Mrs Gandhi had taken the constitutional advantage and postponed the elections by one year in March 1976. In November that year, she again postponed it by another year only to reverse her decision two months later. She announced that parliamentary elections would be held in March 1977.
Why did she change her decision, particularly after exhibiting an intense craving for authoritarian tendencies?
She was feeling much secure after the 19-month period of iron rule. Election losses were not haunting her like the pre-1976 days, the intra-party dissent was disciplined by now, the Opposition was jailed and did not have much scope to reach out to the masses in the face of state repression while the differing editors of the newspapers were mostly silenced.
The economic scenario was better in the country, which also encouraged Mrs Gandhi to loosen the grip. Good grain yields, controlled inflation, advantage for Indian exporters owing the high inflation in the West and a healthy foreign reserve meant that the general mood was good in the country.
Way towards dynastic rule
A third significant reason was that the election became necessary for Mrs Gandhi to formally establish her much-desired dynastic rule. Mrs Gandhi was apprehensive on the question of succession in 1977, just as much she was concerned about consolidating her own power base in 1971.
Mrs Gandhi's contradictons
But perhaps the biggest reason which had pushed Mrs Gandhi to take such an apparently surprising call was she herself. Mrs Gandhi had contradictory traits in her personality. She was the daughter of a great democrat and had trainings in democratic ideals in her younger days. Yet, she felt herself to be indispensable, a feeling she might have imbibed by observing her father's status in the party and the government.
Mrs Gandhi had a paranoia that conspiracy was always on against her, which was perhaps shaped by her childhood experiences, and it was a reason for her trying to concentrate all tools of power in the hands of herself and her family. But the paradox meant that amid such feeling, she yet wanted to be a democratic leader for it was an inevitable feature of Indian way of life.
The tug-of-war and the consequent human complexity led Mrs Gandhi to call for an election as she thought it could be an apt opportunity to undo what had been done in the past 19 months and author a fresh chapter. Even though, the expectation that Sanjay Gandhi would succeed her as the top leader of the country showed that she never really get rid of the autocrat in her. A fantastic example of human complexity, indeed.
Mrs Gandhi's expectation was not fulfilled though. The Congress was routed that year and was toppled from governance at the Centre for the first time since Independence. The Janata government led by Morarji Desai formed the first non-Congress government in the history of the nation.