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CBSE Notes | Class 12 | Political Science | Politics In India Since Independence | Chapter 6 - The Crisis of Democratic Order

The chapter Introduces students to the time when Indian Politics witnessed to a rift between the Indra Gandhi and the other prominent leaders. We also highlight the most iconic era of the Indian Politics, the Emergency Era. The chapter analyses the consequences and the causes of the emergency.

Conflict Among The Two Pillars 

Indira Gandhi had risen to prominence as a leader. This was also a period of intense party struggle, with growing tensions between the executive and judiciary.

Numerous government measures were judged to be constitutional violations by the Supreme Court. The Congress party argued that the Court's position was contrary to democratic and legislative supremacy norms and was obstructing the implementation of pro-poor welfare programmes.

The opposing parties perceived a transformation of government authority into personal authority.

The Congress's split has exacerbated the schism between Indira Gandhi and her opponents.

How was the Indian economy impacted?

Congress campaigned on the slogan Garibi Hatao in the 1971 elections, but the country's social and economic conditions did not improve significantly during the 1971-72 Bangladesh Crisis. Following this, a war with Pakistan erupted.

The United States withdrew its aid to India following the war.

Oil prices have also climbed on the worldwide market. This resulted in an overall increase in commodity prices, which jumped by 23% in 1973 and 30% in 1974.

There was a lack of industrial expansion and a high unemployment rate, particularly in rural areas. To save money, the government froze the pay of its employees, which increased employee unhappiness.

In 1972, a monsoon failure resulted in a precipitous decrease in agricultural productivity. Unrest among students and a surge in the activities of Marxist parties that rejected parliamentary politics gained traction.

These groups have turned to weaponry and insurgency tactics in order to destabilise the capitalist order and established political system. The Marxist-Leninist (now Maoist) groups are referred to as the Naxalites.

They were especially powerful in West Bengal, where the state government took severe attempts to crush them.

Gujrat and Bihar Uprisings

Students' protests in Gujarat and Bihar had a profound effect on state and national politics.

In January 1974, students in Gujarat began a protest against rising food grain, cooking oil, and other necessary commodities prices, as well as against high-level corruption.

The students' protest was backed by major opposition groups and became widespread, resulting in the state being imposed with President's control.

The opposition has demanding new elections.

Morarji Desai, a major leader of the Congress (O), Indira Gandhi's primary challenger, said that he would go on an indefinite fast if the State did not hold fresh elections.

Assembly elections were held in Gujarat in June 1975 under significant pressure from students and opposition political parties. This election resulted in the defeat of Congress.

In March 1974, Bihar witnessed a similar student rebellion against rising prices, food scarcity, unemployment, and corruption.

JP Narayan In Bihar

They invited Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), a former active politician who had taken up social work, to lead the student movement. He agreed on the condition that the movement would be nonviolent and would not be confined to Bihar.

Thus, the students' movement acquired a political dimension and garnered widespread support. Individuals from many areas of life have now joined the cause.

Jayaprakash Narayan demanded the resignation of Bihar's Congress administration and called for a complete revolution in the social, economic, and political realms.

Bandhs, gehraos, and strikes were held in protest of the Bihar government's refusal to resign.

The movement gained traction and began to exert influence on national politics.

Railway employees called for a statewide strike, which threatened to paralyse the country.

In 1975, JP led a march of the people to Parliament. He was now backed by non-Congress parties such as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Congress (O), the Bharatiya Lok Dal, and the Socialist Party.

Numerous criticisms were levelled at his beliefs and the politics of mass agitation that he employed. 

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What were the conflicts between the Ruling party & the Judiciary?

Following were the issues that emerged:

  • Can parliament abridge Fundamental Rights?

  • Can the Parliament curtail the right to property by making an amendment?

The Constitution was changed to allow the Parliament to abridge Fundamental Rights in order to give effect to Directive Principles.

All of these provisions were overturned by the Supreme Court. This resulted in a crisis in the relationship between the administration and the court.

(The renowned Kesavananda Bharati case culminated this dilemma.) In this case, the Court ruled that there are some fundamental characteristics of the Constitution that Parliament cannot change.)

The friction between the judiciary and the executive was exacerbated by two recent events.

A vacancy for the post of Chief Justice of India developed almost immediately after the Supreme Court's judgement in the Kesavananda Bharati case.

It had been customary to appoint the Supreme Court's senior-most judge as Chief Justice. In 1973, however, A. N. Ray was appointed over the other senior justices.

Because all three judges who were succeeded had ruled against the government's position, this nomination proved politically contentious.

Political ideology and constitutional interpretations were becoming increasingly entangled.

The High Court judgement declaring Indira Gandhi's election illegitimate was, of course, the climax of the struggle.

What was the reason behind the declaration of Emergency?

Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha was declared unlawful by Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court on June 12, 1975.

This decision was made in response to an election petition submitted by Raj Narain, a socialist politician who ran against her in 1971.

He contested Indira Gandhi's election, alleging that she had exploited government employees in her electoral campaign.

Because of the High Court's decision, she was no longer a member of Parliament and so could not continue as Prime Minister until she was re-elected as an MP within six months.

The Supreme Court granted her a temporary reprieve from the high court's judgement until the outcome of her appeal, but she could still serve as an MP but not participate in Lok Sabha proceedings.

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Response to a Crisis

The stage had been prepared for a major political showdown. The opposition parties, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, demanded Indira Gandhi's resignation and staged a major protest.

