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With soaring numbers and rampant lockdown violations, it’s obvious that India is not a country that can be truly shut down. But what if it once was? Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency in 1975 and plunged us into the Last Indian Lockdown.

  1. The Bangladesh victory and the creation of the Durga myth 

‘There are some people who can’t cope with failure, and then there are those who cannot cope with success. Indira belonged to the latter category’, recalls Moni Malhoutra, trustee to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. The victory in the Bangladesh War and the mass adulation she received as a result pushed her darker side to the forefront. Comparisons to Durga not only gave her delusions of invincibility but also led to the surfacing of her insecurities and fear of inadequacy. 

2. Larger than (the) life of the Party

While her father Nehru always maintained that despite his indispensable role in the formation of the Congress Party, it was larger than him and he was indebted to it, Indira created a new Congress that enabled her political emergence and supremacy. She surrounded herself with mediocre sycophants and shunned competent, smart advisors for the fear of criticism. 

3. An Undeserved Legacy

Sanjay Gandhi was famously Indira’s Achilles’ Heel. His dream of Maruti and an affordable, locally manufactured car died a slow, excruciating death, but not before Indira got the entire government mechanism to help it take off. Millions of dollars were granted as unsanctioned loans, land was sold at a throwaway price and even veteran advisors were ignored and isolated, just so that Indira could support her son. Over time, Indira would grow more isolated as trusted advisors left her and Sanjay and his supporters became her gatekeepers. 

4. The Bangladesh & Petrol Aftermath

The Bangladesh War victory was epic, but its results were disastrous. An influx of immigrants, a draught, plummeting grain production…and that wasn’t all. Petrol prices increased fourfold and that pushed the prices of all commodities up and India officially had an economic crisis. 

5. Chaos

What followed was chaotic to say the least. Protests and strikes began to erupt. Food riots, factory shutdowns and unemployment became the norm. What should have been a defining moment for Indira Gandhi as a prime minister, was lowered to petty politics. Everything, apparently, was the Opposition’s fault. As the goddess saw it as her right to rule the country, her subjects had begun to rebel against her vehemently – calling for her resignation by 1971. By 1975, it had become so overwhelming, that she almost decided to resign. However, the realisation that power would no longer be hers seemed impossible, and so, she decided to squash the opposition by silencing them in what we came to know as The Emergency. 

Read more about how the Emergency came about and the circumstances surrounding them for free on 10th July as part of Question of the Day.  

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