Rarely has a country experienced so curious and kaleidoscopic a set of political changes as India since 1975. No one is very surprised when a developing nation turns authoritarian. The complexity of modernization itself seems sufficient explanation, if not justification. But a developing country whose authoritarian ruler reveals herself to be genuinely ambivalent about liberal and authoritarian strategies - who chooses to legitimize her position through an honest election and accepts her ensuing defeat with grace - deserves our attention.

When Indira Gandhi's Congress Party government was defeated in March by a loose coalition under the umbrella of the Janata Party, India's repudiation of an authoritarian regime was in stunning contrast to the ways in which similar regimes in Portugal, Spain and Greece were changed. What calculations led to the election? What led to its extraordinary outcome? What does the reversal of authoritarian rule bode for the future, not only for the policies of the new government but also for the structure of the political system? And what, if anything, will remain of the innovation and repression of those two years that have become part of history?


Why the election? First, Indira Gandhi was extraordinarily sensitive to charges at home and abroad that in placing India under emergency rule she had betrayed democracy, the legacy left by Mahatma Gandhi and her father, Jawaharlal Nehru. The suppression of dissent - particularly through the muzzling of the lively Indian press and detention of political opponents - and the promulgation of a body of laws legitimizing authoritarian rule gave her critics ample grounds for their case against her. She called for an election in part to give the lie to such allegations, to maintain the credibility of her claim to rule constitutionally and legally as well as democratically. She had taken care to maintain the form if not the spirit of the constitution, a tactic that had the great virtue of legitimizing her authority with the army, the police, and the civil service. The regime might be more closed, less competitive, more authoritarian than the spirit of the constitution and conventional rules of the game allowed, but making emergency rule permanent, substituting repression and only repression for electoral mandates as the basis for obedience, was not an option she could lightly entertain or easily maintain.

Mrs. Gandhi had backed away from a draft constitutional "reform," circulated in the fall of 1975, that would have instituted a presidential form of government with vast powers concentrated in the executive's hands. The reform would have subordinated the judiciary to the executive, made fundamental rights nonjusticiable, increased the prevailing subordination of the parliament to the executive, greatly increased administrative discretion by removing administrative actions from judicial review, and given the executive the power to ban "anti-national" and "anti-social" opposition parties and organizations. Eschewing so drastic a solution, she turned instead to the 42nd amendment, whose 59 clauses gave constitutional sanction to the leading ordinances and legislative acts of the emergency period. Having thus entrenched the "hard state," Mrs. Gandhi thought she could safely go to the people for a fresh mandate, that it would validate these political and economic changes and entitle her to speak for another six years for the people and for national objectives.

Mrs. Gandhi also wanted to use the election to cash in on what her party spokesmen like to call the "gains of the emergency." Before she called the emergency, on June 26, 1975, her position had been extraordinarily vulnerable. The "Indira wave" of 1971 and 1972 had receded; several by-elections were lost, including one seat which had been in Congress Party hands since the first general election in 1952. Jayaprakash ("J.P.") Narayan's movement had brought government in the state of Bihar to a standstill, while massive rallies in Delhi showed his support there and by implication in urban and town settings throughout northern India. In the state assembly election in Gujarat, a coalition led by the Janata Party was about to turn out a Congress government.

Even within the Congress parliamentary party itself, Mrs. Gandhi's support had contracted and softened before the emergency. After June 12, 1975, when the Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) High Court held that she was guilty of corrupt electoral practices, a plan to elect a temporary prime minister who would leave office once Mrs. Gandhi had straightened out her legal difficulties aborted when Jagjivan Ram, who, it is said, controlled 60 to 80 MPs, and the J.P. faction of the Congress, who were said to number at least 40, refused to go along.

The emergency gave Mrs. Gandhi 18 months to reverse the political deterioration. In January 1977, she thought she had succeeded. Although the crest of the wave of political gains from the emergency had broken, the political tide appeared still to be high. Before it receded, it seemed expedient to capitalize on the apparently favorable environment. Although prices were rising again and unemployment was up, volatile groups such as organized labor, students and middle- and lower-level government servants seemed to be compliant, or at least cowed by the repressive measures and policy initiatives taken under the emergency. INTUC, the Congress labor union, had made large inroads into the strongholds of trade unions affiliated with opposition parties. New "apex" bodies at the state and national level seemed to have brought producer interests, professional associations, writers and intellectuals, and the press under the influence or control of governmental bodies headed by bureaucrats or party functionaries. Implementation committees at the district level appeared to have replaced or subsumed local government bodies and party organizations.

