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April 26, 1999


12th Lok Sabha had the shortest life-span

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The Lok Sabha was dissolved today for the second time in four years before completing its term.

The 12th Lok Sabha had a life-span of 413 days, the shortest to date.

The dissolution came in the absence of a viable alternative after the 13-month-old Bharatiya Janata Party-led government was ousted by one vote on April 17. This was the fifth time the Lok Sabha was dissolved before completing its full tenure.

Matters had got precipitated when All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham general secretary J Jayalalitha demanded the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes on the issue of sacking of navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

The government, which had time and again been under pressure from its allies, be it the AIADMK or the Trinamul Congress or the Akalis on various issues, refused to yield to this demand. Jayalalitha met President K R Narayanan on April 14, and informed him of her party's decision to withdraw support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The President then asked Prime Minister Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha. The BJP-led government could secure 269 votes against the Opposition's 270.

Efforts by the Opposition parties to put up an alternative government failed. Despite an invitation from the President to Congress president Sonia Gandhi to explore the possibility of forming an alternative government, the party's plans to form a minority government ran into rough weather with the Samajwadi Party, Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc, calling for a third front or a coalition alternative.

The move by Jayalalitha and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav to prop up West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu as prime minister did not find favour with the Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo. The Congress too rejected the proposal. Its president Sonia Gandhi met the President yesterday and informed him that her party did not have the requisite numbers to form a government and would not support a Third Front alternative.

With no way out of this imbroglio, the President summoned Vajpayee at 2030 hours yesterday.

The 12fth House was constituted on March 10, 1998 and the Vajpayee-led coalition government was sworn in nine days later.

The 11th Lok Sabha also had a short life. It lasted barely one and a half years. The minority Inder Kumar Gujral government, the second by the United Front in 18 months since the May 1996 general elections, collapsed on November 28, 1997 when the Congress, headed by Sitaram Kesri, withdrew support.

On three of the five occasions, mid-term polls were necessitated after the Congress pulled the plug.

In 1979, then Congress president Indira Gandhi withdrew support to the Charan Singh-led Janata Party government. Charan Singh had come to power, propped up by the Congress, after the fall of the Morarji Desai government. Desai had stormed the Prime Minister's Office, riding on the massive mandate received by the Janata Party (a conglomeration of various anti-Congress non-Communist parties) in the 1977 elections, as the head of the first non-Congress government at the Centre.

Charan Singh tendered his resignation on August 20, 1979 after being in power for only 24 days and was the only prime minister who never faced the Lok Sabha.

Differences within the Morarji Desai government which came to power in March 1977 surfaced about two years later when Charan Singh, the then home minister, wrote to Desai about the charges of corruption against Morarji's son Kanti Desai.

In a few days from July 9 to July 17, 1979, the strength of the ruling Janata Party in the Lok Sabha was reduced from 302 to 227 following defections. Then industry minister George Fernandes resigned on July 15 in protest against Desai's insistence on continuing in office despite the party being reduced to a minority. Desai also quit office the same day as revolt within the party mounted.

Then president Neelam Sanjiva Reddy dissolved the sixth Lok Sabha on August 22, 1979, nearly two years and seven months before its five-year term was to end.

This was the second time the Lower House had been dissolved before its term ended, the first being December 27, 1970 when then president V V Giri dissolved the fourth Lok Sabha on the advice of the prime minister Indira Gandhi who preferred to appeal to the electorate before the statutory time limit.

The sixth, ninth and 11th Lok Sabhas had governments which succeeded Congress governments (headed by Indira Gandhi in 1977, Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 and P V Narasimha Rao in 1996).

The V P Singh government was supported by both the Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party from outside. The BJP withdrew its support after its senior leader Lal Kishenchand Advani, leading a rath yatra on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, was arrested in Bihar.

The immediate impact of V P Singh's fall was a split in the Janata Dal with Chandra Shekhar and Devi Lal parting ways to form a new party.

With barely 50-odd MPs on his flank, Chandra Shekhar took over as the ninth prime minister with outside support from the Congress, led by Rajiv Gandhi.

However, the Congress, piqued by what it called surveillance mounted by the Chandra Shekhar government at the residence of party president Rajiv Gandhi, initiated a heated debate in the Lok Sabha.

An emotional Chandra Shekhar announced his decision to resign just before he was to seek the approval of the House for the vote of thanks to President R Venkataraman's address to the joint session. The decision took even the Congress by surprise. Venkataraman dissolved the Lok Sabha on March 13, 1991.

P V Narasimha Rao, who came to power after the May 1991 elections in the midst of which Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, managed to last full term despite beginning his tenure slightly below the majority mark in the Lok Sabha.

The Lok Sabha elections in May 1996 threw up a hung House with the BJP emerging as the single-largest party. President Shanker Dayal Sharma invited the BJP to form the government, but party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee could survive for only 13 days as prime minister. This paved the way for H D Deve Gowda to head the United Front coalition government with outside support from the Congress.

After the Congress withdrew support to his government demanding a change of guard in March 1997, Deve Gowda became the second prime minister to lose a vote of confidence in the House.

Gujral, who succeeded him, had to bow out after Congress president Sitaram Kesri withdrew support following the United Front government's refusal to drop ministers from the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham who had been indicted by the Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission inquiring into the conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.


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