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The Events Leading to the Emergency of 1975: An Excerpt from ‘The Rise of Goliath’

What can best illustrate India’s journey in the last seven decades? Disruptions.

Almost every decade of India’s history since Independence has been marked by major disruptions.

The Rise of Goliath is the story of twelve disruptions that changed India. The book also provides a peek into the kind of disruptions India could face in the coming years.

Intrigued? Read an excerpt from the book below:

For three separate reasons, not entirely unconnected with each other, 12 June 1975 was an important day for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Early in the morning, she received the news that D.P. Dhar, her adviser and trusted lieutenant for years, had died of a massive heart attack. Dhar at that time was India’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. He had just been sent to Moscow for his second stint after he served the Gandhi government in different capacities including as a minister. He played a key role in India’s war with Pakistan that led to the secession of East Pakistan, which eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh. He also played a crucial role in the formulation of India’s friendship treaties with both Bangladesh and the Soviet Union.


By the evening, the same day, news about a Congress debacle began trickling in from Gujarat, where the Assembly elections had been held earlier and the results were due that day. The Janata Morcha, a coalition of political parties, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, an Opposition leader, and Morarji Desai, who was then the leader of the Congress (O), was ahead of the Indira Gandhi-led Congress. A defeat for her party in the state looked certain and that would be a big setback not only for the party but also for Indira Gandhi personally, as she had led the entire Congress campaign in the Gujarat Assembly elections.


Between these two developments—one in the morning and other in the evening, another piece of news had broken around 10 a.m. The Allahabad High Court passed an order that unseated Indira Gandhi as a member of Parliament. The high court judge, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, held her guilty of having used the services of a government servant and securing the help of some Uttar Pradesh government officers for campaigns during her Lok Sabha elections in 1971.


Even as Gandhi was scanning Justice Sinha’s judgment that day, she could not have missed the deep irony behind the direct or indirect involvement of his close adviser for many years in developments that led to her conviction. Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar was a diplomat who worked with Gandhi for almost six years—first as secretary, then as her principal secretary, and then was hired by her to be the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission for almost two years. On 13 January 1971, Yashpal Kapoor met Haksar, who was then her principal secretary, with a request that he be relieved immediately so that he could work for Gandhi’s election campaign. Haksar apparently accepted the resignation orally and Kapoor began campaigning for Gandhi, even though the official order accepting his resignation was issued only on 25 January 1971.

However, this version was contested by others, who believed that the resignation letter was backdated and there was a technical violation in the election code that a government servant cannot work for the election campaign of a candidate. Her joint secretary in the prime minister’s secretariat then, Bishan Narain Tandon, wrote in his diary:


The truth is that Kapoor had submitted his resignation only on

25 January but he had backdated it to 13 January. Action was taken on it

on the 25th. The official noting makes it clear that there was nothing to

suggest that its acceptance had been mooted before the 25th. The noting

is followed by the signatures of two officials and then by Haksar’s. He

accepted the noting and if the resignation had been accepted on the 13–

14th, he would have written so on the file. But he wrote no such thing

and signed the file. Later Seshan (private secretary to Gandhi) conveyed

the PM’s approval. In the light of these notings and signatures, there

can be no doubt left in anyone’s mind that Kapoor’s resignation had not

been accepted before the 25th.

Justice Sinha of the Allahabad High Court also believed that Gandhi was guilty of having obtained the services of a government servant for her election campaign work and cited that as one of the reasons for declaring her election in 1971 void. Haksar was also summoned by Justice Sinha and his answers in the court on 12 February 1975 could not change the judge’s view on the matter. Jairam Ramesh cites this instance in his book Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi and also notes a deeper irony behind the development. It was Haksar again who in February 1972 had advised Gandhi to clear the appointment of Justice Sinha as a permanent judge in Allahabad High Court. Three years later, the same judge would deliver a verdict that would nullify Gandhi’s elections.

Four elements in the Allahabad High Court judgment stood out starkly: One, the election of Indira Gandhi had been declared void. Two, Gandhi was disqualified from seeking re-election for a period of six years. Three, the high court order did not take immediate effect and had been stayed for twenty days. This was because immediately after the high court judgment, Gandhi’s counsel had sought time for appeal and a twenty-day grace period was granted before the order could take effect so that she could file an appeal. Four, on the expiry of the twenty-day period or as soon as an appeal against the high court order was filed in the Supreme Court and admitted, the order on declaring Gandhi’s election void would cease to be effective. Technically, therefore, Gandhi could have simply gone in for an appeal and stayed on as the prime minister and hoped that the apex court would rule in her favour, which is what broadly happened later. But not before Gandhi took the pre-emptive and unprecedented action of declaring an internal emergency in the country on the night of 25 June 1975.

What other disruptions took place in India? Find out in The Rise of Goliath 

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