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How angry “Hindi” voters turned the tables against Congress in 1977 elections

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credits: intoday.in

By Praveen Chakravarty

New Delhi: “If the majority rule were to apply, the crow should be our national bird, not the peacock”. A quote attributed to the Tamil leader C.N. Annadurai during a protest speech in 1962 against the imposition of Hindi as a national language, 13 years before the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi.

Annadurai went on to become the chief minister of Madras in 1967, galvanizing support through the anti-Hindi movement, defeating the Congress party in Tamil Nadu for the first time and forever.

The Congress party has never won in Tamil Nadu since. Ironically, a decade later, it was this “Hindi voter” that dealt the Congress party its first national defeat in parliamentary elections in 1977, after the emergency was lifted.

Twelve states accounted for 90 percent of all votes cast in the 1977 election. Using a loose definition of “Hindi” and “Non-Hindi” states, six “Hindi” states accounted for 65 percent of votes and the six “Non-Hindi” states, the remaining 35 percent. Our loose categorization of Hindi states include Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The non-Hindi states are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal and Orissa.

One hundred and twenty million voters in these twelve states had a direct choice to express their anger against the emergency by voting against the Congress candidate on their ballot. Seventy million (63 percent) did. But 90 percent of all these angry voters were confined to the six “Hindi” states. Further, there were 376 constituencies in which there was a Congress candidate under Indira Gandhi’s leadership in both the 1971 and 1977 elections.

Fifty-two percent of these voted for the Congress candidate in the 1971 elections vs 38 percent only in the 1977 elections represented an absolute loss of 4.3 million voters for the Congress between 1971 and 1977. Incredulously however, 6.3 million incremental voters voted AGAINST the Congress in 1977 in the six “Hindi” states while 2 million voters incrementally voted FOR the Congress in the “non-Hindi” states.

Overall, in the “non-Hindi” states, roughly the same percentage of voters that voted for the Congress in 1971 did so in 1977. One state, Uttar Pradesh, accounted for 73 percent of all angry voters that treated the Congress with contempt while ironically, the voter in Tamil Nadu seemed nonchalant and even marginally happier with the Congress in 1977 vis-a-vis 1971. Ninety percent of all anger (vote share swing vis-a-vis 1971) was concentrated in three “Hindi” states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.

The Congress lost 167 seats across these twelve states in 1977 from the 1971 elections, of which 168 seats were lost in the six “Hindi” states and a gain of one seat in the six “non-Hindi” states. It is of telling significance that 40 million voters in the six “non-Hindi” states did not deem Indira Gandhi worthy of punishment for masterminding arguably independent India’s most heinous crime.

While one can nitpick over whether Maharashtra and Gujarat can truly be defined as “Hindi”, the larger point of this analysis is the massive diversion in reaction to what is generally considered a terrible action by any standards. To the ardent observer of Indian society and its history, this is rightly no big revelation or surprise. However, we still miss a scholarly narrative about why the “non-Hindi” citizen was not alarmed by the Emergency vis-a-vis her fellow “Hindi” citizen.

Was it the perceived positive impact of the 20-point programme? Was it the absence of a strong opposition in these “non-Hindi” states to galvanize support against the Emergency? Was it the lack of a credible alternative for people to vent their anger with? Was it the notion that local governance mattered much more than any suspension of civil liberties?

While Annadurai got his wish granted of Hindi not being imposed, has that inadvertently exacerbated and prolonged this chasm in voting behaviour between the “Hindi” states and “non Hindi” states, as was evident even in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? (IANS)

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With The Elections Coming Up, Indian Government Promises Farmers Their Income Support

The government said the fiscal deficit this year will rise from 3.3 percent to 3.4 percent due to the outlay for the income scheme for farmers.

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Farmers, India
An Indian woman helps her farmer husband irrigate a paddy field using a traditional system, on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

With an eye on wooing voters ahead of what is expected to be a tough national election, India’s Hindu nationalist government announced cash handouts of billions of dollars for poor farmers.

In the annual budget presented in parliament Friday, interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal said 120 million farmers with less than two hectares of land would get an income of $85 a year.

Goyal announced that the measure, which will cost about $10.5 billion, would be implemented with immediate effect. “This will pave the way for them to earn a respectable living,” he said. “Such support will help them avoid indebtedness.”

India, Farmers
Interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, center, holds a briefcase containing federal budget documents with Junior Finance ministers Shiv Pratap Shukla, center right, and Pon Radhakrishnan, left, upon their arrival at the parliament house in New Delhi, India, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

Farmers complain that a sharp decline in crop prices has hurt their incomes and driven millions into debt. Rural experts said they were not sure whether the measure will assuage disgruntled rural communities that have been demanding loan waivers and better prices for their produce.

The government also announced a pension scheme of about $40 a month for nearly 100 million poor workers in the country’s vast unorganized sector and tax breaks for the middle classes.

The welfare measures come as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party tries to address rising discontent in the country — there is growing anger in rural areas over falling crop prices and widespread worries that his government has failed to create jobs to meet the needs of the country’s huge young population.

The Bharatiya Janata Party recently lost elections in three heartland states, raising concerns it could struggle to win a majority in the upcoming elections. Modi had sailed to power in 2014 on the promise of creating millions of jobs.

Modi, India, Farmers
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, is garlanded by BJP leaders on the first day of the two-day Bharatiya Janata Party national convention in New Delhi, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

Although economic growth numbers have been good, lack of jobs has emerged as the biggest challenge for Modi. A report in the Business Standard newspaper says a government survey that has not been released pegs the unemployment rate at a 45-year high of 6.1 percent.

Expressing optimism that “India is solidly back on track and marching towards growth and prosperity,” Goyal said that infrastructure projects such as building roads in rural areas will boost employment.

The opposition Congress Party slammed the income support of $85 a year announced for farmers as inadequate. Saying that it is not going to be transformational, senior party leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “₹6000 [6,000 rupees, or $84] in income support for farmers boils down to ₹500 [500 rupees, or $7] per month. Is that supposed to enable them to live with the honor and dignity?”

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The Congress Party is also trying to woo voters with the promise of a minimum income for the poor if it wins the upcoming general election. The BJP has dismissed the pledge as unaffordable, while economists have expressed concern that the “competitive populism” by India’s two main parties ahead of general elections could strain the country’s finances.

The government said the fiscal deficit this year will rise from 3.3 percent to 3.4 percent due to the outlay for the income scheme for farmers. (VOA)