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|Founded||4 June 1959|
|Split from||Indian National Congress|
|Merged into||Bharatiya Kranti Dal|
The Swatantra Party was an Indian liberal-conservative political party that existed from 1959 to 1974. It was founded by C. Rajagopalachari in reaction to what he felt was the Jawaharlal Nehru-dominated Indian National Congress's increasingly socialist and statist outlook.
It had a number of distinguished leaders, most of them old Congressmen, for example, C. Rajagopalachari, Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, Minoo Masani, N.G. Ranga and K.M. Munshi. Right-wing groups and parties had, of course, earlier existed at the local and regional levels, but Swatantra’s formation was the first attempt to bring these highly fragmented right-wing forces together under the umbrella of a single party. The provocation was the left turn which the Congress took at Avadi and the Nagpur Resolutions. Swatantra (Freedom) stood for a market-based economy with the "Licence Raj" dismantled, although it opposed laissez faire policies. The party was thus favoured by some traders and industrialists, but at the state-level its leadership was dominated by the traditional privileged classes such as zamindars (feudal landlords) and erstwhile princes. Located on the Right of the Indian political spectrum Swatantra was not a communal party; its membership was not restricted on the basis of religion. In 1960, Rajagopalachari and his colleagues drafted a 21-point manifesto detailing why Swatantra had to be formed, even though they were hitherto Congressmen and associates of Nehru during the struggle for independence. The Prime Minister was highly critical of Swatantra, dubbing the party as belonging to "the middle ages of lords, castles and zamindars".
In the 1962 general election, the first after its formation, Swatantra received 6.8 percent of the total votes and won 18 seats in the third Lok Sabha (1962–67). It emerged as the main opposition to the dominant Congress in four states—Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Orissa. By the next general election in 1967, Swatantra had become a significant force in some parts of India; it won 8.7 percent of the votes and became the single-largest opposition party in the fourth Lok Sabha (1967–71) with 44 seats. In 1971, Swatantra joined a "Grand Alliance" of parties from across the political spectrum who aimed to defeat Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The party secured eight seats, winning only 3% of the votes. The next year, in 1972, its founder Rajagopalachari died, and Swatantra declined rapidly. By 1974, it merged into the Charan Singh-led Bharatiya Kranti Dal, another coalition committed to anti-Congressism.
When Jayaprakash Narayan was asked in 2014 whether he saw his Loksatta Party "as a modern-day re-embodiment of the Swatantra Party", he replied "in a large measure, yes. ... The founders of Swatantra Party were visionaries and had India followed their leadership, we could have been where China is today, economically."
First and foremost the Swatantra Party committed to social justice and equality of opportunity of all people 'without distinction of religion, caste, occupation, or political affiliation'.
The party felt that progress, welfare and happiness of the people could be achieved by giving maximum freedom to individuals with the state minimizing intervention. The state should replace its intervention with fostering the Indian tradition of helping others in people.
In particular, the party believed that the state should adhere to the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India and, in particular, should compensate individuals if their property had to be acquired for public purposes. It also believed in giving citizens full freedom to educate their children as they wanted.
In agriculture it recognized the need for increasing food production and sought to do that by giving peasants full land rights and incentives for increasing production.
In industry it sought to reduce state presence only to the minimum necessary to supplement private enterprise and in national services like the Railways. It sought to do away with controls on trade and commerce. However it committed against unreasonable profits, prices and dividends. It believed in placing equal emphasis on the development of capital goods industries, consumer goods industries and rural and small industries.
In the fields of taxation and state expenditure it believed in thrift. Taxation should suffice for carrying on of administration and social and economic activities taken upon by the state but it should not depress capital formation and private investment. The government should also desist from running abnormally large deficits or taking foreign loans that are beyond the capacity of the country to repay. In particular, it resisted unnecessary expansion of the bureaucracy.
While standing for minimizing state intervention in the economy the Swatantra Party committed to securing a fair deal for labour, correlating wages to increased productivity and workers' right to collectively bargain. (in fact the entire Point 18 in its Statement of Principles is devoted to giving labour a square deal)
And in the field of politics it called for all political parties to give their members full freedom to question and criticize any point not included in the fundamental principles of that party.
Swatantra failed mainly because there was as yet no space in Indian politics for a conservative party, for radicalization of politics was still in progress. Also the rich and middle peasants were not yet fully and irrevocably alienated from Congress, especially as cooperative farming had been put in cold storage and land ceiling laws actually posed little threat to the existing holdings. On the other hand, they were the major beneficiaries of several government policies and measures: reduction of land revenue and extension of services including provision of rural credit, improved transport, irrigation and electrification. By and large, business class found that planning, the public sector and government regulations did not block its growth and, instead, in many respects, helped it to develop. The mixed economy also left enough scope for its expansion. Above all, though steady in pursuing its developmental and reformist agenda, the Nehrugovernment was quite moderate in dealing with and conciliatory towards the propertied classes. Even the princes and landlords had not been wiped out and had been consoled with compensation and other economic concessions. Lastly, the Congress right realized that so long as Nehru was alive his position in the country was unassailable; it, therefore, showed no inclination to leave. On the other hand, when Congress split in 1969 and Congress (O) emerged as a political force, the reason for the existence of Swatantra as a separate right-wing party disappeared, for the former was much more potent as a right-wing party.