June of 1975, a piece of our history, never to be forgotten
“Tragedy overtakes democracy when a leader who rises to power due to popularity, becomes a political narcissist.”
June of 1975, was undoubtedly one of the most tumultuous months in the history of independent India. It was on the 12th of June 1975, in the courtroom of Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of Allahabad High Court which delivered the judgment in the case of Raj Narian V. Indira Nehru Gandhi, which said that sitting Prime Minister Indira Nehru Gandhi was convicted of electoral malpractices in her election in Raebareli, in 1971. The court also directed that she will be disqualified from contesting any election for the next 6 years. This judgment was challenged in the Supreme court by the vacation bench judge, Justice VR Krishan Iyer, who gave her relief on conditions that eventually were the trigger for the declaration of emergency.
On the 24th of June 1975, the vacation bench delivered the judgment, and on the midnight of the 25th of June 1975, Indira Nehru Gandhi declared the emergency via the then-president Fakruddin Ahmed. The following 21 months were full of upheavals, from arresting opposition leaders and forced sterilizations to banning movies and singers like Kishore Kumar.
In the year 1969, The Indian National Congress split, after the expulsion of Indira Gandhi from the party: one Indian National Congress (Organization) led by senior leader and party president S. Nijalingappa, the other one Indian National Congress (Requisitionists) lead by Indira Nehru Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. In the 1971 general elections, Indian National Congress (Requisitionists) and Indira Gandhi won by a roaring landslide of 352 out of the 518 seats of Lok Sabha, breaking all the past election records. Indira Gandhi fought her election from Rae Bareilly and won it by 1,10,000 votes to her closest rival, Raj Narain.
Raj Narian, a member of the Samyukta Socialist Party, was a staunch politician and a true believer in democracy. Being firm of winning against the prime minister, he carried a victory procession before election results. Results came in as a shocker, and he started to believe in the rumours of malpractices in vote counting and criminal treatment of ballot papers. Owing to the rumours and his own belief in malpractices done by Indira Gandhi, he filed an election petition in the Allahabad High court.
An election petition was filed through Ramesh Chandra Srivastava, and it engaged Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan as the lead counsel for the case. Raj Narian drafted several allegations against Indira Gandhi, to which Shanti Bhushan later added a few more allegations, and the final list of allegations was:
- Mrs. Gandhi had procured the assistance of Yashpal Kapoor for the furtherance of her election prospects while he was still a gazetted officer.
- At the insistence of Mrs. Gandhi, Swami Adwaitanand was bribed to stand as a candidate from Rae Bareli.
- Mrs. Gandhi procured the assistance of members of the armed forces of the Union for furthering her election prospects by ordering them to fly her to her election meetings in Air Force planes.
- She procured the assistance of the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police of Rae Bareli and other police officers for erecting barricades and rostrums and making loudspeaker arrangements for her election meetings.
- Her agents freely distributed liquor, quilts, blankets among the voters of Rae Bareli with the object of inducing them to vote for her.
- Using the symbol of a cow and calf she appealed to the religious sentiments of the voters to get votes for herself.
- Yashpal Kapoor and other agents of Mrs. Gandhi hired a number of vehicles for the free conveyance of voters to and from the polling stations.
- Mrs. Gandhi and her election agent incurred or authorized expenditure much beyond the prescribed limit of Rs 35,000 for the purpose of the election.
The Representation of People Act, 1951, specifies the grounds for contesting a candidate’s election. Section 123 of the Representation of People Act identifies various corrupt activities that, if proven effective, might be grounds for declaring a candidate’s election illegitimate, and the candidate can be disqualified from holding any public office for six years.
Prime Minister as a witness in the court
In 1975, Allahabad High Court was a legal and political battleground that decided the future of legal institutions and the politics of India for decades to come. During the proceedings in the high court, it was the first and the last time a sitting Prime Minister of India testified as a witness in a courtroom.
Prashant Bhushan, in his book The Case that shook India, said that Yashpal Kapoor was supporting Gandhi in her election campaign while he also was a government employee, and so it amounted to electoral malpractice. Yashpal Kapoor was the star witness in the case, wherein he performed extremely badly as a witness. So, the counsels on the Indira Gandhi side decided to take a radical decision to send the Prime Minister to the witness box.
The Attorney General, Advocate General of the state of Uttar Pradesh, and many aides to the prime minister called it a suicidal move, however, she was called upon to testify as a witness in the case.
Shanti Bhushan, an eminent jurist, and baron at the bar questioned Indira Gandhi in the court for two days. The task of questioning the prime minister was not easy, but Bhushan himself is a legal stalwart. Indira Gandhi on the first day, held her ground firm just like she did in her political field. Shanti Bhushan was accused of being soft and not being furious with the prime minister by the legendary parliamentarian Piloo Mody. To which, Shanti Bhushan replied by saying if I go rough on Madam (India Gandhi) the judge may think that the Prime Minister is disrespected in his courtroom and can rule against them to show respect to her. He added that this is only a jig, she will come into his trap tomorrow.
Prashant Bhushan notes that the next day she fell into Shanti Bhushan’s trap, and it decided the fate of her case and the nation.