But there was more to the January 1977 decision to call an election and to the battle over who was saving and who was savaging democracy: that was the Sanjay factor. It became increasingly clear to the public that Mrs. Gandhi's son Sanjay had aspirations for national leadership and that these were being encouraged and legitimized by his mother's statements and actions. At an All-India Youth Congress session in November 1976 in Gauhati, Assam, Sanjay Gandhi announced that his Youth Congress would establish organizations in the 6,000 blocks that constitute the basic administrative units of India's 22 states. At the subsequent meeting of the Indian National Congress some days later, Mrs. Gandhi criticized the party for its sluggishness, apathy and ineptitude and held up for emulation the vigor, ideas and leaders of the Youth Congress.

Then in February 1977, it was widely alleged that the allocation of "tickets" for parliamentary seats would have allotted as many as 50 percent of the 542 seats to followers of Sanjay Gandhi. Thus Sanjay, and not the Congress leaders, would fall heir to the Congress' electoral victory. Presumably this scenario was what mother and son had in mind when the election was called. Sanjay's five-point program (which was consolidated with the 20 points of his mother as the 25-point program) and his efforts to displace or intimidate state chief ministers and national ministers unwilling to get on board were to be consummated in a post-election scenario that placed him in a high government or party office. This planned outcome was signaled not only by Sanjay Gandhi's moves to establish himself in the Congress Party but also by the increasing degree to which Congress policy moved in a rightist direction. Dramatic evidence of this move was the break with the Communist Party of India (CPI), whose policies and bona fides were repudiated and denied.


The resignation of Congress leader Jagjivan Ram in February, two weeks after the electoral campaign had officially begun, revealed starkly the elements of the struggle that had become evident in November. Triggered by the impending allocation of "tickets," Ram's defection, and subsequent alliance with the Janata opposition led by Morarji Desai, dramatized the restoration of the old rules of the game. Until that point, Mrs. Gandhi and her supporters had apparently mistaken the overt compliance begot of repression and opportunism for support and legitimacy and had switched back to the language and rules of competitive democracy without grasping their potential implications for electoral behavior. As the campaign progressed, and it became increasingly apparent that dissent in the press, in speech, and in action would not be punished, organized interests and ordinary citizens came to accept the validity of the language and rule switch. In the states most affected by the excesses of the emergency's programs, anger, which lurked below the surface, displaced fear. On polling day, citizens poured out to cast their ballots against the indignities and disenfranchisements they had borne but resented.

By the last two weeks of the campaign there were abundant signs that the Congress Party was in trouble, even that it might lose, but nobody anticipated the magnitude of the opposition victory. In the north, the Janata Party gained virtually a clean sweep.1 With its allies among regional and minor parties, Janata (and allies) were returned with a parliamentary majority of 331 of 542 seats. (Janata alone captured 309 seats.) Its share of the vote, 43 percent, paralleled the Congress' vote in the five previous general elections and, with its allies, it probably surpassed the Congress' best showing in 1957 (47.8 percent). In the states in which it swept all or all but one of the seats, the Janata's vote share ranged between 58 and 70 percent, shattering though not wiping out Congress support.

Because the Congress did well only in the south, winning 92 of its 153 seats in the four southern states,2 while the Janata's strength lay in the north, some have argued that the election polarized India, leaving the government in the hands of the northerners and the opposition in the hands of the southerners. The impression was sufficiently powerful for Prime Minister Morarji Desai to take note of it in Parliament by assuring the south that it was not orphaned and that it would receive adequate attention and equal treatment. However, the north-south polarization has been stressed more than the actual division of votes would justify. Janata and Congress dominance respectively affect mainly five northern and two southern states. Other large states - two western, two southern and three eastern - either had less one-sided outcomes or were subject to the influence of regional parties. Overall, the Congress' share of the vote declined 10 percent from 1971, and the Janata (aggregating the 1971 vote of its four constituent parties) gained 18 percent.3

The reasons for Mrs. Gandhi's loss may become clearer as Indian political scientists, out of commission for some years, get back to work, sift the data, and give us trans-impressionist interpretations. But one can do a good deal in the meantime. Mrs. Gandhi lost because Jagjivan Ram's resignation broke some spell; because many of her programs - and particularly the vasectomy campaign - backfired; because the powers of incumbency, lavishly invoked by state governments in the last weeks of the campaign, had no effect; because she abandoned her faithful allies, particularly the Communist Party of India; and because she lost the support of two key elements of her electoral support in 1971, the Muslims and untouchables.

