The Swatantra Party was an Indian conservative political party that existed from 1959 to 1974. It was founded by C. Rajagopalachari in reaction to what he felt was the Jawaharlal Nehru-dominated Indian National Congress’s increasingly socialist and statist outlook. Swatantra (Freedom) stood for a market-based economy with the “Licence Raj” dismantled, although it opposed laissez faire policies.
The party was thus favoured by some traders and industrialists, but at the state-level its leadership was dominated by the traditional privileged classes such as zamindars (feudal landlords) and erstwhile princes.
In 1960, Rajagopalachari and his colleagues drafted a 21-point manifesto detailing why Swatantra had to be formed, even though they were hitherto Congressmen and associates of Nehru during the struggle for independence. The Prime Minister was highly critical of Swatantra, dubbing the party has belonging to “the middle ages of lords, castles and zamindars”.
In the 1962 general election, the first after its formation, Swatantra received 6.8 percent of the total votes and won 18 seats in the third Lok Sabha (1962–67). It emerged as the main opposition to the dominant Congress in four states—Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Orissa.
By the next general election in 1967, Swatantra had become a significant force in some parts of India; it won 8.7 percent of the votes and became the single-largest opposition party in the fourth Lok Sabha (1967–71) with 44 seats.
In 1971, Swatantra joined a “Grand Alliance” of parties from across the political spectrum who aimed to defeat Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The party secured eight seats, winning only 3% of the votes. The next year, in 1972, its founder Rajagopalachari died, and Swatantra declined rapidly. By 1974, it merged into the Charan Singh-led Bharatiya Kranti Dal, another coalition committed to anti-Congressism.