“Dissent within the Congress, party opposition and press criticism ceased to function as thermostats measuring discontent. They were now interpreted as anti-party, anti-national and traitorous or even foreign inspired…Opposition party attempts to mobilize and express local grievances, valid or not, were perceived as law and order problems”
The Emergency imposed by Mrs. Gandhi, led the power to be even more centralized. James Manor attributes this ‘centralization’ to the weakening of Congress and her power, at least for the elections that happened after the Emergency. On the basis of discontent and hatred towards the Mrs Gandhi and her party, coupled with many members leaving her side and joining the opposition, a coalition of a majority of the opposition consisting of Bharitiya Lok Dal, Congress(O), Bharitiya Jan Sangh formed the Janata Party and swept the elections in 1977. However, ideological differences between senior party leaders who had different agendas, led to the weakening of the alliance and the main allies deserted soon. Congress(I) used the idea of a “stable government” to get reelected into power. The period of power for Janata Party, though insignificant in terms of ushering in a new era, it is a landmark in the history of Indian democracy for being the first time a non-Congress government was in power in the center. An important aspect of the shift in dynamics of Indian politics is the creation of this new class of politicians, the rich farmers, notably created with the advent of the Green Revolution and the rise of the middle and lower castes (OBCs). The tussle for the power bloc between the rich peasantry and the industrial bourgeoisie led to fallout amongst the Janata party and presented Indira Gandhi with an opportune moment to seize and gain control.
A similar decade of Congress dominance followed, notably intervened by the death of Indira Gandhi and the vicious anti-Sikh riots after which her son Rajiv Gandhi took over the reins. Though similar in terms of the political party that governed the nation, there was a significant change in the dynamics of the electorate. Political parties, whether at the state or national level, started focusing on select segments of the polity to benefit themselves. State political parties forced a resurgence which was led by the film star turned politician NT Ramarao in Andhra Pradesh. Under the umbrella of Janata Dal, state-wide political formations had already begun to exercise a significant role in national politics. It was almost like a vicious democratic cycle was being put into place. First, the Congress would win with a massive majority and disappoint those who elected them and then a feeble opposition alliance would be voted in which would fail eventually, not because of the lack of intentions but because of the differences in ideologies. The Rajiv Gandhi government did try to alleviate some of the criticisms against her mother’s government by moving towards a more liberal stance on the economic policies of the country. The “decisive stimulus” of change in the 1989 elections was what is commonly referred to as the 3Ms of Indian politics: Mandal, Mandir and Market. These three issues that took political center stage in the closing years of the decade had the perfect conditions to allow for a total realignment of the political ideologies. They did show their effects in the 1991 elections, which considering the cycle established, Congress was supposed to win with a landslide majority. However, they only managed to get a plurality and formed a minority government with the help of the Left parties. The Congress minority government managed a full term and was the game changer that many attributed India’s rapid growth post-1991 to.
The election is said to have ushered in a new era of politics characterized by a more distinct two party democracy, though one could only see the full effects in the 1998 elections. The rise of BJP and its increasing voter base through the 80s was a “three dimensional” growth for the party. It not only increased its presence in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but also beyond the Hindi speaking belt into South India. It also expanded its social structure as it sought to include a formidable rural base consisting of upper caste farmers, OBCs and a few adivasis. In the political arena, they managed to forge alliances with political organizations at the state level, which were outside the Hindutva ideology. “The third electoral college” as Yogendra Yadav calls the state of politics in India in the 1990s and onwards, remarks a shift of politics from national to the state level.
The second remarkable change in Indian democracy has been that of the demographics of the electorate. The change in how voters have effected elections since the first elections in 1952 is quite noticeable and has shaped in many ways, the nature of politics in India in the present. In the initial two decades much of the population did not understand the power of their votes and there was generally a low level of electoral participation. Since the 1970s and especially in the 1980s there was democratic upsurge that can be best identified by the significance most political parties attributed to in their election campaigns, trying to appease the aam junta or the ordinary people. At the state level many political parties developed focus on a certain part of the demographic and sought votes from the particular sections. A vote, has the same power regardless of the standing of the person in the society and the more the oppressed and backward classes realize this, the fate of those who will rule within our parliamentary governance will be” determined, in an unexpected way, more and more by those who are weak and powerless and driven by need”. The voters have developed consciousness of their voting power which can be characterized by an analogy of sorts in two examples comparing 1980s and the present. Rajiv Gandhi won the 1984 elections on the basis of a “sympathy wave” following the death of his mother. 20 years later, Chandrababu Naidu called for fresh elections in Andhra Pradesh, after being in power for over 9 years with the hope that they “sympathy wave” would ride with him following the Naxalite attacks on his convoy near Tirupati. He was summarily broomed out of power due to poor performance of his government in key sectors.