The coming-together of Indira and Kamaraj in the Puducherry polls and an anti-climax

The DMK Ministry, headed by M.O.H. Farook Maricar, in Puducherry collapsed at the start of 1974 after two Ministers defected to the ADMK. The election to the 30-member House and the by-elections to some seats in Tamil Nadu created a hype around merger of Congress (Requisitionists) and Congress (Organisation). But that was not to be

Updated - July 10, 2024 12:22 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2024 10:13 pm IST

Failed attempt at merger: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Madras airport on February 17, 1974, while on her way to Puducherry for campaign. Seated behind her are K. Kamaraj and C. Subramaniam.

Failed attempt at merger: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Madras airport on February 17, 1974, while on her way to Puducherry for campaign. Seated behind her are K. Kamaraj and C. Subramaniam. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

The practice of Prime Ministers taking part in Assembly election campaign is nothing new. But, in one instance, the participation of a Prime Minister in the campaign was seen as a prelude to bigger political changes. That was 50 years ago when the Union Territory of Puducherry went to the polls and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who ran a Congress of her own — the Congress (Requisitionists or Ruling) — and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Kamaraj, who was the live wire of the Congress (Organisation), campaigned together for candidates of their parties.

The year 1974 began with the dramatic collapse of the DMK Ministry — headed by M.O.H. Farook Maricar (later, he dropped the surname Maricar) — following the defection of Ministers S. Ramaswami and D. Ramachandran to the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK and now called the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). In one-and-a-half months (when the Union Territory was under President’s Rule), the election to the 30-member House was held. It was in the run-up to the election that the idea of the two Congress parties fighting together got crystallised again.

Ariyankuppam, a precursor

The Ariyankuppam by-election in March 1972 was a precursor: Congress (R) nominee P. C. Purushothama Reddiar, backed by the Congress (O), defeated the DMK. However, in the intervening period, in Tamil Nadu, the two Congress parties fought separately in the May 1973 by-election to the Dindigul Lok Sabha constituency.

Despite losing to the fledgling ADMK, founded by M.G. Ramachandran, the Congress (O) come in second, whereas the other Congress, which was in power at the Centre, forfeited deposit. It was then that the demand for the two parties to come together grew louder.

Along with the Puducherry Assembly election, the by-election to the Puducherry Lok Sabha constituency took place. The by-election was necessitated by the death of Mohan Kumaramangalam in 1973. In Tamil Nadu, the by-elections to the Coimbatore Lok Sabha and Coimbatore (West) Assembly constituencies were also held simultaneously. According to A. Gopanna, author of Kamaraj: An Era, the Congress (O) was allotted the two seats in Coimbatore, whereas the other Congress was allotted the Puducherry Lok Sabha constituency. Of a total of 30 seats in the Puducherry Assembly, the Congress (O) was given 16 and the Congress (R) 14.

Plank of progress

On February 17, 1974, Indira Gandhi and Kamaraj, who parted ways in November 1969 after the split in the Congress, campaigned together at two places in the Union Territory — Natesa Nagar Maidan, Puducherry, and the Thomas Thidal, Karaikal. Union Minister C. Subramaniam and veteran actor Sivaji Ganesan, who was in the Kamaraj camp, also took part in the campaign. While Indira Gandhi sought votes on the plank of fighting against “forces which are trying to obstruct the country’s progress and growth”, Kamaraj highlighted the need for saving the country “from the rot of dishonesty, falsehood, and deception”.

The elections created a hype to such an extent that the merger of the two Congress parties was considered a matter of time and formality. But, eventually, when the results of the Puducherry Assembly election and the by-elections were out, they would not have pleased both Kamaraj and Indira Gandhi

The ADMK-CPI combine emerged as the single largest group in the Puducherry Assembly, having bagged 14 seats (the ADMK-12 and the CPI-2). The Congress (R) captured seven and its ally, Congress (O), five. The DMK, which was in power till January 1974, netted only two seats, while the CPI(M) bagged one seat and an Independent won in a constituency. It was another matter that the ADMK-CPI coalition government, which was sworn in on March 6, was defeated in a motion by a single vote on March 27. In the Assembly, Chief Minister Ramaswami accused the Congress parties of having “openly and in a shameful manner” joined the DMK to bring his government down, while Dhana Kantharaj, leader of the Congress (R), contended that the coalition had proved its “incapacity to rule” by allowing the publication of the Budget even before it was presented to the House.

In the Puducherry and Coimbatore Lok Sabha by-elections, Bala Pazhanur of the ADMK and Parvathi Krishnan of the CPI romped home respectively. Likewise, in Coimbatore (West), C. Arananayagam of the ADMK emerged victorious.

A non-starter

Despite all the talk of the two Congress parties getting closer, subsequent developments proved that the merger was a non-starter, at least till Kamaraj was alive. Many months later, during a visit to Chennai, Uma Shankar Dikshit, Union Minister and a key figure in the Indira Gandhi camp, said no decision had been taken on the merger.

In January 1975, during the Congress (O)’s national meeting at Chalisgaon in Maharashtra, it was made clear that there was no question of the Tamil Nadu unit of the party “joining or merging” with the other Congress. As Jayaprakash Narayan’s campaign against the Indira Gandhi government intensified in the months to come, the Congress (O) inched closer towards him. In October that year, Kamaraj died. Four months later, a faction of the Congress (O), led by G.K. Moopanar, merged with the Congress in the presence of Indira Gandhi at a public meeting held in Chennai. The other faction, headed by P. Ramachandran, functioned under the banner of the Congress (O) before becoming part of the Janata Party in 1977.

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