top of page

Challenges To And the Restoration of The Congress System | Class 12 Political Science

The Chapter introduces students to the challenges that came across in the restoration of the Congress system in Indian politics. It describes the multi dimensional political phase after Nehru. We also highlight the various general elections and the presidential elections and other interesting developments.


Political Succession After Nehru

What was the Challenge to Political Succession after Nehru?

After the demise of our Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1964. The whole nation was stuck with the question of who will succeed after Nehru and whether India’s democratic experiment will survive or not.

It was feared that India would not be able to manage democratic succession. The 1960s is labelled as a dangerous decade as the nation was dealing with unresolved problems like poverty, inequality, communal and regional division etc. which may lead to the failure of democracy.

From Nehru to Shastri

Lal Bahadur Shastri became the next Prime Minister (1964-66) of the nation after K. Kamraj the president of INC Consulted all the members of the party and voted in favour.

Shastri had been a minister in Nehru’s cabinet and was also the Non-controversial leader among all from Uttar Pradesh. Earlier he had resigned from the position of Railway Minister accepting moral responsibility for a major railway accident.

The nation faced two major Challenges during Shastri’s tenure. While India was still recovering from the economic implications of the war with China, failed monsoons, drought and serious food crisis presented a grave challenge.

The second Challenge was that the country also fought 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 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), then in the USSR.

Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan’s president Muhammad Ayub Khan, both were there to sign an agreement, to end the war. (Tashkent agreement).

From Shastri to Indra Gandhi

Indra Gandhi took the charge after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

This time there was an intense competition between Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi.

Morarji Desai had earlier served as Chief Minister of Bombay state (today’s Maharashtra and Gujarat) and also as a Minister at the centre.

Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, had been Congress President in the past and had also been Union Minister for Information in the Shastri cabinet.

Indira Gandhi defeated Morarji Desai by securing the support of more than two-thirds of the party’s MPs. The senior leaders supported Indra Gandhi in the belief that she would be dependent on them because of administrative and political inexperience.

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 and piled her problems up.

Fourth General Elections

What changes occurred in the Fourth General Elections, 1967?

The country witnessed major changes in the years leading up to the fourth general election. Two Prime Ministers had died in quick succession, and the new Prime Minister, who was being seen as a political novice, had been in office for less than a year.

The nation faced a grave economic crisis from the successive failure of monsoons, drought, the decline in agricultural production, devaluation of currency etc.

One of the first decisions of the Indira Gandhi government was to devalue the Indian rupee, under what was seen to be pressure from the US.

The economic situation triggered an off-price rise. People started protesting against the increase in prices of essential commodities, food scarcity, growing unemployment and the overall economic condition in the country.

‘Bandhs’ and ‘Hartals’ were called frequently across the country which was considered as a law and order problem despite people's expression regarding their problems.

The communist and socialist parties launched struggles for greater equality. This period also witnessed some of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots since Independence.

What was Non-Congress?

The opposition parties were at the forefront of organising public protests and creating unrest.

Parties opposed to the Congress realised that the division of their votes kept the Congress in power.

Thus parties that were entirely different in their programmes and ideology got together to form anti-Congress fronts.

They felt that the inexperience of Indira Gandhi and the internal factionalism within the Congress provided them with an opportunity to topple the Congress.

This strategy, the name of ‘non-Congressism’ was given by socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia.

Congress rule was undemocratic and opposed to the interests of ordinary poor people; therefore the coming together of the non-Congress parties was necessary for reclaiming democracy for the people. ~Ram Manohar Lohia

The Electoral Verdict

This context of heightened popular discontent and the polarisation of political forces caused the Elections to be held in February 1967.

Congress was facing the electorate for the first time without Nehru. The Election results were described as a ‘Political Earthquake’.

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. Half the ministers in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet were defeated.

The senior political leader Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu, S.K. Patil in Maharashtra, Atulya Ghosh in West Bengal and K. B. Sahay in Bihar lost their constituencies. Congress lost the majority in as many as seven States. In two other States defections prevented it from forming a government.

