THE JANATA RULE: 1977-79

 

The lionized. heroes of Janata morcha became the petty  villains of the Janata Government.

 

Elections of March 1977
The Announcement

On 18 January 1977, Indira Gandhi announced her decision to hold elections on 21 March and not in November as announced earlier. On the same  the leaders of the opposition were released. Later, others detained under  MISA were also set free. The announcement came as a bolt from the blue. Even  her close confidants were “dumbfounded when she called for elections”. The  announcement and the simultaneous release of leaders and others left the  opposition “anxious and bewildered”.’

 

Rise of Janata Party

Two decades of Congress in power (1947-1967) had corrupted and  corroded the credibility of the national movement-turned-political party. In  1967, Congress suffered a serious set back at the hustings and in 1969 it suffered  a split. Taking advantage of the split, few opposition parties attempted twice to  offer  an alternative to the decadant Congress. In 1970, six political parties met  often  in order to confront the Congress in Parliament with a common strategy.’  again in 1971, Congress (0), Jan Sangh and SSP with the support of Swat antra  forged a Front, but the electorate rejected it. Then seven parties, big and small,
formed the Bhartiya Lok Dal (BLD). Finally, the imposition of Emergency in  1975 and the pre-dawn arrest and incarceration of leaders propelled them to  project a common front against the authoritarian Congress. The result was the  rise of Janata Party. On 25 March 1976, Jaiprakash Narayan launched ‘the Janata  party in which were merged Congress (0), Socialist Party, BLD and Jan Sangh.  The new party was formally inaugurated on 1 May 1977 with S.Chandrashekar  as its elected President.

 

Sixth General Election, March 1977
The Janata Manifesto

The Janata Party Manifesto was the Charter of Promises. The party  promised to end the state of emergency; restore to the people the Fundamental  Rights; repeal MISA, review unjust laws and set right distortions; ensure that  Art.352 and 356 were not misused; promised to reduce election costs and lowering  voting age from 21 to 18; enforce rule of law; abolish press censorship and free  the press from governmental interference; delete right to property as  Fundamental Right; legislate for Right to Work and free public servants from  political pressure.

On the economic front, the Manifesto promised to work for decentralized  economy; end destitution and unemployment within a decade; introduce  appropriate technology to achieve self-reliance; accord primacy to agriculture  and rural sector; narrow down rural-urban disparities; increase production of mass consumption goods; ensure due place for small-scale and cottage industries; exempt small holdings from land revenues and purify the environments.

 

In the social sphere, the Manifesto promised reforms in education and  eradication of illiteracy; safe drinking water and group health; mass public housing; scheme of social insurance; non-violent family planning; safeguarding  the rights and interests of SCs and weaker sections; a Civil Rights Commission  machinery to check corruption; protection of rights of women; schemes fm  youth welfare and legal aid to the poor.

 

Regarding foreign policy, the Manifesto promised to oppose colonialism  and racism; develop friendship will all; follow ‘genuine non-alignment’; strive  for peaceful settlement of international disputes; improve relations with  neighbouring countries; promote regional cooperation; and strengthen armed  forces. The plethora of promises outsmarted and outwitted Indira Gandhi in her own electoral game.

 

The Election

On 18 January 1977, Indira Gandhi announced the sixth general election  which was to be held on 16 March 1977. In the early weeks of 1977 Indra  Gandhi commenced her campaign with vigour, courage and confidence.” The election turned out to be a ‘martal combat’ between the Congress and  the  Janata Party. The Janata Manifesto captured the imagination of the people and inaugurated an Era of Expectations. Apparently, “The Janata Party was a United  Front, under a common leader, a common platform, a common symbol, a common  list of candidates and a common campaign”.  The election commenced on 16 March 1977.

