Chapter 6: INDIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE - VI
Indira Gandhi: Early Years
CPI was split and now never splinter groups were formed
from it like the C.P.M under Jyoti Basu. It formed the West Bengal
government. However a few young radical cadres weren't satisfied
with this development. They felt Indian democracy was a sham, Indian
agrarian structure was still dominated by rich, Indian polity was
bourgeois. They wanted an armed overthrow of this. Under Charu
Majumdar, CP Marxist-Leninist was formed and an armed struggle was
launched near Naxalbari village.
CP(ML) movement found new support amongst youth of universities and
colleges who were tired of the existing system. However the armed
revolt failed as they underestimated the police repression. The
police successfully reduced them to a few areas. The main failure of
the naxalists was their armed struggle couldn't get a wide base.
They also failed to understand the Indian agrarian structure,
character of Indian society and widen their base amongst radical
youth or peasants.
Congress Split: 1969
Congress party had declined during the period after Nehru's
death. The syndicate had led to factionalism and increased strength
of the opposition. The cadre had shunned party work and were more
interested in parliamentary politics. A few harsh decisions of the
government had increased public discontent. Party itself couldn't be
united behind Indira on policy matters. Corruption had increased,
discontent people had taken recourse to violent means as seen during
Naxalbari movement. Workers had resorted to gherao
by besieging the factories if their demands weren't met.
Within the congress to a revival of the Syndicate was seen. The
syndicate members were increasing their interference in government
affairs. They also wanted to remove Indira Gandhi as leader. But
Indira Gandhi was cautious to respond. In the interest of party
unity she avoided direct confrontation but when her supreme
authority over the party and government was challenged she responded
The Congress had faced electoral defeat for the first time in 1967.
The reaction of most party leaders was to shift to leftist programs
like nationalization, remove privy purses of princes, vigorous
planning, rapid industrialization and closer relation with Soviets.
This 10 point program was recognized by Indira too. However she
didn't want the party to become polarized and split. The Right-wing
of the congress wanted social development too but by capitalism.
Matters became confrontational after Sanjiva Reddy was chosen as the
Congress's nominee after Zakir Hussain's death. Since in Indian
polity president occupies a ceremonial post but Syndicate wanted its
own man as president as he would be able nominally chose the prime
minister. Indira had opposed this but couldn't stop his nomination.
She now decided to fight the syndicate by taking populist decisions.
She adopted the nationalization plan of socialists. This made her
very popular. Now she also decided to support V.V.Giri the
independent candidate for president. To ensure the victory of
Sanjiva Reddy, the syndicate had tried to form an alliance with
Indira used this meeting to accuse them of trying to oust her from
power by allying with reactionary elements. She therefore openly
supported Giri and refused to issue the party whip in favor of
Sanjiva Reddy. In the elections, Reddy was defeated. This was a
major embarrassment for the syndicate who ousted Indira from the
party for breaking discipline. This led to a split in
congress and two organizations were formed - Congress (R) for
requisitionists and Congress (O) for organization. Indira got the
support of majority of the party and the ALL India Congress
Committee. The Congress (O) became the real congress and now
Indira was the real leader of Congress and Government. She enjoyed
great popularity and power never achieved even by her father.
Indira and Congress after the Split
Now with full support of the party, the government launched
a program of socialism. It abolished the privy purses of princes.
However the supreme court invalidated this decision and also
nationalization of banks. The Congress under Indira was successful
in lifting the mood of gloom that existed after 1962 war. The
socialist policies also gave her increasing support from the
marginalized. However the capitalists and upper class distanced from
The Government of India was a coalition and didn't have the numbers
for amending the constitution. The issue of abolition of privy
purses was made a major issue and Indira dissolved the Lok Sabha
prematurely to call for new elections. The elections saw an alliance
of opposition parties like Congress (O), right-wing and communal
parties. They had the motto of "Indira Hatao" to which the
Congress(R) responded with the more effective "Garibi Hatao". the
opposition parties belonged to different ideologies and so couldn't
make an effective propaganda and instead hoped to entice voters
based on personal attacks on Indira Gandhi.
The campaign was for pro-development and economic transformation.