These nine states where the Congress lost power were spread across the country

In Madras State (now called Tamil Nadu), a regional party called Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)- came to power by securing a clear majority.

The DMK won power after having led a massive anti-Hindi agitation by students against the centre on the issue of the imposition of Hindi as the official language. It was the first time a non-congress party gained a majority in its own region.

Coalition governments formed consisting of different non-Congress parties in the other eight states.


No single party had got the majority, various non-Congress parties came together to form joint legislative parties (called Samyukta Vidhayak Dal in Hindi) that supported non-Congress governments.

That is why these governments came to be described as SVD governments in many cases the coalition partners were ideologically incongruent.

The SVD government in Bihar, for instance, included the two socialist parties SSP & PSP along with the CPI on the left and Jana Sangh on the right.

In Punjab, it was called the ‘Popular United Front’ and comprised the two rival Akali parties at that time- the sant group and the master group- with both the communist parties- the CPI and The CPI(M),

The SSP, The Republican Party and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

What does the term ‘DEFECTION’ stand for?

When an elected representative leaves the party on whose symbol he/she was elected and joins another party is known as defection.

Defection played an important role in the politics after 1967 in making and unmaking of the governments.

After the 1967 general election, the breakaway Congress legislators played an important role in installing non-Congress governments in three States - Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The constant realignments and shifting political loyalties in this period gave rise to the expression ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’.

What made the congress Split?

The Congress retained power at the Centre after the 1967 elections but with a reduced majority and lost power in many States.

The results proved that Congress could be defeated at the elections. But there was no substitute as yet.

Most non-Congress coalition governments in the States did not survive for long. They lost the majority, and either new combinations were formed or President’s rule had to be imposed.

Indira vs. the ‘Syndicate’

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 advice.

Indira Gandhi attempted to assert her position within the government and the party. She chose her trusted group of advisers from outside the party.

Syndicates were sidelined slowly and carefully by Indra.

Indira Gandhi thus faced two challenges as she needed to build her independence from the Syndicate. She also needed to work towards regaining the ground that the Congress had lost in the 1967 elections.

A very bold strategy was adopted by Indra, she converted a simple power struggle into an ideological struggle. 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. This programme included social control of banks, nationalisation of General Insurance, the ceiling on urban property and income, public distribution of food grains, land reforms and provision of house sites to the rural poor.

The ‘syndicate’ leaders formally approved this Left-wing programme; they had serious reservations about the same.

Politics of Presidential Election, 1969

The factional rivalry between the Syndicate and Indira Gandhi came in the open in 1969. The post of President of India fell vacant due to the death of earlier President ‘Zakir Hussain’.

N. Sanjeeva Reddy, the speaker of Lok Sabha was nominated by the syndicate as the official Congress candidate. He was the longtime opponent of Indra.

Indira Gandhi retaliated by encouraging the then Vice-President, V.V. Giri, to file his nomination as an independent candidate.

She also announced several big and popular policy measures like the nationalisation of fourteen leading private banks and the abolition of the ‘privy purse’ or the special privileges given to former princes.

Morarji Desai was the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

The then Congress President S. Nijalingappa issued a ‘whip’ asking all the Congress MPs and MLAs to vote in favour of Sanjeeva Reddy, the official candidate of the party.

Supporters of Indira Gandhi requisitioned a special meeting of the AICC (that is why this faction came to be known as ‘requisitionists’) but this was refused. After silently supporting V.V. Giri, the Prime Minister openly called for a ‘conscience vote’ which meant that the MPs and MLAs from Congress should be free to vote the way they want.

The election ultimately resulted in the victory of V.V. Giri, the independent candidate, and the defeat of Sanjeeva Reddy, the official Congress candidate.

The defeat of the official Congress candidate formalised the split in the party.

The Congress President expelled the Prime Minister from the party; she claimed that her group was the real Congress.

By November 1969, 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. Indira Gandhi projected the split as an ideological divide between socialists and conservatives, between the pro-poor and the pro-rich.

