IIPM Admission

Monday, February 04, 2013

Veteran journalist and activist Ram Bahadur Rai has had a ring side view of contemporary Indian politics.

In this exclusive insider account, he talks about how governments came into being in the corridors of power, from Morarji Desai to Atal Behari Vajpayee

In fact, Janata Party had fought the post-Emergency elections on the slogan of restoring democracy. Indira Gandhi was a symbol of dictatorship and her son Sanjay Gandhi had become an eyesore for the people of India.

Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, who was the most popular leader among the masses, played a pivotal role during the elections. Second in line was J B Kripalani. Everyone knew that neither did not care for prime ministership.

In fact, the agitation was ideological and not personality based. It was not easy to decide the top post as Jagjivan Ram enjoyed the confidence of the Jan Sangh. The Jan Sangh believed that only he could complete a full tenure. But the Dalit leader could not succeed because as a cabinet colleague of Indira Gandhi, he had supported the decision to impose Emergency. Since mass opinion and Janata Party workers favoured Morarji Desai, he became the prime minister.

Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1980. It was clear that after the election, she would be sworn in as prime minister as the polls had been fought in her name. In fact, since 1971, there was no one in the Congress coterie for the top job except Indira herself.

She was assassinated on October 31, 1984. Rajiv Gandhi was not in Delhi that time and President Zail Singh was on a tour. Both of them rushed back. Rajiv Gandhi reached the Rashtrapati Bhawan where he was sworn in as the Prime Minister. There were no formalities by the Congress Parliamentary Board for proposing Rajiv's name and everything worked as it would in a dynastic succession.

After the 1989 elections, VP Singh, as symbol of the Bofors' anti-corruption campaign, was the natural leader. Both the BJP and Left Front accepted his leadership and joined their efforts to oust the ruling Congress. Political parties of two opposite poles extended their support from outside.

But the selection of VP Singh to the top post was a tricky affair. In the years to come, Singh told me he was unaware of the episode. That might be true because I was present in the Central Hall at that time.

Though only MPs were allowed to enter Parliament, I could make it in with my kurta-pyjama that day. The security, luckily for me, took me to be another MP.

Madhu Dandavate played the election officer. VP Singh proposed Devi Lal as the leader and Chandrashekhar supported the proposal. Devi Lal was elected leader. In the mean time, the Haryana patriach took off his turban and put it on VP Singh's head. Now, it was clear that the selection had been preplanned. As the election procedure concluded, Chandrashekhar stormed out saying he had been betrayed and it would have been better to adopt the fair procedure of selecting a leader.

Later, Chandrashekhar did become Prime Minister but his route to reach there was the same taken by Charan Singh. The only difference between them was that Charan Singh could not face the Parliament as PM while Chandrashekhar’s roar on the floor of the house finished his government.

Living in Hyderabad, PV Narsimha Rao was secluded from active politics and lived a semi-retired life. Suddenly and out of the blue, he was summoned. Some veteran Congress leaders like Sitaram Kesri addressed his first press conference.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) elected him president of the party before a formal claim was made before the Rashtrapati. The president invited Rao to form the government; indeed it was his sheer luck and good fortune that took him to the top post.

In 1996, the BJP emerged as the largest party in the Lok Sabha. President Shankar Dayal Sharma invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government. I spent nearly two-and-a-half hours with Vajpayee on the day when he was going to meet the President.

We had a long chat, but Vajpayee was not in a mood to give an interview – even though he appeared unhurried. He kept reiterating: why would the president invite him to form a government when he did not have the numbers? He was worried about managing a majority. He went to the president along with Lal Krishna Advani where Shankar Dayal Sharma asked them to form a government. It was surprising that they accepted the invitation without consulting party leaders.

Vajpayee remained PM for 13 days when the search for a new candidate started. VP Singh was consulted but he declined. Then came in highly respected journalist and author Nikhil Chakravarti. He forwarded Congress's condition: the person for the PM's post should have a Congress background, in addition to serving as a chief minister of a state in south India. Hence, HD Deve Gowda's name surfaced.

But Deve Gowda could not hold on for too long. Congress supremo Sitaram Kesri had ambitions and in the ensuing tussle, IK Gujral became prime minister.

BJP was decided from the beginning that whenever they form a government next, Vajpayee would head it. That opportunity came in 1998 and a truly popular leader finally came to head the government.

In 2004, BJP's magic formula did not work. The wave was in the favour of the Congress, who did not get a clear mandate either. Congress leaders clamoured for Sonia Gandhi to become PM but that was not to be. She could not become PM because of the political circumstances in the country.

IIPM Mumbai Campus

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