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 and HC.

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 Gandhi

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.

Rajiv Gandhi

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 repeated.

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 averted.

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 were seen.