March 24, 2017 – Celebrate India’s Ruby (Fortieth) Anniversary of Born-Again Democracy

This blog was posted on March 23, 2017 in the U.S. However it was already, March 24, 2017 in India.

morarji swearing in

In school, to figure out if we could make connections, we used to be asked to match items in Column I with those in Column II. I am feeling nostalgic today and have made a quiz appropriate for today – the fortieth anniversary of the first non-Congress government assuming office in India.

Hopefully you will have fun matching the names in Column I to the appropriate ones in Column II.  Write down your answers and compare them to the correct answers at the end of this blog. (For those of you wondering how the matching works – if you think Shanti Bhushan (2 in Column I) matches with Sushma Swaraj (a in Column II) match as ‘2a’. Give yourselves a few bonus points if you can guess what the connection is between those in Column I and Column II.

Column I

Column II

1. Jagjivan Ram

a. Sushma Swaraj
2. Shanti Bhushan

b. Rajnath Singh

3. Atal Behai Vajpayee

c. Jagat Prakash Nadda

4. George Fernandez

d. Arun jaitley

5. Charan Singh

e. Suresh Prabhu

6. Madhu Dandavate

f. Arun Jaitley
7. Morarji Desai

g. Narendra Modi

8. Raj Narain – Health

h. Ananth Geete
9. Lal Krishna Advani

i. Venkaiah Naidu

10. Haribhai M. Patel

j. Ravi Shankar Prasad

Column I is a list of folks who were in the Morarji Desai Cabinet from 1977. Column II is a list of folks in the present Narendra Modi Cabinet. It is a coincidence that both these Prime Ministers are from the state of Gujarat. March 24, 1977 was the day the Morarji cabinet was sworn in. Today we have much to celebrate.

As we think about the present state of Indian democracy, today seems an appropriate day to reflect on what might have been. As we ponder whether the goings on in Delhi and Lucknow are manifestations of the promise of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, or attempts at a dangerous saffronization of a vibrant multi-communal society, let us be thankful that Indian democracy survived a dangerous assault. Put simply, all hues across the political spectrum have something to celebrate today.

For reasons no one has explained reasonably, on January 18, 1977 Mrs. Gandhi called an election during the Emergency that she had clamped on June 26, 1975. Those twenty-one months from June ’75 to March ’77 were dark days. If people are wondering how dark, dig more into the Rajan Case, or the case of Snehalatha Reddy, or the Turkman Gate Tragedy, or …

The outcome of the elections which were held from March 18- March 20, 1977 resulted in Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress Party losing to a coalition of parties who united to form the Janata Party. However look at the Election Commission of India’s Statistical Report on the election results (Vol. I click here, and, Vol II click here) and you will not find a Janata Party having contested. So little was the time to get organized, but so urgent was the need for unity against Mrs. Gandhi that they fought under the party banner of the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD). And today’s BJP was then more or less the Jan Sangh, and was an important part of the Janata coalition.

And what an amazing victory the coalition won. I still remember staying up late into the night of March 21, early morning of March 22 to hear the BBC’s Mark Tully report that Mrs. Gandhi had lost to Raj Narain from Rae Bareilly. All India Radio (AIR), the only domestic source of news in Bangalore that day had still not announced the political earthquake that was underway. I remember going to the newsstand across the park in Wilson Gardens to pick up a copy of the Deccan Herald, The Hindu, and the Indian Express. Even as a 12 year old, the significance of what happened in those elections was not lost on me. I was elated and can still taste that sense of joy.

And on March 24, 1977 Morarji Desai was administered the oath of office as India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister. And if you enjoyed seeing Morarji take the oath, then it is well worth seeing the Jagjivan Babu and Raj Narain – debatably the two folks who could take greatest credit for Mrs. Gandhi’s defeat and downfall – taking their oaths as they became Cabinet members on that day. It was all so simple, simply amazing.

The coalition that dislodged Mrs. Gandhi and ended the horror called the Emergency, did not last long as a government, or a party. In an irony which only Indian politics can create, Charan Singh who was the undisputed leader of the original Bharatiya Lok Dal (the banner under which the Janata folks fought the election) withdrew support to the Morarji Desai government, and with the support of Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress Party (I kid you not) formed a government, which never faced parliament and paved the way for an election which saw Mrs. Gandhi return to power.

Its short life notwithstanding, the first non-Congress government which was sworn in on that March 24th, forty years ago had done its work – stop Mrs. Gandhi and end the Emergency. And simultaneously break the Congress monopoly on power at the center. So whatever you think of the present political configurations in Delhi, remember things could be worse. You could have still been under the Emergency, if Mrs. Gandhi had not called that election!

 Answers to Quiz (in brackets are the ministries that the individuals were/are in charge of).

1 d/f (Defense) ; 2 j (Law); 3a (External Affairs); 4h (Industry); 5b (Home); 6e (Railways); 7g (Prime Minister); 8c (Health); 9i (Information and Broadcasting); 10d/f (Finance)