India - Political Developments

Party Prime Minister
1947 1964 Congress Jawaharlal Nehru
1964 1966 Congress Lal Bahadur Shastri
1966 1977 Congress Indira Gandhi
1977 1979 Janata Morarji Desai
1979 1980 Janata Charan Singh
1980 1984 Congress Indira Gandhi
1984 1989 Congress Rajiv Gandhi
1989 1990 Janata Dal V.P. Singh
1990 1991 Janata Dal Chandra Shekhar
1991 1996 Congress P.V. Narasimha Rao
1996 1996 Bharatiya Janata Atal Bihari Vajpayee
1996 1997 Janata Dal H.D. Deve Gowda
1996 1997 Janata Dal Inder Kumar Gujral
1997 2004 Bharatiya Janata Atal Bihari Vajpayee
2004 2014 Congress Manmohan Singh
2014 2019 Bharatiya Janata Narendra 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.

2017 Local Elections

India held a series of state elections that would test the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the wake of a controversial currency ban that he has pitched as a major step to battle corruption, but which led to huge cash shortages in the country. The polls in five states - Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa - will start 04 February 2017 and be staggered over more than a month. Results from all the elections will be declared on March 11.

Announcing the polls, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said that “over 160 million voters will take part in these polls, that is the size of this exercise." Being held halfway through the prime minister's term, the polls will decide whether his sudden move to scrap 86 percent of the currency is endorsed by voters or whether it alienated millions of poor people who were the worst hit by the cash shortages that have still not eased. The most crucial for Modi is the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous region that his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to wrest from a regional party.

Millions of Indians began voting on 04 February 2017 in assembly election in Punjab and Goa seen as the first major test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi+ after his government's move to ban all high-value notes last year. Both the states headed towards a high voter turnout - till 3 pm, 55% of the electorate had cast their vote in Punjab while Goa registered a voter turnout of 67%. While the five state elections will not decide whether Modi remains in office, a loss would be seen as a serious blow to his political image.

Modi needed to win state elections to gain more seats in the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament, which had blocked reforms seen as crucial to fuelling the economic growth it has promised voters. Most members of the Rajya Sabha are indirectly elected by state. The state elections+ are also significant for their power to help elect a new President. The current President is Pranab Mukherjee, a Congress stalwart whose term ended in July 2017. Presidents are elected by a combination of national and state lawmakers. For Modi to bring in his own president, he needed to win Uttar Pradesh and at least one other state legislatures.

The results of five state Assembly elections announced on 11 March 2017 highlighted three important political trends. WIth Prime Minister Narendra Modi towering over all his political rivals, India could well be entering into an era of Bharatiya Janata Party dominance. Two, the Congress survived – but only just barely. Winning Punjab, the Congress has ensured it had not lost its status of being the first among equals in the Opposition. Three, the Aam Aadmi Party’s national ambitions were undermined. The AAP had attempted to create a national narrative for itself in the hope of springing a surprise in Punjab, but this did not happen.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party won a landslide victory in the politically crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The results in the remaining four states, which are smaller and of less political significance, were a mix. The BJP ousted the main opposition Congress Party in another northern state, Uttarakhand, but lost power in Punjab, where the Congress party got a convincing victory. The Congress Party also emerged ahead of the BJP in two other states, Manipur and Goa, although it fell short of a majority.

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