In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of national emergency. Thousands of opposition political activists, as well as leaders were arrested. Calling elections in 1977 the government released political prisoners and weakened restrictions and censorship on the press. When opposition leaders sought the support of Jayaprakash Narayan for the forthcoming election, he insisted that all opposition parties form a united front.
The Janata party was officially launched on 23 January 1977 when the Janata Morcha, Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Lok Dal, Swatantra Party, the Socialist Party of India of Raj Narain and George Fernandes, and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) joined together, dissolving their separate identities. Although the political ideologies of Janata Party constituents were diverse and conflicting, the party was able to unite under the over-reaching appeal of Jayaprakash Narayan, who had been seen as the ideological leader of the anti-Emergency movement and now the Janata party. Morarji Desai was elected the first party chairman. Ramakrishna Hegde became the party general secretary, and Jana Sangh politician Lal Krishna Advani became the party spokesperson.
As it became clear that Indira’s Emergency rule had been widely unpopular, defections from the Congress (R) government increased. A former Minister of Defence, Jagjivan Ram left the Congress (R) and formed the Congress for Democracy along with the former Chief Minister of Orissa Nandini Satpathy, former Union Minister of State for Finance K. R. Ganesh, former M.P. D. N. Tiwari and Bihar politician Raj Mangal Pandey. Congress for Democracy contested the election with the same manifesto as the Janata party and subsequently merged.
Janata party won a sweeping victory, securing 43.2% of the popular vote and 271 seats. With the support of the Akali Dal and the Congress for Democracy, it had amassed a two-thirds, or absolute majority of 345 seats. Raj Narain defeated Indira in Rae Bareilly constituency. The first non-Congress Government was formed with Moraraji Desai as a Prime Minister. However continuous in-fighting and ideological differences made the Janata government unable to effectively address national problem and was defragmented losing elections in 1980.
“The Emergency” refers to a 21-month period in 1975–77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unilaterally had a state of emergency declared across the country. Officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352(1) of the Constitution for “internal disturbance”, the order bestowed upon the prime minister the authority to rule by decree, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties to be curbed. In the face of massive political opposition, desertion and disorder across the country and the party, Gandhi stuck to the advice of a few loyalists and her younger son Sanjay Gandhi, whose own power had grown considerably to become an “extra-constitutional authority”.
For much of the Emergency, most of Gandhi’s political opponents were imprisoned, many political & social organizations were banned and the press was censored. Several other atrocities were reported from the time. In Feb 1976, Indira managed to extend Loksabha’s duration by one more year. In Jan 1977, her own department did a survey and told her if she held the election during the Emergency she would return to power.Also Indira believed that the opposition was splintered and that elections would only accentuate the divide among them. And by winning the elections she could legitimise the Emergency and all that happened as part of it before the international community and also to formalise Sanjay Gandhi’s position. That, perhaps was the reason why she chose to announce the dissolution of the Lok Sabha on January 18, 1977. It was a courageous decision, considering the fact that she was under no visible compulsion to do so.
However opposition parties united together under leadership of Jayprakash Narayan and defeated Congress. Now that the political winds had changed and the opposition was in power with landslide majority and the emergency was still in effect, technically she found herself and her allies on the receiving end. She obviously couldn’t change the law overnight. So, she called off the emergency on 21st March and resigned the next evening on March 22, 1977.