Political Developments during Nehruvian Period

Mains Marks Booster     2nd August 2023        
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Establishment of Parliamentary Democracy

  • August 1947 to March 1952: Crucial period leading to the formation of the constitution and transitioning from the old legislative assembly to the newly elected parliament. 
  • First elections in 1951: Held after the constitution was established by the Constituent Assembly. 
  • Free and fair elections: Despite a large population facing poverty and illiteracy, India successfully conducted elections, with over half of eligible voters participating. 
  • The general elections of 1952 were significant in global history as a landmark for democracy.

One Party Dominated System

  • Indian National Congress (INC) controlled center and most states during Nehru years. 
  • Factors: Inclusive ideology, liberation movement, and prestige from national independence. Also, Opposition parties failed to unify against INC. 
  • Multiparty system formed after independence with Congress, Communists, and Bhartiya Jan Sangha. INC won 364 out of 489 seats in first Lok Sabha, surprising many. 
  • INC ruled in second and third general elections in 1957 and 1962. 
  • Era of Congress, as termed by political scientist Rajni Kothari.

Decline of Indian National Congress

  • Fourth general election marked the loss of power for Congress. Nehru and Shastri's deaths before the 1967 elections affected the party's performance. Internal factionalism weakened the INC. 
  • Misinterpreted protests and loss of public faith. 
    • Opposition parties formed anti-Congress fronts through "non-Congressism" strategy.
    • Congress faced defeats in states and defections prevented government formation. For instance, CPI and CPI(M) established the United Front administration with Congress dissidents.
  • Regional party DMK ruled Madras State. Coalitions of non-Congress parties emerged in eight states, marking the era of coalition politics with the formation of Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD).
  • Decline of Indian National Congress: 
    • In 1967, the Congress faced losses, but still won a majority in the Lok Sabha. 
    • However, in states, defections prevented Congress from forming governments in seven states and two others. Regional party DMK ruled Madras State. 
  • Coalitions of non-congress parties took control in eight states. The era of coalition politics began when the Indian National Congress declined and non-Congress groups with differing ideas formed the Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD).

Foreign Policy of Nehru

Independence coincided with the post-World War II era of emerging countries from colonialism. Cold War, imperialism, and national leaders' ideologies influenced foreign policy. 

Principles of alignment

  • The Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet region of China and India in April 29, 1954 highlighted the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence (Panchsheel).

Panchsheel became the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement at the 1961 Belgrade Conference.

Non-Alignment Movement (NAM)

  • Bandung Conference in 1955 laid the foundation for NAM, focusing on decolonization, peace, and economic cooperation. 
  • NAM was founded in 1961 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, with leaders like Tito, Nehru, Sukarno, and Nasser.
  • Emerged during the Cold War, aiming to maintain neutrality and independence from the US-Soviet blocs. 
  • Principles included opposition to colonialism, imperialism, and foreign domination, promoting peaceful coexistence and sovereignty. 
  • Rapid growth in membership, attracting countries from Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Latin America. By the 1970s, it had over 100 member states.
  • Played a significant role in global politics, addressing disarmament, human rights, decolonization, and apartheid.
  • Provided support to liberation movements and advocated for reforms within the UN. 
  • Challenged superpower dominance and asserted the interests of developing nations. 
  • Faced challenges in the post-Cold War era but remains relevant, addressing contemporary global issues.

Cold War movement of non-aligned nations seeking independence, decolonization, and a fairer world. It shaped global politics, challenged superpower dominance, supported developing nations. It remains a forum for member states to cooperate.

NAM's Importance for India

  • The Non-Alignment Movement enabled India to make foreign policy judgements and take positions that benefited India rather than the superpowers and their supporters.
  • India could balance power dynamics between superpowers, preventing one from overlooking or pressuring India.
  • On several occasions, India has been chastised for its non-alignment stance. It was said that, in the name of promoting national interests, India frequently declined to take a hard stance on critical international issues, resulting in "unprincipled" policy. India was also chastised for having conflicting positions on similar matters, such as when it criticised nations for forming alliances then signed a treaty of friendship with the USSR for 20 years in 1971, claiming that it was required owing to the Bangladesh situation.
  • India aimed to promote global peace through NAM, mediating tensions between the two Cold War coalitions.
  • For this aim, India mediated between cold war adversaries, particularly those involved in the 1950s Korean War. 
  • The pinnacle of India's non-alignment policy came when it successfully ended the civil conflict in Congo.
  • Following the same policy, the foreign powers recognised India's fairness during the 1956 Suez Canal issue.