The public were tired of the constant breakdown of government due to
coalitions. They wanted stability which was promised by Indira
In the elections of 1971 the Congress (R) won absolute
majority in Parliament. It now had the numbers needed for amending
the constitution. Indira had proved that an election propaganda
around the development of marginalized had more weight than for
caste and communal ideology. She now had the high task of delivering
on her promises made to the people. However before she could settle
in power the Bangladesh crisis begun.
Bangladesh Crisis and Indo Pak War in 1971
Post independence the Punjabi speaking West Pakistanis
dominated over the Bengali speaking East Pakistanis.
The Bengal Legislative Assembly voted unanimously to break from India on June 20th 1947. The Two Pakistan’s were formed separated by 1300 miles of Indian territory. The dream of United Pakistan was however in danger as demands for making Bengali as the National Language rose from East Pakistan. However these were rejected.
Other major differences emerged on economic grounds. The foreign exchange earned from East Pakistani jute exports was diverted to promote industrialization in West Pakistan. Thus in long term the GDP of both the parts were different. In terms of political opinion too the West Pakistanis were dominant. The Centralized state was ruled by mostly West Pakistanis and supported by the unresponsive military bureaucracy.
Pakistanis dominated the army, bureaucracy and institution's of the
When elections to the National assembly were announced the Awami League won in East Pakistan and Zulfikar Bhutto’s People’s party won in West Pakistan. But the Awami league had more seats in the Legislative Assembly and would have formed the Government. Bhutto however claimed support of the Army and its General Yahya Khan. The General intervened to resolve the political deadlock and suspended the National assembly. The Awami League cadres chose to strike against this. The Pakistani Army launched an assault - “Operation Searchlight” and unleashed a brutal repression of pillage, rape and murder. Some 10 million refugees fled to India. It is estimated that 3 lakh Bangladeshi’s were killed.
The Awami party formed a government in exile at Calcutta. The
refugees who came into India had now reached 1 crore. But throughout
this crisis Indira remained calm. She knew that war was inevitable
but to attack East Pakistan would lead to change in international
opinion against India. Indira wanted a war on India's terms. It
couldn't fight in monsoon when rivers and marshes were flooded. A
fight had to be in December when the snow-clad Himalayas would
prevent China from aiding Pakistan.
The war had to be swift before international agencies could
intervene. It had to be on both fronts as even West Pakistan would
attack. Awami party had built a Mukti Bahini.
Indian leadership decided not to get directly in confrontation but trained, armed and supported the Mukti Bahini guerilla fighters against the Pakistani Army - “Operation Jackpot”. Indian leadership also launched a diplomatic offensive for creation of an independent Bangladeshi state. An
international opinion had to be created in India's favor so Indira
provided the refugees food and shelter inspite of India's resource
crunch. India also signed a Treaty of Friendship with Soviet Union
in order to form a pact if either was attacked. Soviet's would also
block all UNSC resolutions not in India's interest.
December 4th was the day of the attack on East Pakistan but Pakistan
General ordered an attack on Indian airforce bases on 3rd. However
the IAF wasn't harmed and the next day the army and Mukti Bahini
swiftly reached till Dakha and surrounded the garrisoned West
Pakistani army. In order to delay the surrender of Pakistan, US
President Nixon ordered the US Navy fleet to Bay of Bengal. But
Indira refused to budge and ordered the Indian army to continue its
warfare. Finally, the Pakistani army was defeated.
Indo US relations reached a low point after the war.
However Indira Gandhi's popularity reached a new high. People
equated her with Durga or Shakti. The transfer of 1 crore refugees
too was smooth. The war was stopped after Pakistan surrendered as
further continuing it would lead to international intervention.
Indian economy too had suffered during the war. War on the western
front was pointless too as India would face a fiercer battle there
and annexation of Pakistan was never an objective.
India became a new power in the South Asian subcontinent. This
victory wiped out memories of the failed war of 1962. Secularism too
was seen as all communities in India worked together. The Indian
Muslims saw the condition of the People in East Pakistan, a nation
formed from communal ideology.
The Shimla conference after the War took place where both
sides agreed to bilaterally resolve disputes without outside
intervention. Exchange of territories took place and Bangladesh
was recognized by Pakistan.