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

After Indira Gandhi / Being a Proud Indian

Sunday 19 November 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

Indira Gandhi’s 33rd death anniversary fell on October 31 this year. And her birth centenary is on November 19, 2017. Remembering her on this occasion we are reproducing the following ‘Editor’s Notebook’ that N.C. wrote on November 6, 1984, that is, soon after her death as well as one of his pieces ten years following her tragic assassination.

After Indira Gandhi

Twenty years after her great father’s passing away, Indira Gandhi fell, her frail body riddled with the assassin’s bullets, in the winter morning of October 31, 1984.

She died as she lived—taking danger as her constant companion. And she left behind a nation not only benumbed with searing sorrow but engulfed in insensate fratricidal violence, threatening the very unity of the country to defend which she faced martyrdom.

This is not the moment to undertake an objective appraisal of Indira Gandhi’s contri-bution towards building modern India or her role in world affairs. Future historians will undertake this task, a difficult task because hers was a career which until her last breath knew no respite, a career crowded with events of unmitigated severity as well as unalloyed glory. Few were her moments of repose, for she more than anybody else went among the largest segment of India’s seven hundred millions covering the length and breadth of this far-flung country. It was an endless odyssey no other leader of her times has undertaken.

At home, many significant steps were taken during her fifteen years of Prime Ministership which strengthened the economy of the country and yet its base could not be reinforced because of the balance of social forces, their level of consciousness and organisational consolidation did not permit any fundamental transformation. On the political plane, Westminster type of parliamentary democracy has been maintained though it has to a large measure been corroded by graft and corruption while the system of election has fostered caste and communal loyalties.

Abroad, Indira Gandhi’s tenure as India’s unchallenged leader saw the extension and enrichment of the policy of non-alignment in a manner that it could throw in its lot with the forces of peace and progress against the forces of reaction. Adherence to the principle of democratic solidarity brought fresh laurels when Bangladesh was born out of Pakistani brutality. At the same time, the country found it difficult to muster the strength necessary to sustain a determined and dynamic foreign policy because of the internal socio-economic weaknesses.

The shortcomings of the politico-economic order that was set up on the morrow of independence under the balance of forces prevailing at the time, began to surface conspicuously during Indira Gandhi’s regime. This was particularly evident from the fact that significant reforms did not produce the desired changes. Land reforms did not bring land to the tiller. Restrictions placed on monopolies could not weaken the monopoly houses. Planning did not reduce economic disparities; rather they grew despite the plans. Bonded labour persists despite its official abolition. Expansion of education has intensified its lopsidedness while prevalence of illiteracy has weaknened the cultural base of our democracy. As democracy has spread to diverse regions, parochialism has increased, bringing severe strain on the structure of national integration. Instead of trying to tackle this on the axiomatic principle of unity-in-diversity, it has been allowed to degenerate into a false confrontation between the Centre and the States.

Taking a broader, historical view one cannot help noting that Indira Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister marked the end of the generation that had witnessed the culmination of the freedom struggle in the triumphant unfurling of the Tricolour on the Red Fort, and the coming-of-age of the generation born after independence. The so-called generation gap touching off social tensions was in reality the manifestation of an unfinished revolution. The entire national leadership covering all parties tried to live on the laurels of the freedom struggle: they did not—or perhaps could not—work out an authentic programme of nation-building, a programme which could rouse the millions and mobilise them with the same intensity which Gandhi and Nehru could fifty years ago. Instead they could only produce schemes and plans which are impressive as the drawing-board blueprints or seminar papers but are ineffective in galvanising the masses. That is why election-time slogans mostly sound empty and fail to set the masses in motion in the direction of socio-economic transformation.

In the absence of such a national matrix for the building of independent India, disequili-brium leading to tensions surfaced in both politics and economy of the country. The turbu-lence that marked the greater part of the Indira Phase has had its roots in this disequilibrium. Whenever there was the slightest signs of groping towards social transformation, she could muster unprecedented mass support as could be seen in the wake of the new economic programme beginning with bank nationalisation and culminating in the call for Garibi Hatao. But with no political (as distinct from administrative) infrastructure to implement or enforce it, the programme at its very incipient phase was lost; later the Twenty-Point Programme, both in its original and revised versions, was but its pale imitation, incapable of bestirring the masses in the way the earlier call for Garibi Hatao could rouse mass expectations: at the end populism became the subject of ridicule or trenchant criticism.