India’s engagement with the World powers after independence

United States:

  • India initially had cordial relations with the US, which recognized its independence and provided economic aid and technical cooperation.
  • Nehruvian era: India balanced engagement with the US and Soviet Union. Nehru criticized US policy but maintained diplomatic relations.
  • U.S. assistance in development programs. 
  • Differences on non-alignment, border disputes, and support for Pakistan strained relations.
  • US provided economic aid and technical cooperation to support India's development programs in agriculture, infrastructure, and education during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • India and the US had differences on non-alignment, Indo-China border dispute, and US support for Pakistan in India-Pakistan conflicts. These strained bilateral relations at times.

Soviet Union:

  • Strategic partnership supporting India's economic development, industrialization, and defense needs. 
  • Defense cooperation as major supplier of military equipment, technology, and training.
  • Nuclear Cooperation: The Soviet Union supported India's peaceful nuclear program and helped in building nuclear power plants, including the Tarapur and Kudankulam plants.
  • Political support on international platforms, including conflicts with Pakistan and stance on Kashmir and Non-Aligned Movement. 
  • Economic and technical assistance in sectors such as heavy industry, science and technology, and space exploration.

Other World Powers:

  • United Kingdom: India maintained diplomatic relations with the UK, with trade and cultural ties influenced by colonial legacy. 
  • China: India's engagement was complex, initially recognizing and seeking friendly relations with the People's Republic of China. Border disputes and the 1962 war strained relations.

India – China Relations During Nehruvian Period

During the Nehruvian period (1947-1964), India-China relations experienced both cooperation and tensions. Here is an overview of India-China relations during that period:

Early Relations:

  • India recognized China early and supported its UN membership. 
  • The Panchsheel Agreement (1954) emphasized peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

Border Dispute and Sino-Indian War:

  • Border disputes arose between them in the 1950s over Aksai Chin and the eastern sector with each side having differences over McMahon Line, the border between Tibet and India's northeastern region.
  • In October 1950, China invaded eastern Tibet and occupied Chamdo, disregarding India's objections. 
  • India mediated, but China rejected offers and claimed Tibet as its own. 
  • The Panchsheel pact of 1954 recognized China's claim to Tibet, but Tibetans revolted for autonomy. 
  • The Dalai Lama sought sanctuary in India, causing tensions with China.
  • Tensions between India and China escalated, resulting in the Sino-Indian War in 1962. The war ended in India's defeat and China's occupation of disputed territories. This conflict strained bilateral relations and had a lasting impact on India's view of China.

Impact on Non-Alignment:

  • The Sino-Indian War and China's aggression influenced India's policy of non-alignment. India became more cautious of China and forged closer ties with the Soviet Union to counterbalance China's influence. 
  • The conflict also affected India's international standing, with some non-aligned countries sympathizing with China and India's role within the Non-Aligned Movement being influenced by the conflict and alignment with the Soviet Union.

Attempts at Normalization:

  • After the Sino-Indian War, India made diplomatic efforts to normalize relations with China. High-level visits, such as Zhou Enlai's visit to India in 1960 and Nehru's visit to China in 1961, were conducted to improve ties. 
  • Both countries also engaged in negotiations and talks to resolve the border dispute, but these efforts did not lead to significant progress in resolving the underlying issues.

Result of attempts made at settling the disputes: 

  • ‘Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity’ (1993), military CBMs (1996), ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles’ for the settlement of boundary question (2005), and border defence cooperation (2012) — have failed to lead to a settlement of the border question.


  • The border dispute between India and China, originating from the Nehruvian period, remains unresolved and has resulted in periodic tensions and military standoffs, including the Doklam standoff in 2017 and the Galwan Valley clash in 2020. 
  • This conflict has shaped India's China policy, leading to an emphasis on border security, military preparedness, and a cautious approach to engaging with China.

In summary, India-China relations during the Nehruvian period started with goodwill and the Panchsheel Agreement but were strained by the border dispute and the Sino-Indian War. This led to a shift in India's policy and a closer alignment with the Soviet Union. The unresolved border issue remains a significant factor affecting India-China relations today.