JP called for a statewide Satyagraha in support of her resignation, asking the army, police, and government personnel not to follow "illegal and immoral commands."

The government responded by declaring a state of emergency.

The administration declared a threat of domestic unrest on June 25, 1975, and invoked Article 352 of the Constitution as a result.

The government could declare a state of emergency under this article if there was an external threat or a threat of domestic unrest.

When a state of emergency is declared, the federal division of powers is effectively suspended, and all authorities are centralised in the hands of the federal government.

During an emergency, the government also has the authority to curtail or restrict all or some of the Fundamental Rights.

On the night of June 25, 1975, the Prime Minister suggested that President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declare a state of emergency.

After the proclamation was published, the electricity to all of the major newspaper offices was turned off after midnight.

A considerable number of opposition party leaders and workers were detained.

After all of this, the Cabinet was notified about it at a special meeting held at 6 a.m. on June 26.

What were the ramifications of declaring a state of emergency?

Strikes were banned, many opposition leaders were imprisoned, and the political environment became quite calm.

The government imposed a moratorium on press freedom, and newspapers were required to obtain prior approval for any item they wanted to publish. It's known as press censorship.

The government outlawed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jamait-e-Islami. Protests, strikes, and other forms of public agitation were also prohibited.

Citizens' Fundamental Rights, including the right to petition the Court for the restoration of their Fundamental Rights, were suspended.

Preventive detention was often used by the authorities. (People are arrested and detained not because they have committed an offence, but because they are suspected of doing so.)

Many cases were brought by and on behalf of arrested individuals in the High Courts and Supreme Court, but the government contended that it was not even necessary to tell the arrested individuals of the reasons and grounds for their arrest.

Even after the declaration of emergency, several High Courts issued rulings.

In April 1976, the Supreme Court's constitution bench overruled the High Courts and approved the government's plea. It meant that the government may take away a citizen's right to life and liberty during an emergency.

This decision effectively shut down the judiciary for citizens and is widely recognised as one of the Supreme Court's most contentious decisions. Many political activists who were not jailed after the initial wave went "underground" and organised anti-government protests.

The Indian Express and the Statesman, for example, opposed censorship by creating blank areas when news items were banned. Rather than comply with censorship, some journals elected to close their doors.

For writing against the Emergency, many journalists were arrested. To get over censorship, many underground newsletters and leaflets were issued.

In protest of the suspension of democracy, Kannada writer Shivarama Karanth, who was granted the Padma Bhushan, and Hindi writer Fanishwarnath Renu, who was awarded the Padma Shri, returned their honours.

Many fresh amendments to the Constitution were also enacted by Parliament. An modification was adopted in the aftermath of the Allahabad High Court's judgement in the Indira Gandhi case, saying that elections for Prime Minister, President, and Vice-President could not be challenged in court.

During the Emergency, the 42nd Amendment was also passed. (Constitution in miniature)

One of the many changes brought about by this amendment was the extension of the country's legislatures from five to six years.

This alteration was intended to be permanent, not only for the Emergency time.

Elections can be postponed for a year during an emergency.

Elections have to be held only in 1978, not 1976, after 1971.

Q. What were the main points of contention in the emergency situation?

One of the most contentious periods in Indian politics is the state of emergency.

There are varying perspectives on the necessity of declaring an emergency; another argument is that the administration effectively halted democratic functioning by exercising powers granted by the Constitution.

The Shah Commission's investigations following the Emergency revealed that there were numerous "excesses" committed during the Emergency.

What do you think about the "Was Emergency Necessary" comment?

Although the Constitution only stated "internal disturbances" as a justification for declaring an emergency, an Emergency was never declared on this basis prior to 1975.

As riots erupted in several sections of the country. This was insufficient justification for establishing a state of emergency.

In a democracy, the administration claimed, the ruling party must be permitted to govern according to its policies.

Extra-parliamentary politics targeting the government, according to Indira Gandhi supporters, is not allowed in a democracy. This causes unrest and diverts the administration's attention away from its primary responsibility of assuring development.

Subversive forces were aiming to impede the government's progressive programmes and remove Indira Gandhi from office by extra-constitutional measures, she claimed in a letter to the Shah Commission.

The CPI, which continued to support the Congress throughout the Emergency, claimed that there was an international plot against India's unity and that some limits on agitation were necessary in such circumstances.

The CPI believed that the agitations led by JP were primarily driven by middle-class people who were opposed to the Congress party's extreme views, but after the Emergency, the CPI realised that their assessment was incorrect.

On the other side, critics of the Emergency noted that Indian politics had a long history of public conflicts dating back to the independence movement.

JP and many other opposition leaders believed that in a democracy, citizens had the right to criticise the government in public.

The agitations in Bihar and Gujarat were mainly calm and nonviolent. Those arrested were never charged with any anti-national action. The majority of the inmates had no charges filed against them.

The Home Ministry, which is in charge of monitoring the country's internal situation, likewise expressed no worry.

There was no need to suspend democratic functioning or impose extreme measures such as the Emergency because the administration had sufficient authorities to address the issues. The threat was directed against the ruling party and the Prime Minister herself, rather than the country's unity and integrity.

Critics claim that Indira Gandhi took use of a constitutional provision intended to save the country in order to preserve her personal authority.

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What took place during the Emergency?

Several inquiries were posed to the government about the government's emergency provisions being abused.

The administration stated that the Emergency will be used to restore peace and order, restore efficiency, and, most importantly, implement pro-poor social programmes.

Indira Gandhi's government established a twenty-point programme and stated its commitment to putting it into action.