With Congress hit by a spate of resignations, can the party do another Kamaraj Plan of 1963 when party bosses all resigned from ministerial posts to reinvigorate the party? Read about the Kamaraj Plan in Sagarika Ghose’s book, Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister.

As twilight began to close in around Nehru and his health and mental energy began to fade after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the Congress party had come up with a strategy by 1963. Known as the Kamaraj Plan, this was a strategy ostensibly designed to re- establish the Congress’s links with the people. It was felt that those continuously holding high office had become distanced from the grassroots.

According to the plan, senior Congressmen, whether they were chief ministers or cabinet ministers, would resign from their posts and plunge into party work. To be ‘Kamarajed’ meant being relieved of office and sent to work for the party in the field. Some accounts suggest that the Kamaraj Plan was a Machiavellian design by Indira, a ‘shrewd scheme to eliminate potential rivals in Nehru’s last days’.9 Indira, however, professed to have no inkling of it. ‘I was in Pahalgam with my father . . . Mr Biju Patnaik put this proposal to me. I didn’t know that it was Mr Kamaraj’s idea, I asked “how will they take it?” “I can convince them,” he replied. Much later we heard it was really Mr Kamaraj’s idea.’ Yet the decisiveness of the plan and the lightning speed with which it was executed does suggest Indira’s imprimatur, her clear preference for the centralization of her own authority much in evidence, her political brain revealed in the shrewd laying out of a level playing field between the top leadership so that no single person could put himself forward as Nehru’s successor. Nehru himself quite approved of the plan – some accounts even suggesting it was his idea – and said it was an ‘idea taking hold of the mind and growing by itself ’.

As part of the plan, six cabinet ministers and six of the strongest chief ministers resigned. Thus Morarji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Kamaraj himself, Biju Patnaik and S.K. Patil, among others, gave up their posts and went back to work for the party, thereby creating a level playing field between Morarji and the others. The plan was named after Kumaraswami Kamaraj, the burly, moustachioed chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the Congress’s famous ‘kingmaker’ who would become Congress president in 1963.

This is an excerpt from Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister by Sagarika Ghose.


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