India Under Authoritarian Rule

June 11, 1976

Report Outline
One Year of Emergency Decrees
Ten Years Under Indira Gandhi
Survival of Democracy in India
Special Focus

One Year of Emergency Decrees

Situation Leading to Full Government Control

A year ago, on June 26, 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India declared a state of internal emergency during the height of an intense political crisis. In so doing, she ordered the arrest of hundreds of Indian citizens, suspended civil liberties and imposed strict censorship on the press. Although Mrs. Gandhi in her official message to the nation expressed hope that a speedy improvement of “internal conditions” would allow her to revoke the emergency proclamation “as soon as possible,” the decree remains in effect today.

The measures enacted under the emergency have markedly changed the system of government in the world's largest democracy, and they raised questions as to whether the word “democracy” still applies. There are two basic—and conflicting—explanations of the reasons for the emergency proclamation. There is Prime Minister Gandhi's. She said she invoked national emergency powers—powers granted to the government under the Indian constitution—to preserve internal order and save the nation from chaos. Then there are her critics who say she took the step not to save India but to save her own political life.

Mrs. Gandhi faced a deepening political crisis on the eve of the emergency proclamation. The night before it was announced, 72-year-old Jaya Prakash Narayan, a widely respected opposition leader and a former close associate of national heroes Mohandas K. Gandhi (no relation to Mrs. Gandhi) and Jawaharlal Nehru (Mrs. Gandhi's father), addressed thousands at a rally in New Delhi. J. P., as Narayan is known in India, called for a “total revolution” against Mrs. Gandhi, and demanded her resignation. The coalescing of opposition strength behind J. P. started in 1974 during a period of economic and political troubles throughout India.

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