H C Singh

Defeat Of Congress And Victory Of Janta Party

Results of 1977 elections trickled from night of 20th March 1977. Peolple had gathered in large numbers, both of Congress and of newly formed Janta Party. Outside the Newspaper offices on Asaf Ali Road, New Delhi. It was quite a contrast to 26th June 1975 when emergency was declared and lights had been switched off in Asaf Ali Road, leaders of opposition were being arrested and not a single soul was to be seen on this very rood. Results of election were being posted on the boards outside the offices of Newspapers. Congress supporters were shocked and Janta supporters were jubilant when the news of defeat of Indira Gandhi from her home constituency, Roe Barelli was posted. There were loud slogans and crackers were fired to celebrate Indira’s defeat of their Prime Minister. Jubilations were more intense with dances, louder slogans and more crackers when news of Sanjay’s defeat came.

In the morning whole of Delhi, rather whole of India come to know of the defeat of mother and son, so there were jubilations and celebrations, people distributing sweets and shouting slogans like Bharat Mata Ki Jai, JANTA PARTY KI JAI. Emergency Murdabad dictatorship Murdabad.

In north India, particularly the Hindi belt congress was completely was washed out. Congress did not and could not win a single seat in Parliament from Up, Bihar, Rajasthan and MP. In other north India states congress victory was symbolic, winning one seat or so. Here are details of congress debacle in north India, in particular. In UP congress lost all the 84 seats and all the 54 seats in adjoining Bihar. In Rajasthan congress score was one seat out of 25, in MP also one seat out of 40. In south India performance of congress was as before because in the south of vindhya the excess of emergency, like compulsory sterilization of many and demolition of slums and ancient building like the area near Turk man gate, had not reached. In Andhra Pradesh congress performance was remarkable, it won 41 out of 42 seats, in Karnataka 26 out of 28, in Kerala 13 out of 20 and in Tamil Nadu 14 out of 39.

But overall congress won only 153 seats in Parliament out of 450 ie only one third. It also shows that despite the congress winning more seats in south, congress had got the support of only one third of India’s electorate or population. Major causes of defeat as explained earlier were compulsory sterilization and demolition of houses in lanes and streets inhabited by poor in Delhi mostly by Muslims in the area around Turk man gate of New Delhi. As Jagjivan Ram, a congress std wart belonging to scheduled caste had joined Janta Party, after resigning from congress where he had been holding high offices in congress party and Government, large number of SC and ST voted for Janta Party.

So the time came for Janta Party to form the government and elect a leader who will be Prime Minister of India after Indira Gandhi’s ouster. As usual there were a couple of candidates for the high office of PM. Supporters of Choudhary Charan Singh wanted him to be PM as they considered congress defeat in north India was mainly due to Charan Singh being a leader of Janta Party. Another, though comparatively silent, candidate was Jagjivan Ram who was a SC and was responsible for large number of SC/ST votes being polled for Janta Party. The most vociferous candidate once again was Morarji Desai who had tried t become PM instead of Lal Bahadur Shastri and even had contested and lost when he tried to be PM against Indira Gandhi after Shastri’s sudden demise in Toshkent. But it was left to grand old politicians of Janta Party viz Jayparkash Narain and Acharya JB Kirplani to decide. They decide in favour of Morarji Desai saying he had more experience as Chief Minister of Bombay as well as senior cabinet Minister.

Thus Desai became the PM and Charan Singh as per his wish became the powerful Home Minister. Atal Bihari Vajpayee of Jan Sangh who had been MP since 1957 became Minister for the first time a cabinet post he held. George Fernandes, a socialist leader who had once defeated S.K. Patil Bombay’s strong man and important leader of congress became Industries Minister.

As Jan Sangh was a rightist party opposed to communist ideology, its respected leader Vajpayee who had became Foreign Minister wanted understanding with USA and the west instead of indifference and even hostility because Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi even to an extent Shastri were pro USSR and anti American. Accordingly immediately after Janta Party’s victory and congress party’s defeat. New York Times wrote “that Congress attitude towards west and USA had varied from a self righteous edginess to a Chilliness bordering on hostility”. It further added the USA expected a ‘friendly attitude’ towards the United States with a noticeable cooling of feelings for the Soviet Union. American strategies felt that Janta victory “represented something of windfall for Washington”.

