Class 12 Political Science Chapter 5 Challenges to and Restoration of the Congress System NCERT Notes
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Chapter 5 Challenges to and Restoration of the Congress System Class 12 Political Science II CBSE NCERT Notes
In this chapter we will understand how the political transition took place after Nehru and how the opposition unity and the Congress split posed a challenge to Congress dominance.
Also, we will get to know about how a new Congress led by Indira Gandhi overcame these challenges and how new policies and ideologies facilitated the restoration of the Congress system.
Challenge of Political Succession
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in May 1964. Speculation arose about the question of succession: who would replace Nehru?
Many outsiders had doubts about whether India could successfully manage a democratic succession. It was feared that a failure to do so could lead to a political role for the army and even the disintegration of the country.
The 1960s were labeled as the ‘dangerous decade’ due to unresolved problems such as poverty, inequality, communal and regional divisions, which could threaten the democratic project.
From Nehru to Shastri
When Nehru passed away, K. Kamraj, the president of the Congress party consulted party leaders and Congress members of Parliament and found that there was a consensus in favour of Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Shastri was the country’s Prime Minister from 1964 to 1966. During Shastri’s brief Prime Ministership, the country faced two major challenges:
India was still recovering from the economic implications of the war with China, failed monsoons, drought and serious food crisis presented a grave challenge.
Rhe country also faced a war with Pakistan in 1965.
Shastri’s famous slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, symbolised the country’s resolve to face both these challenges.
Shastri’s Prime Ministership came to an abrupt end on 10 January 1966, when he suddenly expired in Tashkent, then in USSR and currently the capital of Uzbekistan. He was there to discuss and sign
an agreement with Muhammad Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan, to end the war.
From Shastri to Indira Gandhi
Congress faced political succession challenge for the second time in two years. This time there was an intense competition between Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi. Morarji Desai had earlier served as Chief Minister of Bombay state while Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, had been Congress President in the past.
The contest was resolved through a secret ballot among Congress MPs Gandhi defeated Desai by securing the support of more than two-thirds of the party’s MPs
A peaceful transition of power, despite intense competition for leadership, was seen as a sign of maturity of India’s democracy.
The senior Congress leaders may have supported Indira Gandhi in the belief that her administrative and political inexperience would compel her to be dependent on them for support and guidance.
Within a year of becoming Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi had to lead the party in a Lok Sabha election.
Around this time, the economic situation in the country had further deteriorated, adding to her problems. Faced with these difficulties, she set out to gain control over the party and to demonstrate her leadership skills.
Fourth General Elections, 1967
Context of the elections
In the years leading up to the fourth general elections, the country witnessed major changes:
Two Prime Ministers had died in quick succession, and the new Prime Minister, who was being seen as a political novice, had been in office for less than a year.
The period was fraught with grave economic crisis resulting from successive failure of monsoons, widespread drought, decline in agricultural production, serious food shortage, depletion of foreign exchange reserves, drop in industrial production and exports, combined with a sharp rise in military expenditure and diversion of resources from planning and economic development.
One of the first decisions of the Indira Gandhi government was to devalue the Indian rupee under what was seen to be pressure from the US
The economic situation triggered off price rise, and people started protesting against the increase in prices of essential commodities, food scarcity, growing unemployment, and the overall economic condition in the country.
The government saw the protests as a law and order problem and not as expressions of people’s problems, further increasing public bitterness and reinforcing popular unrest
Communist and socialist parties launched struggles for greater equality. This period also witnessed some of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots since Independence.
Parties with different programs and ideologies formed anti-Congress fronts in some states and entered into electoral adjustments of sharing seats in others. This strategy was called ‘non-Congressism’ and was given a theoretical argument by socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, who believed that Congress rule was undemocratic and opposed to the interests of ordinary poor people.
The non-Congress parties believed that the inexperience of Indira Gandhi and the internal factionalism within the Congress provided them an opportunity to topple the Congress.
The non-Congress parties felt that their coming together was necessary for reclaiming democracy for the people.
The fourth general elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies were held in February 1967 in the context of heightened popular discontent and the polarisation of political forces. The Congress was facing the electorate for the first time without Nehru.
The election results were described by many contemporary political observers as a ‘political earthquake’ as they jolted the Congress at both national and state levels.
The Congress managed to get a majority in the Lok Sabha but with its lowest tally of seats and share of votes since 1952. Half the ministers in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet were defeated in the elections.
Political stalwarts who lost in their constituencies included Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu, S.K. Patil in Maharashtra, Atulya Ghosh in West Bengal, and K. B. Sahay in Bihar.
The nine States where the Congress lost power were spread across the country: Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Madras (now Tamil Nadu), and Kerala.
In Madras State, a regional party called the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) came to power by securing a clear majority after leading a massive anti-Hindi agitation by students against the imposition of Hindi as the official language.
In the other eight States, coalition governments consisting of different non-Congress parties were formed.
The elections of 1967 brought into picture the phenomenon of coalitions as no single party had a majority. Various non-Congress parties came together to form joint legislative parties known as Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD) that supported non-Congress governments.
The SVD governments were formed in several States with ideologically incongruent coalition partners.
In Bihar, the SVD government included the two socialist parties, the SSP and PSP, along with the CPI on the left and Jana Sangh on the right.
In Punjab, it was called the ‘Popular United Front’ and comprised the two rival Akali parties, the Sant group and the Master group, along with both communist parties, the CPI and the CPI(M), the SSP, the Republican Party, and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
Defection means an elected representative leaves the party on whose symbol he/she was elected and joins another party.
