In its determination to politically destroy Indira Gandhi, the party succeeded in hastening her return to power.
It was on a tidal wave of goodwill that the newly formed Janata Party came to power after defeating Indira Gandhi humiliatingly in the post-Emergency polls in 1977. Indeed, there was no dearth of Janata’s jubilant supporters that hailed the changeover as a “revolution by the ballot-box”. If really so, then it must be the only revolution to have been devoured by its children. To careful observers of the scene, the possibility of self-destruction by the Janata was evident even when it was being applauded for having ended the nightmare of the Emergency and restored democracy. A glaring sign of the shape of things to come was a triangular strife within the victorious party over who should lead the government.
Charan Singh, a former Congress chief minister of the politically key state of Uttar Pradesh and leader of a caste-based party of farmers, argued that since the Janata had won in the northern part of India, he should be the obvious choice for prime minister. Jagjivan Ram disputed this and was equally adamant about his claim. After all, he had been a senior member of the cabinets of both Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi and was the tallest leader of the Scheduled Castes, at one time called Untouchables and now Dalits or “the oppressed”. It was his resignation from Gandhi’s government and the Congress, he said, that had tipped the electoral scales decisively against her. And then there was Morarji Desai, who had twice missed becoming prime minister.
Since the squabbling trio could not agree, it was decided to leave the choice to the two grand old men behind the Janata — Jayaprakash Narayan, better known as JP, and Acharya J.B. Kripalani. They settled for Desai. Singh was given the powerful ministry of home affairs. Jagjivan Ram accepted the important portfolio of defence after a show of reluctance. External affairs went to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the leader of the Jana Sangh, which later morphed into the present-day BJP. The fiery socialist and arch-enemy of Gandhi, George Fernandes, was given charge of industries.
After this, all the Janata men went to the Mahatma’s Samadhi to take the oath to “remain united always”. No solemn pledge has ever been broken so speedily and brazenly as this was. Both at the Centre and in the states, where the Janata was in power, factional fights and implacable personal hatreds flourished. Since the hurriedly cobbled combination of four opposition parties was united only on ousting Gandhi and nothing continued…