Looking back at the intriguing political deliberations of late March 1977 that saw the rise of the first non-Congress government at the Centre
Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad | 22 Mar, 2021
(Foreground, from left) Subramanian Swamy, Jayaprakash Narayan and Morarji Desai at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on June 25, 1975
On 18 January 1977 prime minister Indira Gandhi sprang a surprise when she announced on All India Radio that elections to the Lok Sabha would be held in March 1977.
She had kept her second son Sanjay Gandhi and all other members of her Congress party totally in the dark. Sanjay had an angry showdown with her after learning about the elections from her radio broadcast.
The popular notion is that Indira Gandhi called for elections because intelligence agencies told her that she would win easily, since the opposition leaders were in jail.
But this is not the full picture. In the second week of November 1976 itself, she had told her Principal Secretary, Professor PN Dhar, and my late father HY Sharada Prasad, who was her Information Advisor: I am going to call off the Emergency and hold elections. I know that I will lose, but this is something which I absolutely need to do.
She added to them: The intelligence agencies will tell me what they think I want to hear. But I know that I am going to lose, even though the IB is telling me that I will win 330 seats. However, it is necessary for me to call for elections.
On 02 February 1977, Jagjivan Ram, Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna, and Nandini Sathpathy sprang a surprise when they defected from the Congress party, and set up their own party called CFD Congress for Democracy.
Indira Gandhi had no clue at all, not even from the intelligence agencies. She then told my father: It is all over now. I am sure to lose the elections. But she added mysteriously – It will be a relief if I lose, an absolute relief.
Before announcing his resignation to the media, Jagjivan Ram had telephoned Jaya Prakash Narayan. JP then issued a statement: “I congratulate Jagjivan Babu on his resignation from the central cabinet and the Congress party. I am sure the Janata Party will welcome him with open arms. I would also congratulate Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy who too are reported to have resigned from the Congress. This is a historic moment and I think the coming elections will change the course of history and give a new lease of life to democracy and our democratic institutions and strengthen the power of the people”.
The intelligence agencies came to know about their defection only when Jagjivan Ram, HN Bahuguna, and Nandini Sathpathy began to address a press conference, where they read out JP’s statement. Bahuguna derisively referred to the Emergency as “One and a Half Person Rule”.
Indira Gandhi had a grudging admiration for the wily Bahuguna’s grassroots popularity and his uncanny ability to predict changing political trends months in advance, and always placed himself on the winning side. She told my father – Now that Bahuguna has abandoned me, I will be wiped out in Uttar Pradesh.
All the Congress party workers in Uttar Pradesh did indeed immediately desert Indira Gandhi to join Bahuguna in the Congress for Democracy.
A stunned Indira Gandhi could only give a lame response to Jagjivan Ram: “I fail to understand why you have resigned when elections have been announced, most of the restrictions under the Emergency have been relaxed, press censorship has been withdrawn, and political prisoners released…It is strange that you should have remained silent all these months and made baseless charges now…Even at the AICC meeting in Guwahati, you fully supported our policies and never expressed any reservation or doubt, whether directly or indirectly…”
But even then, Indira Gandhi did not lose her sense of humour. The day Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna defected was also the day when the Indian cricket team won a test match against Tony Greig’s visiting MCC team, having already lost the test series. She joked to my father: As usual, the Indian press has no news sense. The correct priority of the headlines should be – India wins Test, Jagjivan Ram defects.
To further refute the popular notion that she called for elections because she was confident of winning easily, she confided in her close friend US Senator Charles Percy on 13-14 February 1977 that she would lose badly and that she was very worried about what would happen to her son Sanjay.
She is also supposed to have confided in another close friend, the prominent US editor Norman Cousins, that one of the many reasons why she was compelled to declare the Emergency was because what had happened to Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman would have happened to her too, adding that sometimes she felt that it might have been better if she had met the same fate as Mujib.
Elections to the Lok Sabha were held from 16 to 20 March 1977. The hastily cobbled together Janata Party obtained 298 seats, and together with its allies, won 345 seats. The ruling Congress party and its allies obtained 189 seats.
One of the last acts of the defeated Indira Gandhi government, as it submitted its resignation to acting president BD Jatti, was to end the Emergency. Home Minister K Brahmananda Reddy went over to Rashtrapati Bhavan with the cabinet resolution ending the Emergency.