Although the failure of the vasectomy campaign has been most publicized, the rejection of Mrs. Gandhi's program and its implementation was wider and touches on India's future capacity to allocate a sufficient percentage of its gross national product to development. A positive, though often problematic, consequence of the emergency was its check on the ability of the organized sectors of society (students, labor, civil servants) consistently to increase their cut of resources through a series of strikes from 1966 onward. It seems absurd and immoral to view as problematic demands for increased pay by workers and lower level office employees making annual incomes of $500 to $1000 (particularly when their real wages over the past 20 years have been at best stationary). Yet these workers represent a relatively privileged sector of Indian society, with not only incomes but also organizational resources and political influence well above those of the much more numerous and deprived rural workers and tenants. Their demands constituted an enormous drain on the budget. Before 1975, the demands for four to eight percent annual bonuses and allowances to keep pace with inflation had moved state resources increasingly into "non-developmental" expenditures, while the rising pace of strikes to extract these benefits had cut seriously into productivity. At election time the pressure to continue the spiral was irresistible.

The emergency deprived these groups of leverage. The regime impounded dearness allowances, blocked the bonus by tying it to productivity, and banned strikes. It virtually imposed a social contract on the organized sector of the economy, both public and private. The impounded dearness allowances were converted into compulsory deposits and channeled into developmental expenditures. It is evident that much of the organized sector, teachers, government employees, public sector and private industrial labor, were alienated by the sacrifices they were asked to make.

Congress Party members came to this realization too late. Two weeks before the election, when some Congress politicians in the states woke up to the fact that their future was in doubt, they responded with sweeping measures in favor of these groups.4 (Surprisingly enough, this massive use of the power of incumbency, a use reminiscent of Richard Nixon's employment of similar devices in the third quarter of 1972, just before the November presidential election, had little effect.) After the parliamentary elections and until nine states were put under President's rule pending the state assembly elections, the Congress state governments, no longer restrained from such extravagance by Mrs. Gandhi's directives, continued to expand their responses to the demands of organized groups. Everyone now recognizes that economic discipline makes difficult politics. How the new government will read this message has yet to be seen.

It is generally agreed that the massive vasectomy and slum clearance programs were major elements in the defeat, but they are themselves indices of a wider phenomenon: standard operating procedures had gone out of control. A highly routinized, not always sensitive bureaucratic apparatus was instructed to meet performance quotas on pain of loss of jobs, pay increases, promotions or satisfactory assignments. With the press and opposition stifled, and even Congress Party members intimidated, no warning messages appeared until it was much too late.

Sanjay Gandhi's Delhi adventure was an epitome of this phenomenon. His relatively untutored, disingenuous middle class vision told him that Old Delhi was messy and lacked beauty, and that its libidinous poor reproduced like rabbits. When he made the city his main responsibility in 1975-76, and pursuaded its senior civil servants and politicians that the future lay with him, they responded to his vision with great efficiency. They pulled down slums that had the ethnic cohesion and community organization of Boston's North End, moved the inhabitants to temporary colonies miles from where they made their living, projected an efficient 50-story skyscraper for the area and opened vasectomy camps that allowed Delhi to handle a disproportionate part of India's seven million vasectomies that year.

One need not suppose that either Sanjay or the Delhi administration intended what their actions conveyed, a conspiracy to expel and castrate Muslims. They may have sincerely thought they were creating beauty, making the city more livable for the poor, and that by reducing the population they would make life 20 years hence more tolerable. Local leaders who sought to interpret events to the administration otherwise were muzzled or jailed. It was a case of obtuse activism that may discredit many a worthwhile program for years to come.

These programs were felt most directly by two deprived constituencies that tend to vote cohesively, the north Indian Muslims and the north Indian untouchables. Both groups turned against Mrs. Gandhi. In 1971 she had adopted a Bobby Kennedy strategy, attracting the poor and discriminated-against by promising protection and help. In 1977, the Imam of the Jama Masjid campaigned against her throughout northern India, spreading the word of Sanjay's disastrous Delhi adventure. And Jagjivan Ram's resignation deeply affected the untouchables, who since Gandhi's time have been attracted by Congress' commitment to equality via programs of progressive discrimination.

Perhaps the most important issue of the election was the constitutionality of the emergency. The holding of the election, the fact that it was free and fair, was meant to demonstrate Mrs. Gandhi's adherence to democratic legitimacy. A fatal flaw in this design was the illegitimacy, not just the insensitivity, of Sanjay's public conduct. Like other prominent persons in Indian public life and in Indian epics whose sons have destroyed them, she was ruined by this devastation of her legalist strategy.

