V P Singh: Minority Rules
The 1989 elections saw the formation of the country’s first minority govt led by V P Singh. It also ended the political career of Rajiv Gandhi, who had become Prime Minister with great promise but his inexperience saw him squander the mandate he had received in 1984.
The tide began to turn in 1988, when V P Singh won a Lok Sabha seat as an Independent candidate in a by-election from Allahabad. At the time, Rajiv Gandhi, who was seeking re-election as Prime Minister, was politically vulnerable.
As the 1989 elections approached, Rajiv faced three challenges: V P Singh, who had ruined his ‘Mr Clean’ image; the BJP, which had polarized Hindu voters in its favour; and the rise of regional parties, which had weakened the Congress’s grip on many states.
In late 1988, Opposition parties set up a nation-wide coalition called the ‘National Front’ even as V P Singh established the Janata Dal. It became the nucleus of the anti-Rajiv coalition as Singh had exposed deep-seated corruption and tarnished Rajiv’s reputation.
Due to the rise of the BJP on the Ram Janmabhoomi movement launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the National Front realised it needed the BJP’s support to defeat the Congress. The VHP announced the foundation-stone laying ceremony for a new Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
Then the government controversially allowed the VHP to perform the ceremony in Ayodhya, which further alienated Muslim voters from the Congress. While Rajiv desperately tried to woo Hindu fundamentalists, Singh was compelled to cooperate with the BJP.
He also had to balance the equation between the BJP and the Janata Dal. To secure Muslim and secular votes, Singh’s Janata Dal did not forge an alliance with the BJP. To prevent a split in the anti-Congress vote, the two parties opted for a seat-adjustment understanding.
The elections delivered a hung Parliament. Although the Congress won the largest number of seats, Rajiv decided not to stake a claim to form the government. Singh’s Janata Dal was in second place.
On 2nd December 1989, V P Singh was sworn in as Prime Minister, to lead India’s first-ever minority government. The Left parties and the BJP supported Singh’s government from the outside, without joining it.
Singh's minority government fell on 7th November 1990, after the BJP withdrew support to it. Although it was doomed to fail, Singh’s government brought about the downfall of Rajiv Gandhi.
Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons
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