The Rediff Special/Rajmohan Gandhi
'Its tone being liberal as well as conservative, Swatantra reached out to moderate Hindus and non-Hindus in ways not available to the Jan Sangh'
The political field to the right of the Congress was not vacant.
The Jan Sangh, founded by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951 and
espousing a militant Hinduism, had occupied parts of it, specially
in north and central India. But Swatantra had some advantages.
Apart from Rajaji, notable southerners such as Ranga and Menon
had joined it. In Masani it had an effective spokesman. Veteran
Congressmen such as K M Munshi had entered its ranks.
Moreover, its tone being liberal as well as conservative, the
new party reached out to moderate Hindus and non-Hindus in ways
not available to the Jan Sangh. CR's identification of statism
as the menace seemed to click with a number of traders, businessmen
and farmers. In Congress's Nagpur resolution the party had an
issue which could be exploited, and in Rajaji a leadership that
other Opposition parties could not rival.
Aristocrats joining included the maharwal of Dungarpur, the raja
of Ramgarh in Bihar, the raja of Manakpur in UP, the maharajas
of Patna and Kalahandi in Orissa, and -- the star recruit -- the
beautiful Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. The great majority
of the former princes, however, sided with the Congress, which had
the power to remove their privy purses -- or, as with the Maharajas
of Jaipur and Patiala, to make them ambassadors.
Other eminent recruits to Swatantra included leading businessmen
Homi Mody and A D Shroff, old warriors like Dahyabhai Patel,
the Sardar's son, and the engineer-educator, Bhailalbhai Patel;
N C Chatterjee, the Bengal lawyer formerly with the Hindu Mahasabha;
M Ruthnaswamy of Madras, once in the Justice party; and outstanding
veterans of the civil service such as H M Patel, Narayan Dandekar
and J M Lobo Prabhu.
The comment that Swatantra's leaders were more distinguished than
popular was valid. True, Rajaji himself possessed a continuing
appeal. As Humayun Kabir, member of Nehru's government, conceded
while attacking the new party, 'The only rallying point of the
Swatantra party is the personality of Rajagopalachari.' Yet that
appeal did not match the magnetism with the masses with which
the fates had endowed Jawaharlal.
Apart from lacking in mass appeal, Swatantra was heterogeneous,
even if not to the same extent as Congress. Agreement on the evil
of statism could not conceal differences. If Rajaji and Munshi
proclaimed their roots in Indian culture, and Rajaji unhesitatingly
called himself a conservative, Masani and Mody were Westernised
liberals. Again, Munshi, a Hindi enthusiast, could scarcely warm
to Rajaji's campaigns against Hindi, which many of Rajaji's north
Indian supporters also found hard to defend.
Another lack was of funds, which galled all the more in the context
of Nehru's well-publicised charge that Swatantra was 'the rich
man's party.' CR and his colleagues vigorously advocated a ban
on company donations to political parties, but Nehru rejected the
suggestion: almost all the contributions were going to Congress.
In addition, Nehru asserted that he would reject any gifts from
a company that also gave money to the Swatantra. Moreover, in
a crucial steer, Ghanshyamdas Birla declared, 'Swatantra politics
were not good businessmen's politics.'
Most companies became too frightened to give anything to Swatantra.
The ones contributing also gave, in almost every case, a much
bigger sum to Congress -- but, despite Nehru's assertion, no money
was in fact returned by Congress.
Ten or so MPs had formed a Swatantra contingent in the existing
Lok Sabha, and similar units had emerged in the Bihar, Orissa,
Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra assemblies. Across India, membership
was increasing, but there were some problems. Chatterjee, leading
the West Bengal unit, resigned after being told that in the coming
elections Bombay would finance only one Lok Sabha seat from West
Bengal. The raja of Ramgarh who controlled a vote bank in Bihar,
clashed with the party's central executive.
As elections drew nearer, the desire to defeat Congress and win
some seats through electoral adjustments with non-Communist Opposition
parties tended to eclipse the anti-statist cause. Resenting a
newcomer's intrusion, the Jan Sangh was reluctant to leave seats
for Swatantra. However, in Rajasthan, Madras and the Punjab, Swatantra
reached constituency-level agreements with, respectively, the
Jan Sangh, the DMK and the Akali Dal.
