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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.

Land reforms, land redistribution, agricultural pay reviews, worker engagement in management, and the abolition of bonded labour were all part of the agenda.

During the first months of the emergency, the urban middle class was ecstatic that the agitations had ended and that government official had been disciplined.

Critics of the Emergency say that most of the government's promises were unfulfilled and that they were only a ruse to divert attention away from the excesses.

Shah Commission

According to the Shah Commission, almost one lakh eleven thousand persons were detained under preventative detention regulations. The use of preventive detention has also been called into question.

Press restrictions were imposed, sometimes without sufficient legal repercussions.

According to the Shah Commission report, the General Manager of the Delhi Power Supply Corporation received verbal orders from the office of the Lt. Governor of Delhi on June 26, 1975, to turn off the electricity to all newspaper presses at 2 a.m.

After the censorship system was set up, electricity was restored two to three days later.

At the time, Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister's younger son, held no formal role. Despite this, he was able to seize control of the government.

As a result of his role in the demolitions and forced sterilisation in Delhi, he became a hot topic.

These examples demonstrate what happens when the democratic process is disrupted.

The Emergency's Lessons

The Emergency exposed both the flaws and the strengths of India's democracy at the same time.

As a result, one of the lessons of the Emergency is that eliminating democracy in India is incredibly tough.

Second, it revealed significant ambiguities in the Constitution's Emergency Provision, which have subsequently been resolved. Now, an "internal" emergency can only be declared on the basis of "armed rebellion," and the Council of Ministers must provide the President with written advice on whether or not to declare an emergency.

Third, the Emergency increased public awareness of the importance of civil freedoms. Following the Emergency, the courts, too, have taken an active role in preserving citizens' civil liberties.

The police and the government were in charge of putting the Emergency Rule into effect. These institutions would be unable to function on their own.

They were turned into political tools of the ruling party, and the administration and police became sensitive to political demands, according to the Shah Commission Report.

After the Emergency, the problem did not go away.

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How did the political dimensions change after the emergency?

The most valuable and lasting lesson of the Emergency was learnt as soon as the Emergency was over and the Lok Sabha elections were announced.

The 1977 elections turned into a referendum on the experience of the Emergency, at least in north India where the impact of the Emergency was felt most strongly.

The opposition fought the election on the slogan of ‘save democracy’.

The people’s verdict was decisively against the Emergency.

The lesson was clear and has been reiterated in many state levels elections thereafter governments that are perceived to be anti-democratic are severely punished by the voters. The experience of 1975 -77 ended up strengthening the foundations of democracy in India.

Lok Sabha Elections, 1977

After eighteen months of Emergency, the government decided to hold elections. All the leaders and activists were released from jails.

Opposition was left with very little time, but political developments took place very rapidly. The major opposition parties formed a new party, known as the Janata Party.

The new party accepted the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan. Some leaders of the Congress who were opposed to the Emergency also joined this new party.

Some other Congress leaders also came out and formed a separate party under the leadership of Jagjivan Ram. This party named Congress for Democracy later merged with the Janata Party.

The Janata Party made this election into a referendum on the Emergency. Its campaign was focused on the non-democratic character of the rule and on the various excesses that took place during this period.

The formation of the Janata Party also ensured that non-Congress votes would not be divided. It was evident that the going was tough for the Congress.

The final results took everyone by surprise for the first time since Independence, the Congress party was defeated in the Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress lost in every constituency in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab and could win only one seat each in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Indira Gandhi was defeated by Rae Bareli, as was her son Sanjay Gandhi from Amethi. But Congress did not lose elections all over the country.

It retained many seats in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Orissa and virtually swept through the southern 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 elections of 1977 were not merely about the Emergency.

Janata Party Government

The government of the Janata Party, which came to power after the 1977 elections. Following the election, three candidates vied for the position of Prime Minister: Morarji Desai, who had been Indira Gandhi's rival since 1966-67; Charan Singh, leader of the Bharatiya Lok Dal and a farmer's leader from Uttar Pradesh; and Jagjivan Ram, who had vast experience as a senior minister in Congress governments.

Morarji Desai eventually became Prime Minister, but the power battle inside the party did not end there.

The resistance to the Emergency may only be able to hold the Janata Party together for a short time. The Janata Party government was unable to implement policies that differed significantly from those adopted by Congress.

In less than 18 months, the Janata Party divided, and Morarji Desai's government lost its majority. On the guarantee of the Congress party's backing, a new government led by Charan Singh was created.

However, the Congress party later withdrew its support, allowing the Charan Singh government to stay in office for only around four months.

In January 1980, new Lok Sabha elections were held, in which the Janata Party was soundly defeated, particularly in north India, where it had swept the polls in 1977.

Indira Gandhi's Congress party came close to repeating its historic triumph.

The experience of 1977-79 provided another lesson in democratic politics: voters punish governments that are perceived to be unstable and quarrelsome.

Was it, however, simply a case of Indira Gandhi's return?

Between 1977 and 1980, the political landscape had shifted considerably. The Congress party had begun to lose its image as an umbrella organisation that brought together leaders and workers from many ideologies and opinions.

The Congress party has now identified itself with a certain ideology, claiming to be the sole socialist and pro-poor political party in the country.

The Congress's political success in the early 1970s was dependent on gaining voters based on deep social and ideological distinctions, as well as the appeal of one leader, Indira Gandhi.

With the change in the nature of the Congress party, other opposition parties began to rely more and more on 'non-Congressism,' as it is known in Indian politics.

They also recognised the need of avoiding a split of non-Congress votes during the election. This factor played a significant effect in the 1977 elections. The outcome of the 1977 elections was influenced by a change among North India's backward castes.

In 1977, various states had Assembly elections after the Lok Sabha elections.

The leaders of the backward castes played a crucial role in the election of non-Congress governments in the northern states.

The subject of reservations for 'other backward classes' became highly contentious in Bihar, prompting the Janata Party administration at the centre to form the Mandal Commission.

The post-Emergency elections kicked began the process of changing the party structure.

Because it arose from a constitutional fight between the jurisdiction of Parliament and the courts, the Emergency and the period surrounding it might be defined as a moment of a constitutional crisis.

It was also a time of political upheaval. Despite having an absolute majority, the ruling party's leadership opted to put the democratic process on hold.

The authors of India's Constitution assumed that all political parties would follow the democratic norms in general.

When the government uses extraordinary powers in an emergency, it does so within the bounds of the rule of law.

This expectation resulted in the government being given broad and unrestricted powers in times of emergency, which were exploited during the emergency.

This was a more serious political crisis than the constitutional crisis.

Another important question that arose at this time was the function and scope of large protests in a parliamentary democracy.

Tensions exist between democracy based on institutions and democracy based on spontaneous popular participation. This can be ascribed to the party system's incapacity to accommodate people's ambitions.

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