Split in the Congress

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Home | Final Blow | Towards 1971 elections

Congress split in 1969. The political tension inside Congress over the unsettled question of relations between its ministerial and organization wings became more pronounced. Though Indira Gandhi had acquired a certain control over the government after the blow suffered by the Syndicate in 1967 elections, she had hardly any organizational base in the party. Moreover, after the re-election of Kamaraj and S.K. Patil to the parliament in by-elections, the Syndicate members, joined by Morarji Desai, their old foe, once again asserted that the party and its Working Committee should formulate policies and the government should be accountable to the party organs for their implementation. They would also not let Indira Gandhi meddle in party affairs.

On Kamarajís retirement as party president at the end of 1967, they foiled Indira Gandhiís attempt to have her own men elected to succeed him. Instead, the post went to the conservative Nijalingappa, an original member of the Syndicate. Indira Gandhi was also not able to have some of her people elected to the new Working Committee.

Indira Gandhi's response to the Syndicate's assertion was quite cautious and calculated. She did not want to jeopardize the unity of the party and the existence of her government by precipitating a conflict with the organizational wing, especially as the party enjoyed only a small majority in the Lok Sabha. She also realized that she had hardly any organizational base in the party. Thereupon, she tried hard to avoid an open conflict and a split and to accommodate the Syndicate and Desai in both cabinet making and policies. However, she would not compromise about the supreme position and powers of the prime minister. She, too, decided to acquire a preponderant position in the party.

In May 1967, the Congress Working Committee adopted a radical Ten-Point Programme which included social control of banks, nationalization of general insurance, state trading in import and export trade, ceilings on urban property and income, curb on business monopolies and concentration of economic power, public distribution of foodgrains, rapid implementation of land reforms, provision of house-sites to the rural poor, and abolition of princely privileges.

However, the Congress right, now grew more assertive and was willing to openly advocate policies that are more right wing. Represented by Morarji Desai and Nijalingappa, the new Congress president, and other members of the Syndicate, excluding Kamaraj, it had only formally accepted the Ten-Point Programme and was determined to stall its implementation. The right wing instead advocated, (a) in the economic field, further dilution of planning, lesser emphasis on public sector, and greater encouragement to and reliance on private enterprise and foreign capital, (b) in foreign policy, strengthening of political and economic relations with the West in general and the United States in particular and (c) in the political field, suppression of the left.

As conflict between the right and the left developed within the Congress party, the right also advocated greater party discipline and reigning in of the Young Turks and other leftists. The left, on the other hand, openly attacked Morarji Desai as the representative of big business. Initially, with a view to avoid organizational and ideological polarization and a split in the party, Indira Gandhi adopted a cautious, non-partisan attitude in the heated debate between the right and the left in the party.

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