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As Indira talked polls,officials advised continuing Emergency

The group further felt that continuation of Emergency may have a healthy psychological effect.

Written by Ruhi Tewari | New Delhi | Published: July 8, 2013 4:47:51 am

In what indicates the bureaucracy’s reluctance to lift Emergency,internal government documents of 1977 reveal that the Ministry of Home Affairs had at least twice recommended continuing it. One of these recommendations came after then prime minister Indira Gandhi had already announced that the Lok Sabha elections would be held in March 1977.

Confidential documents pertaining to the period of Emergency from 1975-77 accessed by The Indian Express from the National Archives of India show that a Home Ministry committee comprising then “Joint Director (Intelligence Bureau) T V Rajeswar” as well as “AS (J) (most likely additional secretary,Justice)” and “Joint Secretary (Internal Security)” had emphasised that it was “administratively desirable” to continue the proclamation of Emergency.

The group,set up to “examine the steps necessary for holding general elections in the light of the proclamation of Emergency”,submitted its first report on January 4,1977,in which it recommended that the “proclamation of Emergency could continue but certain relaxations may be made in the rigours of Emergency to create the proper environment for holding free and fair elections”.

A few days later,announcing elections for March,Mrs Gandhi did relax certain Emergency restrictions,including non-enforcement of press censorship,release of political detainees held under MISA (the Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and “lifting of all prohibitory orders on public meetings and permitting normal political activity for electioneering purposes”,among others.

However,Mrs Gandhi then directed the Home Ministry to re-examine the question of whether to revoke or further relax Emergency,“in the light of certain political developments”. Following this,the Home Ministry group submitted another report dated February 3,1977,which concluded that “it was administratively desirable to continue the proclamation of Emergency and the relaxations already announced were sufficient to create appropriate conditions for free and fair elections”.

The committee clarified,however,that its recommendation was purely from an administrative point of view and the final decision should be taken after considering “the political implications of continuance of Emergency and its effect on the electorate”.

The issue was again deliberated upon nine days later,on February 12,following political developments which made it “necessary to have a fresh look at the issue”. “The matter was discussed in detail by the Home Secretary with the DIB (director,Intelligence Bureau),JS(IS) and JD IB (Rajeswar) on 12th February and it was desired that JS(IS) and JD IB may examine this question further in the light of the discussions held and submit a note after comprehensively considering all aspects of the question,” the Home Ministry document says.

The group discussed the issue again. Factors that favoured continuing with Emergency included the fear of a law and order problem if detainees of banned organisations were released following the revocation,as well as the likelihood of a “wide gap between the statement of opposition leaders”,who had been talking about abjuring violence,and the “activities of party cadres”,as elections gained momentum. It also said the “sudden release” of a large number of anti-social elements detained under MISA could create a law and order problem,particularly during elections. The group further felt that continuation of Emergency may have a “healthy psychological effect”.

However,again,the group accepted that continuance of Emergency could become a “political liability to some extent”. “The question for consideration,therefore,was whether the administrative grounds enumerated by the group in support of continuance of Emergency are so strong as to outweigh the political risks involved in continuing the state-quo”.

The Home Ministry committee also sought to look at ways of reducing administrative difficulties to make the revocation of Emergency “administratively possible without serious risk of disturbance to law and order”.

The group also discussed the emergence of Emergency as one of the main election issues. The Home Ministry,in its subsequent internal notes,admitted that the Opposition’s campaign had managed to present it as a choice between “democracy and dictatorship”.

In its final conclusion (the date is not mentioned),the group appeared to be inching towards recommending revoking Emergency saying the consequences of this could be taken care of. “We are of the considered view that the consequences flowing from the revocation of Emergency can be taken care of by appropriate administrative action and the wholesale release of members of banned organisations can be prevented by appropriate timing of revocation at least till the elections are over. Considering that this has become the major election issue and is being fully exploited by opposition parties,it is for consideration whether the proclamation of Emergency under article 352 dated 3rd December,1971 (during the India-Pakistan war),and 25th June,1975,may be revoked.”

Emergency was finally lifted on March 21,1977,around a month after these recommendations of the Home Ministry committee.

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