Emergency @ 40: A Dictator removes two elected Chief Ministers

One would have thought Mrs. Gandhi learned her lesson from the debacle of the Emergency.

Once a dictator always a dictator’ can be said to be a truism suitable for the late former Prime Minister of India Smt Indira Gandhi. Like any leader, she had her highs and lows, more lows to be fair. Among the illustrious list of discrepancies during her rule, one that comes to almost everyone’s mind is the dark night of 25 June 1975 right before the clock struck midnight. If the father greeted the hour of midnight as the time when India made a tryst with destiny, the daughter made sure that pre-midnight was the time to encage it.

panditOf course, like the fabled story of Rapunzel, PM Indira Gandhi claimed to keep India fortified to protect it from dangers as her Government cited security threats, stating further that the otherwise democratic strikes and protests had paralyzed the economy of the country. Primarily it was Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, who proposed to the prime minister to enforce an “internal emergency.” It was he who drafted a letter for the President to issue the order ensuring that democratic freedom be suspended while remaining within the ambit of the Constitution.

Many leaders and scholars of that time and today are heard claiming that it is surprisingly tragic that the daughter of the democratic Pandit Nehru curtailed democracy in such a repressive manner. But if one follows the chronology of Indira Gandhi’s career, we can paraphrase Pandit Nehru stating that Mrs. Gandhi had all the makings of a dictator in her — vast popularity, a strong will, ability, hardness, an intolerance for others. She showed this trait even before proclaiming the state of emergency as well as after the proclamation. Let us take a brief look at two of those notable incidents when Indira Gandhi displayed the traits of a dictator:

1. Kerala crisis of 1959– In 1957, the Communist Party of India won the assembly elections of Kerala by a slim majority, forming the first communist state government in the country as well as one of the world’s first democratically elected communist government with EMS Namboodiripad as the Chief Minister. Now while Jawaharlal Nehru saw Indian communists as opponents, he was willing to give the new democratically-elected state government a chance since they promised to function within the constitutional bounds.

But the same cannot be said about his daughter Indira, the President of the Congress party, who was determined to dislodge the elected government. She saw her chance when an education bill was introduced by EMS soon after assuming his post. The bill claimed for better wages and working conditions for the teachers in private schools and colleges; in other words, the bill was an encroachment by government into private educational institutes since the Catholics, Ezhavas and Nairs of Kerala ran multiple charitable schools.

The local Congress party members incited the upset parties into organising state-wide agitations terming them as the “Liberation Struggle”. Kerala was plagued by strikes and protests with the protesters employing mob violence. The government responded with harsh police action. Around 150,000 protesters were jailed. It is now public knowledge that the agitators of the Congress party were goaded by were goaded by Indira Gandhi who pressurized her father who finally relented.  The EMS Government became the first democratically elected state government with a clear majority to be dismissed using Emergency Powers in July 1959. While PM Nehru was defamed, few disagreed that it was the doing of his dictatorial daughter.

2. Dismissal of the NTR government: In the 1983 assembly elections, the Telugu Desam Party, led by veteran actor-turned politician NT Rama Rao won by an absolute majority, winning 203 out of the 294 seats. NTR himself won both the seats in Gudivada and Tirupati and was sworn in as the first non-Congress Chief Minister of the state on 9 January 1983.

Although very popular with the voters of the then Andhra Pradesh, the administration was not on good terms with the Indira Gandhi-led government in New Delhi. It was only natural for the centre to dismiss the state government. And the time came on 15 August 1984, when NTR was in the USA undergoing an open heart surgery. His finance minister, Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, was made the Chief Minister by the Governor Ramlal. The reason given was the charge of communal violence which allegedly occurred due to NTR’s negligence. Bhaskara Rao wrongly claimed the support of majority of the TDP MLAs. When NTR returned to India after his surgery, he demonstrated his strength by bringing all the MLAs supporting him, which was a majority in the 294 member assembly, to the Governor’s Office.

The Governor Ramlal, an Indira loyalist, did not relent. In response, NTR campaigned for his restoration by mobilizing public support and also that of various anti-Congress political parties including the Janata Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party among others. The immense popularity of NTR made this campaign a success causing PM Indira Gandhi to reluctantly remove Governor Ramlal and restoring NTR as CM in September 1984. One would have thought Mrs. Gandhi learned her lesson from the debacle of the Emergency. However… Once a dictator always a dictator.