Doklam Standoff (2017)

Doklam is a disputed area spanning less than 100 sq km at the trijunction of India, Bhutan, and China. The standoff arose in 2017 when China attempted road construction, objected by India and Bhutan. Doklam is strategically near the vulnerable Siliguri Corridor, linking mainland India with the northeast.

Galwan Valley Clash (2020):

  • The eastern Ladakh border row escalated after the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15, 2020.

Criticism of Nehruvian Phase

  • Indo-China war 1962: Ignored China's intentions and unpreparedness.
  • Kashmir issue: Unilateral approach at UN, prolonged border dispute. 
  • Indo-China border dispute: Recognizing China's claim over Tibet. 
  • Ignored agriculture: Neglected food production, relied on foreign aid. • Closed economy: Self-reliance led to depleted foreign reserves, BoP crisis.
  • Indo-China border dispute: Criticized for recognizing Tibet, missed opportunity for resolving NEFA issue. 
  • Ignorance of Agriculture: Excessive reliance on heavy industries, especially in the first years of the Mahalanobis plan, led to India's food deficit and the need for foreign aid.

Closed economy: Though the goal was self-reliance, the closed economy system eroded foreign exchange reserves, which led to the 1991 BoP crisis in India. 

Shastri Era

The succession controversy arose after Jawaharlal Nehru's 1964 death. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Morarji Desai vied for the prime ministership. Shastri became Prime Minister under the Syndicate, a group of leading Congress leaders. He took office in June 1964.


As India's Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri faced several challenges:

  • A stagnating economy, worsening Balance of Payments, and serious food shortage.
  • Protests in Tamil Nadu seeking English as the official language beyond the Constitution's 15-year limit.
  • Demands for Goa's union with Maharashtra and Punjab's separation.
  • Nagaland's independence movement.
  • Kashmir and Pakistan's ambitions.
  • China's power increased with October 1964 nuclear test.

Indo- Pakistan War (1965):

  • Outcome: Strengthened China-Pakistan alliance, raised India's awareness of a two-front threat. Reason behind the war.

Reason behind the 1965 war:

  • Pakistani troops on 5th August 1965 posing as Kashmiri locals crossed the LOC intending to start an insurgency against the Indian army and government.
  • This strategy of infiltration and starting an insurgency in Kashmir was done with a motive to gain control over Kashmir. This plan was named Operation Gibraltar. 

Operation Gibraltar:

  • The operation was a failure as the presence of Pakistanis was reported to the Indian authorities. The Indian Army retaliated and captured Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Haji Pir Pass. 

Reasons why Operation Gibraltar Failed: 

  • Differing views on the plan's effectiveness and execution. 
  • Clumsy and flawed attempt according to Pakistani and neutral analysts. 
  • Mis-judgment of Kashmiri people's response and lack of coordination among military services. 
  • Limited awareness among senior Pakistani officials and reluctance to escalate into a full-scale war with India.
  • According to then Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Nur Khan, there was little coordination amongst the military services on the impending operation.
  • Many senior Pakistani military officers and political leaders were unaware of the impending crisis, thus surprising not only India, but also Pakistan itself.
  • Many senior officials also were against the plan, as a failure could lead to an all-out war with India, which many wanted to avoid.
  • Pakistan's misconception of India's weakness after its war with China influenced its strategy. 
  • The death of Nehru and India's food crisis, along with China's support to Pakistan, played a role. 
  • Operation Grand Slam targeted the Akhnoor Bridge in Jammu and Kashmir but was unsuccessful. 
  • Official beginning of the War: On 6th September, India crossed the international border (the Radcliffe Line), marking the official beginning of the war. 
  • The Indian Army captured certain areas in the Lahore district of Pakistan. The conflict ended on September 23, 1965, after the UN Security Council called for an unconditional ceasefire.

