The 25th of June, 1975, was the day when a state of National Emergency was declared by the President of India, on the advice of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to control “internal disturbance”.
During the 19 months for which the Emergency lasted, people were deprived of all the fundamental rights stated in the Constitution. Workers’ strikes were banned. Trade union leaders and student activists were jailed. Press censorship was imposed to prevent any criticism of the government being published. Elections to the Lok Sabha were indefinitely postponed. Elected governments were dismissed in Gujarat and Tamilnadu.
The State unleashed unprecedented terror against the people. Many lakhs of workers, peasants and youth were forcibly sterilised in the name of population control. Slum dwellers in many cities were forcibly evicted. Their houses were razed to the ground.
Who took the decision and why?
Till today, the superficial view is spread that the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, took the decision to declare a national emergency because her political career was being threatened by court verdicts.
The truth is that the decision to declare a National Emergency was taken by the most influential and leading section of the ruling class. Chieftains of the biggest monopoly houses publicly supported the imposition of Emergency.
J R D Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, said in an interview with the New York Times on 4 April, 1976, “Things had gone too far. You can’t imagine what we have gone through here–strikes, boycotts, demonstrations. Why, there were days I could not walk out of my office onto the street.”
It was a time when mass protests by workers and peasants had reached a peak. Lakhs of railway workers went on an indefinite strike in 1974, bringing the entire economy to a grinding halt. Kisan organisations in various parts of the country had started agitating for reduction of input costs and for state-guaranteed remunerative prices for their produce. In many parts of the country there were massive student protests against unemployment, corruption and the bleak future facing the youth.
By the late 1960s , the so-called socialistic pattern of society promised by the Congress governments headed by Nehru had been discredited. Two decades of economic development had led to prosperity only for a wealthy minority, headed by the Tatas and Birlas. Large numbers of youth had responded to the call of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), formed in 1969, to overthrow the existing State and establish a people’s democratic State. The ruling class had responded by enacting the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in 1971, to legalise preventive detention of suspected revolutionaries.
The main aim behind the declaration of Emergency was to avert the danger of revolution and consolidate the dictate of the monopoly houses by crushing all forms of dissent. In the name of safeguarding national security, widespread repression was unleashed against the workers, peasants, all revolutionaries and all critics of the government.
Fraud of Restoration of Democracy
The imposition of emergency opened the eyes of many Indian intellectuals and large numbers of youth and students to the real nature of the Indian state and its democracy, touted as the most populous democracy in the world. This political awakening inspired large number of people to take up the cause of revolution, not only within the country but also among Indian workers and students abroad.
The ruling class, headed by the monopoly houses, recognised that the threat of revolution cannot be eliminated by relying only on brutal repression. In order to safeguard their rule and their system of exploitation, they had to develop a political alternative capable of deceiving the people. They sponsored a movement for the “restoration of democracy”. The aim of this movement was to spread illusions about the existing system and divert the people from the path of revolution.
Various leaders of the parliamentary opposition were put in jail, not because they posed a threat to the monopoly capitalists. They were jailed in order to promote them as champions of democracy, as fighters for the people’s rights which are being blatantly violated. When the emergency was lifted, these leaders emerged at the head of a newly concocted formation called the Janata Party. This new party won the Lok Sabha election in 1977 and formed a government headed by Morarji Desai.
The Janata Party government could not last its full term. It did not bring about any significant change in the orientation of the economy or in the class character of political power. The monopoly capitalists continued to set the agenda and impose their dictate. The struggle for revolutionary change got diverted.
When the Janata Party broke up and lost its majority in the Lok Sabha, fresh elections were held in 1980, which saw the return of Congress Party headed by Indira Gandhi. One of the constituents of the former Janata Party subsequently became the Bharatiya Janata Party. BJP was systematically built up by the monopoly capitalists to emerge as the principal opposition to the Congress Party.
Looking back, it is clear that both the declaration of emergency and the launching of a movement for “restoration of democracy” were part of the plan of the monopoly houses. They together served the aim of suppressing, diverting and dividing the people, so as to prevent revolution and safeguard the existing system. They served the aim of the monopoly capitalists to create a so-called viable alternative to the Congress Party.
No Guarantee for Rights
The very concept of a ‘right’ carries with it the demand that it must not be violated. However, the experience of the emergency period and the developments since then show that the Indian Republic does not guarantee any of the people’s rights. The Constitution permits the blatant violation of democratic rights.
The declaration of emergency was not in violation of the Constitution. Article 352 of the Constitution permits the Cabinet to advice the President to declare an emergency and deprive people of all their rights. This provision is available to the monopoly capitalists, the real rulers of India. Whenever they perceive a threat to their rule, they can portray it as a threat to India, declare a state of emergency and deprive people of their rights.
If we look back at the entire period of 45 years since 1977 till now, we see an unmistakable trend of growing state terrorism and violation of democratic rights. The monopoly capitalists who head the bourgeois class have relied more and more on brute force to impose their dictate. They have enacted one draconian anti-democratic law after another to legalise arbitrary arrests and preventive detention, in the name of fighting “Sikh terrorists”, “Islamic terrorists” or “Maoists”. State-organised communal violence has remained a preferred method of dividing and diverting people and drown their struggles in blood.
Various draconian laws such as the National Security Act (NSA), Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have been used to crush the democratic rights of people. The real aim of all these laws has been to criminalise all forms of dissent and legitimise arbitrary arrests and preventive detention for indefinite periods.
Till today, there is an unmistakable trend of increasing resort to brute force and draconian laws by those who rule India. They have perfected various means of trampling on the rights of the people even without having to declare an emergency. Suppression of rights has only grown from bad to worse in this so-called democratic Republic.
The declaration of emergency was not an aberration. It was an act that revealed the true face of the Indian Republic. The cloak of democracy fell off. The State stood revealed as the brutal dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, headed by the monopoly capitalists.
The experience of the emergency period and all the developments since then show that changing the government through elections does not lead to any change in the class nature of the state. The interests of workers and peasants cannot be served by defending the existing State and its Constitution. It is an illusion that the Constitution protects our rights.
The existing State of bourgeois dictatorship needs to be replaced by a new State of workers’ and peasants’ rule. The toiling majority of people must lay down the law of the land. They must adopt a constitution which ensures their empowerment and guarantees human rights and democratic rights, including national rights. The political system must be transformed to vest decision-making power in the hands of the people. With political power in hand, workers and peasants can reorient the economy towards fulfilling the ever growing material and cultural needs of the entire population, instead of fulfilling capitalist greed.