Sanjay held no elected or appointed public office apart from his recently acquired position as member of the executive committee of the Youth Congress and of the party's national assembly, the All-India Congress Committee. Yet, having apparently played a critical part in convincing his mother to fight on after her Allahabad High Court conviction, he made his mark early in the emergency by issuing orders to or criticizing the performances of senior secretaries to government and ministers. Several who questioned his credentials were abruptly transferred or dropped from the government. Some in public life and the media admired the short shrift he gave to what they perceived as a hide-bound bureaucracy. As Khushwant Singh, editor of India's largest weekly, put it: "despite thirty years of talk and millions spent, the spiral of births continued in its dizzy climb upward. And suddenly last year (1976) it was checked . . . it was done by Sanjay Gandhi. He may not have had any authority to do it, but he did it." Others in public life saw an arrogant youth profaning the rules and their executors. In the end, his methods were denounced.

Finally, Mrs. Gandhi lost the election because the Indian electorate cared more than she thought for democratic institutions. The emergency raised a fundamental question of Indian political identity and capacity. Its institution accorded with the beliefs of those in India who, like the Mills, James and John Stuart, have understood authoritarianism to be a desirable form of government for so backward a country. Attacks on India's misunderstood caste system, illiteracy and poverty, the "idiocy" of its rural life, and its alleged fatalism have sustained such a view.

At the very least, however, such a perspective neglects the great changes in Indian political ideas and practice that accompanied the introduction 60 years ago of political participation and competition, and their universalization 30 years ago at independence. Democracy was not, as Mrs. Gandhi and her spokesmen often argued, a privilege whose benefits fall mainly to the rich and educated. In September 1976, she explained to Western television audiences: ". . . the opposition [to the emergency] is mainly from the privileged people who . . . fear an attack on their privilege . . . Amongst a population of 600 million people, the dissent is amongst a few thousand."

It is not likely that ordinary citizens care deeply for parliament, for the question hour, for the debate between government and opposition. These are the special taste of the newspaper-reading elites, who follow government and opposition in the English and vernacular press. But the idea of a competitive party system and its legal supports - the right to associate, to speak, to protest, to write and to be safe from political censorship; the right to trial and defense - have a larger constituency. During the emergency large sections of the population - including Delhi Muslims, and the town and village dwellers who had no recourse against the excesses of a committed bureaucracy - discovered, in effect, that they have rights to be violated. Democracy has acquired a mass base in India.

The universal franchise instituted in 1951 had one very simple effect: it made numbers count, and the poor and rural had more numbers than the rich and urban. Indian rural leaders, like American urban leaders in the era of immigration, recognized the electoral resources that lay around them; it only remained for them to be mobilized. Landlords mobilized tenants, caste leaders organized caste fellows, ethnic, religious and trade union leaders mobilized their followings. Parties learned to build balanced tickets, devices at once of cooptation and representation. As the voting game became more competitive, younger leaders competed with older ones for control, and the power of more conservative rural notables gave way to that of new leadership and less privileged sections. The intensity of local and rural politics led to much higher rates of participation in country than in city. While local notables have reaped more striking benefits from this process than the landless and one-acre farmers, there is no question that the effective political community came to reach far beyond the urban middle classes to include largely illiterate rural communities.

Thus democratic politics provided rural people with political agents and ombudsmen who could intervene with the bureaucracy, both speeding things up and preventing excesses. While India's senior service, the IAS, remains one of the best in the world, the performance of the middle and lower services emphasizes routine rather than substance and arbitrary solutions over responsive ones. The MLA (Member, [State] Legislative Assembly) and the agents of local government had learned what U.S. Congressmen have also learned in America's increasingly agency-ridden world: helping constituents deal with the bureaucracy is critical to reelection. It is a function MLAs performed more readily and often for the heads of communities and owners of land than they did for poor villagers, but MLAs ignored the organized poor at their peril.

What dropped out during the emergency was this ombudsman function. MLAs and local government officials and MPs now believed that for success and survival they had to look to the top, to Delhi, the national party office, ultimately to Mrs. Gandhi, not down to their constituents. The coinage of success was no longer votes, but praise from Delhi for meeting quotas - quotas of land redistributed, quotas of vasectomies performed, quotas of house lots made available to the poor, quotas of wells electrified. To meet the quotas, what was wanted was collaboration with the bureaucracy. Many of the quotas, in fact almost all except the vasectomy program, should have gained voters for the Congress from among the rural underprivileged. Indeed, quotas often energized government performance. But in pursuit of quotas and the favor of the leaders in Delhi, other functions were neglected - protecting constituents against inequitable land tax decisions; easing the way to a building permit for a mud house; preventing the transfer of a school teacher to a post 40 miles from his home village; mediating those thousands of petty decisions by which an omnipresent and mechanical bureaucracy can make village life hard. In calling the election Mrs. Gandhi once again changed the coinage of success; by her own terms, the praise from Delhi for which local operatives had been vying suddenly became a worthless currency.


