What are the lessons of the Emergency for today’s India?

In the dominant imaginaire, Indira Gandhi is often portrayed as an absolutist dictator who eliminated free speech, dissent, and liberty. This view, in writing off agency on the part of the rest of the nation, omits mention of the role that a motley coalition of classes and political parties on the one hand, and an ambivalent as well as divided opposition on the other, played in legitimising the Emergency.

Contemporary accounts also present a romantic view of the underground overlooking its chaotic nature and marginal influence to weave the narrative of a successful democratic movement eventually displacing an autocratic premier in 1977. A more revisionist repertoire, especially popular among Mrs Gandhi’s apologists, describes the Emergency as a social revolution that promoted progressive policies.

The Emergency was in fact a far more complex phenomenon. Certainly, it was postcolonial India’s first experiment with authoritarianism. But of what kind? And how may we explain its establishment as well as its place in India’s history?

Christophe Jaffrelot, a renowned scholar, shall analyse.


Christophe Jaffrelot is a French political scientist specialising in South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan. He is a professor of South Asian politics and history the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po (Paris), a professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute (London), and a Research Director at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS).
He is author of several well respected books and the latest is ‘India’s first Dictatorship – The Emergency, 1975-77’, co-authored with Pratinav Anil.

– Diploma of Sciences Po (1985), – M.A. in history of the University of Paris I-Sorbonne (1986), – Advanced Study Degree of the EHESS (1986), – DULCO of “Langues O”, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (1990) – Ph.D. in political science from Sciences Po (1991).

ACADEMIC POSITIONS – Past and present
– Senior research fellow: Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in 1991; Senior research fellow of second class in 2002 and Senior research fellow of first class in 2008.
– Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s College (London). – Deputy director of CERI from 1997 to 2000 and director from 2000 to 2008. – Since 1998, Senior editor of the book series “Comparative Politics and International Studies”, Hurst/Oxford University Press (New York). – Editor-in-chief (1998-2003) and director (2003-2008) of the quarterly journal Critique internationale. – Member of the editorial boards of Asian Survey, Nations and nationalism, International Political Sociology, Third Frame, Studies in Indian Politics and India Review.
– Chairs the Scientific council of the six research centers of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and CNRS in Asia since 2007. – President of the Political Science section of the French National Committee for Scientific Research (CoNRS) from 2012 to 2016. – Member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques since 2019.
– President of the French Political Science Association since 2020.
– The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, 1925 to the 1990s
– Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability. Analysing and Fighting Caste
– India’s Silent Revolution – The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India
– The Pakistan Paradox. Instability and Resilience
– India’s first Dictatorship – The Emergency, 1975-77 with Pratinav Anil

– Permanent Consultant at the Centre for Policy Planning Staff of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2008.
– Columnist in The Indian Express since 2013 (two op eds a month).

One Comment

  • K Sudhakar Goud says:

    A big thank you to Manthan. It is a great lecture I have heard in recent times. He is a great scholar. Salute to him.

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