Chapter 8: INDIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE - VIII
Janata Party rule and the Return of Indira Gandhi
The Janata Party rose to power in the elections that were considered
as referendum to the Emergency. The congress party lost and even
Sanjay and Indira Gandhi lost their seats. The Janata party formed a
government cutting across ideologies - Right wing, communal,
leftists. Thus right from start there were conflicts in the
coalition. The inability of the Janata government to administer the
country led to resurgence of the Congress and Indira.
The Janata party came to power and was a loose coalition of parties
whose only common goal was ouster of Indira. They secured a
comfortable mandate and formed the government. Conflicts emerged
early on and there was a three way contest for becoming the PM.
Finally after intervention of senior party leaders Morarji Desai was
chosen. The Janata government then set out to remove the
constitutional roadblocks created by Indira Gandhi and passed the
44th amendment. This restored the civil liberties and power of SC
However handling of the economy wasn't as efficient. The government
failed to protect the Scheduled castes from oppression by the upper
castes and growing incidents of violence were recorded. The Janata
party also set out on a war path to prosecute Indira Gandhi and her
supporters for crimes during emergency. Special courts were set up
for this purpose. The vindictive nature of the proceedings made them
look like revenge than justice. This also created a support and
sympathy for Indira amongst the masses.
The Support for the congress had completely eroded in the North
where it could win only 2 seats. But the situation in South India
was different as Indira and her 21 point program were successful
here and the poor saw her as Mother Indira or Indira Amma. The
congress had won more seats during the 1976 elections. The vengeful
politics played by the Janata party were also visible in the
decision to dismiss the Congress governments in states. In the
re-elections the Janata party and its allies won.
Meanwhile the veteran congress leaders like Y.B.Chauhan saw Indira
Gandhi not only as a reason for defeat but as a liability. There was
another split within the party and Indira formed Congress(I). The
Congress(I) contested and won the state assembly elections in south
and Indira too won the by-elections for the parliamentary seat. Here
too the Janata government prosecuted her for contempt of the house
and sent her to a week in jail.
However the Janata party couldn't focus on governance and
economic development. They had repudiated the Nehruvian model of
development through industrialization but couldn't formulate an
effective alternative to it. The inflation had reached 20%,
constant faction ridden conflicts had made the public weary. The
allies bickered and withdrew support forcing midterm elections.
Here the Janata party went without an political agenda unlike the
Congress (I). Subsequently, the Congress (I) won and Indira was
voted back to power.
Return of Indira
After 34 months of being out of power, Indira Gandhi
returned to power. This second innings wasn't as great as her first.
She couldn't provide the decisive leadership and appeared tired. She
had now become more cautious and hesitant and trusted no one except
her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi. After his death in a plane crash she
tried to replace him with her older son, Rajiv Gandhi.
The victory at the general elections led to continue on the
precedent of overthrowing state governments led by opponents. She
got majority in the subsequent re-elections and now was the only
person of eminence in politics in India. But she was alone with her
older colleagues deserting her and now had only raw young cadres who
didn't enjoy a political base. The major weakness of her leadership
was the lack of strengthening party. Again congress became
faction-ridden and under constant infighting. There was virtual
civil war between state party units and state governments. The
public confidence on the congress for providing stable state
governments had eroded. Now regional parties were defeating the
congress at elections.
Her main failure which cost her dearly including her life was the
manner of dealing with communal tensions in Assam, Punjab. The
Golden temple attack condemned by the Sikh community led the Sikh
bodyguards to assassinate her.
Analysis of Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi had the personality of iron. she took
decisions with courage inspite of offending the World powers like
during the 1971 war and the Invasion of Afghanistan by Soviets. She
was a nationalist and defended India through firm policies in
defense during the Bangladesh crisis and 1984 Kargil troop
allocation. She also was a seasoned politician and took advantage of
her power to change the momentum of the political drama in her favor
this was seen during the split in congress, election of syndicate.
She also followed Nehruvian policies of rapid industrialization via
public sector but she also was committed to a mixed economy. But
under her tenure the economy faced hardships too and certain
decisions like nationalization of banks and state control over
private sector led to hurting of investor sentiments. Partially the
reason for this was Indira's fear of multi national corporation's
controlling the economy and undermining self reliance of India.
In the field of nationalism no one could question her motive. She
was a true patriot who believed in ideals of democracy. She believed
in the parliamentary framework and never undermined it except during
the Emergency years. She also undertook many programs for public
welfare and poor sections. Her 21 point scheme made her popular in
South India and was one reason for her electoral resurgence. She was
totally committed to secular ideology and regarded RSS as a threat
to democracy. She was the main reason behind election of Dr. Zakir
Hussain, a Muslim as president. She also disallowed a request to
remove her Sikh bodyguards after the Golden temple "Operation
Bluestar" but this cost her.
