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Swatantra Party
FounderC. Rajagopalachari
Founded4 June 1959
Split fromIndian National Congress
Merged intoBharatiya Lok Dal
IdeologyConservatism (Indian)[1]
Classical liberalism[2]
Liberal conservatism[3]
Political positionCentre-right[6][7][note 1]
Election symbol

The Swatantra Party was an Indian classical liberal political party that existed from 1959 to 1974. It was founded by C. Rajagopalachari[11] in reaction to what he felt was the Jawaharlal Nehru-dominated Indian National Congress's increasingly socialist and statist outlook.[1]

The party had a number of distinguished leaders, most of them old Congressmen, like C. Rajagopalachari, Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, Minoo Masani, N.G. Ranga, Darshan Singh Pheruman,[12][13] Udham Singh Nagoke[14] and K.M. Munshi. The provocation for the formation of the party was the left turn that the Congress took at Avadi[15] and the Nagpur Resolutions.

Swatantra stood for a market-based economy and the dismantling of the "Licence Raj" although it opposed laissez-faire policies. Considered to be on the economic right of the Indian political spectrum, Swatantra was not a religion-based party, unlike the Hindu nationalism of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. In 1960, Rajagopalachari and his colleagues drafted a 21-point manifesto detailing why Swatantra had to be formed even though they had been Congressmen and associates of Nehru during the struggle for independence.[16] Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was highly critical of Swatantra and dubbed it as belonging to "the middle ages of lords, castles and zamindars".[17]


Electoral history

In the 1962 general election, the first after its formation, Swatantra received 7.89 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 that aimed to defeat Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The party secured eight seats by winning 3% of the votes. The next year, in 1972, its founder, Rajagopalachari, died, and Swatantra declined rapidly. By 1974, it had dissolved, with many of its members joining the Charan Singh-led Bharatiya Lok Dal.

Year Election Popular-
1962 1962 Indian general election 7.9 %
18 / 494
1967 1967 Indian general election 8.7 %
44 / 520
1971 1971 Indian general election 3.1 %
8 / 518


The nature of the Swatantra Party was disputed among its rivals and other observers. It was described as party of "conservative rich peasants in the South, a few finance capitalists in the west, some Bihar and UP feudal atavists and communalist chiefs in the North". The Communist Party of India described it as among the "forces of dark right reaction". Nehru saw the party to be belonging to "the middle ages of lords, castles and zamindars" and that it was becoming "more and more fascist in outlook". Its supporters saw the party as "a progressive liberal party". An American scholar saw the party to be "a communal conservative party".[19]

Fundamental principles

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".[20]

The party felt that progress, welfare and happiness of the people could be achieved by giving maximum freedom to individuals with the state minimising intervention. The state should replace its intervention with fostering the Indian tradition of helping other people directly.[20]

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.[20] It recognised the need for increasing food production and sought to do so by giving peasants full land rights and incentives for increasing production in agriculture.[20] In industry, it sought to reduce state presence only to the minimum necessary to supplement private enterprise and in national services like the Indian 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.[20] In the fields of taxation and state expenditure, it believed in thrift and called for taxation to suffice for carrying on of administration and social and economic activities taken upon by the state but 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.[20]

While standing for minimising 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 collective bargaining.[20] It also gave their members full freedom to question and criticise any point not included in the fundamental principles of that party.[20]


Party's fundamental principles had not covered several issues like foreign policy, national language, state reorganisation and religious and social reform.[21]

The party was generally opposed to communism and in 1969, urged the Indian government to ban the three major communist parties in India at that time, the CPI, CPI(M) and the Naxalites, because of their open or tacit support for armed struggles, which the Swatantra Party viewed as a major security threat to the nation.[22]

In foreign affairs, it opposed non-alignment and a close relationship with the Soviet Union and advocated an intimate connection with the United States and Western Europe.[22][21]

Decline and legacy

Swatantra failed mainly because there was as yet no space in Indian politics for a centrist party. 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, the business class found that planning, the public sector and government regulations did not block its growth and instead in many respects,l 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 Nehru government was quite moderate in dealing with and conciliatory towards the propertied classes. Even the princes and landlords had not been wiped out but had been consoled with compensation and other economic concessions. Lastly, the Congress right realised that so long as Nehru was alive, his position in the country was unassailable and so it showed no inclination to leave the party.