However Janta leaders and particularly the Janta Foreign Minister a very careful and calculating politician of more than two decades did not like to shift completely from support for and by Soviet Union to become American rally at the cost of Soviet and Chinese reaction and even hostility because USA had all through supported Pakistan against India. Thus PM Desai and Foreign Minister Vajpayee together visited Soviet Union to assure Moscow that India’s relations with USSR will stand. To pasify USA and consider Washington important for Janta Party and India, eminent Jurist Nani Palkhiwala was sent to Washington as India’s Ambassador. To reciprocate this gesture, American President Jimmy Carter visited India in January 1978.

After the allotment of portfolios, as per wishes of senior leaders like Charan Singh getting Home, Jagjivan Ram getting Defence, Vajpayee opting for External Affairs and Madhu Dandavote Railways, the struggle commenced between leaders of various parties and cabinet because ideologies of all the political parties forming Janta Party in a hurry were not only different but against each other. Charan Singh had rural bias, some cabinet minister like PM Desai and Madhu Davdavote and Jagjivan Ram had praise for Nehru and his ideology of importance of public sector, which others belonging to Jan Sangh pratsed American and Japanese systems of private enterprise. Socialists like Goerge Fernandes were opposed to foreign capital and wanted American multinational like Coca Cola and IBM to be ousted from Indian market and Fernandes succeeded in making both to close their projects in India.

As neither Desai had the prestiege and popularity like that of Pandit Nehru nor men like Charan Singh had the intelligence, courage and standing like that of Sardar Patel the strongest Home Minister India ever had, so differences leading to conflict of views started the moment the Janta Government came to power and started functioning. Janta Party’s only aim to defeat congress led by Indira and Sanjay who ruled in an autocratic manner, as this very Congress of Gandhiji and other national leaders of national and international fame had never thought of imposing emergency and ruling the country as dictatorship and imprisoning all opposition leaders without regard to their age, status and the good work they had done with declination. And that, too, without any charges or trials.

Under Janta Government fences with neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh were corrected despite the wars and hostility since the creation of Pakistan and particularly after the war in East Pakistan in which Pakistan Army had crushing defeat and East Bengal preceded from Pakistan, of course with Indian Army’s help and became independent country as Bangladesh. India signed as agreement for sharing Ganga Waters which gave India 20,500 cubic feet of water in season to Bangladesh 34,500 cubic feet for which Bangladesh had aspired since long and was satisfied now under the Janta Government. Similarly to improve relations with Pakistan, Foreign Minister Vajpayee visited Pakistan where he unexpectedly charmed the people and even dictator General Zia-ull-Itaq who complimented Vajpayee whom he thought ‘a man reared in Jan Sangh would exhibit a fanatical hatred towards Muslims (quoted by Guha).

In summer of 1977, Pm Desai happened to meet Phizo, the Naga leader in London. Phizo was excited as never before a senior Minister or PM had met him. This changed his mind to a great extent and his party fought the assembly elections. Showing that Naga’s now had abandoned the idea of independence. Similarly elections were held in Kashmir in 1977 and Sheikh Abdullah as leader of his National Conference got 46 out of 75 seats though National Conference had won only 7 seat in Hindu dominated Jammu region. This made Sheikh Abdullah a legitimate Chief Minister, duly elected, in the first face and for general elections in J&K. This prompted the Sheikh to announce that people of Kashmir ‘have the same fundamental rights’ as the people of rest of India. This was a landmark statement from a veteran Kashmir leader in favour of ties with India.

In the Janta Party Government, there was much more emphasis on the improvement of agriculture as well as the poor peasants of rural areas. Charan Singh’s association with Janta Party and after his becoming Minister for agriculture. He emphasized on further implementation of Green Revolution ideas ideas so that there is substical increase in the production Wheat and Rice in particular as well as ‘White Revolution’ so that there is more milk and more prosperity and better health of people. It will be noteworthy that because of Charan Singh’s association with Janta Party, in 1977 Lok Sabha elections 36% of MP’s came from rural area in comparison to 22% in 1952. Jimmy Carter was received enthusiastically by leadership of Janta as well as people of India as Carter was first US President to visit India since President Eisenhover’s visit more than two decades back. To impress upon Indian Parliament and people he laid stress in the “community of our fundamental values” like freedom of Speech and freedom of Press. He also spoke about Martin Luther Kings Civil Rights struggle and non-violent attitude to the ideas and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. Accordingly Jimmy Carter’s visit and Speech had initiated India-USA closeness. A year later Vajpayee visited China, the highest ranking Indian ie India’s Foreign Minister, to visit China after 1962 border war between India and China.

