India was confronted with serious challenges of nation-building right in the beginning after it gained Independence.
The Constitution came into effect on 26 January, 1950. The Election Commission of India was set up in January 1950. Sukumar Sen became the first Chief Election Commissioner. The country’s first general elections were expected sometime in 1950 itself.
But the Election Commission discovered that it was not going to be easy to hold a free and fair election in a country of India’s size. The elections had to be postponed finally held from October 1951 to February 1952. This election is referred to as the 1952 election.
The results of the first general election did not surprise anyone. Indian National Congress won 364 of the 489 seats in the first Lok Sabha elections. The Communist Party of India that came next in terms of seats won only 16 seats.
Second and Third Elections
In the second and the third general elections, held in 1957 and 1962 respectively, the Congress maintained the same position in the Lok Sabha by winning three-fourth of the seats.
However, the presence of opposition played a crucial role in maintaining the democratic character of the system. These parties offered a sustained and often principled criticism of the policies and practices of the Congress party.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in May 1964. When Nehru passed away, K. Kamraj, the president of the congress party consulted party leaders and congress members of Parliament and found that there was a consensus in favour of Lal Bahadur Shastri. He was unanimously chosen as the country’s next Prime Minister.
Shastri was the country’s Prime Minister from 1964 to 1966. During Shastri’s brief Prime Ministership, the country faced two major challenges. While India was still recovering from the economic implications of the war with China (1962), failed monsoons, drought and serious food crisis presented a grave challenge.
India also faced a war with Pakistan in 1965. Shastri’s famous slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, symbolised the country’s resolve to face both these challenges.
Shastri’s Prime Ministership came to an abrupt end on 10 January 1966, when he suddenly expired.
The congress faced the challenge of political succession for the second time in two years. This time there was an intense competition between Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi (daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru) defeated Morarji Desai by securing the support of more than two-thirds of the party’s MPs.
Within a year of becoming Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi had to lead the party in a Lok Sabha election. Around this time, the economic situation in the country had further deteriorated.
Parties opposed to the congress realized that the division of their votes kept the congress in power. Thus parties that were entirely different and disparate in their programmes and ideology got together to form anti-congress fronts in some states and entered into electoral adjustments of sharing seats in others.
They felt that the inexperience of Indira Gandhi and the internal factionalism within the congress provided them an opportunity to topple the congress. The socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia gave this strategy the name of ‘non-congressism’.
In 1967, the congress was facing the electorate for the first time without Nehru. The congress did manage to get a majority in the Lok Sabha, but with its lowest tally of seats and share of votes since 1952.
The real challenge to Indira Gandhi came not from the opposition but from within her own party. She had to deal with the ‘syndicate’, a group of powerful and influential leaders from within the congress. The Syndicate had played a role in the installation of Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister by ensuring her election as the leader of the parliamentary party.
These leaders expected Indira Gandhi to follow their advise. Gradually, however, Indira Gandhi attempted to assert her position within the government and the party. She chose her trusted group of advisers from outside the party. Slowly and carefully, she sidelined the Syndicate.
She launched a series of initiatives to give the government policy a Left orientation. She got the congress Working committee to adopt a Ten Point Programme in May 1967. While the ‘syndicate’ leaders formally approved this Left-wing programme, they had serious reservations about the same. The factional rivalry between the Syndicate and Indira Gandhi led to serious differences resulting in Desai leaving the government.
The congress group led by the ‘syndicate’ came to be referred to as the congress (Organisation) and the group led by Indira Gandhi came to be called the congress (Requisitionists). These two parties were also described as Old congress and New congress.
The split in the congress reduced Indira Gandhi Government to a minority. Yet her government continued in office with the issue-based support of a few other parties including the communist Party of India and the DMK.
1971 General Elections
Indira Gandhi’s government recommended the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in December 1970. The fifth general election to Lok Sabha were held in February 1971. Indira Gandhi put forward a positive programme captured in the famous slogan: Garibi Hatao (Remove Poverty).
The congress(R) - CPI alliance won more seats and votes than the congress had ever won in the first four general elections. They combine won 375 seats in Lok Sabha. Indira Gandhi’s congress(R) won 352 seats.
Economic and social problems, as well as allegations of corruption caused increasing political unrest across India. In 1974, the Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing government machinery for election purposes. Opposition parties conducted nationwide strikes and protests demanding her immediate resignation.
Various political parties united under Jaya Prakash Narayan to resist what he termed Mrs. Gandhi's dictatorship. Leading strikes across India paralysed its economy and administration. In 1975, Mrs. Gandhi advised President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency under the Constitution, which allowed the Central government to assume sweeping powers to defend law and order in the nation.
Congress Party called for general elections in 1977 and suffered a defeat at the hands of the Janata Party, an amalgamation of opposition parties. Morarji Desai became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India. The Desai administration established tribunals to investigate Emergency-era abuses, and Indira and Sanjay Gandhi were arrested after a report from the Shah Commission.
In 1979, the coalition crumbled and Charan Singh formed an interim government.
Indira Gandhi and her Congress party were swept back into power with a large majority in January 1980.
On 31 October 1984, the Prime Minister was assassinated. The Congress party chose Rajiv Gandhi, Indira's older son as the next Prime Minister.
Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. He led the Congress to a massive victory in the Lok Sabha elections held immediately thereafter in 1984.
In 1989, the Congress was defeated in the elections. The party that had won as many as 415 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 was reduced to only 197 in this election.
But the elections did not result in a majority for any other party. Though the Congress was the largest party in the Lok Sabha, it did not have a clear majority and therefore, it decided to sit in the opposition.
The National Front (alliance of Janata Dal and some other regional parties) received support from two diametrically opposite political groups: the BJP and the Left Front. On this basis, the National Front formed a coalition government, but the BJP and the Left Front did not join in this government.
In the new phase of coalition governments, any government could be formed only with the participation or support of many regional parties. This applied to the National Front in 1989, the United Front in 1996 and 1997, the NDA in 1997, BJP-led coalition in 1998, NDA in 1999 and the UPA in 2004.
1996 General Elections
In May 1996 elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without enough strength to prove a majority. The United Front was created, resulting in H.D. Deve Gowda from the Janata Dal being the Prime Minister of India.
1998 General Elections
In 1997, the Congress Party withdrew support for the United Front. New elections in February 1998 brought the BJP the largest number of seats in Parliament (182), but this fell far short of a majority. In March 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister.
1999 General Elections
In April 1999, the coalition government led by the BJP fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a new coalition led by the BJP, gained a majority to form a government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999.
Lok Sabha Elections, 2004
In January 2004, Prime Minister Vajpayee recommended early dissolution of the Lok Sabha and general elections. The Congress Party-led alliance won an surprise victory in elections held in May 2004. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister.
The Congress formed a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance with Socialist and regional parties, and enjoyed the outside support of India's Communist parties.
General Elections in 2009
In the election in 2009, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won 262 seats, with Congress alone winning 206 seats.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since its foundation in 1980 won several elections, and after a defeat in 2004 remained the leading force of opposition against the coalition government of the Congress Party. The national general election, held in 2014, saw a dramatic victory of BJP. It gained an absolute majority and formed the government, under the Prime Minister of Narendra Modi. He contested the election with 'Development of the country' as the slogan.