Chapter 5: INDIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE - V
Opposition Parties: 1947 - 1964
This party was one of the most promising one and would have
emerged as a suitable alternative to congress. Socialists were a
part of the congress but in 1948 as Sardar Patel suggested having
organizational cohesion by enforcing "One party membership" rule led
to their deserting. Although majority of the socialists remained in
the Congress but a few dynamic leaders chose to leave viz.
Jayprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia. Even founder of congress
socialist party Acharya Narayan Dev was against the split but chose
to follow the Socialists.
The Socialist accused congress of dissociating from the Socialist
policies and appeasing capitalists. Although socialists and
communists left the Congress but Nehru had always been inclined
towards socialism and wanted congress to become a "Left of the
Center" party. He gradually tried to make this happen as any sudden
movement would led to a split in ranks.
Congress never lost its ideological policy of socialism and
continued to strive for an egalitarian society. However the
socialists tried to raise slogans against the congress and rile
public opinion against it. This didn't succeed and the socialists
had to face loss at National and provincial elections. The
popularity of the congress was still high. Socialists also saw a
split in ranks and indiscipline within the party.
When Nehru extended the olive branch by suggesting Kriplani as
Congress President things would have thawed but Kriplani was
defeated. He moved out and formed an independent party of
socialists. Congress under Nehru continued with its program of
nation building and economic development. It was here than a section
of socialists led by Ashok Mehta said that economic development was
key to establishing a welfare state on socialist lines and that
Socialists should support the congress or risk marginalization.
This didn't find favor amongst the majority of party leaders and
Ashok Mehta's thesis was rejected. He subsequently joined the
planning commission as a member. This led to a large part of the
Socialists joining the congress. The problem with Socialist party
was also of maintaining party discipline and so major leaders were
often expelled. A few great leaders also retired from politics or
died. This created a vacuum at the top.
The Congress had also now embarked on a socialist agenda. Thus the
socialists couldn't differentiate themselves from the Congress. The
decision of leaving the congress turned out to a wrong one and the
socialists had underestimated the Congress's opinion amongst the
masses. Within the congress they had clout and support of Nehru and
could convince him to support their demands. But outside they seemed
like a splinter group competing with a popular party with a dynamic
Communists were a part of the Congress but later
developments led to a split. One of the reasons was that Support
should be given by India to British in WWII as the Soviet Union was
attacked. Congress however disagreed and so Communists didn't
support the Quit India. They also attacked the ideology of the
Congress calling it a bourgeois party. It refused to accept Indian
independence and called the Constituent assembly an imperial tool
and the constitution a sham. It went on an armed struggle against
the congress as it wanted to remove congress claiming it as a party
of the capitalists. This view was also supported by Soviet Union.
Subsequent to violent acts of CPI it was banned and also lost its
popular base. It also suffered from problems like cadre indiscipline
and lack of great leaders. CPI soon decided to change its tactics
and contest elections to defeat the congress using constitutional
means. Supported by Nehru who lifted the ban on it, CPI emerged as a
major force in the opposition. It had gained support in West Bengal,
Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and succeeded in forming a government in
Kerela [first democratically elected communist government in the
However this victory was short-lived. Like the Socialists the CPI
faced a split and a radical CPI (Marxists) emerged that targeted
congress. Cadre indiscipline and defections also affected the party.
It gave alarmist propaganda of the decline economic conditions,
class conditions deteriorating and people getting disillusioned by
the congress repeatedly at every public platform. But this was
without any in-depth analysis. More importantly the party couldn't
present a national agenda of its own or economic planning for the
nation. Most of its ideology was targeted at the congress and like
the socialists it too underestimated the congresses popularity with
the masses. CPI also failed to realize that social channels could be
brought only by parliamentary institutions.
All this led to Communists becoming irrelevant soon at the national
stage and the rise of communal and casteist parties.
Bhartiya Jan Sangh
It was a communal party with a communal ideology. The
social and economic policies of a communal party change as it has to
appease electorates in order to strengthen communalism. It isn't a
conservative party but a right wing party that seeks to strengthen
communalism by exploiting the reactionary elements of the society.
BJS had a few constraints of operation. It couldn't work as a full
fledged communal ideology party as it had to appeal even to
non-communal voters and also India had a secular democratic polity
that disallowed politics on religious lines.
RSS was the parent organization of BJS. It was created along
military lines with dedicated cadres. The RSS was an Anti Muslim
organization that preached against any favors to Muslims. Gowalkar
was the supreme head of RSS and wanted Muslims in India to accept
Hindu domination or cease being Muslims. RSS also preached hatred
against Congress and its leaders and Gandhiji too. It was against
the favor given to Pakistan by Gandhiji. Though not directly
involved in RSS, Nathuram Godse got indoctrinated and assassinated
RSS was banned by Sardar Patel and was legalised only after assuring
that it would remain apolitical. But BJS was started as a front for
taking part in active politics. Though it had many policy objectives
that sought to establish an egalitarian society the main motto of
BJS was to have Hindu Rashtra. It continuously attacked Muslims as
proxies of Pakistan. Hindutva was an openly communal term used by
them. RSS control over party cadres increased too.