India's sixth general election is likely to be longer and better remembered than those that preceded it, not only because it ended 30 years of rule by the Indian National Congress, whose hold on Indian politics reaches back to 1885, but also because it established that the Indian state was capable of alternating its government, a task even more difficult than handling the succession after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964.

Whether alternation proves its worth will depend on the performance of the newly installed Janata Party government led by Morarji Desai. The Party contains diverse elements whose incompatibilities have only recently and partly been reconciled through their common experience of being jailed by Indira Gandhi. Perforce, the parties and their leaders have come to share an appreciation for a government of laws. Electoral success and the imperatives of governing have strengthened the case for unity. Still, the legacies of the past are not easily shed or forgotten.

Collectively, the most devastating legacy is the sorry record between 1967 and 1971 of state governments led by coalitions of some or all of the parties now joined in the Janata Party. Plagued by defections, opportunism and internal conflict, the governments became notorious for their instability. The constituent parties acquired a reputation for self-regarding parochialism. Mrs. Gandhi's victory in 1971 was to a great extent a vote against bad government in the states by these parties.

The interests, ideologies and personalities that have been brought together in the Janata Party will severely test Morarji Desai's slogan, "Our strength lies in our unity." But it will not be an unreasonable or unfair test. It is well to remember that the Congress, one of the world's most successful democratic parties, has sometimes been compared to a boa constrictor on the ground that it could swallow anything. Yet ultimately it could swallow no more and split in 1969, disgorging leaders and factions, including Prime Minister Desai, that have now been absorbed by Janata. Janata in 1977, like the Congress in four of the five previous general elections, has at least been able to command a comfortable parliamentary majority, no mean accomplishment.

The Janata now has to show it can do better than in the past. It has begun by fashioning a united party out of those which collaborated in the election. Each component party has held conventions to dissolve itself; youth wings and trade union sections are attempting to do likewise. Perhaps the most dramatic and surprising union that the Janata is creating is that between two previously opposed forces, north India's Muslims and untouchables on the one hand and the militant, revivalist Hindus on the other. Muslims and untouchables constitute about 11 and 15 percent respectively of India's 620,000,000 population and they had been pillars of Mrs. Gandhi's political edifice. Her secularism, concern to eradicate poverty and efforts to create equal opportunities for oppressed minorities had secured their allegiance in the past. Yet under the emergency the Congress Party, friend and protector of the Muslims and untouchables, became their persecutor; and their persecutor's enemy, the militant Hindus, became their ally, perhaps their friend. In their adversity the two communities came to feel a sense of fellowship with the militant revivalist Hindus, including those whose Hindu orientation had defined Muslims as alien and untouchables as impure. Mrs. Gandhi had for years run against these Hindu militants, identifying them as the leading example of communalism, which her secularism was meant to combat and defeat. What most observers would have regarded as the impossible has been achieved, a common front of Muslims, untouchables, and militant Hindus, a front that helps to explain the Janata Party's overwhelming victories in India's populous north Indian states. Ironically, just as Mrs. Gandhi, her son and her party learned that the political gains of secular politics could be lost through ineptitude and insensitivity, the militant Hindu R.S.S. organization announced that it was considering admitting Muslims and Christians to its ranks. When the leader of the R.S.S. visited Delhi in mid-April, he was warmly greeted by leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islam e-Hind, the R.S.S.'s long-time militant Muslim adversary.

The Janata Party can probably be better understood in terms of what it is becoming than what it was; if it is to succeed, it will have to be a whole that is greater than and different from its parts. The electoral results in north India particularly suggest that Janata support patterns tore up the previous script for voter preferences. Insofar as the party builds on the new alignments, it will become, like the Congress, a somewhat amorphous center party.

No party in India can be a majority party without having support throughout the country and no party can achieve a widespread base without being a centrist party. Now the Janata, despite its current weakness in the south, has become an all-India centrist party. The Congress, despite its losses in the north, gives every indication of trying to maintain its all-India, centrist capability and orientation. If the Janata Party does not regress into its component parts and the Congress does not disintegrate under the trauma of losing an election for the first time, India will have a new party system composed of two all-India centrist parties, one, the Janata, more favorable to decentralization (a sign of the return of Gandhian ideas to the center of public life) and market forces, and the other, the Congress, more favorable to centralized state authority and planning.

