Have Military Conflicts Helped Parties Regain Power? A Look at Post-War Elections in India
Be it India's wars with Pakistan and China or the IPKF intervention with Sri Lanka, military conflicts have played a big role in changing country's political landscape.
News18 illustration by Mir Suhail
Post air strikes in Pakistan's Balakot, the Opposition blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for seeking political mileage from Indian Air Force's action on February 26. Playing up BS Yeddyurappa's statement, leaders from the opposition parties suggested that the strikes were to woo the voters ahead of Lok Sabha elections. But will the strikes and the military escalations between India and Pakistan help BJP strengthen its seat share, which has been under threat after loses in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh?
Since the partition, both India and Pakistan went to wars four times while one war took place between India and China. Besides, India’s intervention in the civil war in Sri Lanka in 1987 was another event where military conflict was witnessed.
All these military conflicts — wars with China and Pakistan and India's intervention in Sri Lanka — have considerably changed the Indian political landscape along the way.
For example, India won the 1965 war with Pakistan and lost the 1962 war with China. Both the wars took place between the 1962 and 1967 general elections. The Congress, which was then the ruling party in both the elections, lost in terms of vote share and seat share. However, in the 1971 elections, the party recovered the losses.
The 1971 war led to the creation of Bangladesh, and a large scale support for the Congress, which was headed by Indira Gandhi at that time. However, after the imposition of emergency in 1975, the Congress slumped to one of its worst defeat in the elections that were held in 1977.
Two decades later, the Kargil war was fought under a BJP-led government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. India held polls after few months of India’s military success. The BJP came back to power in 1999, but its seat tally remained the same in the 1998 and 1999 elections.
Pure numbers, however, aren’t enough to ascertain whether loses and wins in conflicts led to the change in the governments because economic and social factors were also at play. But did these conflicts lead to substantial political shifts on the ground? News18.com explains.
First Indo-Pakistan War (1947)
After independence first government of India formed under first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It got dissolved after the first Lok Sabha election held in 1952 across 25 states of the country. Total 489 candidates were elected as member of LS, the lower house of the Parliament of India.
First war between India and Pakistan also known as Kashmir war as it was central point of conflict over which both countries made their claims, while the then Hindu ruler Hari Singh in the Muslim majority state who wanted to keep J&K as independent nation asked help from India following an attack from Pakistan. The war began in October 1947 and ended in December 1948.
Given this was the first general election of Independent India, the political landscape of the country didn’t witness much of multi party seat scattering. Congress being the main party during the fight for Independence, swept the polls and formed a majority government.
First India-China War 1962
Fourteen years after the first India-Pakistan war, the country found itself enmeshed into a crisis with the neighboring China. The first India-China was, fought between 20 Oct 1962 – 21 Nov 1962, was initiated by China over the disputes on Aksai Chin border lines with India. The war resulted in the standoff between 10,000-20,000 Indian troops and 80,000 Chinese troops.
This war happened during the third government that was formed by Congress after few months of India’s third Lok Sabha elections, which were held in February 1962. In this election Congress had won 361 seats with 51509084 (44.72%) votes out of total 115168890 polled. CPI, Swatantra Party and BJS were on second, third and fourth positions. They got 29, 18 and 14 seats, respectively.
In this election, Congress managed to keep itself near to the previous number of seats (371 in 1957 general elections) it had.
Second India-Pakistan (1965)
After second India-Pakistan war fourth Lok Sabha elections were conducted in February 1967. During the war with Pakistan, Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister. Post the war, Congress easily managed to form the government but the result of 1967 results showed a loss of 78 seats to the party as compared to previous elections.
Congress won 283 seats with 59490701(40.78%) votes out of total 145866510 votes casted. During this election, the NCO—a defection of MPs from the Congress who had joined hands with Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), Praja Socialist Party, Samyukta Socialist Party, and Swatantra Party (SWA)—won 51 seats. Delhi, where the Congress had all four seats in 1962 elections saw a massive change when the grand old party won just one out of seven seats in 1967. The remaining six were won by Jana Sangh. The SWA which had won 18 seats in the 1962 gained 26 seats in 1967, winning 44 seats.
Third India-Pakistani War (1971)
Again, during Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership both the nations went to war as a result of intervention of India in Bangladesh liberation civil war. Separating itself from Pakistan, Bangladesh had declared itself as separate nation (earlier known as East Pakistan) in March 1971. This military confrontation occurred between India and Pakistan right after fifth general election held in March 1971.
Later in next elections that were held in 1977, Congress met huge loss of 158 seats when it slipped from previous 352 seats (won in 1971 elections) to 154 with 188917504 (34.52%) vote share. In this election Janata Party (a new political outfit that came into existence after the merger of Jan Sangh in 1977) earlier known as Bhartiya Lok Dal (BLD) emerged as single largest party which won total 295 seats. BLD came into existence in 1974 with the merger of seven political parties Swatantra Party, Utkal Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal and the Socialist Party who opposed Congress.
This was the first time non-Congress government formed and Morarji Desai became the PM. After three years in power, the Janata party dissolved in 1980 with the members of the Jana Sangh reconvening to form the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
India’s Intervention in Sri Lanka Civil War (1987)
India’s intervention was a peacekeeping attempt in Sri Lankan civil war when the Congress’ Rajiv Gandhi was the PM. It was intended to end war between Sri Lankan Military and militia of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Rajiv Gandh was assassinated in a suicide bombing attack by LTTE militant on May 21, 1991.
In the 9th LS elections (1984)—three years before the intervention in Sri Lankan crisis—the Congress had an edge by winning 404 seats (a record number of seats since first LS election) with 115478267 (49.10%) votes. However, post Sri Lanka civil war, and during the 1989 elections, Congress experienced a massive jolt. Though Congress was the single largest party but it just got 197 seats with 118894702(39.53%) while Janata Dal won 143 and BJP managed to win 85 seats, an increase of 83 seats from the 1984 election in which saffron party had got just 2 seats.
This was the time when the Congress, for the first time, experienced a strong opposition from the BJP—thus paving a way for the mega political competition between these two parties in all the elections that were held since then.
National Front, with Janata Dal the major part of the alliance, formed a government and VP Singh became the Prime Minister. BJP, CPI and CPM gave an outside support to the National Front.
Kargil War (May 1999 – July 1999)
Eleventh Lok Sabha elections (1996) saw a hung parliament when BJP won highest 161 seats leading behind Congress with 140 seats followed by Janata Dal with 46 seats. BJP managed to form a short lived government of United front along with Janata Dal till 1998.
In the aftermath of 1998 elections, BJP won 182 seats (94266188 votes i.e 25.59% of total 368376700) leading behind its rival Congress, that won 141 seats. BJP formed government under National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and Atal Bihari Wajpayee became the PM. It was during his tenure—the first time ever a non Congress PM was leading the country during a war—that India and Pakistan witnessed fourth war known as Kargil war that was fought along the Line of Control (LoC) between the two nuclear powers.
Riding on the Kargil success, BJP in 2004 elections, however, could not form a government again. It got 138 seats, losing 44 seats compared to previous elections. Congress also didn’t get enough seats (145) to form a government on its own but it managed to form the government through United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with left and regional parties.
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