After the 1967 general election, the breakaway Congress legislators played an important role in installing non-Congress governments in three States – Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The constant realignments and shifting political loyalties in this period gave rise to the expression ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’
Split in the Congress
The 1967 elections demonstrated that the Congress party could be defeated.
Congress managed to retain power at the center but with a reduced majority and lost power in many states.
The non-Congress coalition governments in the states didn’t last long and were prone to losing the majority or being subjected to President’s rule.
Indira vs. the ‘Syndicate’
Indira Gandhi faced a challenge not from the opposition but from within her own party. The “syndicate” was a group of powerful and influential leaders from within the Congress party who played a role in installing Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister by ensuring her election as the leader of the parliamentary party.
The syndicate leaders expected Indira Gandhi to follow their advice, but she attempted to assert her position within the government and the party.
To do this, she chose her trusted group of advisers from outside the party. Slowly and carefully, she sidelined the Syndicate.
Indira Gandhi faced two challenges:
- Building independence from the Syndicate.
- Regaining the ground lost by the Congress in the 1967 elections.
She adopted a bold strategy of converting a simple power struggle into an ideological struggle.
She launched a series of initiatives to give government policy a Left orientation. She got the Congress Working Committee to adopt a Ten Point Programme in May 1967 which included social control of banks, nationalisation of General Insurance, ceiling on urban property and income, public distribution of food grains, land reforms and provision of house sites to the rural poor.
While the syndicate leaders formally approved this Left-orientation programme, they had serious reservations about it.
Presidential election, 1969
The factional rivalry between the Syndicate and Indira Gandhi came into the open in 1969 after President Zakir Hussain’s death.
Despite Mrs Gandhi’s reservations the ‘syndicate’ managed to nominate her long time opponent and then speaker of the Lok Sabha, N. Sanjeeva Reddy, as the official Congress candidate for the ensuing Presidential elections. Indira Gandhi retaliated by encouraging the then Vice-President, V.V. Giri, to file his nomination as an independent candidate.
She also announced several big and popular policy measures, such as the nationalisation of fourteen leading private banks and the abolition of the ‘privy purse’ or the special privileges given to former princes.
However, serious differences emerged between Indira Gandhi and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Morarji Desai on both the above issues, resulting in Desai leaving the government.
The then Congress President S. Nijalingappa issued a ‘whip’ asking all the Congress MPs and MLAs to vote in favour of Sanjeeva Reddy, the official candidate of the party
After silently supporting V.V. Giri, the Prime Minister openly called for a ‘conscience vote’ which meant that the MPs and MLAs from the Congress should be free to vote the way they want.
The defeat of the official Congress candidate formalised the split in the party. The Congress President expelled the Prime Minister from the party; she claimed that her group was the real Congress.
By November 1969, the Congress group led by the ‘syndicate’ came to be referred to as the Congress (Organisation) and the group led by Indira Gandhi came to be called the Congress (Requisitionists).
Indira Gandhi projected the split as an ideological divide between socialists and conservatives, between the pro-poor and the pro-rich.
The 1971 Election and Restoration of Congress
The split in the Congress reduced Indira Gandhi Government to a minority. But her government continued in office with the issue-based support of a few other parties including the Communist Party of India and the DMK.
The government made conscious attempts to project its socialist credentials during this period.
Indira Gandhi vigorously campaigned for implementing the existing land reform laws and undertook further land ceiling legislation.
In order to end her dependence on other political parties, strengthen her party’s position in the Parliament, and seek a popular mandate for her programmes, Indira Gandhi’s government recommended the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in December 1970.
The fifth general election to Lok Sabha were held in February 1971.
The electoral contest appeared to be loaded against Congress(R). Everyone believed that the real organisational strength of the Congress party was under the command of Congress(O).
All the major non-communist, nonCongress opposition parties formed an electoral alliance known as
the Grand Alliance. The SSP, PSP, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and the Bharatiya Kranti Dal came together under this umbrella.
The ruling party had an alliance with the CPI.
The new Congress had an issue, an agenda, and a positive slogan – Garibi Hatao (Remove Poverty).
Indira Gandhi focused on the growth of the public sector, imposition of ceiling on rural land holdings and urban property, removal of disparities in income and opportunity, and abolition of princely privileges.
The outcome and after
The Congress(R)-CPI alliance won 375 seats in Lok Sabha and secured 48.4 per cent votes. Indira Gandhi’s Congress(R) won 352 seats with about 44 per cent of the popular votes on its own.
The Congress(O) party with so many stalwarts could get less than one-fourth of the votes secured by Indira Gandhi’s party and won merely 16 seats.
With this, the Congress party led by Indira Gandhi established its claim to being the ‘real’ Congress and restored its dominant position in Indian politics.
The Grand Alliance of the opposition proved a grand failure. Their combined tally of seats was less than 40.
After the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, a major political and military crisis broke out in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
The crisis in East Pakistan and the Indo-Pak war led to the establishment of Bangladesh, which added to the popularity of Indira Gandhi. Her party swept through all the State Assembly elections held in 1972.
With two successive election victories, one at the centre and other at the State level, the dominance of the Congress was restored. The Congress was now in power in almost all the States.
Indira Gandhi’s revival of the Congress system was not a revival of the old Congress party but a re-invention of the party.
It relied entirely on the popularity of the supreme leader. It had a somewhat weak organisational structure.
While it won elections, it depended more on some social groups: the poor, the women, Dalits, Adivasis and the minorities.
Despite being more popular, the new Congress did not have the kind of capacity to absorb all tensions and conflicts that the Congress system was known for.
While the Congress consolidated its position and Indira Gandhi assumed a position of unprecedented political authority, the spaces for democratic expression of people’s aspirations actually shrank.