The Janata Party's victory is likely to lead to important changes in the dominant public philosophy about the nature of the state. Mrs. Gandhi attacked and dismantled what she frequently referred to as the "soft state," replacing it, particularly during the emergency, with what she and Congress spokesmen liked to refer to as "a firm state." According to their definition, the firm state permits or grants citizens rights and does so only to the degree that they are compatible with national goals and the discipline required to realize them. Elections, as Mrs. Gandhi often argued, are less important than national power and independence sustained by economic growth and social justice.

Over the ten years since 1966, when Mrs. Gandhi first became Prime Minister, she sidelined, subsumed or destroyed competing political actors, created a system of executive democracy, and dismantled the constitutional constraints on the arbitrary exercise of power. The "syndicate," a group of state bosses, was outmaneuvered and most of its members sent into the political wilderness. Kamraj Nadar, the powerful party president who managed her elections as party leader in 1966 and again in 1967, was driven from office and into opposition along with Morarji Desai. The Congress socialists and Jagjivan Ram, with whose help she successfully split the Congress Party in November 1969, found themselves in jail or isolated and impotent in the cabinet. The CPI was repudiated and humiliated.

Over the same ten years, the apparatus and reach of the state increased enormously. The size of the military and of the central police units doubled over the decade to 1975, the first to one million, the second to 696,000 (this figure includes 532,000 home guards and excludes 756,000 state police). The prime minister's secretariat displaced the cabinet and its secretariat as the principal source of policy formulation, choice, and the coordination of plans and operations. The cabinet lost the collegiality that only peership can sustain and became increasingly a group of courtiers and dependents. Chief ministers, who dominated the political system in the 1967-1971 period, were reduced to yes and can-do men as Congress state assembly parties asked Mrs. Gandhi to nominate their leaders. The civil service and the judges, subject to transfer, supercession, and other forms of intimidation, increasingly became what Mrs. Gandhi called upon them to be, committed to nation-building goals as she defined them. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), originally created to provide foreign intelligence, helped Mrs. Gandhi to defeat, control or repress her political enemies. "Apex" bodies, which brought together producer interests, the professions, labor and the press, increasingly centralized and expanded the state's ability to control policy and opinion.

What had been a version of a liberal state, in which citizens permitted the government to hold and use certain powers for their safety and convenience, constrained by a balance of powers and by accountability to the electorate, had been largely, if not wholly, dismantled.

The Janata Party government led by Morarji Desai will have to confront the legacy of the state Mrs. Gandhi brought into being. Insofar as it has a mandate, it is to do what Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, assisted by the Congress of the United States, have had to do in the wake of the Nixon presidency - restore confidence in government. This will involve dismantling some or most of what Mrs. Gandhi's government did through legislation and constitutional amendment and, more subtly, by the tone and style of their exercise of power. The Objectionable Matter Act, which institutionalized press censorship, was unanimously repealed when Congress members joined the repeal's supporters. Re-amending the constitution will be more difficult unless the Congress's two-thirds majority (required to carry constitutional amendments) can be reduced or replaced by a two-thirds Janata majority.

How far will the Janata government go in dismantling Mrs. Gandhi's "firm" or "hard" state? It is one of the tragedies of the emergency and the measures that preceded it that their plausible and imaginative elements have been, at least in the short run, discredited. The issues of effective government that the emergency addressed are sure to resurface in the coming years, many of them sooner rather than later. To some extent, Mrs. Gandhi's effort to reorient and restructure the judiciary, to expand the center's role in the federal system, and to construct instruments for consolidating the representation of interests answered pressing national needs. The federal system continues to shelter India's largest vested and privileged interest, its commercial farmers and rich peasants. (Even Mrs. Gandhi failed during the emergency to have agriculture transferred from the states' legislative competence to a joint jurisdiction with the center.) The courts had struck down or delayed redistributionist policies such as land reform measures, bank nationalization, the abolition of the princes' privileges and privy purses.

Shortly after taking power, the Janata government signaled that it would like to keep in existence aspects of Mrs. Gandhi's state - the "apex" bodies and joint labor-management committees - though their bias would now be toward labor rather than owner/ manager interests and concerns. Whichever way such bodies "tilt," they may be an essential condition for labor productivity and discipline as well as for increasing labor's real income, stagnant since independence.

