Last week, I posted “My View of India’s General Elections” and covered the period 1951 to 1977. The objective was to share thoughts of major events that took place at the time of the General Elections. 1951 was a natural year to start since I happened to be born in this year and the First General Elections took place then. In the last post, I had mentioned the Emergency declared by Mrs Indira Gandhi and the next General Election that followed in 1977 had predictable results. Seething under the aftereffects of the Emergency, a phenomenon they had never encountered before (and hopefully will never see again) India’s electorate handed her a decisive defeat. As a consequence, we saw another first, a non-Congress Government at the Centre. This one was headed by Morarji Desai after his Janta Party won 345 Lok Sabha seats while the Congress got just 189. This was too good to last. A lack of cohesion amongst the leaders led to the parties opposing the Congress falling apart permitting Mrs Gandhi to be swept back to power in 1980.
The 1984 Elections were held in December that year and the results were totally predictable following Mrs Gandhi’s assassination that year. The Congress Party got as many as 416 seats in the Lok Sabha largely due to the sympathy wave that ensued. This despite the horrendous massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, shortly after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, allegedly at the behest of some senior Congress leaders. This also marked the beginning of the Nehru-Gandhi hold on Indian politics. I say so because while Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru before her had credentials for the top job, the same could not be said about her son, Rajiv Gandhi who became the next Prime Minister. He had, until then, no experience in politics or government as he was flying commercial aircraft for the State owned Indian Airlines. There were other Congressmen who were more experienced and qualified than him but he was Indira Gandhi’s eldest son, and that settled it.
For the first time ever, we saw after the 1989 General Elections a minority government under V P Singh which was supported by others from the outside. This heralded a new chapter in India’s politics. Again in 1991, we had another minority government this time led by the Congress under P V Narasimha Rao which managed to last its full term of five years. The era when parties won elections on their own were clearly over.
By now, we had a plethora of political parties with regional parties emerging as powerful spheres of influence when it came to the forming of a Government. In the task of cobbling together a Government, these parties had influence far in excess of the number of seats they had in Parliament. The 1990s also saw issues like the Mandal and the Mandir grab centre stage. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991 predictably swept back the Congress to power (just as it had happened after his mother’s assassination in 1984.)
Economic liberalisation became the hall mark of the changing times and India, at long last, emerged as a growing economy unshackled from the socialist Nehruvian policies. Certainly some of the credit for this must go to Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister at that time. Despite the economic progress, on the political front we had perhaps the worst period since Independence having to suffer the sight of the country being ruled by three Governments in two years. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Government lasted only for 13 days, then came a coalition under Deve Gowda which limped on for 18 months, followed by another mish mash of parties under I K Gujral.
The uncertainty ended, than God, in 1998 when the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP ) emerged as the single largest party and a Governement was formed under Mr. Vajpayee. However, it was too good to be true as a year later this Governement fell when the Anna DMK withdrew support. General Elections were held again in 1999. This time the National Demacratic Frony (NDA) which was the BJP and its allies won 269 seats and formed a Government supported by the Telugu Desam from the outside. This Governement ran its full course of five years. Coalition politics had come to stay, as evidenced by Vajpayee having more than 20 political parties in his coalition at one stage.
In 2004, the Congress and its allies, collectively called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came back into power. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was the unanimous choice to be the Prime Minister but she chose to stay as the President of the Congress Party and the head of the UPA. She selected the quiet spoken non-politician Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minister. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won the next elections in 2009 paving the way for Manmohan Singh to continue in office as the incumbent Prime Minister though questions were now being asked about his competence.
As I write this, the dates for the 2014 General Elections have been announced. The country will go to the polls in April-May and we shall have to wait till May 16, 2014 to know who will form the next Government.