India’s Janata Party grew out of the tumultuous political conditions of the 1970s. Following India’s military success in East Pakistan in 1971, leading to the independence of Bangladesh, the architect of this victory, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1917–1984), led the Congress Party to an overwhelming political victory in the March 1971 national elections. The Congress Party gained two-thirds of the seats in the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. Thereafter, there were accusations of political corruption against Gandhi, arising initially from the charge that she had illegally used the state’s political machinery and funds to conduct her election campaign in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. When, in 1974, the Allahabad supreme court ruled that she had violated the law, several opposition groups led by Jaya Prakash Narayan (1902–1979) demanded her resignation as prime minister. Widespread demonstrations against Gandhi occurred amidst labor strikes, a slow economy, and public discontent.
Led by Narayan, the head of an opposition socialist party, a group of parties that included the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the breakaway Congress Party of Morarji Desai (1896–1995) joined together to form a new party called the Janata Party (the “Peoples Party”). Gandhi’s Congress Party was defeated in 1977 by the newly formed Janata Party, ushering in the first non-Congress government of India. Morarji Desai, a former Congress Party finance minister, became the first Janata prime minister. The Janata Party held 270 out of 539 electoral seats in the Lok Sabha. (The total number of seats in the Lok Sabha is 542, including reserved nonelected seats for minorities and backward castes.) Desai’s two rivals for leadership, Charan Singh (1902–1987) and Jagjivan Ram (1908–1986), became his deputy prime ministers. The leader of the BJS, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, became the minister for external affairs. H. M. Patel became the finance minister, and Lal Krishna Advani became the minister for information and broadcasting. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy (1913–1996), a Janata leader, was elected president of India in 1977 upon the death of the incumbent, Fakhruddin Ahmed (1905–1977), thus completing the Janata hold over India’s political cabinet and presidency. The Desai administration lasted from 1977 to 1979, when various splits emerged in the Janata government. The BJS and the RSS wings broke away from the Janata coalition, and the BLD also threatened to leave.
With sufficient coalition partners under the Janata political banner, Charan Singh was sworn in as the new prime minister in June 1979 as leader of the BLD and the new Janata (socialist). But his government did not have a majority in the Lok Sabha, and needed the support of the Congress Party to maintain a majority vote in parliament. Indira Gandhi initially promised to support Singh, but later withdrew the offer, leaving Singh unable to form a government. The Lok Sabha was dissolved and President Reddy called for new elections in January 1980.
Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party was swept back into power by an overwhelming majority in 1980. After her assassination in 1984, her son Rajiv Gandhi (1944–1991) became prime minister and achieved a commanding victory in the elections of 1985. However, in the 1989 elections, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party was defeated under circumstances similar to those Indira Gandhi had faced. Once again, the Janata-BLD coalition, led this time by V. P. Singh, took power with a narrow majority. The Singh Janata government fell in 1991. Since then, several groups have called themselves the Janata Party or variations of that name. By 2007 the party was most closely identified with the group led by Subramaniam Swamy.
SEE ALSO Communalism; Congress Party, India; Gandhi, Indira; Political Parties
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Raju G. C. Thomas
"Janata Party." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/janata-party
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