Thus the tilt towards USA, in the policy of non-alignment, was corrected by Desai and Vajpayee. It was a significant achievement of Janta Party as Nehru and his daughter Indira had virtually autogonised USA and West for being too close and dependent on USSR. After significant change and success in moulding Foreign Policy, trouble started on two fronts viz caste privileges and privileges for Agricultured formers and laboures. Both these troubles affected the states more than the centre.

In Bihar where Karpoori Thakur, Janta Chief Minister dug out the report of a commission set up by congress in 1970 which had recommended that 26% of all posts in the administration be reserved for backward. The report remained untouched during emergency but Chief Minister Thakur decided to implement the recommendation. Immediately a storm broke out as Karpoori Thakur’s decision led to violent reactions and protests by upper castes. Rajput and Bhoomidars, leadinate storming of state government building and burning buses and trains. As backward classes under Janta Government, for the first time, had forty per cent MLA’s in state legislature they were unyielding. To aggravate the matter Morarji Desai appointed a commission headed by B P Mandal a Bihar politician (popularly known as Mandal Commission) to suggest whether reservations in the constitution – 15% for scheduled castes and 7.5% for scheduled tribes.

There was also another kind of caste conflict between, the backward classes and SC-ST’s. The backward classes mostly owned lands while the SC an d Harijans were labourers and farmers. The backwards in due course became as rich as the upper classes, while some Harijans, too, with education joined government service and had other positions in industry. As a result attacks on Hatijans by Bhoomidars continued under Janta government with greater intensity and regularity. For example in a decade when congress under Indira was in power the number incidents of atrocities towards Harijans and SC/ST like killing, molestation of Harijan women etc., were 40,000 while between April 77 when Janta came to power and September 78 such cases were reported to be 7775 only in North India ie under congress rule such incidents were roughly 4000 a year while under Janta rule more than 12,000 a year (‘Economic and Political Weekly’ 10 December 1977 and Pravin Sheth ‘In the country side’ November 79). The worst incident that accured was in a Bihar Village Belchi where on 25 May 77 nine Harijans were burnt to death.

Indira Gandhi who was being harassed, arrested and insulted got the opportunity to blame the Janta rule as the worst in Bihar since independence. She visited Belchi and addressed the Harjans at number of places. This improved her image as the friend of Harjans, as neither Desai nor any of his senior cabinet minister had visited Belchi to pacify the Harjans.

Janta image got further tarnished as in October 77, Charan Singh decided to arrest Indira Gandhi. On the basis of CBI report of corruption charges against her. Accordingly Police visited Indira Gandhi’s house and arrested her. While she was being taken to Haryana to be lodged in a jail away from Delhi. At a railway crossing Indira got out of the van and sat on a culvert when her lawyer noted there was no mention in the warrant of arrest to take her outside Delhi. So she was released then and there. This bungling spoiled the image of Janta Government further.

Break up of Janta Government started after a year or so because Charan Singh’s main aim of joining Janta Party was to become Prime Minister whenever the opportunity arose. Though he was instrumental in getting Indira Gandhi arrested yet when the opportunity came he dumped Morarji Desai and Janta Party with the help of Indira Gandhi though it looked very strange and unthinkable. It also suited Indira to defame and destroy Janta Government before the completion of 5 year team. As Charan Singh was not prepared to reconcile with Desai as PM he got the Janta Government defeat in Parliament with the support of Indira Gandhi’s congress. So Charan Singh broke unity of Janta Party and became PM after dethroning Morarji Desai and destroying Janta Party. As Indira was equally clever and even more determined to end the Janta Party rule, she allowed Charan Singh to be PM only for a fortnight and thereafter started working for Charan Singh defeat just as Indira had helped Charan Singh to defeat Desai and his Janta Government.

During the last week of July 79 Charan Singh was sworn in a PM. He hoped he would continue at least for a year, but a month later Indira Congress withdrew the support and informed the President . The President tried for an alternative government but no faction in Janta neither Jan Sangh nor socialist were prepared to support Charan Singh as PM. Accordingly after a month President decided that mid-term poll was necessary under such circumstances. Election Commission took a couple of months to hold elections and declare results, So Charan Singh remained PM for 3 more months. Before Charan Singh relinguished the office of PM. 44th amendment of the constitution was passed with the support of both Desai and Indira Gandhi nullifying the emergency amendments to the constitution. Thus restoring the pre-emergency constitution.

Though Janta Government remained for a short time or had many examplry achievements to its credit. Censorship of Press was undone. This led to investigative journalism which in turn influenced the government as well as the people. As a result more than double the number of people started reading newspapers and magazines in English as well as in regional languages.

August 28, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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