It was sometime in 2012 / 2013, Prime Minister Narendra Modi heralded a nationwide call to oust Italian-headed Congress Party from nation’s politics forever, then in the capacity of Chief Minister of Gujarat. This clarion call rather national mission of ‘Congress-Mukta Bharata’ added an altogether newer dimension to national psyche and it pervaded rapidly across all sections of society. It was then that proposed ‘Demographic dividend’ gradually turned active on multiple platforms including social media under his guidance. Finally, when results of Lok Sabha-2014 were declared, world was stunned as the first hurdle being the most difficult one to negotiate successfully, was decisively surmounted while Congress discovered themselves unable to scramble enough number of seats to be eligible to occupy face-saving position of the Leader Of Opposition in Lower House. First major milestone on the highway leading to Congress-Mukta Bharata was already passed by. After an outstanding track record of governance (2014-19), Modi Government was re-mandated by crores of Bharatiya-s to continue with the ongoing socio-economic upliftment and steer the nation to far greater heights. Re-mandate obliterated all doubts of Lok Sabha-2014 victory being a volcanic eruption of popular mood devoid of undercurrents of serene majority. It is not only re-affirmation of continuance but also re-confirmation of Mandate-2014.
These developments gripped me with the inquisitiveness – Did we ever have an opportunity to attain Congress Dynasty-Mukta Bharata in past post-1947?! After rummaging through reminiscences of past, I had an inkling, probably country was on verge of much-awaited, historic emancipation during the decade of 1960s. Let us scrutinise trail of events that could have resulted into second independence of the country, the genuine one.
Swatantra Party, founded in 1957 by great stalwarts like C Rajgopalachari, KM Munshi, NG Ranga, T Prakasham, Minoo Masani, Piloo Mody and other conscientious Congressmen vehemently opposing disastrous socialistic policies and Licence-Parmit Raj of Prime Minister JL Nehru, was rising steadily on ground as well as in nation’s psyche. With Nehruvian Socialism being an anathema to Princes with tax-exempted Privy Purses and Zamindars holding large swathes of land across the country resisting land reforms with all their might, they were spontaneously driven to the Party. Industrialists with heavy purses aspiring to grow exponentially after burn-out of stifling MRTP Act / Licence-Permit Raj too, were attracted to Swatantra Party and their socio-economic liberalism. This membership profile of the Party led to an unenvious scenario of JL Nehru lampooning Swatantra Party being a group of ‘middle ages of lords, castles and Zamindars’ !!
In third Lok Sabha-1962 elections, Swatantra Party scored 18 with 6.8% vote share, after 351 of Congress and 29 of CPI. It was quite an encouraging beginning given the kind of hold Nehru’s Congress enjoyed over the electorate while Princes were winning elections even without campaigning. After an excruciating round of natural calamities followed by traumatic Nehruvian-Debacle of 1962 (not nation but Nehru was defeated in 1962), nation held fourth Lok Sabha-1967 elections with anti-incumbency weighing heavily. In this national elections, Swatantra Party scored highest tally of 44 seats with 8.7% vote share after 283 of Congress. It was their second foray into national elections and came out of it as a powerful opposition to reckon with. Electorate began looking at them expectantly to evolve into a resolute alternative to devious Congress Party dominated by the dynasty. Opposition were going very well so much so that in States like UP, MP, Bihar etc., Congress Governments were booted out through defections and Samyukta Vidhayak Dal Governments were sworn in. Congress hegemony appeared to be on the verge of irreversible demise as defection of mere 22 MPs could have caused downfall of Congress Government led by Indira Gandhi and Chinese whispers could be distinctly heard in corridors of power. Or even in normal course otherwise, Swatantra Party could have secured simple majority in the Lower House in subsequent elections. Founders of Swatantra Party were modern visionaries and they might have transformed the nation into a vibrant economy by 1970s only if the electorate had understood and supported them.
It was in 1966 that Prime Minister LB Shastri was unexpectedly poisoned, killed in Tashkent and Indira Gandhi grabbed power in a well-conceived conspiracy to succeed him in an atmosphere of worries and more worries for the nation. Indira Gandhi’s notorious lust for power and pelf was now her top-notch priority and she devoted all her faculties in destroying entire opposition. ‘Garibi Hatao’ was her first scio-economic weapon to combat with Swatantra Party standing on shoulders of Privy-Purse privileged Princes and ‘tax-evading unscrupulous’ business houses. She knew very well that there was nothing more powerful political tool to win hearts and minds of abjectly pauperised, emaciated to their bones masses in the country even if that was not destined to benefit them even a bit banking upon a soupcon of schadenfreude in their bosom. She abolished Privy-Purses and slapped heavy taxes upon them literally amounting to snatching away their entire wealth compelling many of them to flee the country in a bid to minimise tax-impact. The reprehensible tax-terrorism was raised to despotic peak level of 97.75% and to rub salt into wounds of business houses, she garnished it with 3.5% of wealth tax !! Nationalisation of Public Sector Banks was already in place to seal all escape routes from the misery of financial strangulation and agony of being crippled. Takeover of coal, insurance, mining industries etc. forced business houses to crawl before them when they were supposed to proffer viable policy inputs for the nation to transform into an economic power. It was tax-terrorism that destroyed Swatantra Party, almost on the verge of successfully challenging vicious hegemony of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It was thus tax-terrorism that did not allow a fledgling opposition party to come strong on a national scale to strengthen our democracy for the first time in nation’s post-1947 history.
Soon thereafter dreaded Emergency-1975 was imposed by Indira Gandhi to cling to power after her election to Lok Sabha was declared null and void by Allahabad High Court. Under extreme duress, opposition leaders did unite to successfully challenge a criminalised Government of Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai was installed as Prime Minister. Unfortunately the coalition under duress didn’t work out neatly and they fell apart due to internecine battles driven by egoism and ambitions. Out of sheer frustration and anger as well as absence of an alternative, people voted Indira Gandhi back to power. By that time Swatantra Party was too emaciated to stand up to the clarion call of history or even be remembered eventually, once upon a time they were a serious contender of power in South Block.
Indira Gandhi, a serial destroyer, registered a grievous blow to nation’s democracy by destroying opposition altogether.