The Emergency was a highly effective political strategy. Power supply was deliberately stopped on the night of June 25 to ensure that most newspapers could not be published the next day while sudden arrests of political opponents, both from the Congress itself and the Opposition, gave Indira Gandhi an advantage.
Complete restriction imposed
Presidential ordinances, which were later converted into law, empowered the government to arrest and jail people without any trial. Meetings of more than five persons without permission were not allowed while casual groups gathering on streets were dispersed.
As against this, rallies in support of the leader herself increased fast and it became important to display her posters and support her Twenty-Point Programme, a set of economic reforms, which Gandhi had announced on July 1, 1975.
Defame the 'fascist' Opposition
Efforts were also made to defame the RSS by claiming weapons were found in its office while documentaries were used to demonise the Opposition parties, including JP. The establishment also accused the press of backing the Opposition in its 'sinister' designs. JP, who was also imprisoned during this time, had written to the PM from jail about the latter's action of subverting the democracy, but he did not get a reply.
The Emergency was backed by three constitutional amendments and parliamentary act. While the 38th Amendment held that the Emergency could not be questioned by the judiciary, the 39th Amendment made any dispute over elections of the prime minister, President, Vice-President and Speaker non-justiciable. It basically turned the Allahabad High Court's decisive call on Gandhi ineffective.
The supreme leader also got a backing of the Supreme Court on this matter in November 1975. The proposed 40th Amendment gave the PM, President, Vice-President and Speaker complete immunity from any criminal offence, past or future. Besides, an act held publication of any matter that criticised the PM, President, Vice-President, Speaker and the council of ministers to be constituting a penal offence.
Muzzling the press
A series of measures were also taken to clip the wings of the press. Many newspapers were shut, a code of conduct was implemented for journalists, government nominees were placed in boards of newspaper houses while the country's four news agencies were merged to ensure that the press was completely muzzled. The Press Council to ensure freedom of the press was dissolved in December 1975.
Stifling the Opposition
Regarding the Opposition, whether the adversaries could exist depended on the rulers' will since the amended Constitution in 1976 empowered the Parliament to pass laws overriding the fundamental rights, the basic tenets of the laws of the land. Gandhi applied full force to effect strong centralism by trying to bring the two Opposition-ruled states, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, under her government's control. Both the states challenged Gandhi's intention strongly.
Rise of Sanjay Gandhi
The Emergency had also seen the rise of Sanjay Gandhi to prominence although he never exhibited the qualification or experience to emerge as a natural successor to Indira Gandhi, his mother. The infamous sterilization campaign was started under his leadership. The undefined powers of the leader were given definitive shape by the Congress loyalists.
Indira Gandhi has remarked in August 1975 that force was not used at all during the Emergency days but the reality showed how police atrocity on dissenters became a regular occurrence from the time before the imposition of Emergency.
Brutality became the order of the day and torture on adversaries and protesters became the common political currency. Deaths of prisoners in lock-up were not a surprise. The government had increased its budget for the police besides expanding the police force. The inexplicable torture that the police had conducted on one of the brothers of one of the opposition leaders George Fernandes is still fresh in the memory of many who had followed those times closely.
While arbitrary arrests created a fear in the minds of people, the censorship deprived them of knowledge about events that went against the state. It was a perfect scenario to carry on with the state atrocity.
Some good effects of Emergency
Since it was an Emergency, naturally there was a urgency in the running of everyday affairs. Ministers made surprise visits to their departments to see how things were working out. The timing of the employees reporting at work was closely monitored. Trains ran on time. Officials who didn't have a reputation at work were asked to retire at 50 while authorities put into effect punitive measures against economic offenders. The price of vegetable oil and food grain was low but that more because of a good monsoon and high yields.
Indira Gandhi's decade
In January 1976, a book was released on Mrs Gandhi's decade-long rule (from 1966-75) and Vidya Charan Shukla (the man who died recently after being gravely injured in Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh), in a typical display of sycophancy, said more work had been accomplished during that decade than that done in the last 1,000 years!
But in all, the Emergency did not bring any marked improvement in the lives of the commoners, irrespective of the government's tall claims. Whether it was a natural disaster, a mine accident or economic development, the authorities remained indifferent towards the welfare of the people. Workers were laid off in lakhs while the labour movement was brought under strong monitoring. The class distinction was exposed vividly during this time even as Mrs Gandhi spoke in favour of a just society.
(With inputs from Indira Gandhi - Tryst With Power by Nayantara Sahgal)