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42 years of Emergency: Activists arrested by Indira Gandhi are leaders of 21st century

During Emergency, Indira Gandhi Launched A Massive Crackdown On Political Opposition. The Government Placed Thousands Of Protestors And Strike Leaders Under Preventive Detention. The Move Ricocheted As It Gave Birth To An Army Of New Activists, Many Of Whom Are The Nation’s Ruler Now.

By : Arshi Aggarwal | Updated on: 26 Jun 2017, 01:50:49 PM
Sushma Swaraj, her husband with Jayprakash Narayan (Image: Facebook/Sushma Swaraj); PM Modi under Sikh disguise during Emergency (File Photo)

New Delhi:

The arguably the darkest chapter of Independent India’s history – Emergency – was declared on this day 42 years ago. Implemented by Indira Gandhi to crush rising dissenters across the nation, the emergency resulted in a total suspension of human rights, scores of political arrests and forced sterilisation, while the Central Government delayed elections and ruled with an iron fist. 

The reasons panned from a student moment led by Jayprakash Narayan against corruption and tyranny of Indira Gandhi government to Allahabad High Court’s decision against previous general elections. Simultaneous Naxalbadi movement gave further impetus to social unrest against the government at Centre. 

Invoking Article 352 of the Indian Constitution, Indira Gandhi launched a massive crackdown on political opposition. The government placed thousands of protestors and strike leaders under preventive detention. The move ricocheted in the long run as it gave birth to an army of new activists, many of whom are the nation’s ruler now. 

Activists in Emergency, leaders in 21st century


Arun Jaitley: A Delhi BJP youth wing leader then, Jaitley was arrested for taking out a protest against Emergency and as we know, 42 years on, he is the second most powerful man in India by virtue of holding key portfolios of Finance, Defence and Corporate Affairs in the Union Government. 

Ravi Shankar Prasad: A 21-year-old student leader of JP movement from Bihar, Shankar is now Union Minister of Law. "JP was the glue who brought all of them together," said Ravi Shankar Prasad in an old interview on Emergency.

Narendra Modi: A young RSS cadre at the time, Narendra Modi had to go underground and disguise as a Sikh to evade arrest after the organisation was banned during the crackdown. Modi continued the work of parcharak under disguise. But it was only after 26 years that his talent was recognised and he was appointed Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001, after which there was no looking back for the current Prime Minister of India. 

Sushma Swaraj: An ABVP activist from Punjab University at the time, Swaraj answered the call of JP movement and gave free legal advice to those detained by Police for anti-Emergency activities. Since then, she has held several state and Central portfolios, ultimately becoming one of the people’s most favourite External Affairs Ministers till date. 


Nitish Kumar: Current Bihar Chief Minister now and a young student from Bihar then, Nitish was amongst the first to join politics full-time during the movement. 

Lalu Prasad Yadav: A core part of the JP movement, Lalu Prasad Yadav went on to change the face of Bihar by uplifting neglected lower caste majority of the state during 15 years of his de facto rule as chief minister. Although culpability in fodder scam disqualified him from fighting elections, his clout is strong enough to form an alliance government in Bihar with Nitish Kumar’s JDU even now.

Sushil Modi: The BJP face in Bihar, and CM for a short stint, Modi was also a part of the JP movement along with other Nitish and Lalu and was arrested during the emergency.  


Prakash Karat: Then the chief of the CPI(M)'s student wing, 27-year-old Left-wing leader started protests from Delhi's famous Jawaharlal Nehru University. After the movement, Karat rose in the CPI(M) and later held the post of General Secretary from 2005 to 2015.

Sitaram Yechury: Along with Karat, Yechury led the protests from University to streets, evaded arrests by going underground. But was eventually captured when he surfaced to take his ailing father from hospital to home. Yechury is now General Secretary of CPI(M) and a Member of Parliament’s Upper House.

Tamil Nadu 

MK Stalin: In Tamil Nadu, the M Karunanidhi government was dissolved and the leaders of the DMK were incarcerated. In particular, Karunanidhi's son MK Stalin was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Stalin became DMK’s acting chief after party patriarch Karunanidhi became too ill to lead recently. He currently spearheads the Opposition against AIADMK in the state. 


Congress leaders who dissented the Emergency declaration and amendment to the constitution such as Mohan Dharia and Chandra Shekhar resigned their government and party positions and were arrested and placed under detention.

On the other side, the Youth Congress was fielded to counter the Opposition's onslaught of the young. Leaders like Kamal Nath and Ambika Soni, then in their 20s, were part of a team handpicked by Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi. They would later be senior ministers in Congress governments.

Stalwarts of Emergency 

The movement which gave birth to the leaders of the day was led by statesman like Jayaprakash Narayan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Raj Narain, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Jivatram Kripalani, Satyendra Narayan Sinha and even dowagers of Jaipur and MP Gayatri Devi and Vijayaraje Scindia. Despite their huge following, these leaders were amongst the first ones to be detained. 

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First Published : 26 Jun 2017, 11:36:00 AM