Changing forms of representation are fundamental to our understanding of the history of democracy. The Emergency in India – as well as its visual traces – imposed by Indira Gandhi’s Congress Government from 1975 to 1977, is widely held as one of the most controversial moments in the political history of the subcontinent since Independence. This brief essay analyses specific imagery of the Emergency, a series of published photographs, through which the Congress Party projected an image of popular consent. They highlight how women often dominate this visual narrative, contrasted with an almost complete absence of women from the historiography of the Emergency.
The years prior to the Emergency had witnessed a range of protest movements at the time of a precarious economic situation. The Congress Party lost state elections in Gujarat in early June 1975 to the Janata Front – a coalition of opposition parties backed by leaders such as Morarji Desai, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, among others. On 12 June 1975, the Allahabad High Court convicted Gandhi of election corruption, and amidst increasing demands for her to step down from office, Gandhi imposed the Emergency on 26 June. In the months that followed, the state authorities implemented a range of measures aimed at silencing dissent, including the suspension of elections, arresting members of the opposition, censoring the press, and amending the constitution to expand centralised power and restrict the citizens’ fundamental rights.
The government also embarked on and aggressively pursued policies for clearing (demolishing) slums and coercively sterilised parts of the population to meet mandated targets. When Gandhi called for elections in March 1977, they acted as a referendum on Emergency rule. The people voted overwhelmingly against it.
By Dr. Gemma Scott
From Alkazi Foundation for the Arts
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