The 19-month period from 1975 to 1977 refers to “The Emergency” when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had a state of emergency declared across the country. It empowered her to do whatever she wanted to for “the betterment” of the nation and its people. Most of Gandhi’s political opponents were imprisoned and the press was censored. Human rights were also violated; including a forced mass-sterilization campaign spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s son. The Emergency is one of the most controversial periods of independent India’s history.
In addition to all these activities, Indira Gandhi constantly revised several constitutional provisions in that period. The 42nd amendment of the Constitution is considered as the most controversial amendment to the Indian Constitution which uprooted the very soul of the constitution – that characteristic of the constitution that the Parliament does not have the power to override it.
The 42nd Amendment amended the Preamble of the Constitution, 40 Articles [article 31, article 31C, 39, 55, 74, 77, 81, 82, 83, 100, 102, 103, 105, 118, 145, 150, 166, 170, 172, 189, 191, 192, 194, 208, 217, 225, 226, 227, 228, 311, 312, 330, 352, 353, 356, 357, 358, 359, 366, article 368 and article 371F], Seventh Schedule and added 14 New Articles[articles 31D, 32A, 39A, 43A, 48A, 131A, 139A, 144A, 226A, 228A and 257A and parts 4A and 14A] to the Constitution. This amendment brought down the most widespread changes to the Constitution in its history, and is thus also referred to as “mini-Constitution” or the “Constitution of Indira”.
In the Preamble, it changed the description of India from a “sovereign democratic republic” to a “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic”. The words “unity of nation” was changed to “unity and integrity of the nation”.
The most controversial provision of the amendment was prioritizing the state policy director principles in comparison to fundamental rights. The amendment equipped the Prime Minister with uncontrolled powers to amend any section of the Constitution without any judicial intervention. The 59th clause of the amendment snatched away several powers resting with the Supreme Court making Parliament the Supreme authority. It transferred more powers to the Central Government, reducing the authority vested with the state governments. The Act dismissed the powers of the courts in dictating any judgement for office for profit cases. It eroded the federal structure of the Constitution completely.
Indira Gandhi faced her worst defeat in the elections that followed Post-emergency. And for the first time in Indian history, a non-congress led government was formed in India. In the leadership of Morarji Desai, Janta Party Government started the work of reforming the Constitution. Instead of cancelling all the provisions of the 42nd amendment, the 43rd and 44th constitutional amendments were introduced to remove the harmful provisions introduced through 42nd Amendment.