In the realm of policy, however, change is likely to be largely incremental. The platform the Janata Party offered to the electorate may have had little to do with the election result, which measured what the voters were against more than it measured what they were for, but it does give some indication of the government's goals and priorities. In its international orientation and tilt toward decreased controls, the Janata Party has emerged as a right-of-center all-India party in a two-plus party system. The behavior of the two main parties is likely to resemble that of the Democratic and Republican parties in competing for the middle. The Janata, however, is genuinely of the center more than the Republicans; it is as if Jacob Javits, Charles Percy, Clifford Case and other Republican liberals had been able to write the Republican platform and put together the policies and personnel of the Ford Administration, keeping in mind that the Indian political spectrum starts an appreciable distance to the left of the American.

There is no talk of bank denationalization or of dismantling the very large public sector, although the policy of reserving heavy industry for the public sector and consumer goods for the private is likely to be relaxed. The platform reflects a strong Gandhian orientation in its attention to the needs of rural society: larger plan allocations to the agricultural sector; decentralization; austerity; basic goods production and mass consumption; narrowing of urban-rural disparities; appropriate technology for self-reliance; and affirmation of the right to work and a full employment strategy. It is vague on fiscal or monetary measures and on prices and income policy. It has nothing to say about planning or growth other than its commitment to raise the allocation to the agricultural sector, pursue full employment and end destitution in ten years.

In all this, it is by no means clear that the tilt toward labor, rural society, the agricultural sector and basic goods production will go very far to help either the rural or urban poor.

The early statements and actions of Prime Minister Morarji Desai and his cabinet colleagues, in fact, indicate substantial, even massive, continuity in domestic and foreign policy, with the striking exceptions of civil rights and perhaps family planning. The new Finance Minister, H. M. Patel, replied to his predecessor's encomiums for the emergency economy with a scathing attack on its weaknesses, shortfalls and bleak prospects, particularly the long-term recession in the private sector which the emergency did nothing to reverse. Yet he is not likely to depart very far from the policies C. Subramaniam pursued over the past two years. India during the emergency became the darling of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, its economic performance much praised by Mr. McNamara, Mr. Witteveen and their officials. The fact that many "gains" of the emergency period, such as the decline in price levels, industrial discipline and improved production in the public sector, began several quarters before June 26, 1975 was seemingly overlooked. Also ignored was the fact that prices rose rapidly in the last year of the emergency (15.5 percent from March 1976 to February 1977); public sector production (e.g., steel) in the absence of domestic demand piled up as inventory or was sold abroad at or below unit cost; agricultural production fell by a projected 10 million tons between 1975-76 and 1976-77; and the spectacular three billion dollar balance-of-payments surplus was not matched by a favorable balance of trade.

The new government is likely to use rather than dismantle the "apex" bodies and joint committees of labor and management created under the emergency. However, they are likely to be recast, and there are indications that the socialists rather than the capitalists in the cabinet will set their terms of reference. The Minister for Commerce called for a code of conduct for industry and labor to maintain industrial peace, a code enforced by some "informal" variant of the emergency's labor management committees. The Labor Minister stressed the need to make labor's role in such committees more effective. A number of government spokesmen have suggested continuation of the compulsory deposit schemes initiated by C. Subramaniam to capture temporarily cost-of-living wage increases for investment. Clearly the new government would like to duplicate some of the gains claimed for the emergency - labor peace and discipline, productivity gains, limited price rises and high levels of savings for investment - but without resorting to repression and compulsion. No one knows what will happen if and when the pent-up labor and student and consumer demands and grievances begin to surface. Former leaders of these groups such as George Fernandes and Madhu Dandavate, who led the 1974 national railway strike that Mrs. Gandhi ruthlessly crushed without concessions, are now ministers. It is not likely that their presence, and that of Raj Narain, who led a massive "land grab" movement a decade ago, will help to restrain or moderate demands from the industrial and agricultural sectors. And how will such men, by comparison with their law-and-order colleagues, react to the demands of agitational politics and strikes now that they are ministers?

The prospects of policy continuity seem least likely in the field of family planning, yet even here the indicators are mixed. Raj Narain, the new Minister for Health and Family Planning, quickly renamed his charge Health and Family Welfare. He is Mrs. Gandhi's nemesis, having brought the court case against her for corrupt electoral practices and defeated her on a second try in 1977. A populist socialist with a romantic approach to politics, he has labeled sterilization "an inhuman method not in tune with our culture and custom," denounced compulsion and offered large compensation payments to persons wrongly or badly sterilized. It is hard to penetrate Raj Narain's verbal bombast to discover just how much and what kind of a population control policy will be followed. Yet Prime Minister Desai seems to agree with most of the press that it would be wrong, indeed tragic, to let this excess among the excesses discredit the entire program so painfully developed over so many years, a program considered necessary for the country's economic welfare. The prospect is that political advantage will be taken of Mrs. Gandhi's unpopular measures, but it is at least plausible that the program, recast in the direction of voluntarism and persuasion, will continue to receive strong financing and energetic attention.

