The Building Unrest


There were several factors that decisively turned the Indian public opinion in the period ending 1976 and beginning 1977, against the Emergency regime in general, and Indira Gandhi in particular. The first of course was the growing disaffection among the working people - both rural and urban. Then there was the clamp down on the media - which alienated the urban middle class readers who had been traditionally brought upon a media fare of pluralistic viewpoints and were now being subjected instead to one-sided government press handouts. The next factor was the officially sponsored propaganda eulogizing a dynastic leadership centering around Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay. Sanjay Gandhi earned notoriety for his autocratic style of functioning within the Congress party, as well as outside where he led the infamous sterilization drive and demolition of squatters' colonies. Within the Congress party, anti-Sanjay sentiments were growing leading to disgruntlement among the older leaders.


Meanwhile, pressures were being mounted upon Indira Gandhi by the US and other Western governments to restore democracy. Critics pointed out that the Indian parliamentary elections which were due to be held in March 1976, had been postponed by Indira Gandhi for two years. The Western media and international human rights organizations had been highlighting reports about atrocities on the common people, imprisonment of Opposition leaders and the muffling of press under Indira Gandhi's rule. By the beginning of 1977, the record of her Emergency regime had become a matter of global scandal, and she was losing the stature that she once enjoyed among dignitaries in international gatherings. She had to restore her image in the global community, and legitimize her authority in the domestic scene. The only way out was the holding of elections - which she had been trying to postpone.


Announcement of elections: the calculations that turned wrong


In a dramatic gesture, on January 18, 1977, Indira Gandhi announced general elections to be held in mid-March that year under conditions of relaxed Emergency. In making this announcement, she was encouraged by reports provided by the intelligence agencies of her own government which forecast hands-down victory for her Congress party. They assured her that the Opposition was divided and demoralized, with most of their leaders in jail and lacking resources to fight the election. In contrast, her party had all the advantages of political power, control of the mass media, and the immense funds collected from industrial houses and extorted from other sources by her party men during the period under her Emergency regime.