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Mainstream, VOL LV No 48 New Delhi November 18, 2017

India’s Indira

Sunday 19 November 2017


by Sardar Amjad Ali

We are celebrating the birth centenary of Smt Indira Gandhi. This is also the 33rd anniversary of her martyrdom. Notwithstanding the bitterest criticisms from various quarters for her so-called misdeeds, specially during the Emergency, no one, unless he or she is rabidly anti-Indira for no reason whatsoever, would deny that the task which her late father left to be accomplished was successfully carried out by Indiraji; and that resulted in India being recognised as a powerful nation.

Indeed very few will differ with the view that her father, late Jawaharlal Nehru, did not build her up to be his successor. During his days as the Prime Minister, Nehruji did not induct her even as a Deputy Minister in his Council of Ministers. Nevertheless, it is true that it was under his stewardhip did Indiraji come to know not only an India transforming from the yoke of dominance to democracy but also an India toiling from dependence to self-confidence, from subjugtion to self-realisation, a vibrant nation in the making. She was blessed to be a child having a father who taught her to be a silent observer of the transition and develop within herself a perception of what the future India should be.

Let us not arrive at the conclusion that it was becasue of a visionary father whose constant company and association created the most conducive phenomenon in her career to become what she really became. It is also true that unless one has the perseverance, attentiveness and innate aptitutde to adopt what one sees or is being taught, no amount of good endeavour of whateve dimension it may be, can turn a person into a towering personality. She scored full marks as a sincere, patient and religious hermit in the Nehruvian temple of culture.

A bonding between different shades of life, the oriental elites on the one hand and the occidental khadi-clad swadeshi on the other, the glamour and grandeur of the royals and the mud-studded anatomy of the teeming peasants, a conglomeration of the conservatives and the liberals of the religious hue under the shade of Anand Bhavan helped her to know a society which she would have to tread in her future public life.

She had the misfortune to see an ailing mother to be left by a patriot father at the mercy of a nurse, a vengeful aunt to be unreasonably harsh and rude, a hospital bed for herself while the mother was away in another medicare unit and the father engaged in the swadeshi movement far far away from both of them. Yet their ‘Indu’ did not become a lost child.

She had lived her life in a colonial system where the liberty of an individual was not one‘s own choice but depended on the likes and dislikes of the alien sovereign. And, therefore, freedom to her was an essential ingredient which did not mean a ‘grant’ from another individual or entity, but at the same time freedom, as she perceived and practised, was reciprocal, be it in the case of an individual or the state. Enriched with the experience of Western liberalism and having witnessed the systemic and scientific evolution of Western society where social endurance to the enrichment of the individual human faculty helped in the growth of a dynamic society, bereft of superstition, physiophobial pettiness and religious fundamenta-lism, a unique panorama of social and national development she had seen, played an important role in her outlook to build a society during her stewardship as the Prime Minister of India.

Never a staunch religiously moulded person nor an atheist, she firmly believed that the seeds of devastation lie in religious bigotism which eats up the marrow of the nation as a whole. To shed such an insidious menace from within and adopt a rational, cohesive and composite culture with open-mindedness help building an egalitarian society and a powerful nation out of a multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-religious society such as ours. Secularism and nationalism, to her, were two inseverable indices of a composite people of diverse culture and heritage. She firmly believed that a generous outlook to diverse culture and adopting the same without recusing its own for the other has given sustenance to Hindu religion and culture in India. A narrow outlook is bound to pave the way for destruction and deluge was her staunch faith. All through her life she practised and paid for it.

To build a strong and viable nation in an atomic age, a no-nonsense attitude of the government of the day to the development of science and technology in the prime areas cannot but be of utmost priority. The father started with imported technology and Ford Foundatioin, as we had none, but the daughter exported our indigenous know-how to underdeveloped nations to help them grow with time and tide. The Third World countries fighting for the upliftment of their newly-independent states found in Indira’s India a sincere compatriot. And to enable India achieve a venerable scientific stature Indira had lent her ears to Homi Sethna, M.S. Swaminathan, J.R.D. Tata, Raja Ramanna, M.G.K. Menon, Har Govind Khurana and many other illustrious scientists as an obedient listener. India should not remain a ‘technological client’ of the developed nations was her notion that turned into an obsession. And she proved that it was not so.

A Free India should not enjoy its freedom to the exclusion of those who are in fetters of imperial tyranny to the exclusion of those who are in fetters of imperial tyranny. It shoiuld stretch its helping hand to them, without any trace of the vice of aggression or domination, in sharp contrast to the leaders of the bipolar or unipolar world who cast a blind eye to the inhuman tortures of the authoritarian juntas on the hapless multitudes, indiscreet exploitation of the national resources of a subdued nation, savage plunder perpetrated by the mighty upon the indigent. So did she when Indira, in the words of Atal Behari Vajpayee, acted as the ‘Durga’ to liberate a captive East Pakistan and transform it into an independent Bangladesh on the surface of the 20th century globe. Mandela’s South Africa, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Nyusi’s Mozambique showered their praise on India’s Indira for her benevolent support in their struggle for freedom.

A firm decision to eradicate social, political or economic malfunctions in society is expected from those who govern and rule. Otherwise a state of anarchy and disarray in civic life would prevail and the national polity would be clouded with unfair, unethical and unhealthy competition for personal gain. Priyadarshini Indira, during her long tenure in governance, had never failed to take resolute and determined decisions whenever necessary—be it in the case of flushing out the separatists from the holy shrine of Golden Temple, emancipation of bonded labourers, extending social control over financial institutions and the industrial empires of the capitalists. Yet it would be unfair to ignore the fact that the national economy could not be liberated from those who control the maximum share of the nation’s GDP.

To conclude, one may humbly submit that Indira Gandhi was the benevolent ruler amongst those who vouchsafe to do good to the people and at the end leave the scene with the image of a great reformer tainted at times with the irrational accusation of being a dictator.

After all, we live in a democratic society where even perversities, irrationality and mudslinging are the approved means of manifesting freedom of expression!

A practising senior advocate of the Calcutta High Court, the author is a leading figure in the West Bengal Congress. A formear member of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in the seventies, he was the Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister.

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