INDIRA GANDHI AND THE EMERGENCY
“Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount,” so said Sir Winston Churchill. In case of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, it was a bit different. She rode the tiger of Indian politics and she did not want to dismount; so she declared a state of internal Emergency on 26 June 1975.
The country had been in dire straits for quite some time before. Unemployment was rising; the prices were rising too, and inflation was catching up. There was everyday news of governmental corruption, of politicians and bureaucrats showing scant respect anybody, not even sparing a thought for morality in public life.
It became apparent to Mrs. Gandhi that she was losing her grip over Indian polity when elections in the western state of Gujarat indicated a reversal of peoples’ choice. Till then the region had been a bastion of the Congress. She realized that she could no more be sure of the largest sections of the people to vote for her, and to add to her discomfiture, one esteemed High Court, that of Allahabad, from her very own state, accused her of compound corruption and declared her own election null and void.
To any normal politician, this would have been a sign to resign and remain a political outcast for the foreseeable future. But Indira was not a normal politician. She was from the first family of the country. She was wedded to power. She never could be anyone among the multitude of the masses. Political supremacy was a necessity for her, and at any cost.
“A grave emergency exists, whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbances.” She told the nation that such was the need of the hour. So she suspended all fundamental rights, jailed the opposition leaders first — for they had asked for her resignation; jailed political activists, proscribed newspapers from printing news through a promulgation of censorship laws, and kept the people dark about what was happening in their country— few would get to know anything beyond their constricted neighbourhood.
She started a programme for uplifting the poor and the downtrodden who of course remained poor and downtrodden even afterwards and despite the programme’s failure, promised to alleviate unemployment among the educated youth through employment generating schemes, which again only created more opportunities for corruption than create infrastructure or work.
The results were one disaster after another. Those affected agitated. So the police lathy-charged them, shot at them, imprisoned them in hundreds of thousands. Mrs. Gandhi’s son, Sanjay, took over the reigns of administration. Indira forgot that an overtly maternal inclination bodes ill for the future of good governance. The worthy son employed draconian ways to impose his weird will and vision on the hapless nation.
And finally the congress disintegrated. A whole set of leaders left and walked over to the opposition. They did not switch sides as much as they thought it necessary to avoid her.
From the pinnacle of glory, from the acme of her popularity, Indira had reached the lowest. For she suffered ignominious defeat in the elections of March 1977, just after the state of Emergency was lifted, and the long overdue elections were held.