New Delhi: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Sunday said the period of emergency between June 1975 to March 1977 was the “darkest period” in the history of post-independent democratic India.
Delivering keynote address at an event titled ‘A Talk on the Abuse of the Constitution During the Emergency’, Mehta said that over the past decade, people have listened to “factually incorrect propaganda” with phrases like ‘a majoritarian regime, arbitrariness in governance and government’s interference in the judiciary’ being used.
These had to be confronted by lawyers with “legal logic”, he said.
The top law officer asserted people were now in the “safest of the possible constitutional scenario”.
The abuse of the Constitution was not just during the Emergency but it started much earlier, he said at the talk which was organised by Young Lawyers for Democracy.
“The era of emergency from 1975 to 77 was the darkest period in the history of post-Independence democracy,” he said.
Mehta said some of the facts that he mentioned were not found in textbooks but in memoirs, autobiographies of judges and lawyers and other literature.
He said the Supreme Court refused to stay the Allahabad High Court order declaring the election of Indira Gandhi unconstitutional on June 24, 1975, and the Emergency was declared the next day.
During the Emergency starting from June 25, 1975, the Constitution was abused, he said.
“Ultimately Indira Gandhi succeeded and her election was upheld on other grounds but the 39th amendment act by which she gave immunity to the election of speaker and prime minister was declared unconstitutional. This is (an example of) blatant abuse of the Constitution during the Emergency,” he said.
Mehta said there were many unsung heroes who became the victims of the Emergency. He said over 30,000 arrests took place and around 250 journalists were jailed.
“By and large if we study the material during the Emergency, we will find that it is the high courts of the country which stood by the citizens and by and large the Supreme Court let the citizens down,” he said.
Mehta further said there was also a direction to “lock up the high courts” which was prevented.
He said around 65-70 judges were transferred during the Emergency and the Chief Justice of India had “no role except to sign the transfer papers when so instructed by the government”.
“High court judges who are constitutional functionaries, and we are not talking about cashiers or bank clerks, being transferred en masse,” Mehta said.
He said in Delhi, about 200 lawyers were arrested and approximately 200 lawyers’ chambers in the Tis Hazari court were demolished only because they were protesting against the Emergency.
“When we inherit freedom, we take it for granted. Our generation has inherited the second freedom, which started from 1977,” Mehta said.
He said during the emergency era, democracy and the independence of judiciary were under threat and it was lawyers, judges, judiciary, journalists, academicians and the common man who came together and brought the nation out of this dark period.
Tejashwi Surya, the BJP MP from Bengaluru (South) and the party’s youth wing president, was the chief guest of the event.