Is Narendra Modi in the same place Indira Gandhi was in 1974

Growing disillusionment with the Narendra Modi government has led recently to a few electoral setbacks for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. In different states Dalits, farmers and some upper-caste groups have been agitating to draw attention to their demands. The BJP, through chicanery and worse, has installed governments of its choice in some states without having won a majority. The NDA government has been putting pressure on key institutions of our democracy such as the judiciary and Election Commission. In recent states polls, the Modi-Amit Shah team has been upping their rhetoric. And, lately, Opposition unity has been crystallising. In this context, the question arises: are we facing 1974 all over again?In 1974, mass discontent with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s political agenda and rule was beginning to snowball. It was the agenda that she had unveiled in her “stray thoughts”, containing some socialistic policy ideas, at the All India Congress Committee session of 1969. She had two objectives. The first was to revive the electoral fortunes of her party in the context of growing public dissatisfaction, which had started from the mid-1960s, as a result of the slow pace of improvement in socio-economic conditions post-Independence. The second objective was to establish her leadership over the Congress, which was dominated by a group of regional bosses called the Syndicate. Arguing that the Syndicate represented vested interests who were blocking her radical programme, she rejected her party’s candidate for president, which was forced on her by the Syndicate. Immediately thereafter she proposed an alternative candidate, VV Giri, called for a “conscience vote”, split her party, and ensured his victory.She followed this up with a series of policies – like bank nationalisation and abolishing privy purses for the former maharajas – with which she formed a new social base consisting of the exploited, disadvantaged and oppressed. These included workers in urban areas, landless labourers and poor peasants in rural areas, the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, religious minorities and secular-nationalist Hindus. Encapsulating these policies in her slogan “Garibi Hatao”, she was able to electrify the nation beyond her core social base to take her faction of the party to a spectacular victory in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections. By the end of that year, she had defeated Pakistan and liberated Bangladesh. She had truly become, as The Economist called her on its famous cover, the “Empress of India”.In furtherance of her agenda, Gandhi co-opted many leftists and former communists into her party and government and formed close ties with the Communist Party of India, though the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Naxalites remained opposed to her rule. Further, she and other party leaders also called for a “committed judiciary”. Towards that end, a leftist judge, VR Krishna Iyer, was appointed to the Supreme Court. Dissatisfied with a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court ruling that the “basic structure of the Constitution” could not be altered, she superseded three judges and appointed a judge who had voted against the majority decision as chief justice.Growing disillusionment with the Narendra Modi government has led recently to a few electoral setbacks for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. In different states Dalits, farmers and some upper-caste groups have been agitating to draw attention to their demands. The BJP, through chicanery and worse, has installed governments of its choice in some states without having won a majority. The NDA government has been putting pressure on key institutions of our democracy such as the judiciary and Election Commission. In recent states polls, the Modi-Amit Shah team has been upping their rhetoric. And, lately, Opposition unity has been crystallising. In this context, the question arises: are we facing 1974 all over again?In 1974, mass discontent with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s political agenda and rule was beginning to snowball. It was the agenda that she had unveiled in her “stray thoughts”, containing some socialistic policy ideas, at the All India Congress Committee session of 1969. She had two objectives. The first was to revive the electoral fortunes of her party in the context of growing public dissatisfaction, which had started from the mid-1960s, as a result of the slow pace of improvement in socio-economic conditions post-Independence. The second objective was to establish her leadership over the Congress, which was dominated by a group of regional bosses called the Syndicate. Arguing that the Syndicate represented vested interests who were blocking her radical programme, she rejected her party’s candidate for president, which was forced on her by the Syndicate. Immediately thereafter she proposed an alternative candidate, VV Giri, called for a “conscience vote”, split her party, and ensured his victory.She followed this up with a series of policies – like bank nationalisation and abolishing privy purses for the former maharajas – with which she formed a new social base consisting of the exploited, disadvantaged and oppressed. These included workers in urban areas, landless labourers and poor peasants in rural areas, the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, religious minorities and secular-nationalist Hindus. Encapsulating these policies in her slogan “Garibi Hatao”, she was able to electrify the nation beyond her core social base to take her faction of the party to a spectacular victory in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections. By the end of that year, she had defeated Pakistan and liberated Bangladesh. She had truly become, as The Economist called her on its famous cover, the “Empress of India”.In furtherance of her agenda, Gandhi co-opted many leftists and former communists into her party and government and formed close ties with the Communist Party of India, though the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Naxalites remained opposed to her rule. Further, she and other party leaders also called for a “committed judiciary”. Towards that end, a leftist judge, VR Krishna Iyer, was appointed to the Supreme Court. Dissatisfied with a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court ruling that the “basic structure of the Constitution” could not be altered, she superseded three judges and appointed a judge who had voted against the majority decision as chief justice.