In foreign policy she remained outside the influence of Soviets and
US. During her first stint as PM relations with the US deteriorated
but were improved. She also followed Nehru's ideals and continued
India's active involvement in the Non Aligned movement.
However inspite of this she had her weaknesses. Her suspicion of
party leaders increased her dependence on family members and this
led to dissent as several colleagues saw her as a threat to them.
She couldn't keep the unity of the party and Congress saw splits in
1969 and again in 1977. Her firm grasp over the party could have
been used for transformation of the party but at this she failed.
Factionalism increased, so did political wheeling-dealing in the
congress, corruption too was seen even in the senior leadership. The
generation of leaders who had impeccable integrity and led austere
lives were never seen again in the Congress nor were efforts taken
to nurture new talent.
Public confidence eroded and now regional parties grew. Linguism,
communalism and regionalism became dominant in politics.
The Death of Indira Gandhi was a tragic loss for the nation. She was
shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards for ordering the army to storm into
the Golden Temple to flush out Khalistani terrorists. Rajiv Gandhi
who had earlier stayed out of politics and was in the Indian Air
Force was catapulted to power. He had after his brother's death
joined politics to assist his mother. He was working in West Bengal
trying to strengthen grassroots linkage of the congress when this
tragedy occurred. He was brought to Delhi and made the Prime
Minister. The General elections were to held and the party needed
someone to rally the people. Rajiv would be the ideal candidate as
he had public sympathy.
In the elections that followed the Congress won the largest ever
margin. However before Rajiv Gandhi could embark on his work he had
to face two major crisis during the early days of his
administration. The Massacre of Sikh's where 2800 were killed in
response to Indira Gandhi's assassination. The victims were mostly
poor and slum dweller's who looked upon Indira Gandhi as the idol
and who were equally shocked at her death. There were allegations of
police apathy towards the victims and also involvement of
congressmen in inciting violence.
The second tragedy that struck was the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
where thousands were killed when Methyl Isocyanide gas leaked from
Union Carbide factory in 1986. The main culprit was
allowed to leave for US and was never extradited to stand trial in
India. The compensation was meagre and the task of identifying
beneficiaries was delayed due to bureaucratic process.
Administration during Rajiv years
The administration during this period begun on a positive
note. The technology missions were launched by Rajiv Gandhi which
would Science & Technology to overcome problems of India like
Illiteracy, water supply, communications, health, edible oils and
milk production. Secondly, the Information and Communication
Technology revolution got a boost due to the Rajiv administration's
policies. Efforts to liberalize the Indian economy was made.
Initiative was taken to strengthen the local self government
mechanism from the strangle of bureaucracy and make it more
responsive and representative.
In the field of education the Rajiv Administration took steps for
total literacy and education of rural poor. The Anti defection law
was passed making it tougher for coalition partners to remove
support. The cultural events were carried out in other countries and
India was brought on the map of the World. Protection of environment
and Ganga river became a key focus area with Ministry of Environment
being set up for clearances for big projects. Lok Adalats and
Consumer Protection forums were set up and voting age was also
reduced to 18.
It was his speech on the centenary celebrations of the Congress that
really shook the admirers and critics. He criticized the existing
system within the Congress and vowed to end the stranglehold of
power brokers who controlled the party. He wanted to internalize
democracy within the party by electing candidates for tickets but he
wasn't successful at this. The party bosses could manipulate the
system by using dummy candidates and thus acquiring more legitimacy.
Foreign Policy Initiatives
Rajiv Gandhi followed the policy of his mother and grandfather but
gave his stamp of originality to it. He supported actively the
non-aligned movement and took up the cause of Apartheid victims in
South Africa and Namibia's independence struggle. He also worked for
funding from developed and developing countries for African nation's
who were suffering from sanctions imposed on South Africa. He gave
new life to the NAM movement by focusing on Nuclear disarmament.
Although relations with US and China improved but not much was
obtained from US as it was in a proxy war with USSR in Afghanistan
through Pakistan. India's demand for the super computer it wanted
wasn't granted due to this. China tour by Rajiv Gandhi made him the
first PM since Nehru to do so. This was key as border skirmishes had
impaired ties but the summit meeting was positive as both leaders
declared that mistakes made by the previous generation shouldn't be
Rajiv Gandhi's emphasis on Nuclear disarmament was important and his
discussion with Gorbachev on this was important. Relations with
neighbors remained volatile. But Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan after
Benazir Bhutto became PM becoming the first since Nehru. Nepal had
imposed tough conditions on Indians and had drawn closer to China
this hampered bilateral relations and so India imposed an economic
blockade. Bangladesh too was under the growing influence of Islamic
radicalization and saw infiltration attempts and water disputes.
