Challenges to and Restoration of the Congress System

The party system acts as a catalyst for the growth and stability of a democratic polity. Congress has been like an umbrella organization—having people of all shades under its huge cover. Its heterogeneous character is a legacy of the role played by it during the freedom struggle under the charismatic leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Congress dominated in the first three general elections. After Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister for a brief period of 1964 to 1966. After the death of Shastri, Indira Gandhi defeated Morarji Desai by securing the support of more than two thirds of party MPs. Political observers described the results of 1967 general elections as ‘Political Earthquake’. Congress managed to get the lowest tally of seats and share of votes since 1952. The 1960s decade was fraught with grave economic crisis resulting from successive failure of monsoons, widespread drought, Decline in agricultural production, serious food shortage, Depletion of foreign exchange resources, drop in industrial production and exports, sharp rise in military expenditure, etc. In Fourth general elections of 1967, Half of the Indira Gandhi’s ministers were defeated. Congress lost its seats in 9 states. The active role of opposition parties led to anti-Congress fronts, which in turn led to Coalition government. Ideological differences were merged to fight against Congress. Defection means an elected representative leaves the party on whose symbol he/she was elected and joins another party. After the 1967 general election, the breakaway congress legislators played an important role in installing non-congress governments in three states. Real challenge to Indira Gandhi came from within her own party by a group called ‘Syndicate’. After President Zakir Hussain’s death, Indira Gandhi instead of opting for Syndicate’s Sanjeeva Reddy as his successor supported V. V. Giri’s candidature, whose victory eventually led to a split in the Congress in 1969. Congress was divided into Indira Gandhi headed Congress(R) and Kamraj headed Congress (O). Indira Gandhi started series of initiatives like Ten Point and Garibi Hatao programme. Major non-communist, non-congress opposition parties formed Grand Alliance. Grand Alliance had a common objective of ‘Indira Hatao’. Weak oppositional forces and Garibi Hatao programme led to the restoration of Congress. Syndicate is a group of powerful and influential leaders within the Congress party.

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