Remembering Indira

The nation mourned 25th death anniversary of Indira Gandhi on 31st of October and it is high time we should look back what she gave to the nation while she was in office during for a considerable long period after independence.

She nationalized banks, mines, and oil companies; abolished the titles and privileges of the former maharajas; and comprehensively won the general elections of 1971 on the stirring slogan of “Garibi Hatao” (Remove Poverty).

The elections were held in January; in the last month of the same year, Mrs Gandhi played a key role in India‘s military victory over Pakistan, which led to the dismemberment of that country and the formation of an independent Bangladesh.

But perhaps the most admired aspect of her legacy, one that even her bitterest critics from the BJP envy, is her foreign policy. The nuclear tests signalled India’s decisive independence.The nostalgia for Indira Gandhi is based on a kernel of truth. She was the last leader who could truly belong to the whole of India. And the profound question Indian democracy has faced since is this. Are we safer with a fragmentation of interests, however narrow they appear, checking and balancing each other? Or do we need a leadership that is an embodiment of the people as a whole, with all the risks that such personification of popular power entails? Perhaps not, in Indira India had got such type of leadership.

Some veteran political analysts say that her primary achievement lay in holding India together in the 1966-84 period when the neighborhood was collapsing. Pakistan borke up. Afghanistan was taken over the Soviets, Sri Lanka was rocked by the civil war and Burma shut itself from the world.

It is possible now to underestimate this achievement but till the 1980s, Western political scientists would routinely predict the break-up of India, its Balkanisation or a military take-over. It is to Mrs Gandhi’s credit that none of these predictions came true and that elections during her time were vigorous, issue-based exercises that yielded national mandate.

Her area of greater success was foreign policy. Can you imagine the mess India would be in today if East Pakistan still existed and if terrorists flooded across both our borders? By bisecting Pakistan, she ensured that it would never be more than a nuisance.

A united Pakistan, on the other hand, would have been a serious threat. Moreover, since 1971 when Pakistan lost the war, we had no trouble with Islamabad till Mrs Gandhi’s death. Kashmir today’s flashpoint was entirely peaceful.

It’s easy now to say that she put too much faith in the Soviet Union. But, in reality, India had no choice. In the Sixties, Pakistan was a client state of the US. In 1971, it facilitated the rapprochement between America and China and by 1980, it had become the base for the American operation against Soviet-held Afghanistan.

The consequences of Islamabad’s engagement with Washington are visible in the debris of Pakistan today. So not only could India not have offered the US the strategic assistance that Pakistan did, we are probably better off for not having done so.

The green revolution for which many give credit to Lal Bahadur Shashtri was a major achievement of Indira Gandhi. She faced two severe droughts. The Green Revolution came about due to those experiences. It is her contribution to India.

On political front she showed great dare and astuteness. Morarji Desai, Atulya Ghosh, S Nijalingappa, K Kamaraj were veterans and were pitted against her. In the 17 years of Nehru’s rule, he never experienced the kind of opposition that she faced. Nehru faced one no-confidence motion after the 1962 China war.

But she had to fight for every inch of power in New Delhi. Still, she became stronger with each passing month. She became really strong after 1969 with the abolition of privy purses and the nationalisation of banks. She led India in the Bangladesh war and Pokhran-I. Her stature grew within and outside the country.

Her appeal was pan-Indian. She was above caste and religious appeal. The family has got that thing in them.

Motilal Nehru was older than Gandhiji. He gave up his prosperous law practice to join Gandhiji. Pandit Nehru joined public life at an early age and spent many years in jail. He could have avoided it, but he took that route. Nehru became the most famous man in India after Gandhiji. She inherited this.

None of the Nehru-Gandhi family members have been imposed. All of them have been elected. In 1920, Motilal got elected to the legislative assembly. Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul — all of them have got elected. That too with large margins, so nobody could say that this dynasty is imposed on the people.

This is the unique dynasty. They are all elected. It is an elected dynasty.No country has leaders elected for five generations. Each Nehru-Gandhi has been elected. This family has support all over India, they have overcome the limitations of caste, region, language or religion.

The ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan came from her heart. Her legacy is great because millions of people call her India’s best prime minister. She was born with charisma. One can’t have a recipe for charisma.