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Issue No.: 577 | July 2015
 

The Swatantra Party in Gujarat: A Shooting Star (Part III)

Usha Thakkar
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Unfortunately from its very beginning Party-building was neglected in its passion for rapid growth....Strong personalities of the leaders and their inability to take important decisions collectively took toll on the Party.... Within a short span the Swatantra Party lost its strength and vitality.

This is the third and concluding part of the three-part article on the history of the Swatantra Party in Gujarat

Decline of the Swatantra Party

The rise of the Swatantra in Gujarat was impressive. However, with its victory cheers there were also murmurs that soon became loud voices of dissent and dissatisfaction. The Party had adopted intensive strategy for the elections with the sole aim of winning. Personal ability as well as the capacity to finance the elections were the main criteria of selection of the candidates. Entrance of the ex-rulers brought some electoral victories. The Swatantra was able to capture all the seats in the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies in 1967 in Sabarkantha district mainly due to the support of the ex-ruler of Idar. However, except the ex-rulers of Idar and Devgadh-Baria no ex-ruler of Gujarat spent his own money. (Sharma, 1976: 260).

The elite and the ex-rulers had their own way of working. They had little respect for the Party discipline. To favour them many senior and sincere workers of the Party were neglected while giving Party tickets. Himatlal Mulani and Chimanlal Patwa (Banaskantha), Chunilal Chudgar (Surendranagar), and Maganlal Joshi (Jamnagar) were ignored (Sharma, 1976: 259). The Party also gave tickets to some Congress dissidents. All this disheartened loyal Party workers. There was also a feeling that some persons like Minoo Masani, Dandekar, Piloo Mody, C. C. Desai, Viren Shah, and Manubhai Amersey were outsiders. The state leaders did not like interference from the central body in the selection of candidates for elections. Moreover, the Gujarat unit of the Swatantra was not financially sound even in its best days. Gujarat was not a self-sufficient unit and the Central office did not give grants when required.

The traditional enmity between the Kshatriyas and the Patidars took its toll. The antagonism between the two communities interfered in taking decisions of vital importance. During the monsoon session of the assembly in 1967 an idea to take short-cut to power was floated by toppling Hitendra Desai’s Congress government. But the Kshatriyas and the Patidars in the Party were divided. The former wanted Jaydeepsinhji or Fattehsinhji (he could be asked to cross over) as Chief Minister. The latter group wanted H.M. Patel. Due to this rift they could not topple the ministry. There were too many internal divides and conflicts. Even the no-confidence motion in February 1968 could not bring all the Swatantra members together in the Assembly. Efforts of Bhaikaka and others could not succeed to prompt Vadibhai Mehta and Jaydeepsinhji to remain present when the motion came for discussion on February 9, 1968. Complaints about Masani’s dictatorship and working style of Bhaikaka as well as the defections from Swatantra to the Congress and vice versa continued. Internal conflicts weakened the Party and tarnished its image.

A crisis rocked the Party in 1968 when a candidate had to be elected to the Rajya Sabha. Babubhai Vaidya was selected by the Party as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha by the state leaders in consultation with the national leaders. Masani, General Secretary of the Party at that time, had made his commitment for the help he received during the elections. Many Swatantra leaders, especially the Kshatriya leaders and a few Swatantra MPs from Gujarat like Ramchandra Amin, R. K. Amin, Pravinsinh Solanki, Dayabhai Parmar, C. C. Desai and Manubhai Amersey jointly informed the Swatantra leaders like Ranga, Masani and Dandekar that they did not support the candidature of Vaidya for the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. In his place they supported U. N. Mahida who was faithful to the Party. However Vaidya was selected for election to the Rajya Sabha; and he faced open challenge from U. N. Mahida. Bhaikaka issued a whip to MLAs to support the candidature of Vaidya. Yet U. N. Mahida, a Swatantra rebel, won. This displayed the lack of cohesion in the Party and inability of the leaders to strike a formula to work as a unit. Soon thereafter, anguished over indiscipline of the members, Bhaikaka, the leader of the opposition and Jaydeepsinhji, the deputy leader, resigned from their posts. Masani also resigned from membership of the National Executive and Central Parliamentary Board.

Some politicians regarded the Party as a vehicle of power. Vadilal Lallubhai Mehta joined Swatantra in May 1966 and did not get along well with leaders like Bhaikaka. He had joined the Swatantra with the hope that he would be made the Party President after Bhaikaka or the leader of the opposition in the Assembly. When he was made the Vice-President, he was sure of fulfilling his ambition. There was, however, some ambivalence about his appointment among the Party leaders; this was mainly because of lack of consultation and communication. When Vadilalbhai was appointed as the Vice-President, Jaydeepsinhji, the then General Secretary of the Party, took it as an addition to the existing four vice-presidents, but Vadilalbhai thought that he was given the second rank in the Party. Later frustrated, he joined hands with the Kshatriyas like Thakore of Dhrol and complained of weak leadership of the Party. Finally he left the Party in February 1968.

