The 25th death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, arguably the greatest mass leader of the last century, was observed last week. But even after her death at the hands of her bodyguards, she lives in the hearts of millions of Indians who shared her concern for the poor and weaker sections and who supported her politics.
Her detractors will always hold the imposition of the Emergency against her. Some may question her other policies. The common belief is that she ordered internal Emergency after she was unseated by the Allahabad High Court in June, 1975. The court upheld an election petition filed by the late Raj Narain, her main opponent from Rae Bareli, on technically questionable grounds. But the truth is that a powerful lobby in the country had been gunning for her since 1967 without
The reason for imposing the Emergency was Jai Prakash Narayan’s call to the armed forces to revolt. There were few options left to her though no one can justify the excesses of the Emergency. Indira Gandhi paid the price and she and her party were rejected by the people in 1977. It is another thing that the same people realised that the new dispensation did not deserve to rule and thus brought her back with a thumping majority in 1980.
Even the late prime minister’s critics would concede that the maximum number of legislations of social significance was brought about during her tenure. To name some, bank nationalisation and the abolition of privy purses and privileges evoked considerable debate. A section of the Congress and the entire Opposition ganged up against her only to be humbled in the 1971 general elections. She only said, “Woh kehte hain Indira hatao aur mein kehti hoon ki garibi hatao.” (They say remove Indira and I say remove poverty.) The ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan became the most attractive in our electoral history.
Indira Gandhi’s USP was that she specialised in the politics of the aam aadmi and was prepared to take on anybody if it meant standing by her constituency. The onslaught against her started soon after she won in 1967. The first dig at her came from the judiciary in the Golaknath case. The combined opposition then put up former Chief Justice K Subba Rao as the presidential candidate against Zakir Hussain who subsequently died while in office in May 1969. The real power tussle then began and while the Syndicate bosses in the Congress put up Speaker Neelam Sanjiva Reddy as their nominee, she opted for a low profile VV Giri. Among those who supported her at that juncture and helped her overcome her opponents were the late DP Mishra and, of course, the CPI led by SA Dange. Giri’s victory by a narrow margin brought her to a position of strength. She called for early elections and won massively.
The Bangladesh war and the way she partitioned Pakistan made her an international leader. It is history now that the US seventh fleet had to beat a hasty retreat after she stood her ground against Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Instead, she signed a treaty with the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
The 1971 Lok Sabha and 1972 assembly polls established her as the country’s most charismatic leader. She pressed on with socialist legislation and her left-of-centre policies. During this time, she was guided by many luminaries like PN Haksar, PN Dhar and DP Dhar, among others. The Kashmiri Pandits actually ruled.
Her preference for a Kashmiri Pandit as her adviser continued even after 1977 and Makhan Lal Fotedar thus became hers and also Rajiv Gandhi’s political adviser. The best tribute to her will for the government of the day to keep the aam aadmi as the main focus of governance. Between us.