Jatti detained Brahmananda Reddy inside Rashtrapati Bhavan until the notification was printed in the government gazette, which happened at 4 am. The acting president wanted to ensure that Sanjay Gandhi did not try any last minute tricks, and so he held the outgoing home minister as a hostage.
The rifts and contradictions in the hastily cobbled together Janata coalition became apparent even before it took office. The defeated Indira Gandhi dubbed the Janata coalition as a khichdi, and she told numerous international economists that the economic policies described in the Janata’s election manifesto were nonsensical.
Morarji Desai, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Chaudhary Charan Singh, and Chandra Shekhar all claimed that they should become prime minister.
Although the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh faction had obtained 102 MPs out of 345 in the Janata coalition, it did not stake a claim for the prime ministership. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh preferred a low key wait and watch strategy, knowing that it was not yet acceptable to large parts of the nation.
Even though his Congress for Democracy ( Indira Gandhi derisively dubbed the CFD as Congress for Defectors ) had won only 28 seats, Jagjivan Ram got the 102 MPs belonging to the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh, as well as the 35 MPs belonging to the Socialist bloc, to support his claim, emphasizing that he had the support of Harijans and Dalits across the nation.
The Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, with his strong support base among farmers of north India, too could count on about a hundred MPs supporting him, especially those who disliked Jagjivan Ram.
My maternal uncle, KS Radhakrishna, who was head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, and the closest advisor of Loknayak Jaya Prakash Narayan for decades, together with his fellow Sarvodaya associates of Mahatma Gandhi – Narayanbhai Desai, Siddharaj Dhaddha, and Govind Rao Deshpande – thought that either Jagjivan Ram or Charan Singh as prime minister would be disastrous for the nation.
Jagjivan Ram was widely perceived to be corrupt, and there were numerous questions over Charan Singh’s acceptability, especially outside the Hindi belt. Moreover, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram had detested each other for decades, and if either was made prime minister, the other would immediately try to pull him down.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians determined that the best person to be prime minister was Morarji Desai. Not only was Morarji an outstanding administrator, he had the strongest moral claim, because it was his fast unto death which forced Indira Gandhi to dismiss her own Congress government ( which was led by Chimanbhai Patel ) in Gujarat in February 1974.
Further, Morarji Desai had been in solitary confinement throughout the Emergency, firmly resisting all offers from Indira Gandhi of a rapprochement, unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Charan Singh.
The problem was that Morarji Desai was universally disliked because of his overweening ambition, his superiority complex, his know it all attitude, his obstinacy, and his puritanical moralistic sermonizing. This is why the Syndicate had worked to ensure Morarji’s defeat after the deaths of both Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966.
The hatred between Jagjivan Ram and Morarji Desai dated back to the early 1960s, when, after the demise of Govind Ballabh Pant, they had been involved in a bitter power struggle to be declared as the number two to Jawaharlal Nehru. Jagjivan Ram had even asked Indira Gandhi for her support. But both Jagjivan Ram and Morarji were eased out under the Kamaraj Plan in 1963.
Most importantly, there had been personality clashes between Morarji and JP for decades. Morarji was six years older than JP ( Morarji was born in 1896 and JP in 1902. Charan Singh was also born in 1902 and Jagjivan Ram in 1908 ) and he was jealous of the moral authority and saintly aura of his junior. Morarji considered himself as the rightful successor to Jawaharlal Nehru, and he resented Nehru’s desire to have JP succeed him as prime minister.
The strictly disciplined and methodical Morarji thought that JP was a destructive anarchist, who vacillated all the time. Indira Gandhi too had accurately dubbed JP as ‘ Woolly-Headed Theoretician of Chaos’.
However, from February 1974 onwards, Morarji and JP set aside their personal dislikes for the higher cause of defeating first Chimanbhai Patel, and then Indira Gandhi.
The Sarvodaya Gandhian Quartet also determined that Nanaji Deshmukh should be made the Deputy Prime Minister. The widely respected Nanaji of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had been second only to JP in leading the opposition to Indira Gandhi since 1974.
It was Nanaji who had persuaded the numerous factions, from left to right – socialists, Congress O, BLD Lok Dal, Jan Sangh, Swatantra – to unite together to form the Janata coalition.