Foreign policy likewise will not change abruptly. The Prime Minister made clear that Russia's special relationship with India was at an end but that he expected to maintain close and friendly relations in the context of a more balanced nonalignment. Andrei Gromyko's visit within a month of the election seemed to satisfy both sides that continued good relations based on strategic and economic grounds were in both countries' best interest. Doubts about the effect on India's friendly relations with Muslim states of the appointment as Foreign Minister of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an advocate of better relations with Israel, were quickly dispelled by a barrage of statements reaffirming India's longstanding commitments to Arab interests and causes and to good relations with the Muslim world, including Pakistan. Equally swift steps were taken to reassure China that the new government was eager to pursue further Mrs. Gandhi's opening and efforts at détente, an approach that gained credibility as a result of India's more "correct" relations with the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most substantial change in orientation and tone can be found in the Janata government's remarks directed toward the United States. Indo-American relations had never fully recovered from the Nixon-Kissinger tilt toward Pakistan during the Bangladesh liberation struggle and from the dispatch of the Enterprise to the northern reaches of the Bay of Bengal. And earlier there had been strains from Lyndon Johnson's "short tether" on food shipments in 1966 and 1967 and the U.S.-engineered devaluation of the rupee in June 1966. Having for the most part been spared these brushes with American power and interest, the Janata Party leaders approach relations with the Carter Administration in fairly wide agreement with its main initiatives, including arms reduction, efforts to reverse and de-escalate the militarization of the Indian Ocean area, commodity agreements, and increased attention and resources to multilateral funding agencies. America's recent sale of arms to Pakistan was, to an extent, balanced in Indian perceptions by U.S. efforts to reverse the French sale of nuclear power and reprocessing plants to Pakistan. Prime Minister Morarji Desai has a long history of greater trust in U.S. goals and intentions than in those of the Soviet Union, a legacy that the Carter Administration's initiatives can serve only to sustain and strengthen.

Whether the Janata Party right-of-center coalition, superimposed on the country's now-formidable bureaucracy, will "work" for India remains to be seen. Whether the new government will be able to maintain the country's renewed commitment to democracy is a question perhaps at least as important for Western observers. But for the moment, the Janata Party's massive victory stands as a striking repudiation of authoritarian rule and a reaffirmation of the legitimacy of the liberal state based on open, competitive politics.


1 The Janata took all the seats in Uttar Pradesh (85), Bihar (54), Haryana (10), Himachal Pradesh (3), and Delhi (7), and all but one in Rajasthan (24) and Madhya Pradesh (37).

2 In two of the four southern states, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the Congress won 41 (of 42) and 26 (of 28) seats and polled 57 percent of the vote. In Kerala it shared the victory with allies. In the fourth southern state, Tamil Nadu, it won 14 of 39 seats on the basis of 22 percent of the vote. Its erstwhile electoral ally, the AL-AIADMK, a local cultural nationalist party, won 18 seats, but declared soon after the national results were known that it would support the Janata government.

3 The parallel between the 1967 and 1977 elections is striking. In 1967, the allied opposition parties almost defeated the Congress and in 1977, now united in a common party, they succeeded. In both elections, the turnout (at 61.3 and 60.5 percent) was well above the next highest level of the last six general elections, the 54.7 percent that participated in the "Indira wave" election of 1971. The message seems fairly clear: an aroused and active electorate can threaten or overcome the Congress' advantages as the legatee of the nationalist movement, the symbol of governmental authority, and the dispenser of the resources, patronage and sanctions of incumbency.

4 The state government of Uttar Pradesh (U. P.), with its 90 million people, halved the land revenue rates just before the election, having doubled them in July 1976. It granted a new pension scheme to primary and secondary school teachers, instituted five to ten thousand rupee scholarships for backward classes, gave a one month bonus to 4,000 government cement corporation employees, and 4 percent ex gratia payments to 100,000 electrical board employees. U. P. was only slightly more generous than most of the northern states.

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  • Lloyd I. and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph are respectively Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. They are the authors of The Coordination of Complexity in South Asia, a study prepared for the Murphy Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy, and The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India.
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