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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016

Relevance of Indira Gandhi in the Present Age

Monday 7 November 2016

by Vivek Kumar Srivastava

More than three decades have passed since Mrs Indira Gandhi, the last most pragmatic Prime Minister of the country, was assassinated. A candid review of her tenure may throw up several questions; but at the same time several achievements also crown that glorious period when she was at the helm of affairs. These glittering effects have withstood the onslaught of time, political parties and historians of the defeated countries and researchers of the powerful countries; albeit one thread is common among all of them: that they looked her as a lady with an enigmatic personality even though she was a real dynamic individual impregnated with a fond desire to contribute in full measure to the evolution of the country to reach higher summits, a fact which is rarely matched.

Her life was full of struggles from the 19th day of November, 1917 when she was born. When India won its independence, since then she was a constant companion of Pandit Nehru who, besides being her beloved father, was her affectionate teacher, guide and friend. When she took charge of the country, she was treated as a doll but she transformed herself into Devi Durga. When she lived as the PM she was a Prime Minister with a mature political acumen. When she died she was a martyr with a rich legacy of achievements with one basket of criticism for her only devastating decision of imposing the Emergency under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution.

Contemporary India is in the process of rediscovering its past with relevance to its present due to the rapid changes taking place in the country as well at the global level. In this respect Mrs Gandhi has her own importance to multitudes of the people and nation-states including India.

Why is Mrs Indira Gandhi relevant in the present age? Today the country is passing through a crisis of socio-politico stability which she also experienced during her two different tenures. When she came into power, the wounds of two wars were quite alive and the country was reeling under pressure due to the food crisis. Her achievement was that she not only resolved the problem of the food crisis showing a strong confidence before the world power, the USA, with the help of Indian scientists in which M.S. Swaminathan stood at the top, though Norman E. Borlaug was the main inspiration.

The Green Revolution was a step of confidence coupled with our victory in the 1965 war. She brought into focus the inner strength of the country when she dealt sternly with the 1968 NPT and entered into a 20-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR on August 9, 1971, with its Article 9 providing a kind of bilateral security. The Treaty helped India to redefine its neutrality in the world and a pragmatic neutralism with reliance on an independent foreign policy was born. This led to the emergence of India in global affairs; the division of Pakistan (and the birth of Bangladesh) was a well-prepared diplomatic effort which paid India rich dividends in positive terms.

Today India is faced with the problem of cross- border terrorism from Pakistan. The Foreign Minister has rightly said that state sponsoring of terrorism is the biggest challenge. India at present has also moved in the same direction where Mrs Gandhi also ventured, that is, to weaken the adversary from inside by truncating its territory. PM Modi’s support to the Balochistan people falls in the same category but there is big difference. Balochistan is not East Pakistan as the opposition to the Pakistan Government is not that much intense as was in East Pakistan. From the Indian perspective PM Modi is yet to articulate a clear stand on the extent of support from India to the cause of Balochistan. The lion has been uncaged but its territory is yet to be demarcated. The Indian Government needs to analyse Mrs Gandhi’s successful diplomacy on such serious issues.

Mrs Indira Gandhi was active in global affairs and her activism was aimed towards the consolidation of Indian interests by her access to the strong and weak nation-states. Her pragmatic foreign policy had involved the USSR in contributing to the Indian strength in global and regional politics; she had equally respected the NAM and even confronted the big powers when the need arose with sheer intrinsic strength. Her rejection of the NPT as a discriminatory policy and the nuclear explosion of May 18, 1974 are noteworthy proof of her principled defiance of global injustice. The present government has failed to maintain the balance with the global powers and Indian interests, which the NAM reflected, have been diluted for no substantive reason except to distance from the past leaderships and to satisfy the US demands. The inclination towards the USA has angered Russia; if the behaviour displayed by it at the Goa BRICS meet is any indicator, then the traditional ally, Russia, is not happy with the Indian alignment with its top adversary. It is not prudent to displace a traditional friend by its adversary. This imprudence in international politics may cost a lot. There is a greater need to balance between the global powers. Mrs Gandhi displayed a better capability to resolve this diplomatic dilemma.

The reluctance to lead the developing countries with or without the NAM by the present government is another big difference with the regime of Mrs Gandhi. She knew that association with the NAM was not only a guarantee of our independent foreign policy and a shield to face the militaristic Cold War but also a platform for India to assert its leadership and head a group of countries which would lend support whenever the issue of numerical strength arose in any global institution. Smaller states linked to the NAM may be of utility to India in the ever-changing international politics and economics. Indian foreign policy needs to include this component in more active terms.

The impact of the relevance of Mrs Indira Gandhi at the pragmatic level is quite significant. She was an influential negotiator, a realist oriented to the future; for example, in the 1972 Stockholm Conference she was the lone leader, besides Olaf Palme, the host PM, to have participated. Her opinion on poverty and environment constituted the starting-point of the global debate on environmental problems. Not only at the global level but also on the domestic plane her contributions become more sparkling due to the weaknesses demonstrated in the foreign policy of the present government.

Dr Vivek Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur.

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