Other Hindu communalists like Hindu Mahasabha declined and their
base was shifted to BJS. Due to weaker political alternatives the
communal parties rose to the scene. However for a long time they
were marginalised. They weren't effective opposition to the Congress
Change of Leadership: India after Nehru
Nehru died without naming a successor in 1964. It was believed by
many that the death would lead to political turmoil in the faction
ridden congress. This also meant that a succesor had to be chosen
at the earliest. He had to be a man of principles and honest and
more importantly acceptable to the Congress leadership. The
process of election was carried out in a dignified manner. There
were two candidates, Morarji Desai [Right wing leader, honest but
known for being confrontational] and Lal Bahadur Shastri [Honest
and tactful]. The congress party was under the influence of Syndicate
consisting of State party bosses and Central. They
chose Shastri as the leader.
Shastri's rule was initially that of hesitation where important
decisions were delayed and trouble increased. The cabinet also
started functioning independently and party concentrated on
political work. Shastri too couldn't control his cabinet
colleagues effectively. The later stage of his rule was firm and
he started managing affairs in tougher way. The highlight of his
career was the Indo Pak war of 1965.
In this the military which was reeling under the humiliation of
China war gained its pride back. The war started with a small
section of Pakistan army arching into the Rann of Kutchh. The
Indian military response was weak and this increased Pakistan
courage. Later they sent infiltrators into Kashmir to foment
violence. This led Shastri to declare the army to attack and
capture posts beyond the ceasefire line. Pakistani army to
launched an all out war. US and UK cutoff military and civilian
aid to both nations. China declared India to be the aggressor but
due to Soviet pressure refrained from taking any action. Finally a
ceasefire was declared.
USSR sponsored peace talk was held at Tashkent and both sides
agreed to surrender captured territories. Due to poor heart
condition, Shastri died there. And this led another conflict for
succession. Syndicate and Kamaraj still were against
Morarji Desai's candidature and so wanted a second nominee. Here
Indira Gandhi's name was suggested. She was an
acceptable candidate to both sides and being Nehru's daughter was
popular with the masses. Morarji Desai wasn't ready to leave
without a contest. In the secret ballot Indira won and became the
next leader of the Congress.
Indira Gandhi Enter's the Stage
Indira Gandhi's tenure saw a lot of political action. She turned
out to be a firm decision maker and the hopes of the syndicate
that wanted to manage the affairs of the government were thwarted.
However even during her tenure a lot of drama was seen. The
conflict of Punjab state, rebellion of Naga militants were some
but were dealt with effectively. However the other problem was her
handling of the US foreign relations.
India was suffering from acute famine and food scarcity. This
would lead to hunger and unrest but such problems like food
provisioning and distribution were handled on a war footing. The
number of deaths were lesser than those during colonial times.
India had to borrow food from the US and in return US expected
India to approve the Vietnam war. But India's reluctance led to US
providing delayed supply to it. This led Indira to change
appeasement of US and move closer to USSR. It signed a joined
declaration naming US as the chief aggressor in Vietnam. Indo US
relations went spiraling downwards and hit bottom during the 1971
The policy of devaluation of the Rupee to increase exports and
reduce inflation and boost economy was taken. This was rejected by
the Congress party itself. The opposition united against the
Government. The decision couldn't improve the situation and
popular discontent increased against Indira. A new form of
agitation of bandh's started and cities and towns closed.
Indira Gandhi also had to face strong reactions in her own party.
She was subjected to personal attacks, male chauvinism, heckling,
harassment and vicious personal attacks. The Congress too had
eroded public confidence. The cadre were more interested in
personal gains and political positions. Corruption, lavish
lifestyle was common. Even at entry level factions were formed.
This had to be handled firmly but Indira Gandhi wasn't a team
leader nor did she have the ideology to handle the situation
effectively. She wasn't effective in controlling the syndicate.
The syndicate members were highly partisan and gave party tickets
to their favorites. The cadre's that had lost the race for tickets
contested as independents. this weakened the congress even though
the opposition had strengthened behind it. The opposition parties
formed an electoral strategy of avoiding division of votes of anti
In the 1967 elections the congress suffered a setback. Though it
had narrowly managed to retain hold over Center but the States
assemblies now had newer parties. The opposition to had gained
strength and consisted of communal, right-wing parties. One other
reason for congress's loss of popularity was defection of rich
peasants. The rural agrarian structure had changed and the rich
peasants now dominated the scene. They were threatened by the
leftist rhetoric of Congress. The rich peasant also took a
sizeable section of the middle and small peasants with him.
1967 elections also started a trend of coalitions to form
government. The opposition parties united to form the government
which now had elements from right-wing and leftists. In some
states where the congress was the major party it formed alliances.
But such alliances often broke down as allies hankered with each
other for more privileges. The defections too increased.
Governments were formed and toppled at the states but the center
remained united. Also there was no breakdown of legal machinery at
center - state level.
Anti congress-ism rose amongst intellectuals and parties at this
time. It meant a complete weariness of the congress and hankering
towards other choices. All this led to erosion of congress's
popularity and now it had to redefine itself as it could no longer
rule on the basis of Freedom struggle or Nehru's popularity. All
this didn't decrease Indira's position in the party but
strengthened it contrarily. The syndicate or its cronies were not
successful at the elections and lost clout at the center and
states. Indira now got full autonomy to decide her government's
policy and cabinet. Morarji Desai who had opposed her initially
now was willing to negotiate if given the Deputy Prime Minister's
job. In the interest of party unity this was given to him.