Indian National Congress-INC

Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation

 Narasimha Rao Government
The Phase of Economic Reforms 
Narasimha Rao took over as the ninth Prime Minister of India in 1991, heading a government supported from the outside by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the independents. It was creditable that his government completed its full term, making him the first person outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to serve as Prime Minister for five continuous years. He was also the first Prime Minister from South India. 
Economic Reforms
The major achievement of this government was the carrying forward of the process of economic reform which the Congress party had outlined in its election manifesto. The process of liberalization of the Indian economy and a gradual opening up and participation in the globalization process had started with Indira Gandhi after her return to power in 1980 and was taken forward by Rajiv Gandhi. The minority government of Narasimha Rao was able to give this process a big push in 1991. The deep economic crisis faced by India had made immediate action necessary. The balance of payments was critical and repayment of foreign debts seemed difficult. Domestic inflation had reached the alarming figure of 16 per cent in August 1991. Industrial production was disrupted and exports had declined. Foreign exchange reserves stood at 1,000 crore in June 1991, enough for just seven days of imports.

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 The crisis had been anticipated by Rajiv Gandhi who started the process of reform with measures like deregulation of industry, flexibility of the exchange rate and partial lifting of import controls. An acclaimed economist, Manmohan Singh, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, was appointed Finance Minister to steer the economy out of this crisis. 
The measures contemplated were reducing the fiscal deficit which for the Central government was over 8 per cent of GDP, partial privatization of the public sector, increasing investment in infrastructure, trade reforms and changes in the regulation of foreign direct investment, relaxation of controls over industry, etc.
This move towards economic reforms was criticized by many on the ground that it meant moving away from the well-trodden path of Nehruvian Socialism. In the meeting of the Subjects Committee of AICC held in Tirupati on 15 April 1992, Pranab Mukherjee, on behalf of the Congress, argued that Nehruvian Socialism was based on the vision of a society which provided equality of opportunity and a good life to all its citizens.

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 The Indian Nation Congress still stood by its commitment to this vision outlined by Nehru and reaffirmed that Democracy, Socialism, Planning, Secularism, Self-Reliance and Non-Alignment were the basic tenets of Congress ideology. However, self-reliance did not mean an insular economy. Self-reliance meant accepting the challenge of making Indian industry competitive and the Indian rupee convertible in the international market. 
It was also pointed out that Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had creatively updated the Nehruvian model. Further, it was argued that in the years immediately after independence, Indian industry was weak because of the years of colonial exploitation and had therefore required state support. But now, it had come of age and could compete internationally. The new policy initiatives did not mean acceptance of laissez faire. State orientation and guidance would continue for the economy in general and industry in particular. This economic policy of the Congress was based on the concept of change with continuity. 
The impact of liberalizing the economy was seen in an influx of foreign portfolio investment and in permitting Indian firms to raise capital on international markets. The share of foreign firms could now go upto 51 per cent in joint ventures. Procedures for FDI approvals were considerably simplified. Tariffs were reduced from an average of 85 per cent to 25 per cent.

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 In 1991-92, total foreign investment in India stood at US $132 million and by 1995-96, it had increased to $5.3 billion. By 1992, inflation had been brought down to 9 per cent. Industrial licensing was decreased with only 18 industries now subject to it. Easing of government controls in service sectors like communications and insurance, and the entry of private enterprize in infrastructural sectors like aviation and telecoms led to rapid growth in output. 
This turn-around is one of the fastest economic recoveries in recent times. What makes it more remarkable is that it has been achieved with very little adverse social consequences like unemployment. The structural adjustment programme adopted by India as part of economic reforms was rated as one which caused least damage to vulnerable sections of society even in the short run compared to other countries going through the same process.
The major objective of these reforms was economic growth with social justice. Growth was fashioned as a tool to transform society in a direction which empowered the poor, the backward, women, Dalits and minorities. One of the most significant results of the reform measures was reduction in the number of people living below the poverty line. The political stability of the government and the available public sector base built up in earlier years allowed these far-reaching changes to be carried out.