Circumstances after the end of the War: 

  • Foreign intervention: The USA and the USSR diplomatically intervened to de-escalate the conflict. India emerged as the winner, although the conflict reached an impasse due to international pressure. 
  • Protests followed India's decision to agree to the ceasefire, with some believing a decisive victory was possible. 
  • Tashkent Agreement: Signed between President Ayub Khan and Lal Bahadur Shastri and was reached during ceasefire talks hosted by the USSR in Tashkent in 1966.
  • The agreement obliged Pakistan and India to hand back the annexations to one other.
  • Establishment of RAW: India formed the Research & Analysis Wing in response to the intelligence failure before the 1965 war. 
  • Enhanced tri-service coordination: India prioritized improving communication and coordination among its tri-services.
  • Modernization of army: Post war, India took it upon itself to reorganise its armed forces as well as modernise its weaponry, the effect of which can be clearly seen in the 1971 victory.
  • Changed foreign policy: United States and United Kingdom refused to supply India with sophisticated weaponry which strained the relations between the West and India. It distanced itself from Western powers and developed close relations with the Soviet Union.

Circumstances after the end of the War

Key provisions of Tashkent Agreement:

  • Pakistan has decided to abandon international arbitration in the Kashmir dispute.
  • India will retreat from critical positions such as Haji Pir Pass and other strategic achievements in Kashmir.
  • Both sides withdraw their forces to the locations they occupied prior to the war.
  • The transportation of prisoners of war in a timely and organised manner.
  • Diplomatic connections have been re-established.
  • The refusal to use force to settle future disputes.

Advantages for India

  • After losing to China, India's pride was restored.
  • India became stronger and more unified politically.
  • Litmus test of secularism: Indian Muslims supported the war, Muslims in the armed forces fought heroically, and infiltrators failed to win Kashmiri support.

The drawbacks for India

  • The Tashkent accord did not include a no-war pledge or a renunciation of Kashmir guerilla warfare, which was unfavourable to India. 
  • Shastri accepted these harsh conditions since the alternative was to restart the terrible war.
  • India lost critical places like the Haji Pir pass after the Tashkent agreement.
  • Shastri ji's death in Tashkent caused political turmoil in India.
  • After Shastri's death, succession was discussed again. The second succession in two years went smoothly, proving India's political system's resilience.

Initial Years of Indira Gandhi 

Why Indira as Prime Minister?

  • In 1966, Indira Gandhi emerged as the leader of the Congress party, overcoming competition from Morarji Desai with the help of K. Kamaraj. 
  • There were attempts to influence and control her within the political establishment.

Challenges for Indira Gandhi

  • Indira Gandhi faced immediate elections within a year (in 1967) of becoming Prime Minister. 
  • India's economic status deteriorated due to conflicts and natural calamities. 
  • Despite her harsh leadership style, she won the 1967 general election. However, Congress' support base was diminishing due to economic and social crises. 
  • The party obtained a majority in the Lok Sabha, driven by public dissatisfaction with various issues.

Split in Congress

  • After Shastri's death, the Congress party lacked clear political leadership, leading to a division between Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai. 
  • Indira Gandhi's supporters formed the Indian National Congress (R), while those who opposed her formed the Indian National Congress (O). 
  • The death of President Zakir Hussain intensified the rift, with the Syndicate supporting a different candidate. Indira Gandhi promoted V.V. Giri as an independent candidate, causing further disagreements and Desai's resignation. 
  • S. Nijalingappa, the Congress President, issued a whip in Reddy's favor, but Indira openly backed Giri and called for a 'Conscience Vote.' Approximately one-third of the members voted for Giri, resulting in his election as President of India.

Indo-Pakistan War 1971 and Creation of Bangladesh: 

  • Vijay Diwas is celebrated annually on December 16th to commemorate India's victory in the 1971 war against Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh.

Reasons that led to the War:  

  • Language controversy: People protested Jinnah's decision to make Urdu the official language, which sparked the "Language Movement" led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to make Bangla the official tongue. 
  • Political imbalance: The Bengalis had no political say in the Pakistan administration in West Pakistan. 
  • Cultural differences: East Pakistanis prioritized their Bengali ethnicity, while West Pakistan favored an Islamic state with dominant Punjabi and Pashtun influences.
    • Result of 1954 provincial elections: Awami League's victory was nullified, leading to riots. 
    • Pakistan's 1956 constitution declared it an Islamic Republic. 
    • Demands of the 6-point movement, 1966: East Pakistan demanded autonomy in several areas.
    • Agartala conspiracy case, 1968: Mujibur Rahman accused of sedition and plotting with India.
    • 1970 Cyclone Bhola: Lack of assistance increased hostility. 
    • Election of 1970: Awami League won, but PPP refused to accept the victory, leading to public disobedience. 
  • Operation Searchlight: West Pakistan kicked in operation searchlight across the whole of East Pakistan on March 26, 1971. 
  • Mass migration to India strained West Bengal, leading to appeal for assistance from Indira Gandhi.