 

The Verdict

In the sixth largest democratic electoral exercise about 194 million voters
(60%) exercised their franchise. Janatha Party captured 298 seats, receiving  40%
of the vote. Congress, on the other hand, could get only 154 seats, with
35% vote. The CPM won 22 seats and the CPI -7. Indira Gandhi was swept away by the Janata storm; she was defeated in the Rae Bereilly constituency by her erstwhile opponent, Raj Narain, Sanjai Gandhi lost in Amethi. In Utter Pradesh, it could not win even a single seat out of84! Most of Indira Gandhi’s  cabinet colleagues and MPs were routed. It was the disastrous debacle the  list of congress had ever faced. The jubilant Janata parivar celebrated the downfall of imperious Indira Gandhi.” India witnessed a new dawn.

First Non-Congress Government
P.M.Morarji Desai

The Janata Party was confronted with the daunting task of choosing Prime Minister from among the three aspirants for the post: Morarji Desai,  Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram. JP and JB Kripalani favoured Desai though   had the largest support! The ‘consensus candidate’ Morarji Desai was  sworn in, on 23 March 1977, as the Fourth Prime Minister of India. He had the  distinction of being the first non-Congress premier. Earlier, in the morning, all  members of the Janata Party assembled at the Rajghat, paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi and took oath solemnly administered by JP to endeavour earnestly to

fulfill the task of the Father of the Nation.

 

Janata Government

 

The formation of the Janata Government was an exercise in commodative politics. The constituent groups of the Janata Party had agreed it the major partners of the ruling alliance would have two members each in cabinet. The Akalis and allies were also to be represented. Accordingly, a member Council of Ministers was formed.” “The composition of the Janata Government at the centre was a model of government through consultation”

 

Work of Janata Government

Restoration of Democracy

 

The first and foremost priority of the Janata Government was dismantling the much-hated Emergency regime. As a first step, on 27 March 1977, hardly four days after assuming office, the external emergency proclaimed  in 1971 was revoked. Then the Government proceeded to undo the harm done to the civil servants during the Emergency.

 

Economic Policy, Plan and Programmes
Economic Policy

Morarji Desai Government was committed to ‘Gandhian Socialism’  The Janata Government attempted to take a quantum leap from the ‘commanding  height’ industrial progress to decentralized rural development. The new non Congress Prime Minister was determined to set new standards in political  morality and economic welfare. It was with this end in view, the Asoka.Mehtu  Committee was appointed. Instead of industry oriented growth, labour intensive  small scale village industries were encouraged. Similarly, centralized planninp
was replaced by decentralized economy. Agricultural development was  subsidized. Land revenue was reduced. Employment was provided to rural unemployed through ‘Food for Work’ programme. Resources were allocated to improve rural infrastructure such as roads, school buildings, safe drinking water, rural health etc. The Janata economic policy was a timely course correction to  the state-controlled command economy. It was an incredible innovative step in the right direction’.

 

Janata Rule, 1977-79

The Janata Government wanted to be different from its Congress  decessors. It attempted to introduce the new concept of Rolling Plan. The  plan  pwas put into practice with effect from 1 April 1978. Under this Janata  varation of planning, Five Year Plan will be ontinued to be formulated on five  year basis, but plan targets, resource allocation etc., will be revised every year,  in the light of performance of various sectors. The Rolling Plan was time bound.  But the Rolling Plan could not take off because the Janata Government was  outsed  from power in 1980. “The Janata Govemment wasted a unique opportunity

to build a truly federal and decentralized structure of power and authority,  bolstered by necessary policy correctives to fulfil people’s expectations and  that  them towards a new pattern of development”.

Demonitisation, January 1978

The New Year witnessed the demonitisation of higher value notes. On  January 1978, an ordinance was issued, demonitising the bank notes of  1000, 5,000 and 10,000 issued by the Reserve Bank of India. This measure  s intended to serve the limited purpose of checking illegal transactions. It  pointed out that high denomination notes could be used for smuggling, or ck-marketing or for political purposes. Demonitisation was welcomed by all  political parties and the public as a step in the right direction. It was expected
that this measure will raise the value of money and thereby lower the prices of  commodities.