Nanaji Deshmukh had a high moral stature due to his decades of selfless social work. He also had a modern technocratic outlook, being a graduate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science at Pilani. Most importantly, the conciliatory and unifying Nanaji would be ideal to offset the drawbacks of the haughty, arrogant, rigid Morarji.
Chandra Shekhar, who was very close to JP ( JP considered Chandra Shekhar to be his political heir ), too disliked Morarji. Jagjivan Ram shrewdly played upon Chandra Shekhar’s dislike of Morarji.
Jagjivan Ram managed to persuade Chandra Shekhar to withdraw from the contest, and support him instead, and he also convinced George Fernandes and NG Goray to support him too.
Confident that they had the support of at least 165 MPs out of 345, Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna pressed for an open election.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians persuaded Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna that an open election would be divisive for the newly formed Janata coalition. They reminded them that the Congress party election of January 1966, in which Indira Gandhi had defeated Morarji by 355 votes to 169, had actually set into motion the fissures which culminated in the Congress party splitting in 1969.
KS Radhakrishna, Narayanbhai Desai, Siddharaj Dhaddha, and Govind Rao Deshpande impressed upon JP to endorse Morarji. A magnanimous JP readily rose above his personal dislike of Morarji, because he too felt that Morarji had the highest moral claim. The hurdle was that JP had publicly praised Jagjivan Ram for several years as an able administrator, overlooking his alleged corruption.
In fact, JP’s approbation of Jagjivan Ram’s administrative acumen was one of the main reasons why Indira Gandhi distrusted JP, and why she did not step down after the Allahabad High Court verdict which had declared her election invalid. She had dictated her resignation to RK Dhawan who typed it out. But before she could sign it, Jagjivan Ram began canvassing that he should succeed her. Sanjay Gandhi, who knew that the JP and Jagjivan Ram duo would never permit her to reassume the prime ministership, vetoed her resigning.
Because JP had never praised Morarji Desai or Charan Singh, the Janata party MPs took it for granted that JP’s preferred choice was Jagjivan Ram.
Time was running out because the new government had to be in place by 24 March 1977. So, on the evening of 23 March, my maternal uncle KS Radhakrishna carried out a fait accompli by announcing to the press that Acharya JB Kripalani and JP would announce the name of the prime minister and the composition of the cabinet at noon the next day.
Each of the 345 newly elected MPs would give a note to Acharya Kripalani and JP indicating whom they supported for the prime ministership, as well as for the other cabinet portfolios. There would be no open election, and the final decision would be that of JP and Acharya Kripalani alone.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians worked throughout the night to ensure a unanimous consensus in favour of Morarji Desai. They had excellent credibility because of their high moral stature as Gandhiji’s associates, and that they would not benefit at all no matter whom they made the prime minister. All the Janata MPs were well aware that both JP and Acharya Kripalani would act only according to their recommendations.
The Sarvodaya Quartet met the MPs in small groups and informed them that JP now favoured Morarji. They emphasized that Jagjivan Ram had held a comfortable cabinet post all through the Emergency, while the rest of them had been jailed in harsh conditions. The alleged corruption of Jagjivan Ram was heavily underlined, as well as the fact that it was he who had sponsored the Emergency legislations in parliament.
Shanti Bhushan, who was the lawyer for Raj Narain in his election petition against Indira Gandhi, and also the Treasurer of the Congress O, too was strongly opposed to Jagjivan Ram. After the Janata coalition was formed, Shanti Bhushan was made its treasurer. He went to JP and strongly argued against JPs perceived support for Jagjivan Ram, emphasizing that the new government could not be perceived to be corrupt.
Charan Singh was provoked into issuing a statement that if Jagjivan Ram was made prime minister, then he and all his supporters would immediately leave the Janata coalition.
Because of the tension, Charan Singh developed chest pains, and had to be admitted to Willingdon hospital. During those few hours when he was in hospital, the Sarvodaya Quartet emphasized to all the MPs that Charan Singh had been released from prison as early as March 1976, after tendering an abject apology to Indira Gandhi.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians first tried to persuade JP’s favourite Chandra Shekhar to drop his recent switch of allegiance to Jagjivan Ram, and to instead support Morarji. But Chandra Shekhar, who disliked Morarji, flatly refused to do so.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians then met Lal Krishna Advani of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Advani told them that the Jan Sangh group was supporting Jagjivan Ram only because they were under the impression that he was the choice of JP and also because he had the support of Harijans across the country.
