A game-changing presidential poll

In love, war and Indian elections, the winner takes all — and in 1969, Indira Gandhi emerged as victor.

Once V.V. Giri had angrily resigned as vice president and jumped into the fray as an "independent" presidential candidate (See 'A populist move, a party chasm', IE, December 23), the Syndicate was shaken. Awestruck by the tremendous popularity of Indira Gandhi's populist measures, such as the nationalisation of banks and the proposed abolition of privy purses of former princes, it wondered what she might do next to get out of the corner into which she had painted herself. For, while detesting N. Sanjiva Reddy, she had, as prime minister, signed his nomination papers as the Congress's presidential candidate. Enigmatic silence was her response to every query on the subject. But she made no bones about dragging her feet over Congress president S. Nijalingappa's request that she should also issue a whip to all party MPs and state legislators to vote for Reddy.

This encouraged some of her followers to demand that they should be allowed to vote "according to their conscience", though she did not say a word either way. But the Syndicate-Morarji Desai combine denounced the demand for a "conscience vote" as "perfidy". In this context, Nijalingappa made a mistake that delighted the prime minister's camp. He went to the leaders of the Jan Sangh (the forerunner of today's BJP) and the Swatantra Party, organised by big business that went defunct long ago, both of which were vehemently opposed to the Congress, particularly Gandhi. He persuaded them to cast their "second preference" votes for Reddy. His blunder enabled Gandhi to announce that the Syndicate's "unholy alliance" with "communal" and "reactionary" opposition parties had "vitiated" Reddy's candidature. (Opposition parties other than these two had put up a joint candidate, C.D. Deshmukh, who had been finance minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet from 1950 to 1956.)

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