S. Nijalingappa was a Constituent Assembly member elected from Bombay province: he was a freedom fighter and the three times Chief Minister of Karnataka. Nijalingappa was involved in the Indian independence movement and was a Congressman all his life. He was born this day 116 years ago.

In the Constituent Assembly, he was not an active member. Later, he had a prominent political career in Karnataka and at the national level as well.

Nijalingappa grew through the ranks of the Congress party which appointed him as its President in 1968. During the 1960s, he was a member of the Congress ‘Syndicate’ which controlled the party and played a crucial role in the country’s policy making.

The 1969 Presidential elections was an interesting chapter in Indian political history. The official Congress candidate, as supported by the Syndicate, was Sanjiva Reddy. But Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, did not publicly endorse him and refused to issue a whip to the party’s MLAs and MPs. She informally favoured V. V. Giri, an independent candidate, and asked the party members to deliver a ‘vote of conscience’.  (India After Gandhi, Ramchandra Guha, Pg. 438-39)

V.V. Giri was elected as the President and the Congress’ official candidate lost. Nijalingappa expelled Indira Gandhi from the party for ‘indiscipline’. In a letter address to her he cautioned:

History … is replete with instances of the tragedy that overtakes democracy when a leader who has risen to power on the crest of a popular wave or with the support of a democratic organisation becomes a victim of political narcissism and is egged on by a coterie of unscrupulous sycophants who use corruption and terror to silence opposition and attempt to make public opinion an echo of authority. The Congress as an organization dedicated to democracy and socialism has to combat such trends. 

Nilalingappa’s words of caution proved prophetic; Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency between 1975 to 1977.