India After Independence: The Tumultuous Years (1984-2004)

Rajiv Gandhi: A new, young India
Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India on 31st October 1984, the same day as Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Rajiv Gandhi is till date the youngest Prime Minister of India, being only 40 when he was sworn in. In the General Elections held in the upcoming months, Congress Party won with the largest majority till date, 415 seats out of 543. Within two weeks of Rajiv Gandhi taking on his duties, tragedy struck in Bhopal, where thousands of people died or got terribly ill due to the poisonous emissions from the chemical factory run by Union Carbide. This would be known as the Bhopal Gas Leak.

Rajiv Gandhi Administration’s Domestic Policies
Rajiv Gandhi united and integrated sections of the society who felt deprived and threatened, culminating in the signing of the historic Punjab and Assam Accord. But perhaps, his most well-known initiative was the setting up of ‘six technological missions’. First was to provide drinking water to all Indian villages, second was the Total Literacy campaign, third was the mass immunization campaign of children and pregnant women, fourth was to promote ‘White Revolution’, fifth mission was the task of expanding edible oil production and the sixth mission was to bring one telephone to every village in the country by the end of the century. Rajiv Gandhi helped the computerization program in India, promoting the use of computers in offices and schools. Indians missed out on the Industrial Revolution, but it was made imperative that she took part in the Information and Communication Revolution. Indians epitomized the new, modern and technological approach of the youthful Prime Minister to usher India into the new millennium as a modern nation.

Rajiv Gandhi helped strengthen the Panchayati Raj System to strengthen the local self-government institutions which play an important and irreplaceable role in rural India. Jawahar Rozgar Yojana was launched to employ at least one member of each family for 50-100 days. Operation Blackboard was initiated to provide basic amenities to schools and made efforts to facilitate distance education.

The national Perspective Plan for Women was drafted in 1988, proposing reservations for women in panchayat bodies and grass root bodies. Legislation was passed for strengthening punishment for dowry related offences. He created a new Ministry of Environment and environmental clearance was made mandatory for big projects and a massive effort was launched to clean the river Ganga. Rajiv Gandhi’s government held Indian festivals in foreign countries, hence promoting Indian culture. He encouraged local and regional cultural forms as well. Rajiv Gandhi made efforts to clean up the political and bureaucratic systems. The Anti-Defection Act was passed to prevent horse trading of legislators, Lok Adalats were formed, the Consumer Protection Act was passed.

Rajiv Gandhi Administration’s Foreign Policies
Rajiv Gandhi improved India’s Foreign Relations drastically. He zealously advocated causes like nuclear disarmament and the fight against apartheid in South Africa and Namibian Independence. Rajiv Gandhi formed a personal bond of mutual respect with Gorbachev, the leader of USSR. He also rejuvenated the Non-Aligned Movement. Rajiv Gandhi visited U.S in 1985 and persuaded President Reagan to let India have the supercomputer. He was the first PM after Nehru to visit China and Pakistan and managed to initiate dialogue with its neighbors. India played a major role in negotiating the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. India got in a messy situation with Sri Lanka, India sent peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka to help the government fight LTTE. Indian troops suffered losses due to the guerrilla warfare employed by LTTE and the local population supporting them. The situation got worse when the new President urged the quick and immediate withdrawal of troops from Sri Lanka.

Failures of Rajiv Gandhi Administration
Rajiv Gandhi had an unprecedented mandate of the people which he unfortunately didn’t use to bring about any major reformative changes that would benefit the society substantially, the one golden opportunity to bring about major reformative changes was sadly not utilized. It is also said that Rajiv Gandhi mishandled the sensitive situation after Indira Gandhi’s assassination which led to violence and massacre of hundreds of Sikh people. After the historic judgement of Supreme Court in Shah Bano case, Rajiv Gandhi used the majority that Congress had in Parliament to dilute the judgement to appease the Muslim population. Rajiv Gandhi in order to appease the angered Hindu voters opened the locks of the then Babri Masjid to allow the shilanyas (foundation stone laying of the temple) of Ram Mandir, Rajiv Gandhi’s catastrophic blunder led to the rise of communalism in Indian Politics. Under Rajiv Gandhi massive modernization of Indian Military happened, which unfortunately  led to the many allegations of corruption in defense dealings and managed to create a stigma associated with defense dealings which still continue to hamper necessary defense procurements.

