On the night of June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India, suspending constitutional rights and rounding up her political opponents in midnight raids across the country. In the twenty-one harrowing months that followed, her regime unleashed a brutal campaign of coercion and intimidation, arresting and torturing people by the tens of thousands, razing slums, and imposing compulsory sterilization on the poor. Emergency Chronicles provides the first comprehensive account of this understudied episode in India’s modern history. Gyan Prakash strips away the comfortable myth that the Emergency was an isolated event brought on solely by Gandhi’s desire to cling to power, arguing that it was as much the product of Indian democracy’s troubled relationship with popular politics.
Drawing on archival records, private papers and letters, published sources, film and literary materials, and interviews with victims and perpetrators, Prakash traces the Emergency’s origins to the moment of India’s independence in 1947, revealing how the unfulfilled promise of democratic transformation upset the fine balance between state power and civil rights. He vividly depicts the unfolding of a political crisis that culminated in widespread popular unrest, which Gandhi sought to crush by paradoxically using the law to suspend lawful rights. Her failure to preserve the existing political order had lasting and unforeseen repercussions, opening the door for caste politics and Hindu nationalism.
Placing the Emergency within the broader global history of democracy, this gripping book offers invaluable lessons for us today as the world once again confronts the dangers of rising authoritarianism and populist nationalism.
"Emergency Chronicles is perhaps the most comprehensive scholarly examination yet of the Emergency. Looking back more than four decades after Indira Gandhi stunned India and the world by suspending democracy, historian Gyan Prakash argues forcefully that this was no momentary distortion in India's democratic record or a nightmare that came from nowhere and vanished without a trace, leaving only its villains and heroes."—Ajoy Bose, India Today
"Gyan Prakash’s outstanding new book is the first historical narrative of one of the most important crises of democracy in the modern world. . . . The meticulous detail of Emergency Chronicles exposes a shameful chapter in India’s democratic history."—Rana Mitter, Financial Times
"Gyan Prakash’s excellent study . . . offers a genuinely riveting account of the decades leading up to the imposition of the emergency."—Priyamvada Gopal, Times Higher Education
"Gyan Prakash’s Emergency Chronicles is perhaps the first work of historical scholarship on the subject, and Prakash, who is a historian at Princeton University, has deftly dealt with the subject, not only bringing out the larger historical context, but also peppering his narrative with some good fictional work and cinema produced during the times."—Financial Express
"[Prakash] puts Emergency in perspective."—Sandeep Sinha, The Tribune
"Prakash manages to tell the tale with the charm of a raconteur, and this should make it easy for generations of readers born long after 1975 to get a vivid, sepia-tinted picture of socialist India as well as the nationwide public unrest of those years."—Parsa V. Rao Jr., Gateway House
"What sets [Emergency Chronicles] apart is [Prakash’s] effort to take back the cause-and-effect chain right up to the debates in the Constituent Assembly where ‘draconian’ measures were enshrined in the constitution."—Siddharth Singh, Open Magazine
"Reading Emergency Chronicles is like entering a beautiful superstructure of ideas created with lucid writing and incisive arguments with a sprinkling of historical anecdotes."—Utpal Kumar, Sunday Guardian
"A valuable work."—Ben Margulies, LSE Review of Books
"Prakash has written a valuable work, which embodies important lessons and certainly speaks to contemporary issues. Emergency Chronicles reminds us that the horrors of our histories do not emerge from the clear blue sky, but from long traditions of (mis)rule. The book also warns us that democracy is a game played by equals – or else a rigged game, where someone is always threatening to take the ball and go home."—Ben Margulies, Democratic Audit UK
"A meticulously researched book which is likely to find a space in the book shelves of scholars and observers of Indian politics."—Ayan Guha, Democratization
"Compelling and unputdownable. With the keen eye of a social phenomenologist, Prakash vividly brings to life this catastrophic Indian episode in the global history of democracy's continuing struggles with populism and authoritarianism. A brilliantly woven narrative of the invasion of ordinary life by state power, this elegantly written book is gripping from cover to cover."—Rajeev Bhargava, author of The Promise of India's Secular Democracy
“With vivid portrayals of lesser known characters and some striking archival photographs, Gyan Prakash has given us a thoughtful and superbly readable account of one of Indian democracy’s darkest episodes.”—Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University
“Gyan Prakash’s lucid and astute account of India’s postcolonial history and the Emergency combines readability and consummate research with a powerful central argument about the vicissitudes of political freedom devoid of social revolution. It is the essential read for anyone who wants to understand democracy’s relationship with popular politics in the world today.”—Zoya Hasan, professor emerita, Jawaharlal Nehru University
“Prakash has written an indispensable political and narrative history of one of the most significant phases of India’s democracy. Emergency Chronicles is an exceptional book.”—Shruti Kapila, University of Cambridge
“In this lively and well-written book, Prakash makes the persuasive and important argument that the possibilities of suspending democracy are embedded in the legal and political frameworks of the Indian state, and that an awareness of this fact is essential to protecting and defending this democracy into the present day.”—Yasmin Khan, author of India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War
“A brilliant, gripping study of one of democratic India’s darkest moments—the Emergency of 1975–77—that reveals the deepest lineaments of the Indian state. Bearing an important lesson for beleaguered democracies across the world today, Gyan Prakash brings the Indian experience into the global debate about democracy.”—Sunil Khilnani, King’s College London