What was a Privy Purse? What was the reason for its abolishment?

This integration of Princely states was preceded by an assurance that after the dissolution of princely rule, the then rulers’ families would be allowed to retain the certain private property, and given a grant in heredity or government allowance, measured on the basis of the extent, revenue and potential of the merging state.

This grant was called the Privy Purse.

At the time of accession, there was little criticism of these privileges since integration and consolidation was the primary aim.

Hereditary privileges were not consonant with the principles of equality and social and economic justice laid down in the Constitution of India.

Indira Gandhi supported the demand that the government should abolish privy purses. Morarji Desai, however, called the move morally wrong and amounted to a ‘breach of faith with the princes’.

The government tried to bring a Constitutional amendment in 1970, but it was not passed in Rajya Sabha. An ordinance was also issued which was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Indira Gandhi made this into a major election issue in 1971 and got a lot of public support. This resulted in a massive victory in the 1971 election, the Constitution was amended to remove legal obstacles for the abolition of the ‘privy purse’.

The 1971 Election and Restoration of Congress

Indra Gandhi’s govt. was reduced to a minority due to the split in Congress.

She continued in office with the issue-based support of a few other parties including the Communist Party of India and the DMK.

During this period the government made conscious attempts to project its socialist credentials.

In the thin phase, Indira Gandhi vigorously campaigned for implementing the existing land reform laws and undertook further land ceiling legislation.

In order to end her dependence on other political parties, strengthen her party’s position in the Parliament, and seek a popular mandate for her programmes, Indira Gandhi’s government recommended the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in December 1970.

The fifth General Election to Lok Sabha was held in February 1971.

The Contest in the Electoral Politics

The electoral contest appeared to be loaded against Congress(R).

After all, the new Congress was just one faction of an already weak party. Everyone believed that the real organisational strength of the Congress party was under the command of Congress (O).

All the major non-communist, non-Congress opposition parties formed an electoral alliance known as the Grand Alliance.

The SSP, PSP, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and the Bharatiya Kranti Dal came together under this umbrella.

The ruling party had an alliance with the CPI.

The new Congress had something that its big opponents lacked; it had an issue, an agenda and a positive slogan. The Grand Alliance did not have a coherent political programme.

Indira Gandhi said that the opposition alliance had only one common programme: Indira Hatao.

‘Garibi Hatao’ was the slogan given by Indra Gandhi.

The main focus was on the public sector, imposition of a ceiling on rural landholdings and urban property, removal of disparities in income and opportunity, and the abolition of princely privileges.

Indira Gandhi tried to generate a support base among the disadvantaged, especially among the landless labourers, Dalits and Adivasis, minorities, women and the unemployed youth through Garibi Hatao.

What were The Outcomes?

The Congress(R)-CPI alliance won more seats and votes than the Congress had ever won in the first four general elections.

The combine won 375 seats in Lok Sabha and secured 48.4 per cent votes.

Indira Gandhi’s Congress(R) won 352 seats with about 44 per cent of the popular votes on its own.

The Congress party led by Indira Gandhi established its claim to being the ‘real’ Congress and restored to it the dominant position in Indian politics.

The Grand Alliance of the opposition proved a grand failure. Their combined tally of seats was less than 40.

After the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, a major political and military crisis broke out in East Pakistan.

Indra became popular through these events, even the opposition leaders admired her statesmanship. Her party swept through all the State Assembly elections held in 1972.

She was seen not only as the protector of the poor and the underprivileged, but also a strong nationalist leader.

The dominance of the Congress was restored with two successive election victories, one at the centre and the other at the State level.

Congress was now in power in almost all the States. It was also popular across different social sections.

Was Congress really Restored?

Indra re-invented the party in many ways. The party occupied a similar position in terms of its popularity as in the past. But it was a different kind of party.

It relied entirely on the popularity of the supreme leader and also had a somewhat weak organisational structure.

This Congress party now did not have many factions, thus it could not accommodate all kinds of opinions and interests. It depended more on some social groups: the poor, the women, Dalits, Adivasis and the minorities during elections.