Bofors Scandal
Rajiv Gandhi earned the title of Mr. Clean but that was unfortunately short lived. V.P.Singh, the then Defense Minister, ordered an enquiry into defense purchases. The Opposition and the press exonerated V.P.Singh. Soon after the resignation of V.P.Singh the infamous Bofors scandal broke, which not only managed to malign Rajiv Gandhi’s reputation but also cost him an election. The label of Mr. Clean shifted to V.P.Singh and this is where the tables turned and political stability nosedived in the coming years.

Coalition Politics (1989-1991)
V.P.Singh managed to form an anti-Congress coalition with the Left and BJP, which was ironic since there was a stark ideological difference. With various corruption scandals in defense dealings, Congress party was not able to form a government. V.P.Singh was sworn in as the PM, but that was short lived. V.P.Singh made terrible errors in judgement to handle the Ayodhya dispute brewing due to L.K.Advani’s Rath Yatra. Violent riots erupted across the country with V.P.Singh announcing in the Parliament that the suggestions Mandal Commission formed during the Janata Government(1977-1979) will be implemented to give 27% reservation to OBCs. The Mandal Commission Report was outdated and flawed in many aspects as the criteria to identify OBC was outdated and unfair. Peace was only established after the Supreme Court stayed its implementation. This debacle led to the splitting of Janta Dal and Chandra Shekhar was appointed Prime Minister with the support of Congress. This was the Congress’ strategy to hold off elections until it was ready to contest them and eventually Congress withdrew its support and General Elections were announced.

Rajiv Gandhi Assassinated
Another tragedy struck the Nehru-Gandhi family; Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning in Sriperumbudur when a young woman, a suicide bomber of the LTTE, came forward to greet him and triggered a bomb that she had trapped to her waist. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at the young age of 46. In Rajiv Gandhi, India lost a virtuous and zealous Prime Minister who had held her hand and showed her the way to usher in an era of development and modern technology.

1991 General Elections
The elections to constitute the 10th Lok Sabha can be categorized into sub-elections, one before the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and one after it. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated after the first day of polling. The Indian National Congress was not quite able to exert influence before Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The INC saw a significant rise in their vote count and the voter turnout also increased immensely between the first round in May and the second one in June. The INC gained an upper hand in the elections due to a sympathy wave among the citizens of India.

Narasimha Rao’s Government  
Narasimha Rao was only the second person from the INC to be the Prime Minister of India after Lal Bahadur Shastri who did not hail from the Gandhi family and the first to be PM from the southern part of the country. Narasimha Rao is also regarded as the modern-day Chanakya and the father of the Indian Economy for liberalizing it. India was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1991 when Rao decided to liberalize the Indian economy. He appointed Dr. Manmohan Singh as the finance minister of India. The liberalization of the Indian economy meant that the Government would ease the restrictions and taxes levied on the private organizations to promote trade, local and foreign investments. The liberalization of the Indian economy led to high economic growth in India. The foreign investment in India saw a huge rise, from a mere investment of 132 million USD in 1991 to 5.3 billion USD by 1996. This paved the way for the flourish of the Indian economy, which recorded its highest GDP growth rate in 2006 and became the world’s second-fastest-growing economy after China.

Controversies during the Rao Government
A movement was started by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the 80s to “reclaim” the land where Lord Rama was born. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by L.K. Advani, became the political face of the campaign. They withdrew their support to the central government which was led by VP Singh, accusing it of being weak, which caused new elections to take place. The BJP won these elections in Uttar Pradesh with a majority, also increasing the share of their seats in the Lok Sabha. On 6th December 1992, the “kar-sevaks” attacked the mosque in huge numbers and modern-tools. The mosque was completely demolished in a few hours. This incident had serious repercussions all over the country; it brought mayhem in the form of riots in major cities like Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi, and Hyderabad. It resulted in over 2000 deaths all over the country and many terrorist organizations used the excuse of the demolition of the Babri Masjid to execute terror attacks. In 1993, a series of 12 blasts occurred in Mumbai at different locations which resulted in 257 deaths and rendered 1400 injured. The blasts were coordinated by Dawood Ibrahim and the main reason behind these attacks was the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Narasimha Rao was allegedly involved in the plot to demolish the Babri Masjid by taking no actions to stop this event.

Narasimha Rao was also allegedly involved in the Indian Stock Market scam of 1992, which was the biggest stock market scam committed in the Indian Stock Market. The scam was orchestrated by Harshad Mehta who swindled the entire country for more than Rs. 24,000 Crores. Mehta claims to have paid Narsimha Rao Rs. 1 Crore to secure his release after he was imprisoned for 3 months.