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 In these years, an agenda of development through education and elimination of poverty was actively pursued. Various measures were introduced: extending ration shops in drought-prone areas, desert areas and hill and tribal areas, a national old-age pension scheme, a national family benefit scheme to help BPL families in case of death of bread-earners, a national maternity benefit scheme for below poverty line (BPL) families, a new mid-day meal programme to improve nutrition and increase school attendance of 11 crore children in classes I to IV, a new Employment Assurance Scheme to provide guaranteed employment in 120 of the poorest districts of the country, a Rashtriya Mahila Kosh to provide financial support to working women and women entrepreneurs, a Mahila Samriddhi Yojana to make women economically independent. The investment in rural development and poverty alleviation during the period 1991-1996 was Rs. 34,000 crore, thrice the amount spent in the previous five years. 
Foreign Policy
In the field of foreign policy, India came out in support of the new political changes in South Africa. In the Middle East, India called for Palestine and Israel to settle their long-standing dispute peacefully. While continuing to uphold the demand of the people of Palestine for their state, India established diplomatic relations with Israel.

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 During these years, India moved towards the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with the eventual aim of eliminating nuclear weapons. This effort was supported by President Clinton of the US. However, this was done without compromising the country’s sovereignty. Accordingly, the nuclear security and ballistic missiles programme was carried on and military spending was increased with a view to meeting any threat from the neighbouring countries. 
The role of Pakistan in sponsoring acts of terrorism against India was highlighted in international forums. This was the period when India developed close links with the ASEAN countries, described by some as the ‘Look East’ policy. Relations with Iran were developed which enabled India to gain the support of China and Iran in the United Nations Human Rights Commission when Pakistan proposed a resolution in 1994 condemning the human rights violations in Kashmir. 
Restoration of Normalcy in Kashmir and Punjab
In 1996 and later in 2002, elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir which restored democratic procedures in the militancy-ridden state. The 2002 elections brought a Congress-PDP coalition to power in the state. In Punjab, elections were held for the first time in four years of President’s rule in February 1992 which brought the Congress to power in the state.

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 Along with state forces, political activists played an exemplary role in fighting terrorism in Punjab so that the normal democratic process could be resumed. This experience emphasized that communal tendencies have to be opposed both politically and ideologically along with a firm but sensitive use of state power.
Demolition of Babri Masjid and Resurgence of Communalism
1992 saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid, built by a governor of Babur at Ayodhya in the early 16th century. In time, this site came to be disputed by some Hindus as being Lord Rama’s birthplace. Since the mid-1980s, the VHP had started a campaign to ‘liberate’ Ram Janambhoomi and demolish the mosque and rebuild a temple there. In 1989 when the V.P. Singh government came to power with the outside support of BJP, CPI and CPM, the BJP adopted the Ram Janambhoomi issue as its agenda and in 1990, it organized a rath yatra led by L.K. Advani which enhanced communal tensions.
On 6 December 1992, the VHP organized a huge rally of volunteers in Ayodhya and demolished the Babri Mosque while top BJP leaders looked on. Kalyan Singh, the BJP Chief Minister of UP, and BJP leaders at the Centre had repeatedly assured the Supreme Court and the Parliament that the structure would be protected. In fact, the destruction took place with the collusion of the state government.

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 The destruction of the disputed structure, which was widely reported in the international media, unleashed large-scale communal violence, the most extensive since the Partition of India. Massive rioting occurred across the country, and almost every major city including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bhopal struggled to control the unrest. It is estimated that about 3,000 people lost their lives in the riots. The Union Cabinet sacked the Kalyan Singh ministry on the very night of December 6. 
A red alert was sounded in most parts of the country and the army staged flag marches in sensitive areas with curfew being clamped in several towns. The choice before the government was—firing on the crowd which would have led to a violent Hindu backlash; non-intervention which would leave communal forces unchecked. On 7 December the government announced a ban on all communal organizations. 
In a resolution taken up for discussion at the AICC meeting on 10 June 1994, it was stated, “December 6, 1992 is a permanent blot on the nation’s history and came about because BJP showed utter contempt for the rule of law and indulged in treachery of the worst kind….AICC calls upon every Congressman and woman to work even more devotedly to foil the designs of communal forces and to isolate from public life the brand of politics that all communal parties like BJP preach, propagate and practice.”

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 Panchayati Raj and the 73rd and 74th Amendments
On 15 May 1989, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had introduced the Panchayati Raj constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha. While introducing the bill, he had explained its rationale : “We learnt that a grassroots administration without political authority was like a meal without salt. We learnt that however well-intentioned our district bureaucracy might be, without effective elected authority the gap between the people and the bureaucracy could not be closed. 
We learnt that the vacuum created by the absence of local level political authority had spawned the power brokers who occupy the gap between the people and their representatives to distant Vidhan Sabhas and the ever more remote Parliament. We learnt that corruption could only be ended by giving power to the panchayats and making panchayats responsible to the people. We learnt that inefficiency could only be ended by entrusting the people at the grassroots level with the responsibility for their own development. 
We learnt that callousness could only be ended by empowering the people to send their own representatives to institutions of local self-government.” However, the bill could not become law at that time as it was not passed by the Rajya Sabha. It was re-introduced in the parliament by the Narasimha Rao government and passed as the 73 Amendment in 1992.

