In the last week of June, the BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Indira Gandhi was best remembered for “the dark days” of Emergency and “authoritarian” rule guided by “lust for power”.
Arun Jaitley went on to liken Indira Gandhi’s rule with Adolf Hitler’s fascist regime of Germany. But, as the Opposition parties aim to form a united front to defeat the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, PM Modi may learn a trick or two from Indira Gandhi’s electoral victory in 1971 against a coalition of rival political forces.
Almost 50 years apart, the two elections seem to have striking similarities in their political equations. The Congress had fought its first general elections without Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1967. The BJP fought 2014 elections under a new leadership – of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah – pushing stalwarts like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in the backdrop. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not even in the picture for the first time.
The Congress suffered losses at many places, considered its bastion till date. But it still won 283 of 520 seats in 1967. The BJP won almost the same number of seats (282) in 2014. Though, it was termed a brute majority on the back of Modi wave this time. The BJP’s forerunner, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) won 35 and Swatantra Party got 44, the exact number of seats that the Congress won in 2014.
After sweet victories in the Lok Sabha elections, both Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi had to face opposition from within the party. Indira Gandhi’s opponents – N Saneeva Reddy, Nijlingappa, K Kamraj, Morarji Desai and others – split the party and formed Congress (O). India Gandhi became the leader of Congress (R). Modi has been severely criticised by leaders of Margdarshak Mandal (a group of leaders forced into political retirement). Advani, Joshi, and particularly Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha (no longer with the BJP) have been the fiercest critics of the Modi government.
Like Indira Gandhi, Modi responded with populist measures. Indira Gandhi struck at Privy Purse of the princely houses and launched garibi hatao programme. Modi brought a series of laws to strike at black money (a huge factor in 2014 win) and aimed for benefitting the masses with his schemes to provide LPG to all, power to all, homes for all and the like. Modi’s oft-repeated chant in public speeches is “remove poverty”.
By the mid-term of Indira Gandhi’s government, the Opposition parties had started uniting against her. The Congress (O) leaders proposed a National Democratic Front (NDF), which also included the BJS, Swatantra Party and the socialists at state level. Modi is facing a similar challenge from the Opposition parties.
The NDF’s formula was simple – One Seat One Candidate – so that Indira Gandhi’s Congress could be given the toughest fight. Now in Opposition, the Congress is aiming for a similar kind of political arrangement with other parties. The Opposition bloc has already tasted success on trial basis in the bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP won overwhelming majority of seats in both the Lok Sabha elections and later the Assembly polls. But a united Opposition pinned the ruling party down onto the mat.
Back then Indira Gandhi had countered a united Opposition by entering into alliances with the CPI and the DMK. Her party was also helped by conflicting aspirations of the Opposition parties. For example, the Congress (O) left only four seats to Swatantra Party in Gujarat and none for the BJS and the Socialist Party. The last two went for a friendly fight. Similarly, the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments in states like Madhya Pradesh had not done well and faced anti-incumbency.
The BJP of Narendra Modi faces a similar situation where regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav and K Chandrasekhar Rao have their own aspirations and launched parallel efforts, almost to the tune of keeping the Congress on the margins.
Another similarity lies in the nature of electoral contests – personality centric. If Indira Gandhi was the glue to unite the Opposition parties for 1971 elections, Narendra Modi has emerged as the adhesive to keep the rivals together. Remove Indira was the electoral cry of the day in 1971. Remove Modi is the call that every Opposition party shouts today.
Indira Gandhi with her high-energy and charismatic campaign turned the tide in her favour as no Opposition leader had her kind of winnability in a presidential type election. Modi might expect to thrive on the same TINA (there is no alternative) factor in 2019. Like Indira Gandhi, Modi is also a master of turning election issues into a battle of personalities.
For record, Indira Gandhi’s Congress (R) won bigger majority than 1967 securing 352 of 518 seats while the alliance got 396 seats. The united Opposition could pocket only 49 seats against 150 last elections.
News credit : Indiatoday