Strong personalities of the leaders and their inability to take important decisions collectively took toll on the Party. C. C. Desai, sitting MP from Sabarkantha and a senior member, was charged that his behaviour and expression of views were regarded contrary to the Swatantra policy. Desai retaliated by criticising Masani. H. M. Patel cautioned against any move opposing Desai. Still Desai was expelled. Many members in Gujarat felt that the National Executive did not take into account the feelings of Gujarat MLAs. There was a rift between the Central and State units. Jaydeepsinhji was shocked; he left the Party in August 1970 in protest against the ‘dictatorial attitude’ of Masani. According to him, the ouster of C. C. Desai was engineered by Masani. H. M. Patel requested him in vain to reconsider. Nearly 26 MLAs resigned within a week of Jaydeepsinhji’s resignation. Jaydeepsinhji, with the support of the Swatantra rebels, formed a new Party ‘Praja Parishad’. This was a big blow to the Kshatriya-Patidar alliance and the strength of the Party.

The split in the Congress in 1969 had changed the complexion of Indian politics. The Congress (O) had suffered a blow. However, it was still in power in Gujarat. The official policy of the Swatantra was to support the Congress (O) because Swatantra was a partner of the ‘Grand Alliance’ against Indira Gandhi. In 1967 the Congress and Swatantra were opposed to each other. But in 1971 they were forced to be friends against the ruling faction of Congress headed by Indira Gandhi. But many members of the Swatantra in the assembly did not like the official policy of the Party to support the Hitendra Desai ministry. Defections started trickling in. On November 14, 1970 Congress (R) became official opposition instead of the Swatantra. Some Congress (O) MLAs defected to Congress (R). Hitendra Desai, the Chief Minister, resigned in March 1971, but there was a dramatic development in a week. Some MLAs of Congress (O) returned to the Party and with the Swatantra support, Congress (O) formed the ministry on April 7, 1971. Swatantra acted with political restraint, but could not be the official opposition. Hitendra Desai resigned on May 12, 1971 and Gujarat came under the President’s Rule for the first time. At the time of the dissolution of the assembly in May 1971, the Swatantra strength had dwindled to 11 against 66 in 1967, Congress (O) had 68 and the Congress (R) 67, PSP 3, SSP 1, independents 13 and 5 were vacant (Sharma; 1976; 764)

Within a short span the Swatantra Party lost its strength and vitality. Unfortunately from its very beginning Party-building was neglected in its passion for rapid growth. The Party did not create its own base but chose to make use of the available leaders, support and networks. The goal of electoral victories led to the accommodation of some feudal elements. Its alliances with Jana Sangh came under criticism. Instead of being the Party with a difference, political compulsions led it to the same mode of working as the Congress. Ironically the reasons for the rapid rise were also the causes for its rapid decline. Leaders like Rajaji, Masani, H. M. Patel and Dandekar were aware of the need to build the Party at the district and taluka levels, but not much could be done mainly due to lack of finance and sincere workers. Moreover, time factor was important; leaders at the top level like Rajaji were old and could not wait very long for electoral victory. In addition, the electoral victory, wherever secured, gave rise to expectations that were difficult to be fulfilled. Masani chalked up a spectacular victory in Rajkot constituency; but this, in fact, started the process of downsizing the Party in Gujarat; the Party acquired an image larger than life and expectations soared very high.

Many had joined the Swatantra, because they thought that the Party was winning. However, when hopes to capture power crumbled, they started deserting the Party. A leader often came with a group, and in case he left, the group would leave with him. Loyalty to the individual could not be converted into organisational loyalty. The short-lived victory was not ideological but based on compromises and groups. In its anxiety to win elections the Swatantra welcomed persons from diverse categories like ex-rulers, retired bureaucrats, merchants, mill owners, industrialists, disgruntled Congressmen and various caste groups. Often their interests were not compatible. People joined the Party for different reasons; some wanted power at the state level, some wanted to go against the Congress and some wanted to do good work for the people. Consequently, it was difficult to have cohesion in the Party Added to this were the issues of electoral adjustments and compromises. There was a momentum for the two-Party system, but the hope was short-lived. Internal dissensions and quarrels had corroded the base of the Party.

The leadership of the Party could not grasp the changing dynamics of socio-economic conditions that required new ideas and new strategies. Leaders at the central level of the Party were mostly urban with their eyes on power at Delhi. However, the base of the Party, to a large extent, was not necessarily urban. Consequently, there were differences between their perceptions of issues at the local and the national levels. In addition, personalities of some leaders like Masani, Dandekar, H. M. Patel and Bhaikaka seemed to be over-powering, and there was, at times, a personality clash among them.

