Does Modi’s victory mean an end to Congress Party?
By: Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
AFTER the landslide victory scored by the nationalist opposition party —the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — in the general elections, the hardcore Hindu politician Narendra Modi is going to swear-in as the new prime minister of India. About 540 million Indian voters out of a total of more than 800 million had cast their ballots in the five-week long marathon parliament elections that were described as the world’s biggest democratic exercise. The resounding victory of Modi brought an end to the rule of the Indian National Congress, which had been in power for a long period of time since the country’s independence except for a period of about 10 years. During this period, BJP and some other parties, including Janata party, were in power. With the new election, BJP swept into power, decimating the Congress, which is India’s oldest party that led the country into independence from the British colonial rule.
The loss of Congress party in the elections reminds me of the first poll debacle suffered by the party in 1970s. That time I was in New Delhi as a diplomat and a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. In 1975, Congress leader and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed the State of Emergency and put all opposition leaders behind bars. Later in early 1977, she lifted the State and Emergency and released all the imprisoned political leaders. Gandhi and her party had a humiliating defeat in the general elections that she called in March 1977. In those days, many people believed that it would take a long period of time for Gandhi and the Congress party to regain their popularity and come back to power.
When the State of Emergency was lifted and the new elections was announced, the opposition leaders, who were released from detention, joined together to form a new party called Janata party. The new party defeated Congress to form the first non-Congress government in the history of independent India. The opposition parties united under the guidance of their supremo leader Jayaprakash Narayan, and the Janata party’s senior leaders included Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani.
Jagjivan Ram, a prominent Congress leader from the low-caste Dalit community, also joined the Janata party-led alliance. Ram, a senior member at the Gandhi ministry, left Congress in 1977 when she announced elections and released opposition political leaders from detention. Despite the severe ideological differences among the opposition parties, they came together under the umbrella of Janata party, thanks to the charismatic leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan (popularly referred to as JP or Lok Nayak). After the poll debacle, Gandhi conceded defeat and announced her preparedness to work as a responsible opposition leader outside the parliament.
Desai was the prime minister in the Janata party government in which Charan Singh and Vajpayee held the interior and foreign portfolios respectively. Raj Narain, who defeated Gandhi at Rae Bareli constituency, also became a member of the new Cabinet. The Janata government constituted a judicial commission and opened official investigations into Emergency-era abuses before starting proceedings to try Gandhi for this. Consequently, Gandhi was arrested on charges of corruption, and at the time of arrest the police officials refused her request that she be handcuffed. The media gave wide coverage to the incident with a lot of exaggerations. The arrest and long-running trial, however, gained her great sympathy from many people. She returned to limelight and her popularity soared once again. The public outrage plus protest of party workers forced the authorities to release her from custody within hours after arrest. Gandhi won peoples’ hearts by admitting her Emergency-era mistakes and seeking apology for them.
On the other hand, the Desai government was bogged down by infighting among the Janata party leaders. This resulted in the resignation of Desai government, and Charan Singh became the new prime minister. Those parties, which united to form a single party were successful in defeating Gandhi in the post-Emergency elections. However, later popular disenchantment with their political infighting, ineffective governance, disunity among leaders, and breaking away of Janata party into various factions led to the resurgence of Gandhi and her new Congress (I) party, which won the general elections with a landslide majority.
However, Gandhi could not continue ruling the country for a long period of time. She was assassinated by her own bodyguards. Gandhi was succeeded by her son Rajiv Gandhi, who swept into power in the elections held after the death of his mother.
It is yet to be seen whether the Congress party can come out of the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Hindu nationalist party BJP under the leadership of Modi. Will the party remain in the opposition forever? My assumption is that the party would return to power either in the next elections or definitely in the elections coming after that. First of all, I am sure that the party can win over the hearts of the people once again in the same way Indira Gandhi stormed into power after her humiliating defeat.
Secondly, people always like change and they are not going to see that Modi and his party would be able to fulfill all its promises like putting an end to corruption as well as realizing higher economic growth, addressing problems of youths, and improving the infrastructure facilities in such a big country like India. Similarly, the Congress party will play its role as a constructive opposition. People of the country will remember the history of the party and its great contributions to the nation in the recent and distant past. Moreover, the party’s two leaders are the most famous names in Indian politics.
Finally, I wish for India and its people — with all its factions, followers of different religions and cultures — peace, progress and prosperity under their new leader Narendra Modi, who gave some new positive signals, which are quite different from what was known for him from racism, extremism and hard-line approaches.
It gives some relief and reassurance for the minorities in general and the Muslims in particular when Modi said that he will work to realize the dreams of 1.2 billion Indians. He also emphasized that there is no enemies in a democracy but there is only an opposition. Modi also reiterated that he will turn the people’s love into progress. “Support and development of all is our mantra and they are not hollow words, it is our spirit,” he added.
– Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com