India's Evolving Politics

STERN, ROBERT W.

AFTER THE CONGRESS DEFEAT India's Evolving Politics By Robert W. Stern New Delhi On February 21 the voters of Rajkot district in central Saurashtra went to the polls, and like the majority of...

...Two-fifths of the Union ministers were defeated, and a string of Congress bosses led by S. K. Patil of Bombay and Atulya Ghosh of West Bengal lost their seats in Parliament or the Legislative Assemblies...
...A leading spokesman of the Indian Right, Masani is a Parsi from Bombay...
...This time he brought his party with him again...
...In Ganoj, an ancient walled village, the candidate was greeted by the former ruler, garlanded, and his procession through the streets was accompanied by the beating of drums and the wailing of shanais...
...One thing seems certain, though: The days of Congress hegemony are over...
...Everyone laughed...
...Outside of their main areas of concentration, the major opposition partiesówith the exception of the Dravida Mun-netra Kazhagam (dmk) which is wholly confined to Madrasóhave alliances and patches of strength elsewhere...
...Yet there are limits...
...smaller towns and villages where its workers and factions control most of the panchayats (local councils...
...His campaign headquarters was a beehive of activity and at every key position there was a young man from Bombay...
...Rumor had it that an ex-Congress man who was running for Parliament as an independent candidate was getting money from the Communists and perhaps from the Soviet consulate in Bombay...
...Nor is there any reason for them to be...
...The regionalization of Indian politics would pose an obvious threat to Indian unity if it were complete...
...One was told that the Jana Sangh party, with which the Swatantra was supposedly allied, was not really working for Masani...
...But in the constituencies where it is active, like every other opposition party Left and Right, it collects its votes both from those over whom it exerts some influence and from those who are dissatisfied with government policies or have some bone to pick with the local Congress...
...indeed, over the years its organizational strength has devolved from the Center to the States...
...The problems are vast, and the old Congress approaches were clearly not always too successful...
...Congress won the Parliamentary seat in Rajkot with a considerably smaller majority than in 1957, and lost one-third of the contests for the Legislative Assembly...
...Masani was suspected of getting moral assistance and perhaps money from the United States...
...The necessity to compete may help to revitalize Congress...
...Once again, the search for a nationwide pattern, even of righteous indignation or rebellion against the old faces, is likely to prove fruitless...
...Opposition alliances have been so crucial in defeating Congress candidates, and opposition coalitions are so clearly the only alternative to Congress rule, that there is likely to be a further and perhaps a more ideologically meaningful coalescence of these forces in the future...
...But the darling of the Left, Krishna Menon, was also defeated...
...Virtually every town of any size was the seat of a maharaja...
...But in the third general elections in 1962 the walls began to crack...
...At the press conference one of the reporters prefaced his question about Sanjivayya's plans for the future with, "If you are elected...
...The party's ideological appeal is primarily to the relatively well-to-do...
...Sanjivayya's defeat was neither the most significant nor the most surprising...
...The Swatantra party depends heavily for its sustenance on businessmen, who complain about government intervention in their activities, and former princes...
...This may very well be a net gain for democracy and for Congress as well...
...Several people whom I met in Rajkot simply assumed I was there to help Masani...
...It is perhaps a sign of India's growing political maturity, rather than disintegration, that it appears to be breaking away from a tutelary stage of one party dominance...
...In the states its position is generally worse than it was in 1962, but it retained its majorities in half of them...
...The Congress candidate for Parliament last month was Val-labhbhai Patel, former president of the district panchayat and president of the district cooperative bank...
...He asked the farmers, most of them Patels, who were sitting on daris in the dusty town square and listening impassively while the speakers droned on and the flies collected, how many were going to vote for Vallabhbhai merely because he was a Patel and how many were going to vote for him because Congress had done good things for them...
...On the last day of the campaign in Rajkot, the Swatantra candidate in neighboring Jamnagar district took to the campaign trail for Masani...
...There was a great deal of talk about the buying and selling of votes...
...Finally, he reminded them that a vote was dan, a gift to be given and not sold...
...Disappointed that Masani did not descend from the sky as had been expected, people drifted in and out of the meeting...
...Last month a divided Congress once again lost to Masani...
...Yet the election results, a Congress debacle beyond anyone's sober prediction, are probably not amenable to such easy analysis...
...Its roots reach out from Rajkot City to the Robert W. Stern, assistant professor of government at Wells College, is now travelling in India...
...In a sense, Masani's victory was a reflection of the widespread discontent with the Congress party that manifested itself so clearly in this election...
...As his name indicates, Vallabhbhai is not only a man of considerable local standing but also a member of the dominant community in the area, the Patels...
...On closer analysis, however, this general discontent seems more directly related to regional issues, alignments and personalities, and to the strength of local Congress parties and the alternatives to them...
...What the Swatantra lacked in local standing it attempted to make up in superior resources...
...His first stop was Upleta, one of Rajkot's larger towns...
...In addition to allegations of bribery there was an active underground campaign...
...The Congress old guard were reportedly sabotaging Vallabhbhai's campaign...
...It would be a mistake, therefore, to write Congress' epitaph, particularly since in the past it has demonstrated an ability to recoup some of its losses and it has more than an adequate base to do so again...
...Increasingly, Congress itself is falling into this pattern...
...While its Parliamentary majority has been cut by about 75 per cent, it is still in command...
...Congress President Kamaraj was defeated in his home constituency by a 28-year-old newcomer to politics...
...This is its ace in the hole against Masani...