Instability in Indian Politics
Despite making many important decisions and having an eventful run in the PM’s chair, Narasimha Rao was voted out in 1996 and was forced to step down as the president of the INC. Due to religious polarization caused by the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP became the largest party in the Parliament in 1996. L.K Advani announced that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be the Prime Ministerial candidate for the BJP. Vajpayee was sworn-in as the new prime minister of India, but he failed to muster up a majority in the Lok Sabha and hence had to give up his post after 13 days.

No Party had the majority to form the government and hence all the “non-Congress and non-BJP” parties came together to form the government and H.D Deve Gowda of the Janata Party was unexpectedly chosen to be the 11th Prime Minister of India. He went on to serve the country from the 1st of June 1996 to the 27th of April 1997. 

Due to the squabbling and quarrels among the various leaders of the United Front, H.D. Deve Gowda was succeeded by Inder Kumar Gujral. He was also shown external support by the INC, but his tenure was short and extremely rocky. He had to face many difficult situations which eventually led to the fall of the United Front. Following this collapse, elections were again called upon in 1998 which eventually ended the period of instability in the Indian Government.      

13 Month Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee
General elections were held in India in 1998 and its results were indecisive, with no party or alliance able to create a strong majority. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee regained his position of Prime Minister getting support from 286 members out of 545, the government collapsed on 17 April 1999 when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, with its 18 seats, withdrew their support. This led to a vote-of-confidence motion in the parliament that the government lost 272-273 (by one vote), leading to a fresh general election in 1999.

Pokhran II tests were a series of five nuclear test explosions conducted by the Pokhran Test Range. Out of which, the first one was a fusion bomb and the remaining were fission bombs. The main motive of these tests was clear when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared India a nuclear state. When the nation was met with the concern of becoming a worldwide threat, the Defence Research and Development Organisation chief APJ Abdul Kalam, made it clear to all that it was done to keep the nation secure from the unforeseeable threat. It is a documented fact that there were satellites present to spy upon the Pokhran project at all times. To be clear, four satellites were hovering over Pokhran, so advanced that they could supposedly even be used to count the number of green patches the Indian Army soldiers had on their fatigues. They were called “Billion Dollar Spies”.

The Kargil was an armed conflict between India and Pakistan which took place between May and July 1999 in the Kargil district of Kashmir. This operation in India was referred to as Operation Vijay. The Indian Army and The Indian Air force worked hand in hand to bring out the troops of Pakistan from the Kargil sector along the Line of Control. The task taken by the two was given the code name, Operation Safed Sagar.

The war broke out as a result of the infiltration of the Pakistani soldiers disguised as Kashmiri militants into the Indian side of LOC which serves as the border between the two. To escape allegations, Pakistan blamed it entirely upon the independent Kashmiri insurgents. When looked upon, documents suggested that the Prime minister of Pakistan himself was involved in leading the forces into the Indian territories. When everything came into light, the Pakistani forces were forced to fall back.

1999 General Elections
Lok Sabha General elections were held in India between 5 September and 3 October 1999, a few months after the Kargil War. For the first time, a united front of political parties managed to win a majority and form a National government that lasted a full term of five years, thus ending a period of political instability at the national level in the country that had been characterized by the previous three general elections.

2004 General Elections
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had recommended premature dissolution of the 13th Lok Sabha to pave the way for early elections apparently in view of the recent good showing of the BJP in the Assembly elections in four states. This would turn out to be a catastrophic miscalculation by the BJP and Vajpayee. ‘India Shining’, therefore, became the slogan and the battle cry for the BJP going into the Lok Sabha election 2004. The outcome of the election was quite the shocker for the BJP. Congress formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with allies and parties from the left wing. It was expected that Sonia Gandhi would be sworn in as the Prime Minister but later she nominated Dr. Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minister of India.

Some Final Reflections
History is infamously notorious for its repetitive nature. The intention of a three-article series was to highlight the flaws, failures and success that were made along the way while this young nation was being shaped. The clues of the future lie in the old chest of history. Democracy like any other system of administration is inherently fragile and flawed. Politicians come and go; governments rise and fall but the only constant is the will of the people. From breaking the shackles of colonization to today the country has witnessed everything to understand that true power lies in the will of the people and that leaders simply cannot ignore it. People need to understand the importance of the power they wield only then they would be able to change what they want to see in the world. Rudyard Kipling has rightly said:

“Cities and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
The Cities rise again.”

-Anurag, Rohit and Yugandhar

(References: ‘India After Independence’ by Bipin Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee, ‘Democracy on the Road’ by Ruchir Sharma)

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