The Quartet informed LK Advani that the large-hearted JP had switched his support to Morarji, rising above their mutual antipathy. The four of them then offered three senior cabinet positions to the Jan Sangh faction, plus the deputy prime ministership for Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians then met Nanaji, who too told them that the RSS was supporting Jagjivan Ram only because they were under the impression that he was the choice of JP, and had the backing of Dalits all across the nation.
The four of them informed Nanaji that JP had magnanimously risen above his dislike of Morarji to endorse him as the best choice. They offered Nanaji the deputy prime ministership, plus three senior cabinet positions to the Jan Sangh faction.
Simultaneously, Shanti Bhushan too tried to persuade all the Jan Sangh MPs to drop their support for Jagjivan Ram.
The Sarvodaya Quartet then met Biju Patnaik, who told them outright that if Jagjivan Ram was made the prime minister, then both he and Charan Singh would immediately walk out of the Janata coalition.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians then met Atal Behari Vajapayee of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Vajpayee, who knew how much the puritanical Morarji Desai detested him because of his libertine lifestyle, drew a very hard bargain.
Vajpayee emphasized that 91 of the 102 Jana Sangha MPs belonged to his camp and were under his total control, and that he himself had a very strong claim to be made prime minister, or at least the deputy prime minister instead of Nanaji Deshmukh.
The Sarvodaya Quartet then “blackmailed” Vajpayee that if he did not ensure that his 91 MPs supported Morarji, then they would publicly reveal his ignominious role during the Emergency.
Vajpayee, who had been in and out of hospital during the Emergency with numerous surgeries, had given an undertaking to Indira Gandhi as early as September 1975 that he would not oppose her. She then released him on parole.
It was whispered that Vajpayee had offered to sever his links with the RSS if that would keep him out of jail, and that he was willing to reveal the whereabouts of RSS and Jan Sangh activists who were still underground, such as Subramanian Swamy and Madhavrao Muley.
In December 1976, Om Mehta, the minister of state for home and the right hand man of Sanjay Gandhi, reached out to non Sangh Parivar opposition leaders such as Biju Patnaik and HM Patel, to find ways that non-Hindutva opposition parties could work together with the Indira Gandhi government. Om Mehta was responsible for several of the excesses of the Emergency.
Vajpayee, who was not invited for these meetings, found out about them. On his own initiative, he visited Om Mehta. On his return Vajpayee ordered the student activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad ( ABVP is the student wing of the RSS) to tender an unconditional apology to Indira Gandhi for perpetrating violence and disorder. The ABVP student leaders angrily replied to Vajpayee that they would never ever apologize to Indira Gandhi, and would prefer to remain in jail.
It is most surprising that in spite of his willingness to betray them, 91 of the 102 Jana Sangha MPs firmly supported Vajpayee. However, even after threatening Vajpayee that they would expose him, the Sarvodaya Quartet could not be certain that his 91 MPs would endorse Morarji.
On the morning of 24 March 1977, the newly elected Janata MPs assembled to convey their choices to JP and Acharya JB Kripalani. JP sprung a shock by asking Subramanian Swamy to sit between him and Acharya Kripalani while they ascertained the views of each MP. It was Swamy who in 1974, had brought JP and the RSS together, much to the horror of JP’s closest advisors.
All through the summer of 1974, Indira Gandhi and JP attempted to negotiate a compromise. Indira Gandhi’s negotiators were PN Dhar and my father. JP’s negotiators were KS Radhakrishna, Sugata DasGupta, who was head of JP’s Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi, Retired Justice VM Tarkunde, and Achyut Patwardhan, who was a cofounder with JP of the Congress Socialist Party in 1931.
PN Dhar and my father agreed to all of JP’s demands, except the dissolution of the Bihar assembly, and entreated him to sort out his differences with her at the elections due before March 1976. Just as these secret negotiations were on the verge of success, Saeed Naqvi published their complete details in the Statesman newspaper, and Sanjay Gandhi sabotaged them immediately.