CR's wooing of C N Annadurai, the DMK leader, as he
was increasingly called, who had courted arrest in defiance of
the Rajaji-led ministries of 1937-9 and 1952-4, merits attention.
In Annadurai's eyes, CR had been an Aryan secretly striving to
maintain brahmin domination over the Dravidians. On his part CR
had accused the DMK and its parent, the DK, of 'openly preaching
a creed of hatred based on ethnological conjectures and unrecorded
and unproved historical conflicts.'
Privately and publicly, CR urged Anna to abandon the independent
Dravidaland that the DK and the DMK had earlier demanded; and
with the nationalists in the south and elsewhere he argued that
the DMK was not in fact the secessionist demon they feared. He
is entitled to his share of the credit for the DMK's formal abandonment
of the secessionist aim, which was announced at the end of 1962,
following India's conflict with China.
An 83-year-old CR threw himself into the election campaign.
As thousands seated on the ground would chant 'Rajaji! Rajaji!',
'a patriarch wreathed in white, and carrying his famous cane like
some Old Testament prophet would pick his way among them to
deliver a delightful drumfire attack.' Congress socialism 'was
grinding the individual,' a Congress-Communist contest was no
more than 'an Oxford boat race, and 'the pernicious system of
permits, licences, quotas and controls made the Congress party's
rich friends richer and the poor poorer.'
He complained about two wrongs. One was the permission, grossly
unfair to the other parties, for a Congress flag which was virtually
the same as the Indian tricolour. Two, 'the collection of funds
for the ruling party's chest (by) prominent ministers' who held
the power to promote or ruin industrialists.
Receiving money in Kanpur, Nehru confessed that he was 'a little
ashamed,' but, as CR pointed out, the prime minister 'pocketed
the purses given!'
Two suggestions for the longer term were made by CR. One was State
funding of elections, which would help eliminate 'the overwhelming
advantages of money-power.' Added CR: 'Elections now are private
enterprise, whereas this is the first thing to be nationalised'
His second suggestion was that for six months prior to a general
election, the President should rule directly, through officials,
thereby reducing the capacity of ministers to influence voting.
But fair elections were hardly the ruling party's first concern.
CR's complaints and suggestions fell on deaf ears.
'Humble the Congress. Pluck its feathers. Maul its strength.' This
was CR's election-eve message to his public. He and others speaking
like him were not heeded. In 1957 Congress had polled 46 per cent
of the nation's votes; now it secured 44.5 per cent. In the Lok
Sabha and most state assemblies it secured comfortable majorities.
Swatantra's share of the Lok Sabha vote was 8 per cent, that of
the Jan Sangh 7 per cent, of the Communists roughly ten per cent.
In the Lok Sabha, the Congress won 361 seats (a loss of ten); the
Communists 29, Swatantra 25, the Jan Sangh and allies 18, and
different Socialist factions 18.
Swatantra secured a total of 207 seats in the different state
assemblies, as against 153 for the Communists, 149 for the Socialists,
and 115 for the Jan Sangh. In Madras, the DMK obtained 50 seats
and Swatantra 9.
The new party had 50 MLAs in Bihar -- Ramgarh had done his bit;
36 in Rajasthan; 26 in Gujarat; 19 in Andhra; and 15 in UP.
Held earlier, the Orissa assembly elections had given Swatantra
37 seats out of 140. There, and in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bihar,
Swatantra was now Congress's leading Opposition. All in all, while
the Congress fortress was not breached, the new challenger had
not done too badly.
To an American reporter, CR said: 'I will carry on. I will work
for a strong opposition in the next general elections.' Meredith
Brown of the Louisville Courier-Journal noted that these
would take place in 1967, when 'the remarkable Mr Rajagopalachari
will be 89 years old.'
Excerpted from Rajaji: A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi, Penguin, 1997, Rs 250, with the publisher's permission.
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