        Map 1 Reasons that led to the War

Result of the 1971 War:

  • India launched a counterattack against both East and West Pakistan.
  • East Pakistan declared independence as Bangladesh on 6 December 1971
  • Both countries agreed to a cease-fire and Z.A Bhutto emerged as a leader of Pakistan and Mujibur Rehman as the first President of Bangladesh in 1972.
  • Shimla Agreement in June 1972 signed between Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto for restoration of peace and order.

        Map 2 Result of the 1971 War 

Reason behind India’s decision to intervene in the War

  • Refugee Crisis: The persistent influx of migrants from East Pakistan has generated various problems in the border states along with the scarcity of resources.
  • Strategic Factors: Having West Pakistan and East Pakistan posed a strategic challenge for India. This was made worse by the tumultuous Sino-Indian ties that led to the war in 1962. 
  • Economic Pressure: India faced financial burden from hosting refugees and supporting the liberation of Bangladesh.
  • Humanitarian Approach: India intervened to prevent further atrocities against East Pakistani citizens and avert a serious crisis.

Conclusion: India's role in the birth of Bangladesh has led to its current prosperity, marking a significant foreign policy achievement.

Major Economic developments during the Indira Gandhi

  • Nationalization of Banks: In 1969, the Indian government, under Indira Gandhi's leadership, nationalized 14 major private banks, followed by six more in 1980. 
    • Aimed to promote rural banking, support agriculture and small-scale industries, and regulate credit flow for economic development.
  • Green Revolution: Indira Gandhi promoted the Green Revolution in India through the introduction of high-yielding seeds, modern farming techniques, irrigation development, and increased use of fertilizers and pesticides. This led to a substantial increase in agricultural production, making India self-sufficient in food grains.
  • Indira Gandhi's "Garibi Hatao" aimed to alleviate poverty. Measures included land redistribution, the Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP) and the National Rural Employment Program (NREP) for rural development and employment.
  • Indira Gandhi prioritized industrial growth and self-reliance. Investments were made in steel, coal, petroleum, and heavy machinery industries. Public-sector companies like SAIL and BHEL were established for increased industrial capacity and reduced import dependence.
  • Indira Gandhi fostered close relations with the Soviet Union, receiving economic assistance for industrial projects and technology transfer. India also received economic aid from other countries and international organizations.
  • During the Emergency from 1975 to 1977, Indira Gandhi's government implemented controversial policies, including stricter control over the private sector, regulations on industries, and the suspension of civil liberties. These policies had a lasting impact on India's economic and political landscape, although some were rolled back after the Emergency ended.

Emergence of Multi-Party system

Causes of Decline of Congress

  • Anti-incumbency sentiments due to the party's long-standing rule 
  • Internal conflicts and lack of strong leadership 
  • Corruption allegations that damaged public trust 
  • Failure to connect with changing demographics and younger voters 
  • Emergence and success of regional parties 
  • Ideological shift away from traditional center-left policies. 

Emergence of Multi-Party System

  • Opposition parties like Ganatantra Parishad in Orissa, Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, and Mahagujarat Parishad in Bombay emerged in different regions, challenging the Congress's dominance. 
  • The Congress lost power in Kerala, with the Communist Party of India (CPI) forming the government with independent support. 
  • In 1962, Congress's voting percentage dropped, resulting in 361 out of 496 parliamentary seats. Communists, the Swatantra Party (founded by C. Rajagopalchari in 1959), and the DMK improved. 
  • However, India's 1967 elections were a turning point. Congress suffered a major setback. Despite winning majority in the Lok Sabha, its seats dropped to 284 out of 520.

Politics of Defections

  • Regional alliances were accepted because parties understood local issues and attempted to solve them. 
  • Corruption led to frequent defections among parliamentarians, with legislators in Haryana being famously referred to as "Aaya Ram and Gaya Ram" (incoming and outgoing Ram). 
  • Except for the Communist parties and Jan Sangh, party discipline broke broken. 
  • 16 states voted in 1967. The Congress only governed one state after losing majority. 
  • This election caused mass defections. Between 1967 and 1971, 142 MPs and 1900 MLAs switched parties.
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