Judgment in Allahabad High court and No blanket relief in Supreme court
Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, born in Agra, started his career as a judge in 1957, subsequently, he was elevated to Allahabad High Court in 1970. On the 12th of June 1974, Justice Sinha came into the courtroom (24) at 9:25 AM and he delivered the judgment at 10 AM.
In a 258-page verdict, Justice Sinha disqualified Indira Gandhi from holding any public office for six years and held her 1971 victory in Raebareli elections void. Surprisingly, out of 8 malpractices listed by Shanti Bhushan and Raj Narian, Justice Sinha found only 2 of them critical and convicted Indira Gandhi under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act.
First, Using Yashpal Kapoor, a gazetted officer as her election agent. Allahabad High court held that Kapoor who was an officer in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat (was also known to be a kitchen cabinet member of Indira Gandhi). Kapoor resigned on the 13th of January, 1971 from his position of officer on Special Duty for the PM. The Prime Minister’s Secretariat accepted Kapoor’s resignation on the 14th of January 1971, then on the 4th of February Indira Gandhi appointed him as his election officer.
Court further held that Kapoor organized and addressed rallies on the 7th and 19th of January 1971, as instructed by Indira Gandhi. The court found out that Indira Gandhi nominated herself as a candidate in Raebareli on the 29th of December 1970, and Kapoor’s registration was notified only on the 25th of January 1971.
Hence, Kapoor while being a gazetted officer organized and addressed rallies for Nominated candidate Indira Gandhi and assisted her with elections. These activities resulted in malpractices under section 123 of the Representation of People Act.
Second, Rostrums, loudspeakers, and barricades were installed with the help of government machinery. Justice Sinha held that Indira Gandhi used government machinery to install rostrums, loudspeakers, barricades, and other things for her rallies and public meets. Yashpal Kapoor, District Magistrate of Raebareli, and other officials helped Indira Gandhi between the 1st of February 1971 and 25th of February 1971, in her election campaigns.
Baffled with the verdict and its far-reaching outcome, Indira Gandhi and her team of lawyers knocked on the door of the Supreme court. The case went up to the vacation bench of the supreme court, headed by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, who did not give Indira Gandhi total relief from the judgment of Allahabad High court. The Apex court held that Indira Gandhi could continue and work as Prime Minister, while her powers as a member of parliament were cut short. The verdict by Justice Iyer did not satisfy Indira’s greed for unchecked powers and she threw India and all its citizens into an unending sea of darkness with the imposition of the black hole of national emergency.
1975 – 1977 and Now
The National Nightmare, also known as the National Emergency, lasted for 21 months and saw the Prime Minister adopt several undemocratic measures to curb dissent. Thousands of preventive detentions, jailing the opposing leaders, implementation of draconian laws like the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, cutting electricity of the printing press, unofficial bans on movies, and singers, and every possible violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights. No habeas corpus Petitions could be moved to the courts, and illegal detentions were practically legalized during the emergency.
Stalwart leaders like LK Advani, Atal Vihari Vajpayee, Sushma Swaraj, Jayprakash Narayan, Swaraj Kaushal, George Fernandes were arrested by the government and kept in detention for a very long time. The picture of George Fernandes in chains aired internationally and was condemned by the world media.
On the 23rd of March 1977, the Emergency was lifted, with elections held in the very same year, Congress under the leadership of Indira Gandhi lost the election to Jayprakash Narayan led Janta Party, electing Morarji Desai as the next prime minister. Indira Gandhi fought from Rae Bareli and lost to Raj Narain in 1977. With the Janata Party in power, the fascist years of Indira Gandhi came to an end.
On 12 of June 1975, for the first time in independent India’s history, the election of a prime minister was declared void by a high court judgment. The watershed case, Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain, proved the strength of India’s democratic institutions.
Years after, the lingering feelings of the emergency have very much lived on, in the hearts of the people who witnessed it, and those who carefully read about it. Emergency made people realize the true meaning of democracy. It was a turning point in the defence of constitutional ideals and fundamental freedoms. Opposition leaders, lawyers, journalists, and every Indian fought a valiant battle against the stench of tyranny. These 21 months redefined the definition of democracy for India. It is crucial to recall the ideals of dissent, dialogue, and critique of everything that makes up our politics and society.
This black hole period of emergency drives us to stand against all the social and political inequalities. The question we should ask ourselves is, after 46 years of emergency, have we paid heed to the lessons of our past and stood up to the ideals of democracy?
The winds of Kabul have been slave to no outsider, considering the fact one can merely comprehend, if it’s time for new shackles for its people and women who for past twenty years were in absolute hope to see their country at peace and a worthy home to next generations.
With all said and done, the newly born ministry faces serious political and administrative challenges ahead. The first serious challenge comes as to checking the politicization of the cooperatives and running the administration based on the market’s norms. It is here that the Ministry can fall back again on the Rochdale Principles.
Almost 70 years have passed since then, and though our country now has far more resources and a much more knowledgeable population base to hold elections with, there have evidently been some red flags about how people perceive the electoral system. The Election Commission, long considered the most prestigious of Indian organizations, has now come under fire from multiple fronts.