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 party disappeared, as the former was much more potent as a right-wing party.[citation needed]

When Nagabhairava Jaya Prakash Narayana, the founder-leader of Lok Satta Party, was asked in 2014 whether he saw his party "as a modern-day re-embodiment of the Swatantra Party", he replied "in a large measure, yes.... The founders of the Swatantra Party were visionaries and had India followed their leadership, we could have been where China is today, economically".[23]

See also


  1. ^ It is also sometimes rated as "centrist"[8] or "right-wing".[9][10]


  1. ^ a b Erdman, H.L. (2007). The Swatantra Party and Indian Conservatism. Cambridge South Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 2, 62–63, 75. ISBN 978-0521049801. Retrieved 2019-07-02.
  2. ^ Das, Gurcharan (2002). The Elephant Paradigm. Penguin. p. 244.
  3. ^ Pratapchandra Rasam, Vasanti (1997). Swatantra Party: a political biography. Dattsons. p. 199.
  4. ^ Smith, Donald E. (1966). South Asian Politics and Religion. Princeton University Press. p. 110.
  5. ^ Rajadhyaksha, Niranjan (2019-05-28). "The contemporary relevance of Swatantra Party's liberal view". Mint. Retrieved 2024-01-13.
  6. ^ Raghbendra Jha, ed. (2014). Facets of India's Economy and Her Society Volume I. Springer. p. 263.
  7. ^ Rudra Chaudhuri, ed. (2014). Forged in Crisis: India and the United States Since 1947. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. p. 100.
  8. ^ Snippet view, ed. (1978). Triveni: Journal of Indian Renaissance - Volume 47. Triveni Publishers. p. 24.
  9. ^ Chaudhuri, Rudra (2014). Forged in Crisis: India and the United States Since 1947. Oxford University Press. p. 100.
  10. ^ Jha, Raghbendra (2018). Facets of India's Economy and Her Society. Vol. 1. Springer. p. 263.
  11. ^ Rajagopalachari, C. (2016-07-16). "C. Rajagopalachari | Why Swatantra?". Mint. Retrieved 2019-03-24.
  12. ^ Singh, Ranjit (2008). Sikh Achievers. New Delhi, India: Hemkunt Publishers. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-8170103653.
  13. ^ "Darshan Signh Pheruman (1885–1969)". Archived from the original on 5 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  14. ^ "Fifty Years of Punjab Politics (1920-70)". Panjab Digital Library. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  15. ^ Ramakrishnan, Venkitesh (2012-09-22). "Long way from Avadi". Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  16. ^ The 21 Principles of the Swatantra Party. 1959.
  17. ^ Erdman, 1963–64.
  18. ^ "Statistical Report On General Elections, 1962 To The Third Lok Sabha" (PDF). Election Commission of India. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 July 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  19. ^ Grover, V. (1997). Political Parties and Party System. Political Parties and Party System. Deep & Deep Publications. p. 518. ISBN 978-81-7100-878-0.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h "Statement of Principles of the Swatantra Party, Principle 1" (PDF). Indian Liberals. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  21. ^ a b Erdman, Howard L. (1963). "India's Swatantra Party". Pacific Affairs. 36 (4): 394–410. doi:10.2307/2754685. ISSN 0030-851X. JSTOR 2754685.
  22. ^ a b "From the Archives (May 13, 1969): Swatantra urges ban on Communist Parties". The Hindu. 2019-05-13. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  23. ^ "Interviewing Jayaprakash Narayan".