The National Executive of the Party on January 8, 1971 decided to join the front consisting of the Congress (O), Jan Sangh and SSP against Indira Gandhi. Now the aim was ‘Indira Hatao’ against her Party’s declaration of ‘Garibi Hatao’. Politics at the centre was changing. Voters wanted a strong government and Indira Gandhi had emerged as the strong leader. Feudal grip on votes was declining. The Swatantra Party suffered a total debacle in the mid-term elections as Indira wave swept across. Leaders like Masani and Ranga lost the elections. Only two members of the Swatantra from Gujarat, Piloo Mody and H. M. Patel, could go to the fifth Lok Sabha. After the mid-term poll results, Masani resigned as the President of the Party in April 1971. He said that fresh leadership was needed.

In 1972 assembly elections, the Swatantra contested 47 seats from 14 districts; candidates were from many professions and communities. It did not get a single seat in the assembly of 168 and lost its deposit in most of them. The rank and file of the Swatantra got disheartened with the election results at the central and state levels. Ex-rulers like Jaydeepsinh from Devgadh-Baria who were elected on Swatantra tickets in 1967 contested in 1972 as independents.

Over the years the exit of powerful members had taken its toll. Raja of Ramgarh had to be expelled in 1964. Paliwal in Uttar Pradesh had resigned in 1963 due to his differences with Raja of Mankapur. Raja himself died two years later. V. P. Menon, A D Shroff and Udham Singh Nagoke of Punjab also died. K. M. Munshi had, by supporting S. K. Patil of Congress against a Swatantra candidate in a Gujarat by-election, incurred criticism from many quarters, and drifted away in 1969. Bhaikaka’s death on March 31, 1970 and Rajaji’s death on December 25, 1972 were big blows to the Party. A section of the Swatantra finally merged with some other opposition parties in Bharatiya Lok Dal, led by Charan Singh in 1974. It is interesting to note that a writ petition was filed by the late L. R. Sampat and S. V. Raju in the Mumbai High Court on January 20 1996 against a major change in the election law with the inclusion in 1989 of Section 29(A) of the Representation of the People’s Act. This change compelled political parties to swear to socialism if they wish to be recognised by the Election Commission of India as a political party. This is challenged in the writ petition that is yet to be heard. The Swatantra Party, in principle, is opposed to socialism. According to S.V. Raju, a comatose Swatantra Party, Maharashtra, is breathing on this life support system – the writ petition. (Raju, 2009:6)

Conclusion

The Swatantra Party, despite its short span of working, did have some achievements to its credit. The Party had become the recognised national Party at its very first elections in 1962. Gujarat was a major Swatantra stronghold (For details see Erdman,1967). The Swatantra played a positive role as the opposition in the Gujarat Assembly. The performance of the Swatantra was commendable in the assembly with V. V. Mehta as the Deputy Speaker, and H. M. Patel as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Its members made useful contribution to debates on the issues of trade, industries, panchayats and cooperatives, power projects, and asked relevant questions. The Party raised the issues of cooperative farming, food production, Narmada project, drinking water facilities in villages, rights of farmers and consumers and attempted to abolish land revenue and zonal system as promised. The leadership of the Party in Gujarat, unlike that in Rajasthan or Orissa remained with the middle class. The Party had a wide social base: it had garnered support of various sections like landlords and peasants, urban and rural, and small and big businessmen. Leaders like Bhaikaka, H. M. Patel, Dayabhai Patel, Piloo Mody, and C. C. Desai, Homi Mody, A. D. Shroff, Narayan Dandekar were recognised at the national level.

The brief account of the Swatantra in Gujarat catches glimpses of changes in politics and society. It also draws our attention to an important reality at the ground level. When democratic norms are translated into practice through elections in India’s traditional hierarchical society, traditional forces reassert in a different way, and caste identities get reinforced at the political level. The functioning of the Swatantra in Gujarat gave legitimacy to the role played by castes in politics. Castes have always exercised their pulls and pushes, like the Kshatriyas in Gujarat and the Marathas in Maharashtra; now they have become a part of the main political current. Leaders of the Swatantra at the top had their political ideology, but ultimately political power is gained through elections, so elections had to be won, and in this game castes became important political players. Castes were used by the political parties to win seats, and political parties were used by the castes to get power.

The Swatantra Party, though short-lived, has left its indelible imprint on politics. It is fondly remembered by its sincere members, office bearers and those who have realised the importance of economic liberalisation, deregulation and effective opposition. According to S. V. Raju, "There were a number of political parties that were born after independence and disappeared. The Swatantra Party was one of them. While many of them disappeared without a trace, the Swatantra Party has not - at least not yet. Why? Because it was the original ‘Party with a Difference’. We, its members, even claim ‘Victory in Defeat’.”

