Indira Gandhi, on the night of June 25, 1975, took away, in one stroke, what her father had pledged his countrymen 28 years before at the dawn of Independence. The internal Emergency she announced lasted 21 months a tumultuous period, post-Independence.

R. C. Rajamani

INDIA has had its midnight tryst with destiny more than once. First, it was the transfer of power from the British on the night of August 14, 1947 when India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous "Tryst with Destiny Speech" promising democracy, freedom and liberty to all Indians.

Twenty-eight years later, his daughter Indira Gandhi, on the night of June 25, 1975 took away, in one stroke, what her father had pledged his countrymen. She announced an internal Emergency. The 21 months that it remained in force was a tumultuous period in post-Independence India.

What led to Emergency?

Indira Gandhi's real trouble began with the June 12 Allahabad High Court verdict, blocking her election to the Lok Sabha on the ground of corrupt and unfair practices and debarring her from contesting elections for six years. This was on a petition by maverick Socialist, Raj Narain, who was Indira Gandhi's losing rival in the 1971 polls from Rae Bareli in UP.

On June 24, the Supreme Court granted conditional stay of the High Court verdict, but denied Indira Gandhi the right to participate in debate or vote in the Lok Sabha.

Since the day of the High Court judgement, the nation had been in turmoil. The Opposition in Parliament, inspired by Jayaprakash Narayan's "total revolution" movement against corruption, was targeting Indira Gandhi. There were daily demonstrations demanding her resignation. The Supreme Court's refusal to grant absolute stay further fortified their resolve to remove her.

There was a flurry of activity on June 24. Top-ranking leaders of the Opposition made emotive and excited statements. To cap it all, JP described Indira Gandhi's government as lacking moral authority to rule any more and said even the Defence forces need not take orders from "this government".

Indira Gandhi and her coterie, contending this to be tantamount to sedition, exploited this statement. A closed-door confabulation of select individuals including Sidharth Shankar Ray, then Chief Minister of West Bengal, and Sanjay Gandhi, who was not in government at all, apart from his mother decided on imposing internal Emergency.The decision did not receive any sanction from the Cabinet. Yet, the President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed put his seal of approval on the proclamation.

Political leaders and workers all over the country were arrested in their hundreds. Even JP was jailed. Since, press censorship was yet to be imposed, newspaper headlines screamed about the developments.

Even All India Radio, flashed the news. I was a sub-editor/reporter with Press Trust of India in Bombay at the time. On the morning of June 26, en route to the office, I could see demonstrations by workers of Jan Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, at many railway stations.

At office, senior staff members, including the News Editor, were already in and monitoring the news coming in from New Delhi, including statements by the Opposition leaders before they were arrested, and reactions by some public figures. There were also reports of the government justifying the measure. There was, as yet, no sign of press censorship.

Then, suddenly, there was some "trouble" on the Delhi-Bombay teleprinter link and soon enough it stopped. For a while, news came in via the Bhopal link that was also connected to Delhi. Soon, that line also fell silent. With the clanking of the teleprinter dying down, there was a deathly silence. Suddenly, the Delhi-Bombay line crackled to life with a flash "Stop all transmission, details follow", with the initials of the Editor-in-Chief, meaning there was something serious afoot. All lines fell silent again.

After a few nerve-wracking moments, they came back to life with the ominous flash, "Press Censorship is being imposed" followed by "Send all items to Delhi for clearance".

Meanwhile, reporters pounded away on their typewriters. Some instructions on reporting came from Delhi. These were based on the initial guidelines issued by the Censor in Delhi. State-level Censors were yet to be identified and appointed. The Censor for the Bombay region was appointed a day later. Reporters still gave actual accounts of what was happening in the city. An excited colleague recounted the events to his wife over the phone, adding, "But you will not read them in the newspapers tomorrow, there is press censorship".

It was still a few hours after the proclamation of Emergency and the days of telephone tapping and surveillance were yet to come. It took a couple of days for the seriousness of the situation to sink in.

On June 27, a clever and vigilant citizen placed an obituary on the death of "Li Berty, son of Dem O'Cracy, mourned by Free Dom and family".

Early in 1977, in the face of adverse international opinion on Emergency and favourable intelligence reports on her electoral prospects, Indira Gandhi relaxed Emergency rules and called for general elections in March. Some Congress leaders, including Babu Jagjivan Ram, who had served in the Nehru Cabinet, quit her before the polls.

The mood was against Indira Gandhi. A few days before the elections, on a Sunday, Jagjivan Ram addressed an Opposition rally at the famous Ram Lila Grounds in Delhi.

Doordarshan made a smart attempt to stop crowds from participating in the demonstration by telecasting the relatively new and popular blockbuster Bobby. Still, the Ram Lila Grounds was packed. "Babu beats Bobby" ran a headline for a news article the next day!

(The author, a former Deputy Editor with PTI, is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist. Feedback can be sent to

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 25, 2005)
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