...The Congress candidate from a neighboring district said that his opponent, a Swatantra-supported maharaja, was offering a bicycle to any woman who could produce 50 votes...
...The dmk for a number of years demanded a separate "Dravidisthan," but it renounced this shortly after the Sino-lndian conflict in 1962, and now as the ruling party in Madras it has taken pains to assure the Center that it has no intention of reviving a secessionist movement...
...From Upleta he went to three villages...
...In Kerala and West Bengal the Communists led victorious coalitions, but in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa the Rightist Jana Sangh and Swatantra scored heavily...
...This last allegation was taken seriously...
...He shook hands with a few and nodded to others...
...One of the election's victims was D. Sanjivayya, former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and Congress President, who was Union Minister of Industry at the time of his defeat...
...And Masani's campaign manager told me in no uncertain terms that "it would not be politically wise" for me to travel with his candidate...
...It had more jeeps, more loudspeakers, more "literature," more paid staff, and the piece de resistance, a helicopter...
...They rose respectfully and made their namastes as he breezed past them...
...What appears to be crystallizing in its place is a multi-party system composed of groups concentrated in particular regions...
...Indian federalism provides a structure in which there can be experimentation with different approaches to different problems...
...Nevertheless, Congress leads all other parties in choosing candidates with what is euphemistically called a "social base" in their constituencies...
...In any event, for the next five years Congress will be strong enough to provide the Indian system with some stability and continuity as it moves from one stage of development to the next...
...It may...
...To be sure, there is a great deal of unhappiness with high prices and shortages, with the inability of Congress to satisfy the growing aspirations of some sectors of society and the minimal needs of others, with the endemic squabbling for power inside the organization, and the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance accompanying the assumption that come what may Congress would win...
...The chief ministers of Madras, Bihar, West Bengal and Punjab were defeated, and in these states and others ministers by the dozens were unseated...
...In two or three states where Congress is the largest party in the Legislative Assembly and the majority of seats are divided among a number of independent and rival opposition groups, there is a good chance that Congress will be back in power before the next general election...
...He brought the Swatantra party with him to Rajkot in 1963, and left very little of it behind after his victory...
...So were other leading Congress critics like Acharya Kripalani and H. V. Kamath, while Congress stalwarts like Morarji Desai and N. Sanjiva Reddi were returned to Parliament...
...To a man they raised their hands to indicate the latter alternative...
...In a 1963 by-election it lost the Parliamentary seat to Minoo R. Masani, a leader of the Swatantra party...
...In three of these towns in Rajkot district the Swatantra candidate for the Legislative Assembly this year was a former prince...
...Smiling and alert, a politician who had made it to the top, Sanjivayya exuded confidence and power...
...At an election meeting in Lod-hika, a town of about 2,500, a minister from Gujarat ridiculed an article in a Bombay newspaper which reported that Vallabhbhai's community was perhaps his chief asset...
...The villagers had been waiting for hours, and the tempo quickened...
...Downfall of the Mighty Chiefs" gloated the Left-wing daily Patriot...
...The Minister interrupted him and with mock offense repeated the preface, "// I am elected...
...What do you mean, // I am elected...
...But it is not...
...Shocked at the loss, Congress conducted an investigation and concluded that organizational weakness and local factionalism were the primary causes for its defeat...
...In Madras, for example, one of the best Congress parties and governments was badly beaten, while in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh the Congress scored impressive victories...
...Hours before he arrived the corridors of the government guest house were choked with petitioners, favor-seekers, hangers-on, and newspapermen...
...In the other villages he spoke from under the canopies set up for him...
...Addressing his audiences like a schoolmaster, he warned that Congress believes in Socialism and that Socialism means state ownership of land, their land, as well as the end of religion...
...All the propaganda against "casteism" and "communalism" has undermined the respectability of appeals to caste and community for public occasions such as this...
...The same groups which controlled Congress before the election are more than likely to retain control, and the capacity of even the best central leadership to discipline and direct the myriad entrenched and competing local factions is limited...
...In December Sanjivayya held a press conference in Hyderabad...
...In Saurashtra before 1948 there were 222 princely states...
...This does not mean that a dmk government will be the same as the Congress government, any more than the Communist government in Kerala or the Swatantra-Jana Congress government in Orissa will be the same as the governments they replaced...
...AFTER THE CONGRESS DEFEAT India's Evolving Politics By Robert W. Stern New Delhi On February 21 the voters of Rajkot district in central Saurashtra went to the polls, and like the majority of their countrymen they rejected the Congress party that had been all-powerful in the days of Jawaharlal Nehru...
...But in Kerala and Madras where the opposition ministries will be reasonably secure, and in Gujarat where a two-party system is coming into existence, Congress will have to live with opposition...
...Moreover, in the eight states where it did not secure a majority, it emerged from the elections as the largest single party in terms of seats won or votes polled or both...
...Masani, it was said, cats beef...
...Where does this leave the Congress party...
...At one time Saurashtra was a Congress citadel...
...Although the opposition parties generally advocate greater autonomy for the states, this advocacy should also be read in the context of Congress' once apparently unchallengeable hold on the Center government...
...The Party has indeed been in Rajkot long enough to have become entrenched and divided...
...Masani's campaign manager predicted that on election eve Congress workers would distribute rupee notes concealed in matchboxes...

Vol. 50 • March 1967 • No. 6


 
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