Without consulting his own negotiating team, JP suddenly asked Subramanian Swamy, who was then a Bharatiya Jan Sangh Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, to re-introduce him to Nanaji Deshmukh ( JP and Nanaji had worked together on famine relief in the 1960s ) . Swamy convened a meeting at the residence of Murali Manohar Joshi, to which he invited JP, Nanaji, KN Govindacharya, and Kailashpati Mishra. It was decided there that the Bihar student leaders – Lalloo Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, etc – would cede the leadership of their agitation to JP and Nanaji.
JP declared that if anything happened to him, then Nanaji would take over the leadership of his Sampoorna Kranti Andolan. Nanaji, in turn, declared that if anything happened to him, then Sunder Singh Bhandari of the RSS would take over as the leader of the Andolan.
A furious Indira Gandhi then vowed that she would no longer negotiate with JP. She had inherited Nehru’s deep suspicion of the RSS, which was totally antithetical to her ideals of India as a secular nation.
JP’s own team of KS Radhakrishna, Sugata Das Gupta, Achyut Patwardhan, and Retired Justice VM Tarkunde, as well as his political heir Chandra Shekhar, were kept totally in the dark about JP’s abruptly reaching out to the RSS. They were aghast at his suddenly abandoning the principles of a lifetime, since JP had been second only to Nehru in vociferously condemning Hindutva and the RSS, right from 1942.
PN Dhar and my father, as well as JP’s own above mentioned advisors, reminded JP of his past statements castigating the RSS: “…Although almost every religious community has its own brand of communalism, Hindu communalism is more pernicious than the others, because Hindu communalism can easily masquerade as Indian nationalism and denounce all opposition to it as being anti-national…”
And: “….Some like the RSS might do it openly by identifying the Indian nation with Hindu Rashtra, others might do it more subtly…But in every case, such identification is pregnant with national disintegration, because members of other communities can never accept the position of second-class citizens…Such a situation, therefore, has in it the seeds of perpetual conflict and ultimate disruption… ”
And: “…. Those who attempt to equate India with Hindus and Indian history with Hindu history are only detracting from the greatness of India and the glory of Indian history and civilization. Such persons, paradoxical though this may seem, are in reality the enemies of Hinduism itself and the Hindus. Not only do they degrade the noble religion and destroy its catholicity and spirit of tolerance and harmony, but they also weaken and sunder the fabric of the nation, of which Hindus form such a vast majority…”
The final straw for Indira Gandhi was when JP addressed RSS workers declaring: “If the RSS is Fascist, then so am I”. One of her principal aims in declaring the Emergency was to destroy the RSS and the ABVP.
REELING FROM THE sudden shock of JP asking Subramanian Swamy to sit between him and Acharya Kripalani, the Sarvodaya Gandhian Quartet pulled out their Brahma Astras. They sent the wily Chandra Bhanu Gupta and Raj Narain to work on Charan Singh, who had been admitted to Willingdon Hospital with chest pains. They simultaneously sent Shanti Bhushan to deliver an ultimatum to Vajpayee.
Chandra Bhanu Gupta, who had been chief minister of Uttar Pradesh numerous times, and Raj Narain told Charan Singh that his enemy Jagjivan Ram was minutes away from being selected as prime minister. They added that the deputy prime minister would be his nemesis HN Bahuguna. Charan Singh, who hated Bahuguna, his arch enemy for decades in UP politics, even more than he hated Jagjivan Ram, fell for this cunning ruse.
CB Gupta and Raj Narain drafted a letter purporting to be from Charan Singh, and forced him to sign it. This letter addressed to JP said that Charan Singh would prefer to go back to being jailed by Indira Gandhi rather than work under Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna, and that he was withdrawing from the contest and transferring his support to Morarji. CB Gupta and Raj Narain included several sentences highly praising Morarji and castigating Jagjivan Ram for being a cabinet minister during the Emergency. ( Interestingly, when in July 1979, Charan Singh rebelled against Morarji with the help of Sanjay Gandhi, this letter was pulled out to show that Charan Singh was a backstabbing turncoat ).
CB Gupta and Raj Narain rushed back and interrupted the MPs filing past JP and Acharya Kripalani. Gupta dramatically read out the letter which they had forced the ailing Charan Singh to sign, transferring his support to Morarji.
Simultaneously, Shanti Bhushan’s ultimatum to Vajpayee was also successful. Bhushan later recounted that Vajpayee had sobbed like a baby.
