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Major storms during the explosive years
In a glimpse of the IE issues through 1973-78, we get a picture of an explosive five years.

Down memory lane – highlights – 1973-78

Explosive quinquennium

In a glimpse of the IE issues through 1973-78, we get a picture of the explosive five years. With parties opposed to the Congress gaining ascent across the country and with the economy afflicted by high inflation, deficits, acute shortage of foreign exchange and investments, there was widespread discontent manifested through agitations and strikes. 

The quinquennium witnessed a few tectonic shifts-like the oil crisis ending the hegemony of the Seven Sisters in the west and paving the way for the prosperity of oil producers.

Public sector started to rise to commanding heights with the steel companies merged under Steel Authority of India Ltd and the senior Heavy Electricals (India) Ltd getting merged with BHEL.

The concept of joint sector took roots in Tamil Nadu with SPIC blazing new trails.

Madras Fertilizers, set up with American and Iranian collaborations, set new standards for efficiency and profitability. It declared a 50 per cent dividend!

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, fresh after liberating Bangladesh from Pakistan, went on a spree of nationalisation - of over 100 sick textile mills, coal, general insurance and dozens of engineering units with gay abandon. Several of these turned white elephants not even earning to meet the salaries of their staff. 

George Fernandes spearheaded nation-wide railway strike, Jayaprakash Narayan launched mass protests in Bihar and Gujarat.

The five years saw the ascent of the naxalite movement led by Charu Mazumdar, consolidation of the communist rule in West Bengal and Tripura and also the shift of industrial activity from West Bengal.

There were also a couple of matters for pride: the implosion of an atomic devise at Pokhran, the launch of Aryabatta, the Indian satellite which laid the foundation for the country’s advances  in space exploration.

The turmoil culminated in the proclamation of the emergency and imprisonment of hundreds of political leaders and eventually to the massive defeat of the Congress. Janata party under Morarji Desai, with a star-studded compact cabinet of 20, started with great promise. But the over-arching ambition of the leaders resulted in the collapse of the Janata government in three years.

In Tamil Nadu, DMK supremo M Karunanidhi, enjoying such wide power and pelf, laid the base for institutionalised corruption. The state committed increasing quantum of resources for garnering votes to the neglect of economic development. 

The advent of MGR who parted with the DMK in 1972 and gained power in 1977, consolidated further the grip of Tamil Nadu’s film world on the state’s politics and administration.

Truly, these were explosive years.  – SV


Parties opposed to the Congress were on the ascent across India.  In the  aftermath of the Emergency, the Congress was comprehensively defeated.   It led to the formation, in 1977, of the first non-Congress government at the Centre. But we are getting ahead of the story. 

 

The big tickets

In 1973, oil producers changed the global balance of power. They unleashed the first oil crisis by jacking up prices and bringing an end to the hegemony of the western oil companies.  India, although wedded to socialism, and not as materialistic as it is today, felt its resounding impact. 

In 1974, the maverick trade union leader, George Fernandes spearheaded a nation-wide railway strike that held the nation to ransom. In the days preceding it, IE wrote: “the general trade unions, though they have held talks with the Railway Minister, have made it clear that rejection of their demands would lead to a countrywide strike in the nation’s transport system. The militancy becomes more apparent when one takes note of the fact that no less than Rs.450 crore a year would have to be found to satisfy the unions and stave off the strike.”

Meanwhile, a man answering to the calling card 

Jayaprakash Narayan launched mass protests in Bihar and Gujarat.  He invoked the students to join him in a mass movement that he said would lead to Total Revolution.  He fired the first shots of the uprising in his characteristic non-violent manner when he undertook the fast unto death that led to the elections in Gujarat.

In June 1975, stung in part by the Allahabad High Court judgment that unseated her on a minor electoral offence, Indira Gandhi declared the internal emergency. She crushed the freedom of the Press. It broke India’s back. But the country made strident progress. Government offices worked. Trains ran on time for the first time.  The Congress unleashed the 20-point economic programme. 

In January 1977, Mrs. Gandhi lifted emergency and announced elections. The nation voted with its feet and a motley group of geriatric men captured power under a Janata dispensation. It would be the first ever non-Congress installation in the Centre. Commissions of inquiry were set to look at the excesses of the emergency era. 

JP who was instrumental in piecing together the Janata experiment did a Gandhi, refusing to hold the office of prime minister.  He helped install the 84-year-old Morarji Desai as the head of government. 

 

Other stories

In other developments, the public sector started to rise to commanding heights with the steel companies merged under Steel Authority of India Ltd and the senior Heavy Electricals (India) Ltd getting merged with BHEL. The concept of joint sector took roots in Tamil Nadu with SPIC blazing new trails. Madras Fertilizers, set up with American and Iranian collaborations, set new standards for efficiency and profitability.  Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, fresh after liberating Bangladesh from Pakistan, went on a spree of nationalisations with gay abandon. Several of these turned white elephants. 

There were also matters of pride.  Like, the implosion of an atomic device at Pokhran. Like, the launch of Aryabatta, the Indian satellite, which laid the foundation for the country’s advances in space exploration.  

Truly, these were explosive years. 

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