Over the past three decades, late Sanjay Gandhi has been a subject of intense criticism for his role during the Emergency. President Pranab Mukherjee, in the second part of his memoir, heaps praise on the Congress leader and calls him the principal architect, along with his mother, of the Congress’ victory in 1980 general elections. Excerpt:
Sanjay Gandhi had played a crucial role in the elections. He had planned as well as executed a nationwide campaign and he worked hard to ensure the success of the party in the assembly elections. He revamped the organizational machinery in the states and, post the elections, hand-picked new chief ministers --- ensuring that those who had stood by Mrs Gandhi during her days of crisis were suitably rewarded.
After Sanjay’s death, Indiraji asked Maneka to sit by her side atop the truck carrying Sanjay’s body from the hospital to 1, Akbar Road --- a gesture that led some to think that Indiraji was projecting Maneka as the rightful successor to Sanjay. But she put such speculation to rest when, in the wee hours of the morning of the 24th (June 1980), she welcomed Rajiv Gandhi, returning from Italy, with the words, “Now you alone have been left for me.” When asked whether he would take on Sanjay’s mantle and enter politics, he replied, “I am not a political man.”
Later, seventy members of the Congress party signed a proposal urging Rajiv to join politics and took the request to Indiraji. Indiraji left the decision to Rajiv, who said, “If my mother gets help from it, I will enter politics.”
In much of post-Emergency literature, Sanjay Gandhi has been characterised as a villain, devoid of any good qualities. This animosity and venom against him was to a large extent the result of the euphoria surrounding the Janata Party’s creation, a wave of anti-Mrs Gandhi sentiment and the division in the Congress.
Every human being is a mixture of good and bad. However, no one can fault the intentions guiding Sanjay’s decisions --- whether these pertained to population control, tackling illiteracy or afforestation. His ideas were good, and all targeted at bringing about positive change. And, as someone who knew him well and worked with him for six years of his political life, I was privy to many of his positive virtues.
While Indiraji may have planned the strategy leading to the downfall of the Janata government, it was Sanjay who executed it. It is to his credit that none of his followers deserted him in the post-Emergency period, unlike many of Indiraji’s supporters.