Janata Party: India’s First Non-Congress Government
The March 1977 elections were a watershed in Independent India. It was the first time a non-Congress government was in charge. The Janata Party had won the people’s mandate, ending Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule. But the victory was short-lived.
The Janata Party was formed in 1977 when politicians from Opposition parties came together under Jayaprakash Narayan, or ‘JP', a veteran socialist leader. It was established with the merger of the Congress (O), Bharatiya Lok Dal, Jana Sangh and the Congress For Democracy.
Morarji Desai was appointed Prime Minister by the Janata Party, which wanted to punish Indira for the Emergency and the excesses that accompanied it. But Home Minister Charan Singh’s intention to set up special courts to try her were shot down by Morarji.
Charan Singh’s attempt to get Indira arrested failed when charges against her didn’t hold up in court. Morarji wasn’t pleased with his Home Minister's witch-hunt and their public differences led to Charan Singh and Raj Narain being told to quit the government.
Singh hit back by accusing Morarji’s son Kanti Desai, a businessman, of corruption and embarrassing the government. Class and caste conflicts, atrocities against Dalits and communal riots broke out, and this eroded people’s faith in the government.
This was followed by deep rifts inside the Janata Party and irreconcilable differences, which led to a split in the party and the government’s eventual collapse. Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister in July 1979.
JP helplessly watched the party he helped create fell apart. Battling chronic kidney failure, he died a sad and dejected man less than three months later. The constituents that made up the Janata Party went their separate ways and Morarji Desai retired from politics.
Indira Gandhi made a stunning comeback in the January 1980 elections. However, the Congress would never enjoy the absolute dominance it had for 30 long years before the Janata Party government.
The Janata Party’s rise was meteoric and its fall was spectacular. But it did leave a lasting impact on India’s political landscape.
Cover Image: Indian Express
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