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Mainstream, Vol. XLVI, No 23

Indira and the Legacy

Thursday 29 May 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


One of the striking impressions of the AICC pilgrims returning from Bombay is about the Prime Minister’ style in dealing with the critics of government policies.

This question is not something which came up all of a sudden at the Bombay AICC. In fact it has become the subject matter of avid gossips and discussions in the Capital for the last few weeks, particularly since the Prime Minister’s return from the USA. From the person-to-person broadcast to the press conference, Smt Gandhi has shown an extraordinary measure of sensitiveness to the criticisms levelled against the government’s policy-stand on issues connected with our relations with the USA—from the proposed Foundation to the Fertiliser Deal and in that context, the wider implications of dollar aid. Sri Subramaniam and Sri Asoka Mehta have come to be known as closest to the Prime Minister among all her Cabinet colleagues; inevitably, the performance of the Food and the Planning Ministers, particularly their calculated moves to facilitate the inroad of American influence into the country’s economic and cultural life, has had their impact on the Prime Minister’s own standing in the country.

Although Sri Krishna Menon and the other well known cities of these pro-West postures (like Sri K.D. Malaviya and Sri Bhagwat Jha Azad) have been scrupulous enough to confine their criticism to policy-matters instead of dragging in personalities, many in New Delhi have been surprised at the vehemence of the Prime Minister’s attack on her critics—not necessarily a sign of strength of the government’s position but rather its nervousness. And this element of surprise was replaced by one of bewilderment when at the last week’s press conference she claimed that she had been misunderstood and that she did not have the Left-wing elements in the Congress at all in mind when she had asked the critics to quit the party as she did at the last meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party on the eve of the closure of the Budget session. But in the eyes of the public, it was the Left-wing elements who have come to be regarded as the main critics of the government’s policies.

Although the picture seems confusing from outside, careful observers in the Capital know who the Prime Minister has in mind when she lashes out every time against her critics. It is known, for instance, that more than once in recent weeks she, in private talks to a number of MPs as also to others in her confidence, has expressedannoyance with Sri Morarji Desai’s supporters for having actively taken up the cudgel against her government. This sense of worry was conveyed also to one of the Left-wing stalwarts inside the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Her contention appears to be that taking advantage of the difficulties facing the country, the Morarji group has been trying to discredit her Cabinet and thereby making it more difficult for it to tide over the present economic crisis. Secondly, she seems to be under the belief that Sri Desai’s followers have been using Leftist arguments even though such arguments do not tally with their own political convictions.

In this way Smt Gandhi seems to be rather obsessed about the Morarji lobby; and this approach is perhaps making it difficult for her to realise that the sharp criticisms against Sri Subramaniam and Sri Asoka Mehta’s political line have evoked widespread spontaneous response all over the country and in circles which are normally regarded as a-political.

Although it is true that some of the prominent luminaries of the Morarji camp—Smt Tarakeshwari Sinha for instance—have been making the most out of the present climate of resentment against the distinctly pro-US slant in some of the major economic decisions of the government, hardly any responsible observer in the Capital would like to give the entire credit for the spontaneous chorus of disapproval against these policy decisions to Sri Morarji Desai and his circle. By no stretch of imagination can Sri Krishna Menon’s attacks be ascribed to any inspiration from Sri Morarji Desai. The Prime Minister will therefore be ill-advised to suspect every critic of the government policies as Morarji’s supporter.

Such a lop-sided view of current developments—reportedly doled out by some of the leading lights in her entourage—can in the long run prove disastrous both for the Prime Minister and her government, since this will lead to a tendency of equating every manifestation of mass discontent with the activities of her opponents inside her own party, thus giving them credit which really is not due to them.

Those who have been crusading in defence of Smt Gandhi’s position raise three sets of explanations on her behalf. First is that she has inherited most of the ailments for which she is being blamed most at the moment; the second is that the economic crisis has become so acutely intense that there is no way out except to bow to American pressure in order to secure aid, and what she has been desperately trying to do is to bow as decently as possible; and the last point is that what is happening in India today is but the usual working of the process of growth of capitalism and that those who have been getting distressed over these developments are really infantile since they have no idea of the enormity of capitalist exploitation.

The last argument is, strangely enough, raised both by the parlour socialists in the Prime Minister’s camp as also by the extremist wing of the Left Communists. In fact, it provides an easy alibi for a programme of inaction, trying to make out that no amount of mass pressure or Left-wing criticism can halt the juggernaut of capitalism.