 

Alexander Committee

The Janata Government was keen on improving and strengthening foreign trade. It wanted to bring about comprehensive changes in important policies, procedures and programmes. A committee of eminent economic experts and administrators, headed by P.C.Alexander was appointed. Known  as the Alexander Committee, it recommended that 1) all items for which no specific policy had been laid down in the Red Book should be imported under the Open General Licence; 2) a shift from controls to development in the import regime; and 3) the Chief Controller of imports and export is be redesignated as Director General of Foreign Trade. Most of the recommendations were implemented. This led to a new policy of trade liberalization and laid the foundation for a new import-export regime later.

 

Re-entry of Indira Gandhi: November 1978

 

Indira Gandhi, the fallen foe, re-emerged in national politics when the contested the by-election in the constituency of Chikmaglur, in Karnatka She filed hernomination papers on 6 October 1978. She fought against Veerendra Patil, former Chief Minister of Kamataka. She had battled against the might of the Janata Party stalwarts, particularly George Fernandes, Union Minister: ‘  Industry and a ‘wounded lion’ who was hell-bent on defeating Indira Gandhi Further, the intellectuals, writers, artists, academics and the press were a  her. Still, she had won the Chikmaglur seat by a margin of 70,000 votes!

 

Expelled from Parliament,’ December 1978

Indira Gandhi triumphantly returned to Parliament. But she was greeted.  by cries of ‘shame’ and angry shouts from Treasury Benches. In December, the Privileges Committee in Parliament found her guilty; and on 19 December a resolution was passed demanding that she ‘be committed to jail till the prorogation of the House and also expelled from membership of the House for the serious breach and contempt of the House committed by her’ .14 Responding  to this sentence Indira Gandhi retorted: “Every insult hurled at me will rebound,  every punishment inflicted on me will be a source of strength to me”. Then
she walked out of the House. Soon after her expulsion Indira Gandhi  was arrested and taken to Tihar Jail.” On 26 December 1978 she was released  Incarcerating Indira Gandhi resurrected her “from the ashes of Emergency” and made  made her more popular than ever.

 

Vengence and Vendetta

Kissa Kursi Ka Case, Feb.1979

 

Kissa Kursi Ka was a film taken during the Emergency. It narrated he
story of the chair- a film against Indira Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi was said to have
destroyed the film. The Janata Government, which foisted more than 35 criminal
cases against Sanjay Gandhi during its two-and-a-half years in power, implicated
him in this case too. On 27 February  1979, Sanjay and V.C.Shukla were sentenced
to two years imprisonment with a hefty fines for destroying the film. Both of  them were released on bail and could appeal against the verdict.”

 

The Special Courts Bill, May 1979

The Janata Government was keen to passing the Special Courts Bill ill
order to trap Indira Gandhi in legal entanglements for ever. The Bill was passed
by the two Houses of Parliament and President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy gave his to the Special Courts Bill on 17 May 1979. The Special Court summons
first hearing were duly served on Indira Gandhi. She filed an appeal in
Calcutta High Court and got a stay order. The stay order was presented to
Supreme Court next morning so that no further proceedings could take place posed a challenge to Desai.

 

Fall of the Janata Government
Causes  of the Fall

The Janata Government was formed on 24 March 1977 and it fell on 15 July 1979, when Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister. The Government  collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions. When the disillusioned people voted the Janata Party to power, they expected the Janata  leaders to rise above petty jealousies, animosities and bickerings and work as a team in the true Gandhian way. But it belied and betrayed their expectations. After dismantling the Emergency, the Janata Government lost its raison d’etre
of its existence. A number of factors led to its fall.

 

 A Consensus Leadership

Morarji Desai was not the natural leader of the Janata Party. Jagjivan  m was not preferred for the Prime Ministership because he was a party to the  emergency! In a way a consensus candidate was an imposed candidate. If the  new incumbent had been elected through a secret ballot, the infighting in the  janata Party would have been less vicious. As in the case of Congress choice  of leaders, the consensus approach of the Janata Party proved to the  undemocratic, hypocritical and self-defeating. Till the last day the Janata Party  posed a challenge to Desai.

