June 26, 1975. An unforgettable date in the history of the world's largest democracy, for it was on this day 41 years ago that its political system was subverted by an authoritarian leader called Indira Gandhi. It was a 19-month phase which had left a big blot in an otherwise flawless record of Indian democracy in terms of sustainability.
India is one of those rare developing countries where its democracy was not undermined, like say through a military coup, but by a democratically elected leader. It was a big shock to the countrymen from the daughter of a man who had always cherished the principles of democracy.
But why did Indira Gandhi call an Emergency? What was the background for taking such a drastic step just five years from the time she was perhaps at the pick of her popularity?
A cornered regime
A number of factors were gradually exposing the Indira Gandhi government in the post-1971 period and the growing dissatisfaction with the regime had identified itself with a towering figure called Jayaprakash Narayan who led the Bihar movement of 1974 against the state repression producing a lot of impact. A similar situation was also developing in Gujarat where the Congress lost the assembly polls in June 1975.
The agricultural crisis of 1972 leading to an economic crisis and the government's lack of programme to give a direction, corruption, inner-party strife and the government's lack of empathy saw the Indira Gandhi regime clearly getting alienated from the popular base.
The Bangladesh euphoria of 1971 looked a distant dream and the leader's credentials were eroded beyond repair. This was a time when the Opposition in the country found a reason to come together against a repressive regime and find a cause to fight a divided but still-powerful Congress.
L N Mishra's death and other issues
Some events had further cornered the Gandhi government around this time. One was the killing of former railway minister Lalit Narayan Mishra at Samastipur, Bihar. It was said that Mishra's security arrangement was deliberately kept loose even as he feared threats to his life.
There was a speculation that Mishra was involved in the licence scandal and his unfortunate death was suspected to be a plot to divert the attention from the rulers of the day. Indira Gandhi tried to convince her electorate that some foreign hand was behind Mishra's killing while reports said that he was reached to a far-off hospital and with much delay.
There were also mysterious deaths of men probing important cases and the Opposition had sought a fair inquiry into them. The Mishra case was a major eye-opener for the people as it had landed the powerful government in a direct confrontation with a united Opposition.
Mujibar's rise in Bangladesh raised fears
The development in Bangladesh also raised a fear that India could also witness a similar phase of dictatorship. Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, the leader who led to the birth of a new nation with help of Indira Gandhi, had taken over dictatorial powers and speculation was on whether the latter would also take a similar turn. Mrs Gandhi might not have resorted to dictatorship at once, but her 'My way of highway' style of functioning made a serious political confrontation in Indian political scenario inevitable.
The more stubborn Mrs Gandhi became, the more united the Opposition turned. It was perhaps this age of personalised rule of Indira Gandhi that the Opposition in India turned more disciplined, dedicated and stronger, something which helped them to get the first taste of power two years later.