From Morarji Desai to Narendra Modi

 Congress benefited from split in Janata Party, Indira bounced back  Assassination of Rajiv paved way for Narsimha Rao to be the PM

Dr. Hari Desai Monday 25th February 2019 05:36 EST

Bharatiya Lok Dal (or the Janata party) emerged victorious in March 1977 elections defeating the Congress for the first time. The BLD was formed at the end of 1974 through the fusion of seven parties opposed to the autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi, including the Swatantra Party, the Utkal Congress, the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, and the Socialist Party. In 1977, the BLD combined with the Jan Sangh and the Indian National Congress (Organization) to form the Janata Party. The newly formed Janata Party contested the 1977 elections on the BLD symbol and formed independent India’s first government not ruled by the INC though headed by Morarji having two Deputy PMs Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram, all the three former Congressmen. The BLD won 295 of the 542 seats while Congress could win only 154. Morarji had to step down in 1979 after couple of parties in the Janata alliance pulled out. He was succeeded by Charan Singh. After the failure of the Janata experiment, Congress (I) under the leadership of Indira Gandhi bounced back to power in 1980 winning a handsome 353 of the 529 seats. There was no Leader of Opposition (LoP).

After PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984, the anti-Sikh riots broke out which took toll of nearly 3,000 persons. They were a series of pogroms directed against Sikhs in India. Riding on the wave of sympathy, the Congress party under her elder son Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership came to power winning 404 of the 514 seats. The BJP made its electoral debut winning 2 seats, one in Gujarat and another in Andhra Pradesh (Now Telangana). Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister. The Bofors scandal, LTTE and other issues worked against the Congress. There was a hung house for the first time in 1989 elections with no party getting a majority. The Congress won
197, The Janata Dal 143 and the BJP 85 out of 529 seats. The BJP made impressive gains. The Janata Dal formed the National Front government with outside support from BJP and the left parties. Vishwanath Pratap Singh became the Prime Minister. His rival in the Janata Dal, Chandra Shekhar broke away in 1990 and formed the Samajwadi Janata Party. As a result, VP Singh had to step down. Chandra Shekhar then became the PM in 1990 with the external support of Congress. Even this experiment lasted only for a short while forcing general elections in just 2 years.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in the run up to the 1991 general elections by the LTTE. Though no party could get a majority, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 232 seats while the BJP won 120 seats out of 521 seats. P V Narasimha Rao headed a minority government and was the first person from South India to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair. He is credited with ushering in economic reforms and also identifying Dr. Manmohan Singh who went onto become the Prime Minister in 2004 and 2009. 

The Indian National Congress came into the election on the back of several government scandals and accusations of mishandling. There were various factions within the congress. The BJP grew from strength to strength and emerged as the single largest party in a hung house. The BJP won 161 seats, Congress 140 and the Janata Dal 46. The rise of regional parties started with this election. The regional parties won 129 seats. Prominent among them were TDP, Shiv Sena and the DMK. As per the prevailing custom, the President invited BJP to form the government. The BJP attempted to build a coalition, but could not go far and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign as the PM in 13 days. His resignation address in the Loksabha is well known. The Congres Party declined to form the government but chose to extend outside support to Janata Dal and other smaller parties that formed into the ‘United Front’. Out of nowhere, H D Deve Gowda became the Prime Minister and he lasted for 18 months before he had to step down and make way for I. K. Gujral. He also could not last long following differences within the Janata Dal.

In the 1998 election, the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats out of 543. Congress won 141 and the other regional parties won 101 seats. The BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with other regional parties. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the second time. His government could not last long and he had to resign after 13 months in office after the AIADMK withdrew support. The NDA lost by just one vote when Dr. Giridhar Gamang, the then Chief Minister of Odisha and also a MP, voted against the NDA. The nuclear tests at Pokhran, The Kargil war were some of the important incidents in this term. The 1999 elections were held in the backdrop of the Kargil war. The BJP again emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats while the congress could win only 114. This time the regional parties won 158 seats. The BJP was able to form a more stable NDA this time around and this was the first time that a non congress alliance lasted a full five year term. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the third time.

In 2004, the BJP went in for early elections alongside launching an ‘India Shining’ campaign. Though it could win the middle class vote, the poorer sections voted for the Congress and other regional parties resulting in the defeat of the NDA. The BJP could win only 138 seats while the Congress improved its tally to 145. The regional parties again ruled the roost with 159 seats. The BJP conceded defeat and the Congress then formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with support from other parties and outside support from the left parties. Though elected leader of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi refused to become the Prime Minister amidst the controversy about her foreign origin. Dr. Manmohan Singh was chosen as the Prime Minister.

The Congress led UPA implemented a lot of its promises including the enactment of Right to Information (RTI) & the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). It also waived off farm loans in 2008. Against this background, it went into the polls in 2009. The NDA on the other hand was led by L K Advani. The Congress won 206 seats, a huge improvement from 2004. The BJP could win only 116. The regional parties won 146 seats. The UPA came to power for the second term in a row. Dr. Manmohan Singh was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the second time.

The second term of the UPA proved to be a disaster with numerous allegations of corruption and scams. 2G, Coal Block, Adarsh, Commonwealth Games to name a few. The silence of the Prime Minister and the perception that he had no real power made matters worse. The BJP was successfully able to project Narendra Modi as the man of the hour and also as its Prime Ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi could not match Narendra Modi. The BJP won majority on its own with 282 seats while the Congress recorded its worst ever performance with just 44 seats. This was the first time since 1984 that a party won a majority on its own.

Next Column: Humour and Witt in the Indian Parliament
(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected] )

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