Maldives saw a coup attempt and sought India's help which was
provided and "Operation Cactus" succeeded in restoring the old
leader back to position.
It was the Sri Lankan - LTTE conflict that was his biggest issue and
cost him his life. The tamil community was in agitation for more
autonomy to it however the militant group LTTE "World's most
dangerous group capable of air strikes too" was a thorn to this.
President of Sri Lanka wanted India's help on this matter. Rajiv
government was under pressure due to the opinion of tamil speaking
community in India. They government was approached to resolve the
crisis by negotiations and intervene military if Sri Lankan
government requested. During negotiations it was agreed to give
greater autonomy to Tamils and disarm LTTE. But LTTE wasn't in
consent fully and became a roadblock. The Lankan president asked for
Indian army's help and so Rajiv Gandhi government intervened. But in
the subsequent conflict, Indian army had to face difficulty as the
local terrain wasn't known to it and local population too didn't
support it. The Sri Lankan's too were against the idea of a foreign
army in their country. The next president asked Rajiv Gandhi to
withdraw the army and this was done in a phased manner. This
incident cost him his life.
Rajiv Gandhi was also in favor of strengthening the armed
forces and spending on defence increased. However ironically this
created the Bofor's scam which spoiled his image.
The Defense expenditure of the government had risen and now
was almost a fifth of the budget. The finance minister V.P.Singh
famous for his raids started an investigation on illegal stacking up
of foreign currency in offshore accounts. Several prominent
personalities were accused and Rajiv Gandhi's friend Amitabh
Bachchan too was one of them. The Submarine purchase controversy and
Bofor's gun controversy too rose in this period. there were
allegations of a huge commission being paid to the Politician's for
purchasing of guns and Gandhi family was accused of being personal
beneficiaries. V.P.Singh ordered an inquiry into this without
consulting Rajiv Gandhi. President Giani Zail Singh was urged by
political detractors to dismiss Rajiv Gandhi on charges of
corruption but even though he had personal issues with Rajiv Gandhi
the president refused to do this. Thus a constitutional calamity was
Rajiv Gandhi however maintained grace during this crisis and he
handled the controversy well. Despite such character assassination
attempts he continued with his work. His quick response to the
disastrous famine due to the failure of monsoon was praise-worthy as
not a single life was lost.
Rajiv Gandhi brought a new direction to Indian polity with
pro-welfare reforms. His biggest issue was his lack of political
experience, inability to organize the party and also failure to
strengthen ties at grass-root level. The inability to stop low
level corruption also dented his image.
In such a situation V.P.Singh became an anti-corruption
crusader and was popular with leftists and socialist parties. He won
the by-elections with a large margin. His image of Mr. Clean further
influenced his allies. Meanwhile the Bofor's controversy was still
in public mind and shaped the results of the general elections. The
congress though the largest party didn't have the majority to form a
government and Rajiv Gandhi declared that congress had no interest
in forming a government.
The V.P.Singh government though had high hopes of the people failed
within 11 months. The short rule was marked with agitations and
unpopularity. The Mandal commission report for reservations to
backward castes was to be implemented and this inflamed public
tensions as it pitted caste against caste. The unrest also was seen
in the government as its allies were not consulted and threatened to
withdraw support. The situation of Punjab and Kashmir also was
inflamed and couldn't be solved. The controversial government
collapsed soon as most of its promises remained on paper and
majority of its time went in placating allies.
The elections that followed saw the rise of congress again albeit
not with the absolute support it enjoyed previously. Tragedy had
struck the Gandhi family as Rajiv Gandhi was struck by a garland
bomb by a LTTE worker. The subsequent sympathy had helped the
congress. The Narsimhan Rao government could be credited with some
of the greatest economic reforms under its finance minister Dr.
Manmohan Singh. The casteist and communal tensions that had inflamed
too went down. The government failed in protecting the Babri Masjid
and subsequent riots that followed. The Panchayati Raj started by
the Narsimhan Rao government was also a great achievement.
The coalition politics were started at the center and
stability of government's were reduced. The 1990's also shifted
the economic policy to liberalization and globalization. The
dissolution of Cold War and the re-alignment of the foreign policy