Subramanian Swamy recounted in a Tamil magazine: “I was there with JP when Vajpayee came running – panting for breath – and expressed his support to Morarji. JP turned towards me and winked his gleaming eyes and smiled. Poor Jagjivan Ram was not aware of these developments.”
Without waiting for all the MPs to complete conveying their preferences to JP and Acharya Kripalani, Chandra Bhanu Gupta rushed outdoors and announced to the huge press corps waiting outside that JP and Acharya Kripalani had decided on Morarji Desai, with Jagjivan Ram and Charan Singh to hold the heavyweight portfolios of defence and home.
Jagjivan Ram, HN Bahuguna, George Fernandes, and Ram Dhan threw a furious tantrum at being tricked, telling the assembled press persons that this was a murder of democracy. Jagjivan Ram screamed to the journalists – “Iss Khambakht Mulk Mein Ek Chamaar Kabhi Sardaar Nahin Ban Saktaa”.
JP, after consulting with his heir Chandra Shekhar, quickly wrote out a note apologizing to Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna. JP persuaded them that in the interest of the nation, they should join Morarji’s cabinet.
With the intention of curbing Morarji’s power, JP announced that Chandra Shekhar, who had been in jail throughout the Emergency, in spite of being a Congress MP and the leader of the Young Turks faction in the Congress party, would be the president of the Janata Party. CB Gupta, Nanaji, and George Fernandes immediately endorsed Chandra Shekhar, who disliked Morarji, as the Janata party’s president.
My conjecture is that the major reason why JP chose Chandra Shekhar was to curb the power of the RSS over the Janata government. I think that JP had by now realized that he had been inextricably entangled in the tentacles of the RSS. Chandra Shekhar was a staunch socialist who detested the RSS intensely.
At the moment of his greatest triumph, Nanaji Deshmukh declined the offer to become the deputy prime minister and industry minister. He instead chose to concentrate on social work in Chitrakoot.
Subramanian Swamy was supremely confident that he would be made finance minister, with his closeness to both JP and Morarji, and his Harvard doctorate in economics, where he worked with Nobel laureates. But Swamy’s bitter enemy in the Jan Sangh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who became foreign minister, saw to it that he did not get any post. Instead, Morarji picked HM Patel, a retired ICS officer who had been home secretary and defence secretary, to be his finance minister.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians proposed a rotation of power for the next five years – that after twenty months, Morarji would step down in favour of Charan Singh, and after a further twenty months, Charan would abdicate in favour of Jagjivan Ram. Morarji did not explicitly agree to this power sharing formula, and KS Radhakrishna had his doubts whether Morarji would actually step down after his twenty months at the top were over.
The senior RSS member who was to take over from my father was so excited, that just seconds before he took the oath of secrecy and signed the official register, he had a massive heart attack. As his staff members rushed to lift him up, Morarji turned to my father, and in his matter of fact business like manner, said: ” I don’t think he will survive. I have known you for so many decades. You continue with me till I find someone suitable “.
Under Morarji Desai, the Janata government lasted for two years. Under either Jagjivan Ram or Charan Singh, it would not have lasted even two weeks. One of the big IFs of history is what would have happened if Nanaji Deshmukh had become the leader. He probably would have been able to hold the Janata coalition together.
After JP had helped them to form the government, most of the Janata party leaders ignored him. Hardly any of them met JP during his long illness. Only Chandra Shekhar, Jagjivan Ram, and JP’s old nemesis Indira Gandhi, kept in touch with JP during his tragic last months. Morarji flatly refused to meet JP at all. The RSS had succeeded in utilizing JP to enter the national mainstream.
I had earlier spoken about Indira Gandhi’s grudging admiration for HN Bahuguna’s uncanny ability to foresee political trends months in advance, and to switch parties, always ending up on the winning side.
In July 1979, Bahuguna joined together with his bitter enemy for decades, Charan Singh, to overthrow Morarji, and he was rewarded with the Finance portfolio. After Sanjay Gandhi pulled the rug from under Charan Singh, Bahuguna rejoined Sanjay and Indira Gandhi in October 1979, and delivered Uttar Pradesh to the Congress in the January 1980 elections.
Recalling Bahuguna’s derisively dubbing the Emergency as ‘One and a Half Person Rule’, my father HY Sharada Prasad quipped then: “Bahuguna’s Theorem – The fastest road to power is a complete circle”.
Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad