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Analysing the Indira Emergency and Modi Lockdown

Updated: Jan 18


On March 24, 2020, The honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, restricting the activity of the entire 1.3 billion population of India as a prophylactic measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. It proclaimed after a 14-hour voluntary public curfew, followed by enforcement of a sequence of restrictions in the country's COVID-19 affected regions. The lockdown was set when the number of COVID-19 cases in India was about 500. Observers conveyed that the lockdown had slowed the growth rate of the pandemic by 6 April to a rate of doubling every six days and by 18 April, to a rate of doubling every eight days. On May 1st, the Indian government extended the lockdown further by two weeks until 17 May. The Government distributed all the districts into three zones based on the spread of the virus green, red, and orange with relaxations applied consequently. The second stage of unlocking, Unlock 2.0, was declared for the period of 1 to 31 July, with more relief in restrictions.

Indira's emergency and Modi's lockdown

Forty-five years ago around midnight on June 25-26, 1975, the President of India delivered this proclamation:

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 352 of the Constitution, I, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, President of India, by this Proclamation declare that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbances.”

This ‘National Emergency’ could be interpreted as a tool by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to ‘govern a democratic polity through despotic means’ and as the procedure of suppressing freedom and liberty. With the presidential proclamation, Fundamental Rights under Article 14, Article 21, and various clauses of Article 22 of the Constitution stood halted. In short, India lost its democracy. Maintenance of Internal Security Act and Rules were made severe and courts were forbidden from reviewing them, leaving unattended giving any consolation to the preventive detainees which numbered over 100,000!

On the night of March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a statement which took an effect from midnight:

“In the last two days, several parts of the country have been put under lockdown. These efforts by state governments should be taken with utmost sincerity…. The nation is taking a very crucial decision today. From midnight tonight onwards, the whole country, please listen carefully, the entire country shall go under complete lockdown. To ensure the country, and each of its citizens, from midnight tonight, a full ban is being imposed on people from footing out of their homes. All the States in the country, all the Union Territories, each district, each municipality, each village, each locality everyone has to go under lockdown. This is like a curfew….”

This declaration was not made under the Indian Constitution. As acknowledged by the Prime Minister, states had assessed lockdown exercising power under Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. Disaster Management Act-2005 (DMA) which was summoned to impose ‘complete lockdown’ does not give any such specific powers to the central government. Section 6 (2) (i) just empowers it “to take such other measures for the deterrence of disaster, or the comfort, or preparedness...” This provision does not relate to a pandemic disaster. When state governments had already imposed lockdowns under the relevant law, the central government did not need to override them and super-impose a nationwide lockdown, and that too with less than four hours notice.

The similarity between Indira’s emergency and Modi's lockdown

Some fundamental rights such as freedom of movement got suspended during this lockdown.

  • Right to freedom of movement- This right has been obstructed due to lockdown as nobody was permitted to step out of their residence or to gather at any spot.

  • Cultural and educational rights- cultural and educational rights get suspended as the school and colleges are close.

  • Freedom to follow a religion-Suspension of the right to freedom of religion, as the people are not permitted to move to their sacred places to bolster social distancing.

  • Constitutional remedies- the right to constitutional remedies is affected due to court closure, thus postponing the right to seek justice.

Effect of lockdown

COVID-19 affected the whole world affecting every country. Due to the presence of the Virus, a complete lockdown was declared to control the pandemic, which created a negative impact on the people as they start to lose their jobs, went out of money, thus facing an economic crisis. Many people died because of the lack of transport available, forcing them to migrate on foot. The main fields affected by lockdown are ;

  • The decline in GDP growth rate of India

  • Turmoil in auto, hospitality, and aviation

  • Business sector ( including MSMEs)


The COVID-19 experience should remind us that measures of the state health systems are what is resisting the pandemic from spreading. Almost every country in the world that has reached close to the universal health coverage has done so by investing in a perfect public sector in health, and India cannot be an exception. It is time to make the political obligation to organize over the next five years to attain the objective of being one of the most strong public sector driven health care systems in the world. It is the opportunity to indicate to the world not just how politely we can tackle a pandemic, but how sharply we can develop a perfect community-based primary health care system.


Raj Singh is currently pursuing Law from Alliance University,Bangalore.

They can be contacted at raj.singh.031999@gmail.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/raj-singh-8a4a4b1a4

Edited By: Swathi. Ashok. Nair.


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