Revisiting the 1967 General Elections: A Pivot of India's Downfall

The 1967 General Elections of India was a crucial juncture in the history of "independent India." It was the clear line that separated decency from brazenness.
Revisiting the 1967 General Elections: A Pivot of India's Downfall

Introduction

THE 1967 GENERAL ELECTIONS OF INDIA is one of those watershed events in the history of “independent” India that changed her future for the worse. It was arguably the singular event that marks a neat cleavage between decency and flagrance in public life. It was a Samudra-Manthana of the ocean of poison and everything that emerged from it flooded and scarred the whole country. By all counts, it was a sickening normalisation of evil.

The denizens of the Congress Party beginning right at the top, from Indira Gandhi, openly declared that public opinion was a pesky impediment which could be overcome by proclaiming shamelessness publicly. By then, twenty years had elapsed since India had achieved “freedom” and its squandering was now official business. The roots of the Congress and its sprawling Lutyens ecosystem had now grown into a near-formidable tree.

On the other side, people from all walks of life who genuinely cared for our national interest had begun to watch these ominous signs with trepidation. Even as it was happening, they realized that the run up to the 1967 elections and its aftermath was a force for unmitigated national disaster.

However, during the same period, the machinery and the political operation of elections on the ground had already undergone a softcore subversion. Congress party honchos who had now been addicted to the trappings of lucre began eating it from within. Rampant factionalism, nepotism and corruption all of which had been whispered about only within the government and party circles until now burst open in full public glare.

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The consequence was immediate. On the national stage, the Congress tally was eroded by 78 seats, crashing down to 283. The Congress Party was wiped out in seven states. However, instead of waking up to the harsh reality of this verdict, Indira Gandhi took it as a personal affront. After eventually splitting the party, she went berserk by initiating the scorched-earth policy of imposing the President’s Rule to oust Governments elected by popular mandate. The other side of this coin was the felling of popular and competent Congress leaders at the state level. Morarji Desai was an early victim. Bulldozed by Indira Gandhi’s skullduggery, he was forced out of the Congress.

While all this sounds like ancient history today, it also forms a summary backdrop to fully appreciate the first-hand description of the situation back then.

The following are some extracts from the notes written by the legendary DVG on the eve of the 1967 elections. We trust that these will prove useful both to the studious researcher and the proverbial lay reader. Some formatting changes have been made.

General Elections [1967]

Judging from the candidatures so far announced, we should be doomed to disappointment if we looked for a new heaven and a new earth to issue from the General Elections of the next month. A great many of the candidates are men who have long been…mostly in the Congress party. New recruits are comparatively few. The old men can inspire no hope or confidence because they are known; and the new ones can inspire none because they are not known. Except for a handful like Mr. Masani (Swatantra) and Mr. A. B. Vajapayee (Jan Sangh), there is no one noted for ability combined with loyalty to principle.

It is surprising in the extreme that after two decades of continuous hold on power, the Congress is not able to put more than mere mediocrities in the field. The overall significance is that men of acknowledged standing in intellectual achievement or moral prestige or record of social work are avoiding the hustings. It would be damaging to ourselves as it must be untrue to say that we have not a sufficiency of the requisite character and calibre in the country. We have such citizens in good numbers. But the atmosphere built up during the last 20 years has been such as to disgust them and frighten them away.

Election-Eve Comico-Tragedy

The scramble for candidature-tickets and constituencies in the Congress party is a study in the seamy side of human nature. A certain amount of vulgarity is intrinsic to democratic politics. Its prizes are for the self-advertising. The smaller one's worth, the louder must one's trumpet blow. What aggravates the ugliness of the scene is the advent of money-bags. For a party that professes socialism and concern for the poor, the scale of expenditure for which it prepares, gives sharpness to the question whether democracy is an end so absolutely good as to deserve s0 much sacrifice of moral principle.

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Manoeuvres start months in advance. The aspirant for party leadership in the legislature—which means Premiership at the Centre and Chief Ministership in a State—must first see to it that the primaries are­ men selected for their loyalty to him. Hence all the shindig about the personnel of the Candidate Election Committee. Pack the Selection Committee with your men. Then it will be for that Committee to ensure that the unfavourable and the doubtful are shut out from candidature. The third stage is nursing the hand-picked and ensuring their return to the legislature. The fourth stage will come after the results of the election are known. The successful candidates will thereafter face their ordeal of knowing whom to support for the highest position and for the aspirant to know whom to woo among the elected. The Chief Ministership is in the gift of the elected party bosses and other Ministerships are in the gift of the Chief Minister. It is thus a case of mutual adjustment between the two.

Such is the working reality of the “Sovereign democratic republic” of the Constitution. No more mocking contrast can be there between the book-ridden ideal and the life-affecting real. One does not derive much hope for the ideal when one contemplates the triangular contest at the very peak: Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Mr. Morarji Desai, and Mr. Kamaraj - each having no doubt that she or he alone can save the country. Shades of Gokhale and Gandhi! O! shades of Cromwell and Mazzini!

Tradesmanship

It is generally estimated that the average size of investment for a serious contestant in the elections is of the order of ₹ 20,000. Only a fool would risk so much for nothing. A sensible candidate must count upon chances of not only reimbursing himself, but also getting interest at the market-rate besides a sizeable return too, for the risks taken. You cannot deny that there is fairness in this. Is it not then ungrateful if you grumble that democracy is expensive and that it is money that activates public life? If you do not grudge paying for the onion or the tomato which you fancy, why should you grumble to pay the price of the privilege of democratic citizenship?

Vocabulary of Politics

Two recent additions are noteworthy. The alert and sprightly cartoonist of the Deccan Herald bas enriched contemporary politics with a new word, ­ a very truthful and expressive word Nityagrahi· It is on the face of it an evolution from Satyagrahi. And Nityagraha is a new profession of our day.

Our Tamil brethren have coined Sorilla Socialism as a counterblast to Democratic Socialism. Soru (Choru) is riee-gruel; illa is “to be without.” Democratic Socialism is equated with gruel-less starving. Ask Kerala. Ask Bihar. Ask any housewife anywhere between Shimla and the sea.

Epilogue

The perverse epilogue to the soul-sucking 1967 elections is a special postage stamp that the triumphant Indira Gandhi Government published. A more sinister message is hard to find: on the surface, it was a commemoration of the elections but it was really the commemoration of Indira Gandhi’s pivotal milestone in her quest for absolute power. One also detects a pun in the word “stamp.”

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