(I express my gratitude to Mr. S. V. Raju, (Executive Secretary, Swatantra Party at national headquarters), for his support and valuable inputs without which this paper could not have materialised. I sincerely thank Prof. John Wood for making available the findings of his own research including the transcripts and notes of the interviews that he had conducted of the Swatantra MLAs. I thank Prof. Ghanshyam Shah, Prof. Howard Erdman, and Prof. John Wood for their insightful comments. This paper was presented at the International Conference on Gujarat Society after Five decades: Retrospect and Prospects, 1820 January 2012, Centre for Social Studies, Surat. I thank the organizers of the Conference.)

Dr. Usha Thakkar, retired professor, formerly Head, Department of Political Science, 
SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. 
Currently, Hon. Director, Institute of Research on Gandhian Thought and Rural Development and 
Hon. Secretary, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai. 
E-mail: ushathakkar@yahoo.com

References

Books

Howard L. Erdman, The Swatantra Party and Indian Conservatism, Cambridge University Press, London, New York, 1967.
H. R. Pasricha, The Swatantra Party - Victory in Defeat, The Rajaji Foundation, Mumbai, 2002.
Rajmohan Gandhi, The Rajaji Story 1937-1972, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 1984.
D. N. Pathak, M. G. Parekh, K. D. Desai, Three General Elections in Gujarat - Development of a Decade 1952-1962, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, 1966.
D. N. Pathak, M. G. Parekh, K. D. Desai, P. N. Sheth, Chothi Chuntani- Bharatma ne Gujaratma (in Gujarati), Ananda Book Depot, Ahmedabad, 1967.
S. V. Raju, The Swatantra Party - Commemorating the 50th Year, Swatantra Party, Maharashtra, 2009.
Nagindas Sanghavi, Gujarat - a political analysis, Centre for Social Studies, Surat,
- Gujarat at Cross-Roads, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2010.
Ghanshyam Shah, Caste Association and Political Process in Gujarat: a study of Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1975.
Parth J. Shah, Profiles in Courage, Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi, 2001.
Pravin Sheth, Patterns of Political Behaviour in Gujarat, Sahitya Mudranalaya, Ahmedabad, 1976.
Thesis
P. D. Sharma, Swatantra Party in Gujarat: Rise, Growth and Decline (1960 to 1972),
Ph.D. thesis, Political Science, Gujarat University, 1976.

Articles

Bashiruddin Ahmed, Caste and Electoral Politics, Asian Survey, Vol.10, No.11, Elections and Party Politics in India: A Symposium, (Nov. 1970).
Anil Bhatt, Two-Party System Emerging in Gujarat, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.1, No.17 (Dec.10, 1966).
K. D. Desai, Emergence of the Swatantra Party in Gujarat, Journal of Gujarat Research Society, April 1963
Socio-Economic Infrastructure of Gujarat Politics, and, The Swatantra Party in Gujarat Politics, in State Politics in India, Iqbal Narain, ed., Meenakshi Prakashan, Meerut, 1967.
Ratna Dutta, The Party Representative in Fourth Lok Sabha, Economic and Political Weekly, annual number, January 1969.
Decline of Swatantra, Gujarat, Economic and Political Weekly, June 21 1969.
Congress versus Swatantra in Gujarat: District by District Analysis of Prospects (from our Gujarat correspondent), Economic and Political Weekly, October 22 1966.
The Swatantra Party, Our Delhi Letter, Economic Weekly, Special Number, July 1959.
Howard L. Erdman, India’s Swatantra Party, Public Affairs, Vol.36, Issue 4, Winter 1963-1964.
Rajni Kothari and Rushikesh Maru, Federating for Political Interests,: the Kshatriyas of Gujarat , in Caste in Indian Politics, Rajni Kothari, ed., Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad, 1970,
Rushikesh Maru, Fall of a Traditional Congress Stronghold, Economic Weekly, June 19 1965.
D. N. Pathak, The Vidhan Sabha of Gujarat - a survey, Journal of Gujarat Research Society, April 1962.
The Vidhan Sabha of Gujarat - second survey, Journal of Gujarat Research Society, January 1965.
State Politics in Gujarat: Some Determinants, in State Politics in India, Iqbal Narain, ed., Meenakshi Prakashan, Meerut, 1967.
S. V. Raju, The Swatantra Party, Journal of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, Volume V, No.4, October-December 1971.
D. L. Sheth, Profiles of Party Support in 1967, Economic and Political Weekly, annual number, January 1971.
A. H. Somjee, Social Cohesion and Political Clientilism among the Kshatriyas of Gujarat, Asian Survey, Vol.21, No.9 (Sep.1981).

CONCLUDED



 
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