While EMS Nambodiripad’s dismissal showed how the communist theory of agitations and strikes can be used against them, NT Rama Rao proved that true public support is more powerful than high-handed autocracy. It is important that today we remember the examples of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh apart from recalling the momentary demise of democracy under Indira Gandhi’s autocratic rule.

  • IndiannotAmused

    Indira’s achievements lie in ensuring India’s military and financial security in troubled times.Somewhat less known is her great role in dodging interference from certain other foreign powers [ who will remain unnamed].Also the allegation that she was a Soviet stooge is far-fetched.She made an even handed deal with them and used that deal to shield India from destructive influences in times of great peril. Her faults would have been committed by ANY OTHER leader in her position at that time.I am a Pro-RSS,Pro-Hindutva,Pro-BJP person.But that does not mean I will deny credit where it is due.Just like Nehru brigade tried to ERASE Netaji Bose from India’s memory,there is a section within the Indian right who feel it a calling to denigrate and sully Indira’s image.This is sad.Capable and nationalist people can be found in all camps.Believe me,Congress was not always the anti-national entity that it is today under Sonia Maino-Rahul Maino leadership.
    The IndiaFacts is a dear outlet that gives BALANCED accounts.This article somewhat upsets that tradition.Vande Mataram.

    • अक्षय

      Yes, she was a very shrewd general and her Bangladesh liberation war was her crowning achievement, but there are also reports of briefcases of money making their way into Janpath 10. Her alignment with USSR was a necessary one, given Nixon’s love for Pakistan, but we didn’t have to become a virtual Soviet satellite. Neither was it necessary for her tight-fisted decisions. This was mostly the result of Nehru’s arrogance to the Americans – given his disdain for ‘continentals’ I can only imagine what he thought of the Americans. Also as a result of Nehru’s stupidity, we lost Kashmir and led Tibetans to a cultural genocide. A bunch of idiots the father-daughter duo turned out to be.

      I’m kind of sad about how things turned out. Rajaji wished for greater co-operation with the Americans, along a liberal society. Roosevelt harboured sympathies for the Indians against what he rightly saw as British aggressiveness…. C’est la vie…

      • IndiannotAmused

        Thanks for the reply.I want to discuss the last section of your comment.
        The two nations could have been friends then and now.But here is the situation………..there is the Christian Fundamentalist brigade in USA which wants entire planet to be taken over by Western Christianity and they are livid with rage at the revival of Hindutva politics within India…….so this time the USA has to walk that extra mile as we are ready for an alliance.But the Christian lobby is so influential that it is steadily blocking the coming -together of these nations.For a meaningful alliance the USA needs to take the following steps at the least-
        1. Stop exporting Christian Jihad into the Indian states especially the Nagaland-Manipur belt.
        2. Stop exporting Christian Jihad into Nepal. [important neighbour]
        3. Stop exporting Christian Jihad into Burma-Myanmar hill tribal belts. [important neighbour]
        4.Stop exporting Christian Jihad into Bangladesh at the Chattagram Hill Tracts belt.
        5.Stop sleeping with Indian Maoist terrorists using the Christian priests as a go between.
        5. Stop exporting faux liberal FemiNazism [ a reaction to Christian fundamentalism in the first place] into India using Internet and Commercials.
        6. Stop exporting EXCESSIVE SENSITIVITY to LGBT issues into India using Internet and Commercials.
        7.Stop exporting American version of SELECTIVE Human Rights as an instrument of economic sabotage.
        8.Stop exporting American version of SELECTIVE Environmental Rights as an instrument of economic sabotage.
        9. Stop exporting……lets be brief here……..every last bit of American social sh…t into India as invisible packages piggybacked with commercial ventures and transactions.
        Till then ,best intentions aside, ANY alignment is temporary and cosmetic at best. After all,you can not get into bed with someone who has a dagger in the loincloth.

        • अक्षय

          The reason that this is happening is not because of the US, it’s because India has stupidly not developed its culture nor its languages. It hasn’t even begun to understand the questions, let alone formulate its own answers to the West (and gasp push counter-narratives). To attribute this to a conscious effort by the US is quite silly.


          Hell, forget intellectual work, at least stop the Missionaries and Mullahs from coming in!