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 It gave panchayats constitutional status. It was brought into effect on 24 April 1993. It was meant to establish “democracy at the grassroots level as it is at the state level or national level”. Along with this came the 74th Amendment which established local self-government for towns and cities as well. The gram sabha or village assembly as a deliberative body to decentralize governance was envisaged as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj system. 
A uniform three-tier structure of panchayats at village (gram panchayat), intermediate (panchayat samiti) and district (zilla parishad) levels was instituted. All the seats in a panchayat at every level would be filled by elections from respective territorial constituencies. Not less than one-third of the total seats for membership as well as office of chairpersons of each tier was to be reserved for women. Reservation for weaker castes and tribes (SCs and STs) was also provided at all levels in proportion to their population in the panchayats. 
By 2007-2008, the number of elected institutions had risen to 2.4 lakh and the number of elected representatives stood at 28 lakh. More than 10 lakh women have been elected to these institutions, constituting about 37 per cent of all those elected. This is the largest experiment in decentralization of governance in the history of humanity. Representative and direct democracy are combined in a way which deepens democracy. The efforts begun during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure now bore fruit.

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 Panchayati Raj and the 73rd and 74th Amendments
On 15 May 1989, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had introduced the Panchayati Raj constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha. While introducing the bill, he had explained its rationale : “We learnt that a grassroots administration without political authority was like a meal without salt. We learnt that however well-intentioned our district bureaucracy might be, without effective elected authority the gap between the people and the bureaucracy could not be closed. 
We learnt that the vacuum created by the absence of local level political authority had spawned the power brokers who occupy the gap between the people and their representatives to distant Vidhan Sabhas and the ever more remote Parliament. We learnt that corruption could only be ended by giving power to the panchayats and making panchayats responsible to the people. We learnt that inefficiency could only be ended by entrusting the people at the grassroots level with the responsibility for their own development. 
We learnt that callousness could only be ended by empowering the people to send their own representatives to institutions of local self-government.” However, the bill could not become law at that time as it was not passed by the Rajya Sabha. It was re-introduced in the parliament by the Narasimha Rao government and passed as the 73 Amendment in 1992.
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The Mandal Commission and the Issue of Casteism
During its initial years, the government moved to implement parts of the Mandal Commission’s report on the basis of a Supreme Court judgement. Twenty-seven per cent of the jobs were reserved for OBCs in the Central government and in public sector enterprizes. Institutions like the National Commission for Backward Classes and the National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation were established. 
The government established the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation and converted the Dr. Ambedkar University in Lucknow into a Central University. The government launched the Indira Awas Yojana to provide houses free of cost to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes below the poverty line. The million wells scheme was also launched to provide irrigation to farmers belonging to the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes. In a resolution taken up for discussion at an AICC meeting of 10 June 1994, it was stated, “AICC calls upon every Congress worker to remain vigilant against ….poisonous and pernicious casteism, just as vehemently as it is opposed to the politics of communalism. AICC congratulates the government for the peaceful manner in which it has implemented the recommendations for the Mandal Commission on the basis of the judgment of the Supreme Court. But AICC firmly rejects the politics of hate that is sought to be propagated by certain political parties and leaders.”

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 Electoral Defeat
The Congress lost in the state assembly elections held in Gujarat, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Sikkim and Goa in 1994 while it won in Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Analyzing the causes for the poor showing of the party, it was pointed out in the CWC meeting held on 5 April 1995 in New Delhi that the party had suffered reverses due to internal indiscipline, loss of touch with the grass-roots workers, inadequate publicity of the successes of the government during election campaigns as well as the failure of party leaders to reach out to minorities and SCs/STs. It was generally felt that the party should be revamped and propaganda refocussed on the pro-poor economic reforms. 
Opposition propaganda should be aggressively dealt with through organization of training camps and political conferences. This Congress government was notable for many achievements: restoration of normalcy in Punjab, introduction of bold economic measures, improvement of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, decreasing the volatility of caste and communal politics. However, despite this, in the 1996 general elections, the Congress faced electoral defeat. Narasimha Rao retained the leadership of the Congress party until late 1996 after which Sitaram Kesri took over.12

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