The theory of acute economic crisis being responsible for the slide-back in policies with regard to the West has carried little conviction, judging by its impact both in Parliament and the AICC. For one thing, the accentuation of the crisis with regard to food or foreign exchange does not warrant its over-publicisation since such a step can only worsen the situation. The manner in which the Food Minister has gone about magnifying the food deficit, and the Planning Minister enlarging the quantum of foreign aid in his Fourth Plan calculations, has only strengthened the suspicion that these have been done with almost cold-blooded deliberations to prepare the country for the induction of US wheat and dollar under conditions which were never before acceptable to the country. This way the line of resistance to the World Bank pressures has been sought to be undermined.

The remaining argument that the cross that Smt Gandhi has been forced to carry today has come to her only as a heirloom has been repeated by herself. The most conspicuous example of this was provided by Smt Gandhi who at her last press conference significantly gave out that the Indo-US Foundation had been agreed upon as early as March 1965, that is, a little before her predecessor’s projected visit to the USA which was unceremoniously called off by President Johnson.

There is no doubt of the fact that most of the major concessions to Washington—around which have been raging a stormy controversy today—were initiated during Shastri’s Prime Ministership, a rather uncomfortable discovery for those who had been trying to boost the Lal Bahadur regime as being almost equal to that of Nehru.

Presumably to ward off this stigma from Shastri’s record, a new move is afoot in New Delhi to show that the idea of the Foundation had been first mooted as early as April 1964; in other words, Nehru himself should be blamed for having allowed it to come up. It is, however, to be noted that in April 1964 it was the US initiative that had led to the despatch of a noted American educationist to New Delhi to do some exploratory work to sell the Foundation project, and there is no proof of Nehru having in the least shown any interest in it. There is no gainsaying the fact that by far the major share of responsibility, if not its monopoly, for having agreed to the Foundation project has to fall on Shatri’s shoulder as the Prime Minister.

Incidentally, observers in the Capital are certain that Smt Gandhi’s disclosure of the date of birth of her Foundation would touch off a powerful demand both in Parliament and outside for the release of all Indo-US diplomatic exchanges on the project. If Nehru could be attacked for having kept Parliament in the dark about China building the Aksai Chin road, there is no reason why the same charge should not be levelled at the authorities for having secretly agreed to such a controversial deal behind the back of the entire nation.

With all the lavish protestations by the Prime Minister that there has been no deviation in policy, the biggest refutation of it comes from Sri S.K. Patil’s spectacular return to political eminence as demonstrated in the Bombay AICC. While there is a tendency in some quarters in the Capital to discuss Sri Patil’s victory in the contest for the Central Election Committee as a case of brilliant manipulation of the oars of power, that is, of group votes in the AICC, careful observers would prefer ascribing this Patil triumph mainly to the favourable current that prevails in the pro-US politics under the present dispensation.

While Smt Gandhi has not infrequently been complaining in private about the growth of Rightist forces as personified by Sri Morarji Desai, it has come as a surprise to many in the Capital that Sri Patil has throughout been in her good books, claiming to be an almost regular caller at the Prime Minister’s residence.

More important is the fact that with Smt Gandhi taking upon herself the task of defending the pro-American bias of the Subramaniam-Asoka Mehta combine, there remains little ground for any political resistance to Sri Patil’s re-emergence in High Command politics, since it is he who can claim to be the architect of the pro-Washington strategy that is being pursued today by the Food and the Planning Ministers.

In Bombay, it was clear as daylight that Sri Patil’s main target was Sri K.D. Malaviya, and for that he could mobilise the Syndicate as a definite political crusade against the Left in the Congress. Against this, Sri Kamaraj did not hesitate to let it be known that he favoured Sri Malaviya’s election, but Smt Gandhi was conspicuously silent: in fact, if she had taken the least interest in Sri Malaviya candidature—half of what she did for Sri D.P. Mishra—there is no doubt that Sri Malaviya would have been definitely elected.

It was not a mere case of personal preference; Sri Malaviya’s inclusion in the Central Election Committee would have meant the restoration of the political balance between the Right and the Left that Nehru often tried to maintain at crucial junctures. Smt Gandhi’s failure to comprehend the political significance of the CEC contest—as also her noticeable aloofness from Sri Kamaraj is interpreted in New Delhi circles as a measure of her inability to grasp the true character of Right-wing’s realpolitik in the Indian scene today.

In the bargain, it is the Left that suffers in the organisational set-up of the Congress, and the Right that profits by corroding the government’s basic policies. It is time Smt Indira Gandhi realised that not by words alone but by rallying the forward-looking forces can she defend the great Nehru legacy in partnership with the millions of this great nation.

(Mainstream, May 28, 1966)

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