          A country which wishes desperately to die is not worth saving. Our culture has anyway turned sour by Semitic admixture… let’s all just cut our tongues – may be atleast we’ll rid ourselves of widespread poverty and inequality. We’re unworthy of our history anyway.

          (I’m depressed.)

          • Fantastic link. Also independently available on hipkapi, outside the yahoo group.

          • अक्षय

            You should also checkout,


            The other side is complete stumpted that their sophistry doesn’t make any real sense! Not surprising. These idiots probably have no training in Logic.

          • IndiannotAmused

            I sense your pain.But lets not be so dark.The wheels of change have started to turn.We need to fight this patiently.After all, patience is a Dharmic virtue.Let us stand wherever we are and work towards what you just said.If we could attain political freedom [ no matter how fractured and faulty] , then we can surely do this too.

  • Dr. MS

    I agree the Emergency was a big issue for journalists, academics and those for whom freedom does not come with anarchy, chaos or total “unreliability of the State”.

    It was a terrible event..but I would never call that “the darkest days in India”. Get a grip on your hyperboles.

    Also this constant obsession with Indira’s so-called autocratic tendencies generally comes from men used to female obedience, compliance and caregiving. Indira was not an autocratic person. She became closed, insular and paranoid after succession of internal conspiracies and sleaze politics, and with sycophants and cronies brainwashing her with their agenda, interpretations of reality and their own political self interests. The led her to trust only a few people, some of them were immature and came with their own motives like Sanjay Gandhi.

    Indira Gandhi, in the middle of this craziness, had to defend India against four emerging and escalating threats before the Emergency: The rise of the Khalistan movement that was being supported by Pakistan ; actual direct conflicts with Pakistan (including in the liberation of Bangladesh). ; the secessionist movements in the Northeast (that was getting violent) and secessionist tendencies of Tamil Nadu (DMK in particular).

    In the middle of this she had to deal with fools, idiots and a lot of selfish men who wanted power from a woman….who did, no doubt, come from a privileged family.

    Do I consider Indira Gandhi to be an excellent leader? No! Do I consider her to be one of Asia’s most terrible woman leader? Absolutely not.

    Was she a dictator? Absolutely not! In fact those who think of her that way are men who do not know how to be confident assertive ethical (but also respectful) men to a woman boss or employer or leader, and later cover up their cowardliness and jealousy by calling her an autocrat. Look who are writing those things…old Congress sycophants who now can say anything and sell books.

    The rise of the male idiot class, with too many BA degrees, with ignorance and arrogance as the identity ego, is going to make it difficult for any woman to come to power in India. But they all want movie stars who can also cook, dance, sing and read English papers as wives. ,

    The language tells me more about how men in journalism up their self importance.

    Try to administer a nation like India for month and then learn.

    • I agree. She was meta-physically, the only man in the cabinet. They were just idiots, weak XY chromosomes, and some of them had self-esteem 3 degrees below zero. Yes, the emergency in 1975 was a proper belated response to the Bangladesh war of 1971, the coming operation blue star of 1984, and her chronicle of a death foretold. The congress-“men” were crying like babies who lost their dad on October 31, 1984. And they redeemed themselves in the anti-sikh riots that followed. What is not to like ?

    • अक्षय

      > Try to administer a nation like India for a month and then learn.

      Rajaji did and he said something along the lines of “I’ve known her since she was 4 and she is yet to grow up”. Please oh please don’t start with your misandry here.

      • Dr. MS

        You want to talk about a dictatorial man…Rajaji himself might have fallen in that category. He was accused of being one not only by his opponents, but also by some of his colleagues and peers. He was supposed to have hit his own wife many times.

        The Hereditary Education Policy, introduced by Rajaji in the early 1950s, which I reject (as it stifles individual growth and opportunity) was a scheme that proposed two sessions in elementary schools, one of which would require students to learn the occupations of their parents. It became controversial and was accused of being a casteist scheme. I agree it was casteist. Kamraj, a big Congress loyalist, himself later dropped the program. A potter’s son did not have to be a potter, and a priest’s son may be a terrible priest. But Rajaji, known for his stubbornness, refused to listen to criticisms from his own colleagues and peers.

        Guess what, DMK called Rajaji dictatorial, and Kamraj called him “stubborn” and “egotistical”.

        So labels laddie can also carry political bias or exaggerations or personal interpretation..

        So grow up.

        Yes, I call on your misogyny too.