This was a new Congress that had emerged.

Thus Indira Gandhi restored the Congress system by changing the nature of the Congress system itself.

Despite being more popular, the new Congress did not have the kind of capacity to absorb all tensions and conflicts that the Congress system was known for.

While the Congress consolidated its position and Indira Gandhi assumed a position of unprecedented political authority, the spaces for the democratic expression of people’s aspirations actually shrank.

The popular unrest and mobilisation around issues of development and economic deprivation continued to grow.

Our Leaders

Lal Bahadur Shastri (1904-1966):

Prime Minister of India; participated in the freedom movement since 1930.

  • Minister in the UP cabinet.

  • General Secretary of Congress.

  • Minister in Union Cabinet from 1951 to 1956 when he resigned taking responsibility for the railway accident and later from 1957 to 1964

  • Coined the famous slogan ‘Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan’.

Indira Gandhi (1917-1984):

Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984;

  • Daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru.

  • She participated in the freedom struggle as a young Congress worker.

  • Congress President in 1958.

  • Minister in Shastri’s cabinet from 1964-66.

  • Led the Congress party to victory in 1967, 1971 and 1980 general elections.

  • Credited with the slogan ‘garibi hatao, victory in 1971 war and for policy initiatives like the abolition of Privy Purse, nationalisation of banks, the nuclear test and environmental protection.

  • Assassinated on 31 October 1984.

C. Natarajan Annadurai (1909-1969):

Chief Minister of Madras (Tamil Nadu) from 1967.

  • A journalist, popular writer and orator.

  • Initially associated with the Justice Party in Madras province.

  • later joined Dravida Kazhagam (1934).

  • Formed DMK as a political party in 1949.

  • A proponent of Dravid culture, he was opposed to the imposition of Hindi and led the anti-Hindi agitations.

  • Supporter of greater autonomy to States.

Rammanohar Lohia (1910-1967):

Socialist leader and thinker.

  • Freedom fighter and among the founders of the Congress Socialist Party.

  • After the split in the parent party, the leader of the Socialist Party and later the Samyukta Socialist Party.

  • Member, Lok Sabha, 1963- 67; founder editor of Mankind and Jan, known for original contribution to a non-European socialist theory; as a political leader, best known for sharp attacks on Nehru, the strategy of non-Congress, advocacy of reservation for backward castes and opposition to English.

K. Kamraj (1903-1975):

Freedom fighter and Congress President.

  • Chief Minister of Madras (Tamil Nadu).

  • Have suffered educational deprivation, made efforts to spread education in Madras province.

  • Introduced a mid-day meal scheme for school children.

  • In 1963 he proposed that all senior Congressmen should resign from office to make way for younger party workers—this proposal is famous as the ‘Kamraj plan.’

S. Nijalingappa (1902-2000):

  • Senior Congress leader.

  • Member of Constituent Assembly.

  • Member of Lok Sabha.

  • Chief Minister of the then Mysore (Karnataka) State,

  • Regarded as the maker of modern Karnataka.

  • President of Congress during 1968-71.

Karpoori Thakur (1924-1988):

Chief Minister of Bihar between December 1970 and June 1971 and again between June 1977 and April 1979.

  • Freedom Fighter and socialist leader.

  • Active in labour and peasant movements.

  • Staunch follower of Lohia.

  • Participated in the movement led by JP.

  • He is known for his decision to introduce reservations for the backward classes in Bihar during his second Chief Ministership.

  • Strong opponent of the use of the English Language.

V.V. Giri (1894-1980):

President of India from 1969 to 1974

  • Congress worker and labour leader from Andhra Pradesh.

  • Indian High Commissioner to Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

  • Labour Minister in the Union cabinet; Governor of U.P., Kerala, Mysore (Karnataka).

  • Vice-President (1967-1969) and acting President after the death of President Zakir Hussain; resigned and contested presidential election as an independent candidate; received support from Indira Gandhi for his election as President.


bottom of page