. He was released from jail nearly one year after his arrest. 

5) Advani jailed for 19 months: On June 26, 1975, senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani Was Arrested in Bengaluru and taken to Rohtak Central Jail. He was shifted to Bangalore Central Jail after two months. He spent nineteen months in jail.

Recently, in 2015, Advani had said that the Emergency could happen again in India. "I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. But I don't have the confidence that it (Emergency) cannot happen again," Advani had said in an interview with the Indian Express

6) Vajpayee spent months behind bars: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency Rule in June 1975. He was detained in Bengaluru. 

Jaitley writes for the Deccan Chronicle that in those days, Vajpayee had a serious back problem. Subsequently, according to Jaitley, Vajpayee was shifted to house detention at his Delhi residence. He added that the former prime minister's back problem worsened and he spent a significant part of the Emergency at AIIMS. 

7) Subramanian Swamy evades authorities: Writing for the Hindu BusinessLine, Amit Varma picks out an interesting bit of trivia from journalist Coomi Kapoor's book, The Emergency: A Personal History. According to the book, in 1975, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, disguised as a sardar, arrived at the Ahmedabad Railway Station while escaping from the government. There, Swamy was received by none other than 25-year-old Narendra Modi and escorted to a safe house. 

According to a Times of India report on the Emergency, Swamy fled to the US. From there, he continued to build public opinion against the Emergency. Further, according to the report, upon his return to India, Swamy had to sneak into his own house disguised as a Sikh. In fact, he even managed to enter the Parliament and register his presence as a Member of Parliament. 

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