Indian general election, 1977

In a major turn of events, the ruling Congress lost control of India for the first time in independent India in the Indian general election, 1977. The hastily formed, Janata alliance of parties opposed to the ruling Congress party, won 298 seats. Morarji Desai was chosen as the leader of the alliance in the newly formed parliament and thus became India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister on 24 March. The Congress lost nearly 200 seats. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her powerful son Sanjay Gandhi both lost their seats.

The election came after the end of The Emergency that Prime Minister Gandhi had imposed in 1975; it effectively suspended democracy, suppressed the opposition, and took control of the media with authoritarian measures. The opposition called for a restoration of democracy and Indians saw the election results as a repudiation of the Emergency.


India held general elections to the 6th Lok Sabha. This sixth general elections, which were conducted for 542 seats from 542 constituencies, represented 27 Indian states and union territories. These 542 constituencies remained same until Indian general elections, 2004 for the 14th Lok Sabha.

The Emergency declared by the Indira Gandhi led Congress government was the core issue in the 1977 elections. Civil liberties were suspended during the national emergency from 25 June 1975 to 21 March 1977 and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assumed vast powers.

Gandhi had become extremely unpopular for her decision and paid for it during the elections. Mrs. Gandhi, on 23 January, called for fresh elections and released all political prisoners. Four Opposition parties, the Congress (Organisation), the Jan Sangh, the Bharatiya Lok Dal and the Socialist Party, decided to fight the elections under a single banner called the Janata alliance. The alliance used the symbol allocated to Bhartiya Lok dal as their symbol on the ballot papers.

The votes were cast from 16 to 19 March. The counting of votes started on 20-March and the results started coming in from that day’s evening.

The Janata alliance reminded voters of the excesses and human rights violations during the Emergency, like compulsory sterilisation and imprisonment of political leaders. The Janata campaign said the elections would decide whether India would have “democracy or dictatorship.” The Congress looked jittery. Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram quit the party in the first week of February; other notable Congress stalwarts who crossed the floor with Jagjivan Ram before the election were Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy.

Voter behaviour

The elections in the largest state Uttar Pradesh, historically a Congress stronghold, turned against Mrs. Gandhi. Dhanagare says the structural reasons included the emergence of a strong and united opposition, disunity and weariness within the Congress, an effective opposition and the failure of Mrs. Gandhi in controlling the mass media, which was under censorship during the Emergency. The structural factors allowed voters to express their grievances, notably their resentment of the emergency and its authoritarian and repressive policies. One grievance often mentioned was the ‘Nasbandi’ (vasectomy) campaign in rural areas. The middle class also emphasised on the curbing of freedom of speech throughout the country. Meanwhile, Congress hit an all-time low in West Bengal, according to the Gangulys, because of poor discipline and factionalism among Congress activists as well as numerous defections that weakened the party. Opponents emphasised the issues of corruption within the Congress and appealed to a deep desire by the voters for fresh leadership. The Congress, however, did well in Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The results were mixed in the Western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, however, the Janata Front won all the seats in Mumbai.


Results by alliance

Alliances Party Seats won Change Popular votes %
Janata Alliance
Seats: 345
Seat Change: +233
Popular vote %: 51.89
Janata Party / Congress for Democracy 298 +245 43.17
Communist Party of India (Marxist) 22 -3 4.30
Shiromani Akali Dal 9 +8 1.26
Peasants and Workers Party of India 5 0.55
Revolutionary Socialist Party 3 +2 n/a
All India Forward Bloc 3 +2 0.34
Republican Party of India (Khobragade) 2 +1 0.51
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 1 -22 1.76
Independents 2
Congress Alliance
Seats: 189
Seat Change: -217
Popular Vote %: 40.98
Indian National Congress (Indira) 153 −197 34.52
Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 19 2.9
Communist Party of India 7 -16 2.82
Jammu & Kashmir National Conference 2 0.26
Indian Union Muslim League 2 -2 0.3
Kerala Congress 2 -1 0.18
Revolutionary Socialist Party (breakaway) 1 -1
Independents 2
Seats: 19
Others 19

Results by Party

Lok Sabha elections 1977
Electoral participation: 60.49%
 % Won
(total 545)
Bharatiya Lok Dal/Janata Party BLD/JP 41.32 295
Communist Party of India CPI 2.82 7
Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M) 4.29 22
Indian National Congress (Indira) INC(I) 34.52 154
Congress For Democracy (Jagjivan Ram) CFD (with Janata Party) 5.28 13
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam AIADMK 2.9 18
All India Forward Bloc AIFB 0.34 2
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam DMK 1.76 2
Indian Union Muslim League IUML 0.3 2
Jammu & Kashmir National Conference NC 0.26 2
Kerala Congress KC 0.18 1
Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MGP 0.06 1
Manipur Peoples Party MPP 0.06 0
Muslim League (Opposition) ML(O) 0.17 0
Peasants and Workers Party of India PWPI 0.55 5
Revolutionary Socialist Party RSP 0.45 4
Shiromani Akali Dal SAD 1.26 9
United Democratic Front UDF 0.07 1
Vishal Haryana VH 0.1 1
Jharkhand Party JP 0.07 1
Republican Party of India (Khobragade) RPI(K) 0.51 2
Independents 5.5 9
Nominated Anglo-Indians 2


Results by State

Andhra Pradesh: Total: 42. Congress: 40 or 41 out of 42, Janata Party: 1
Bihar: Janata Party + Allies: 54 out of 54. Congress: Zero
Delhi. Janata Party: 7 out of 7.
Gujarat. Total: 26. Janata Party: 20, Congress: 6
Madhya Pradesh. Total: 40. Janata: 37, RPK: 1, Congress: 1 (Chhindwara), Ind: 1 (Madhavrao Scindia from Guna)
Maharashtra. Total: 48. Janata Party + Allies (CPM, PWP, et al.): 28/48, Congress: 20
Orissa. Total: 21. Janata Party + CPM: 15+1, Congress: 4
Punjab: Akali Dal + Janata + Alliance: 13 out of 13
Rajasthan. Janata: 24/25, Congress: 1.
Uttar Pradesh: Janata Party + Allies: 85 out of 85. Congress: Zero
West Bengal. Janata Alliance: 38/42 (Janata: 15, CPM: 17, Forward Block: 3, RSP: 3), Congress: 3, Ind: 1

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