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India in the 1970s


Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi

Prime Minister Shastri died just as India entered a period of severe economic crisis, brought on by successive monsoon failures and the failure of the strategy of self-reliant industrialization to generate resources necessary for investment. Shastri’s successor was Nehru’s daughter, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi. Gandhi, who was leader of the Congress Party and an elected member of parliament since 1955, was chosen by a group of conservative old-guard Congress leaders known as “the syndicate.” The syndicate regarded her as a pliant figurehead, but also as a genuinely national leader who was needed to preserve Congress power in the 1967 elections. In those elections the Congress suffered serious reverses and was soundly defeated in a number of states as well as being reduced to a minority of seats in the lower house of parliament; a number of syndicate members lost their seats.

In this atmosphere of political instability and economic crisis, Indira Gandhi took the bold initiative of nationalizing the country’s largest banks and abolishing payments of personal allowances to the Indian princes, which had been part of the agreement that had brought them peacefully into the Indian union. In the 1971 elections, campaigning on a platform of abolishing poverty, Gandhi led the Congress Party to a decisive victory.

In December 1970 the Awami League, an East Pakistani party advocating a federation under which East Pakistan would be virtually independent, won a majority of votes in Pakistan’s first legislative elections since independence. Civil war broke out in the country after Pakistan’s military leader refused to allow the legislature to convene. Millions of refugees, mainly Hindus, were forced into India.

India supported the East Pakistani freedom fighters with sanctuary, training, and arms, and when Pakistan bombed Indian airfields on December 3, 1971, India invaded Pakistan to liberate East Pakistan. The Pakistani troops were quickly defeated, and East Pakistan gained recognition as the independent nation of Bangladesh (Bengali for “land of the Bengalis”). Pakistan’s humiliating defeat, despite the efforts of the United States on its behalf, restored India’s pride that had been so badly hurt by its defeat by China.

The success also of the Green Revolution, an effort to diversify and increase crop yields, brought India to a position of self-sufficiency in food grain production, and made the sweeping victory of Gandhi’s Congress in the 1972 state elections almost inevitable.

Gandhi attempted to build on this political advantage by reorganizing the party so that its state leaders would owe their primary loyalty to her and the national party, and to push forward further radical measures in the economic sphere, nationalizing the wholesale trade in wheat in 1973. A worldwide oil crisis in 1973, coupled with a series of poor harvests, brought about severe inflation. Gandhi began to lose support after several unpopular moves, such as rescinding on the nationalization of wholesale wheat trade and the testing of the country’s first atomic device in 1974. By the spring of 1975 harsh economic measures had brought the economy back under control. At the same time, however, Gandhi was convicted of corrupt practices in the election of 1971.

Although she maintained her innocence, opposition to Gandhi grew, bringing together elite politicians anxious for power with a grassroots opposition movement that had been building in the previous year. Gandhi’s response to this mounting pressure was to declare a state of national emergency in June 1975. Opposition politicians were jailed, the press was censored, and strong disciplinary measures were taken against a bureaucracy that had grown slack and corrupt. Initially the country did well under the so-called Emergency Rule: Hindu-Muslim riots, which had been increasing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, virtually ceased, prices stabilized, and government seemed to work with honesty and vigor.

As stringent measures and corruption in the government continued, however, the Indian public grew resentful, and open opposition to Congress leaders and the bureaucracy surfaced. In the fall of 1976 Gandhi pushed through amendments to the constitution that would have entrenched many of the emergency provisions. At the same time, her younger son, Sanjay, was associated with a coercive family planning campaign and similar measures, and government leaders enjoyed a lack of accountability to the public. "India" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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