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India - Political Developments

PartyPrime Minister
19471964CongressJawaharlal Nehru
19641966CongressLal Bahadur Shastri
19661977CongressIndira Gandhi
19771979JanataMorarji Desai
19791980JanataCharan Singh
19801984CongressIndira Gandhi
19841989CongressRajiv Gandhi
19891990Janata DalV.P. Singh
19901991Janata DalChandra Shekhar
19911996CongressP.V. Narasimha Rao
19961996Bharatiya JanataAtal Bihari Vajpayee
19961997Janata DalH.D. Deve Gowda
19961997Janata DalInder Kumar Gujral
19972004Bharatiya JanataAtal Bihari Vajpayee
20042014CongressManmohan Singh
2014202?Bharatiya JanataNarendra Modi

As for democracy as practiced in India, Arundhati Roy said: 'While there is some amount of democracy in India there has not been a single day since independence when the state has not deployed the armed forces to quash insurgencies within its boundaries. The numbers of people who have been killed and tortured are incredible. It is a state which is continuously at war with its own people. If you look what is happening in places like Chhattisgarh and Odisha it will be an insult to call it a democracy'.

Ms Roy further believes 'that elections have become a massive corporate project and the media is owned and operated by the same corporations too'. She opines that "some amount of democracy in India is reserved for its middle classes alone and through thatthey are co-opted by the state and become loyal consumers of the state narrative'.

After independence, the Indian National Congress, the party of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the leadership first of Nehru and then his daughter (Indira Gandhi) and grandson (Rajiv Gandhi), with the exception of brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s, during a short period in 1996, and the period from 1998-2004, when a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party governed.

Prime Minister Nehru governed the nation until his death in 1964. Nehru was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who also died in office. In 1966, power passed to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. In 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems, Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in 1977, only to be defeated by Morarji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, an amalgam of five opposition parties.

In 1979, Desai's Government crumbled. Charan Singh formed an interim government, which was followed by Mrs. Gandhi's return to power in January 1980. On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated, and her son, Rajiv, was chosen by the Congress (I)--for "Indira"--Party to take her place. His Congress government was plagued with allegations of corruption resulting in an early call for national elections in 1989.

Although Rajiv Gandhi's Congress Party won more seats than any other single party in the 1989 elections, he was unable to form a government with a clear majority. The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, then joined with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the Communists on the left to form the government. This loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and the Janata Dal, supported by the Congress (I), came to power for a short period, with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in June 1991.

While campaigning in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 27, 1991, apparently by Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka, unhappy with India's armed intervention to try to stop the civil war there. In the elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and returned to power at the head of a coalition, under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalization and reform, which opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic politics also took new shape, as the nationalist appeal of the Congress Party gave way to traditional caste, creed, and ethnic alignments, leading to the founding of a plethora of small, regionally based political parties.

The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 were marred by several major corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history. The Hindu-nationalist BJP emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without a parliamentary majority. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the subsequent BJP coalition lasted only 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal formed a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government collapsed after less than a year, when the Congress Party withdrew its support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister at the head of a 16-party United Front coalition.

In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support from the United Front. In new elections in February 1998, the BJP won the largest number of seats in Parliament--182--but fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President approved a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, spurring U.S. President Bill Clinton to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.

Political parties in India are exempt from scrutiny of their past foreign fundings. They can receive political donations from Indians living abroad as well as foreign companies with subsidiaries in India. A controversial amendment to a law on foreign donations, with retrospective effect, was rushed through parliament by the government in March 2018 without any debate.

The key amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, which in its previous version banned political parties from receiving foreign funding, drew criticism from activists. India's two main political parties - the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress Party - were found guilty of breaking the law by a Delhi court in 2014. In its ruling, the court had said that the two parties accepted funds from companies owned by London-listed mining group Vedanta Resources between 2004 and 2012.

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Page last modified: 17-12-2020 20:09:51 ZULU