61. Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State1

1400. USCINCPAC for POLAD. Subj: Morarji Desai Launches Janata Party Campaign.

[Page 157]

1. Morarji Desai, veteran Congress (O) leader and Chairman of the newly-formed Janata Party, launched the opposition’s campaign at a mammoth public rally in Delhi on Jan 30. Estimates of the size of the crowd ranged from 50,000 (police estimate and that also used over VOA) to 150,000 (according to one of our local employees who was present). In his hour-long speech Desai outlined what will probably be the major planks of the Janata Party’s manifesto. They follow closely the themes we touched on in New Delhi 1254.2

2. The issues were clear, Desai said: the elections were a choice between democracy and dictatorship, between law and lawlessness, between progress and false claims of progress. Desai added: “This election will determine the future of India. Democracy has been sufficiently weakened in India in the last [garble]. It has been sterilized. This election will decide whether we will remain an independent people or turn into a nation of slaves.” He said that the Emergency had unleashed a “reign of terror” on the people and sought to refute Mrs Gandhi’s claims that the Emergency was necessary to arrest the chaos created by the opposition. He regretted that the Prime Minister had branded him and his colleagues as traitors and enemies of the people. It was not the opposition which had indulged in character assassination, but rather Mrs Gandhi. Desai urged people to abjure violence and not to disturb the meetings of other political parties. Jan Sangh leader Atal Behari Vajpayee addressed the rally along similar lines and in particular criticized the government for allowing prices to rise. He also delivered a strong attack on the use of compulsion in the family planning campaign.

3. Desai avoided making a personal attack on the Prime Minister, criticizing instead her policies and actions during the Emergency. He ignored Sanjay completely. Opposition leaders may adhere to this line during the campaign in an effort to focus attention on issues rather than personalities. At one point Desai stated that his party’s fight was against the ruling party and not against any individuals.

4. Janata Party rallies were held in other major cities as well. J.P. Narayan addressed a large public meeting in Patna and claimed that democracy was at stake in the elections. Janata Vice Chairman Charan Singh told a large crowd in Kanpur to throw the Congress out of power and thus save Indian democracy.

5. Although a common theme in the speeches was the demand for the release of all political prisoners and total lifting of the Emergency, it appears that Janata leaders are still undecided on whether this issue [Page 158] will cause them to boycott the elections. A group of Janata Party leaders (including Vajpayee but excluding Morarji Desai) called on the Prime Minister on Jan 28 to press these demands. The same day Charan Singh stated in Lucknow that the Janata Party might reconsider its decision to participate in the elections if all opposition leaders and workers are not released immediately. However, at the Jan 30 Delhi rally, while Desai conceded that his party faced tremendous odds in the poll, he said it could not boycott the elections, since there was no other viable alternative.

6. Comment: The rally in Delhi was the first such opposition gathering since the rally of June 25, 1975 (held at the same venue) at which J.P. Narayan had repeated his call to security forces to disobey “illegal” orders. The Emergency was proclaimed in the early hours of the next morning. One of our local employees who attended yesterday’s rally estimated the crowd to be four times as large as the previous time. The audience was essentially middle class and seemed to consist mainly of people in government and private employment, teachers, students and shopkeepers. Large numbers of Sikhs and Muslims were present. During the speeches Janata leaders pleaded for contributions from the audience. The response reportedly was excellent, and many people seemed to go out of their way to offer donations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770033–1084. Limited Official Use. Sent for information to Colombo, Dacca, Islamabad, Kathmandu, London, Moscow, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and CINCPAC.
  2. In telegram 1254 from New Delhi, January 27, the Embassy outlined the campaign issues in the upcoming Indian elections and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the contending political parties. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770030–1066)