The prime minister India never had
Sanjay Gandhi played a crucial role in restoring the party to power in 1980 after its humiliating defeat in 1977. Without him, Indira Gandhi could not have achieved much of what she did in the 1980 polls. Pankaj Vohra writes.columns Updated: May 24, 2011 10:38 IST
A fresh controversy over the role of Indira Gandhi and her favourite son, Sanjay Gandhi, has arisen after the publication of a two-volume book, Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, edited by senior leader and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. The book was released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi at the recent AICC plenary in Burari. The Congress has since officially tried to play down the remarks against Sanjay and has tried to explain how ‘goody goody’ things could not have been written under the supervision of top historians. A number of leaders believe that there are mistakes in the book and that these could have been corrected had senior partymen been consulted.
The controversy has not died down since it is felt that justice has not been done to Indira Gandhi, who’s considered the greatest mass leader of the last century. It is felt that if the party is in power today, it is because most Indians continue to have the highest regard for the late prime minister. They vote for the Congress because they see in it her legacy. The present party leadership is certainly the beneficiary of that.
Sanjay has been portrayed as a villain and his role in the Congress comeback in 1980 has not been adequately recognised. For many partymen, Sanjay was far ahead of his time. He spoke of small family norms, ecology, environment, adult literacy and anti-dowry measures when no one else did. If things had gone wrong, it was because of poor implementation by government agencies.
Sanjay was an extremely political person who was seen as the natural heir to Indira Gandhi. He played a crucial role in restoring the party to power in 1980 after its humiliating defeat in 1977. Without him, Indira Gandhi could not have achieved much of what she did in the 1980 polls. He would surely have been the prime minister had he not died under mysterious circumstances in the Pitts-2 plane crash on June 23, 1980.
While the party has tried to show him in a negative light, most of the leaders who constitute the backbone of the Congress today got their big break because of him. They are all his people from Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Ambika Soni, Digvijaya Singh, P Chidambaram, AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Thangabalu, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Jagdish Tytler and many others. Even Pranab Mukherjee was his beneficiary since it was at Sanjay’s instance that the finance ministry during the Emergency was bifurcated and the banking and revenue departments were taken away from C Subramanium and given to him. Indira Gandhi was grooming him to be someone who could assist Sanjay.
The book rightly praises Rajiv Gandhi for his vision and desire to take India into the next century but fails to point out that most people close to him when he entered politics not only stabbed him in the back but left for other parties. The book does not sufficiently bring out how Indira Gandhi’s brutal assassination contributed to the overwhelming victory of the Congress in the 1984 polls and how her legacy continues to dominate national politics.
There are a number of Congress leaders who feel that the attempt to downplay both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay in Congress history could be either deliberate or because no one cared to go through the final contents before the volumes were released.
No one doubts that excesses were committed during the Emergency but the Congress paid for them in the 1977 defeat. The BJP recognises it very well since many leaders accused of those excesses were welcomed into that party directly or indirectly including Bansi Lal, Jagmohan and Vidya Charan Shukla. Even Sanjay’s widow, Maneka who was barely 24 years old when he died and son, Varun are also in the saffron party since Indira Gandhi’s legacy was denied to them.
Accuracy and correct interpretation are central to history. It cannot be coloured by emotion, sycophancy or subjectivity. Time will tell us what history was all about.