Chandigarh, June 25: It was late in the night of June 25, 1975 that the Congress government in India led by Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency thereby suspending all civil rights of the people and it was withdrawn on March 21, 1975. The Akali Dal was the only party that launched a consistent struggle against this naked aggression by Indira Gandhi on civil liberties. The party launched morcha but the Akali Dal was never given the credit it deserved for this agitation during which thousands of Akali workers, including the entire leadership, went to jail. At its 25th anniversary, the name of Akali Dal was not even mentioned by the newspapers that had large space given to this issue.
The Emergency proclamation was officially issued by the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed early on June 26. With the suspension of the fundamental rights, politicians who opposed Indira Gandhi were arrested. Threat to national security and bad economic conditions were cited as reasons for the declaration.
The presidential proclamation said “the security of India is threatened by internal disturbance”. Earlier in the night, all major Opposition leaders, including Jaiprakash Narayan were arrested. However, the government did not touch any Akali Dal leader.
Civil liberties were suspended, media censored, and amendments introduced that threatened to alter the basic character of the constitution. The government suspended the right to move court for enforcement of fundamental rights.
The Akali Dal, despite the fact that no party leader had been detained, decided to launch morcha against it that ended only with the end of Emergency. There was no provocation for the Akali Dal to take this step. But then the fight was for civil liberties.
Here is the account from ‘Khalistan Struggle: A Non-movement’ by this author of the situation leading to this decision by the party as per the account provided by Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
“The Emergency once again brought Akali Dal into confrontation with the Congress government at the Centre. By now, the Akalis were too experienced at the morcha (agitational) politics, the first one after the Partition being the Punjabi Suba Morcha in 1955 -- agitation for a Punjabi speaking state. The Akali Dal was one of those parties, which launched a sustained stir against the imposition of Emergency and restoration of civil liberties though the government had detained none of the Akali leaders till then. All the Akali agitations have been peaceful.
“Tohra happened to be in Amritsar the day Emergency was imposed in 1975. His reaction was that Indira Gandhi should have resigned in the wake of the Allahabad High Court judgment, which unseated her from the Parliament rather than taking such dictatorial decision, which would have far-reaching repercussions. He was the first Akali leader to come on record against the Emergency. He took the initiative of summoning a meeting of the Akali Dal working committee on June 29. Meanwhile, he received an emotional letter from Janata Party leader Yagya Dutt Sharma calling upon the Akalis to lead the country in the fight against Emergency. As the government had not detained any Akali leader by then, none in the meeting favoured launching the agitation. Despite that, Tohra, party President Mohan Singh Tur and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal were authorised to take the final decision. Later, the three leaders met Jagdev Singh Talwandi. Tohra was in favour of sending only selected leaders and workers to court arrest in case an agitation was to be launched. Later, some leaders alleged that Tohra was in league with Indira Gandhi, a charge he vehemently denied at a meeting with Tur. He was among the first five leaders who courted arrest after offering a prayer at Akal Takht. The agitation launched by the Akali Dal on July 9, 1975 was withdrawn on January 22, 1977. In the Lok Sabha elections that followed, Janata Party conglomerate replaced Congress at the Centre and Akali Dal was an ally to it.”
The Akali Dal manifesto for 1977 Assembly elections stated: “Akali Dal is fully conscious of the tremendous responsibility that rests upon its shoulders in resolving to participate in the elections. The Akali Dal has earned its right to speak for the masses of India. It deliberately chose to oppose the imposition of emergency under inspiration from Sikh history and picked up the gauntlet thrown by Smt. Indira Gandhi in extinguishing democracy in the country. The Morcha launched by Akali Dal on 6th July, 1975 till 22nd January, 1977, was the only silver lining in the dark days of contemporary Indian history. The Akali Dal led about 43,000 followers into the satyagraha and two of them attained martyrdom. It is eternal shame of Congress government that the leader of the Sikh Church, S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra,the leader of the opposition in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha S. Parkash Singh Badal and Akali Dal chief Jathedar Mohan Singh Tur, were among thousands of those brave sons of the soil who were kept behind bars for all this period. Immediately after coming out of jails, we had to accept the challenge of elections. I, therefore, with pride place before the Punjab electorate the Akali Dal election manifesto and appeal to the Punjabis to vote for Akali candidates and thus enable us to serve the country according to our manifesto. …. Balwant Singh, Chairman, Manifesto Committee.”
The Congress won 352 seats in the 1971 elections. On June 12, Allahabad High Court ruled on a petition filed by Bharatiya Lok Dal leader Raj Narain, declaring Indira Gandhi’s victory from Rae Bareli void. As the Opposition pressed for her resignation, she appealed to the Supreme Court. The vacation bench of Justice V R Krishna Iyer gave conditional stay, ruling that she could remain PM, but could not speak or vote in Parliament pending a decision by a larger bench.
On June 25, at a massive rally in Delhi, Jaiprakash Narayan announced a week long satyagraha to press for Indira’s resignation. He also appealed to the armed forces, police and government employees not to obey the “illegal and immoral orders” of the government. That night, Indira Gandhi, reportedly on the advice of then West Bengal Chief Minister S S Ray, decided to act. The Cabinet was not consulted. At 8 amon June 26, she made an unscheduled radio broadcast to tell the nation about the Emergency. The power supply to many newspapers in Delhi had been cut off the previous night. They reported the news on June 27.
Soviet Union described it as a “blow to a right-wing plot”.
India had entered a new era.