 

Party Indiscipline

The Janata Party was a physical combination of incongruous political  components. Each party had its own agenda to pursue and each leader had his  own views to be heard. The Jan Sangh, for instance, was keen on extending its  influence over a wider field, particularly in the field education, where a serious  but unsuccessful attempt was made to ensure withdrawal of the NCERT series  of history text books. The unguarded public statements made by Morarji Desai  not only embarrassed other Janata leaders but also protests form the opposition  besides affecting adversely the image of the party.” Similarly, Charan Singh,
Raj Narayan, Chandra Shekar, Nanaji Deshmukh, Subramaniam Swamy, C.B.Gupta

and Devi Lal were competing with each other in making irresponsible statement
in public. No body seemed to be under anybody’s control or influence. In short
short, the Janata Party was a label of indiscipline. Collective responsibility  conspicuous by its absence.

 

Discontent Among Constituent Parties

Differences and discontent among the constituents of the Janata Party
persisted throughout the Janata Rule. Deep differences arose between Chili
Singh and other Janata leaders as early as June 1977 when elections were held
for nine State Assemblies. Similarly, there was lot of discontent when the Prime Minister Desai chose the Governors to Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The manner in which BLD and Jan Sangh joined hands to
capture power in the northern states was much resented by other coalition parties. Likewise, there was lot of heart-burning when twenty-four Minister of
State were appointed. The conflict between the supporters of BLD and those!
Jan Sangh was glaring during the by-election to the Lok Sabha from Karnnal
Haryana (1978).

 

Arrest and Release of Indira Gandhi, October 1977

 

On 3 October 1977, Indira Gandhi and her four former cabinet colleagues
were arrested by the CBI on charges of corruption and abuse of public office When she was produced before the Magistrate the next morning, she was ordered to be released as the Magistrate found no reason to believe that the accusation against her was well founded. Indira Gandhi made political capital out of this clumsy handling of the case. The news about the fiasco of her an and release spread like wild fire and her popularity soared as the credibility”  the Janata Government slumped. The seeds were sown for the Janata split in 1979.

 

Atrocities of Harijans

Atrocities of Harijans were nothing new in the north. After the advent
of the Janata rule, every attack on Harijans was attributed to the apathy of the Janata Government. The matter became serious when some in the Janata Party itself, particularly the Congress for Democracy, criticized the Government for not protecting Harijans from the atrocities. When this question was discussed  in March 1978 in the Lok Sabha there were ugly scenes over the remarks of Charan Singh. This led to the resignation of Char an Singh, but he was persuade” to stay on. But the incident exposed the internal contradiction between the Janata Party and the Government.

 

Corruption’ Charges against Kanti Desai

Corruption charges were leveled against Kanti Desai, son of Prime  Minister Morarji Desai. On August 1978, the Congress (I) brought a resolution   in the Rajya Sabha, where the Janata Party was in a minority, demanding the  setting up of an enquiry into the charges and the resolution was passed by a  majority. This episode had been well used by the opposition and the Janata party  dissidents to embarrass the Prime Minister. This incident left a deep scar  on the  race of the Janata Government which was further discredited.

 

The Question of Dual Membership

Many Jan Sangh MPs and MLAs had been members of the RSS and  Janata Party as well. The dual membership was justified on the ground that  RSS only a cultural organization and had no political ambitions. But Maddhu  Limaye of the BLD had been consistently questioning the dual membership and  made it a contentious issue, which had considerably weakened the Janata Party.

 

 Vindictive Action

Harassment and persecution of Indira Gandhi, her implication in Belhi  Harijan massacre (1977); her reconciliation with JP in Patna; her visit to her  home constituency Rae Bareilly; Shah Commission Inquiry; her visit to Vinoba  Ashram at Pannar; her promotional tour over the country, increased her  popularity and resulted in her resounding victory in a by-election for Lok Sabha  held in November 1978 at Chikmagalur constituency in Karnataka. But the  Janata Government, in a streak of vengeance, initiated proceedings to deprive
her newly won Parliamentary seat. On 21 November, a motion of breach of  privilege, based on the Report of the Privileges Committee, which found her guilty,  was tabled in the House. On 19 December, 1978 the Lok Sabha held was put in  Tihar jail. The medieval  star Chamber like vindictive action  was the begining of the end of Janata Government.

 

Resigations

Soon after the departure of Morarj i Desai to England and the US’ on 5 June 1978, Raj Narayan questioned the continuance of Chandra Shekar as President of the Janata Party, since his term of office was expired. On 25 June, criticized the Janata Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, in a public meeting at Simla, Desai asked Raj Narayan to resign from the Cabinet. On 28 June 1978, Charan Singh issued a statement blaming the Government’s failure to arrest Indira Gandhi and described the Government as “a pack of impotent people who cannot govern the country”. Desai asked Charan Singh to resign. As
protest, four Ministers of State, belonging to the BLD, submitted the resignations on the same day, which was followed by more resignations. The  days of Janata Government were numbered.

 

No Confidence Motion, July 1979

On 9 July 1979, the monsoon session of the Parliament commenced. 13
MPs of the Janata Party announced their resignation from the Janata Party in
support of Raj Narayan. Their resignations coincided with the decision of’ the
Congress Party to table a motion of no-confidence against the Desai Ministry
When the debate on the motion was debated on II July, there were 20 more resignations form the Janata Party MPs, mostly from the pro-Chairman Singh followers. On 13 July, Minister H.N .Bahuguna resigned. A couple of days later (15 July) George Fernandes decided to desert the Janata Party and Government On 15 July 1979 Morarji Desai tendered his resignation to the President of lndia After a survival of 2 years, 2 months and 22 days the inglorious Janata Government fell, unwept, unsung and unhonoured.

 

Prime Minister Charan Singh

After consulting the leaders of political parties, President Neelam
Sanjiva Reddy invited Charan Singh to form the government. On 28 July 1971
Charan Singh was sworn in as the Prime Minister with YB.Chavan as the Deput
Prime Minister. The Chavan faction of the Congress (I) and some socialist
were his allies. Charan Singh, an inveterate enemy of Indira Gandhi sought and got her party’s support to his Government from outside! Prime Minister Charan Singh was asked by the President to seek a vote of confidence by the third we”  of August (20 August).

 

The Congress (I) expected Charan Singh to abolish the Special courts  set up to prosecute Indira Gandhi as a gesture of good will. But he did not oblige. On the eve of the Lok Sabha meeting, Congress (I) withdrew its support to Charan Singh. On 20 August 1979, Charan Singh met the President and asked submitted his resignation. The President accepted his resignation and asked to continue till alternate arrangements were made. Charan Singh’s care-take Government issued a number of ordinances, contrary to parliamentary conventions and the Presidential Communique. The Congress (I) demanded  the withdrawal of these Ordinances. On 22 August 1979, President dissolved  Lok Sabha. The Congress ruled the country for 28 years; the Janata Party  aged to survive for 28 months; but the Charan Singh Government tumbled  down in  23 wasted days.

 

Janata Foreign Policy, 1977-79
‘Genuine Non-Alignment’

When the first non-Congress Janata Government came to power in
March 1977, a sea-change in foreign policy was expected. The Janata Party
Manifesto proclaimed the policy of ‘genuine non-alignment’. Both the Janata
Prime Minister Morarji Desai and his Foreign Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
carping critics of Nehru’s foreign policy of non-alignment, were expected to
make course correction and restore balance. They were concerned about the
tilt’ towards the Soviet Union. But once in power, they realized the inevitable
Importance of special relations with the USSR, which was a key supplier of
sophisticated military hardware to India and helped Indian economy and industry
big way. In effect, they followed the foot-steps of Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi in implementing the policy of non-alignment.