Most of the intractable problems that beset Indira Gandhi with particular sharpness during her second tenure of power, that is, since 1980, can be traced back to their origins in the early years of independence. Whether it is Assam or the North-East, the minorities’ sense of insecurity, or the vexed Centre-State controversy, or the entire Punjab problem—all these had surfaced on the very morrow of independence. Those who deify today the founding fathers of the Constitution need to be reminded that it was the unresolved items that had come up in the Cosntituent Assembly which later on assumed the magnitude of crisis points particularly under Indira Gandhi. This is not to say that the founding fathers of the Constitution should be held responsible for these crisis issues. What needs to be debunked is the thoughtless Opposition charge, long bandied about, that Indira Gandhi must be branded as the arch culprit for having deliberately left all the problems unsettled to exploit them to her own advantage.

Nobody will deny that there had been a certain amount of drift and sometimes miscalcu-lation in dealing with these issues under Indira Gandhi. What was, however, a mistake was that these for long were sought to be tackled as if they were ordinary problems of a conventional nature demanding conventional responses. In reality, all these were issues germane to the basic weaknesses of our democratic set-up—weaknesses which should have been overcome a long time ago, long before Indira came to power, and that too, should have been attempted by means of wide national consensus. These are problems which can hardly be solved through the majority vote of the ruling party alone; they have had to have the sanction of most, if not all, political parties. Otherwise they face the danger of being treated as partisan issues, as they finally did.

Not that bold initiatives were totally missing. It is necessary to remind ourselves the irony of the fact that Indira Gandhi of all our Prime Ministers was the one who had acceded to the demand for a Punjabi-speaking State, while nothing had been done by the Janata Govern-ment to even examine the Akali demands though it had an Akali as a Cabinet Minister.

After Indira Gandhi, her mantle has fallen on the shoulders of her son, Rajiv Gandhi. The party in command of two-thirds majority in Parliament has made him the Prime Minister, though a section of the Opposition did not fail to make a demonstration of their miserable incapacity to rise above pettifogging absurdities by questioning the propriety of his appointment. The challenge that he faces today are many and varied, and his capacity and competence to deal with them will undoubtedly be watched with close scrutiny by friends and adversaries alike.

Like his grandfather, Rajiv Gandhi has assumed power in the midst of turbulence, though in character and intensity, it is different from the one which engulfed the country thirtyseven years ago. The promptitude with which he has taken steps to put down all violence in the Capital—where in the ranks of the mischief-mongers could be identified some of the star performers in the mafia of the Sanjay days, whom Rajiv had rejected—has brought out the initiative which promises to earn him the confidence of the nation.

What has happened is no ordinary outburst of anger tinged with sorrow. The faceless elements, domestic and foreign, who engineered the killing of Indira Gandhi, have as their objective the unleashing of destabilisation on a large scale. More than many others in the country who should have known better, Indira Gandhi herself knew—and did not hesitate to confide to others—that she was the prime target of powerful forces interested in weakening the position of India in the world of today through disturbances within the country itself. US Secretary of State George Schultz’s assurance about the Administration’s concern for India’s unity is indeed touching though unfortunately it has hardly been reassuring in view of the rather long record of its agencies having had a hand at destabilisation of regimes which did not fall in line with it. Needless to add, the new Prime Minister can hardly depend on such assurances from abroad: he has to take steps—as he has begun to take—to deal with a firm hand the forces that are out to disrupt the nation’s unity, calculatedly or unwittingly.

At 40, Rajiv Gandhi has become the youngest Prime Minister of this country. His mother’s style of functioning made her entire establish-ment, both government and party, into a one-pillar structure. Apart from the superhuman stamina that she had to summon up to manage things as she did, there is little doubt that this encouraged an unwholesome tendency of dependency on the part of her colleagues and acted as a disincentive to initiative on their part. Placed as he is today having yet to earn his spurs as the chief executive of the nation and having colleagues most of whom are senior in age though not all in wisdom or competence, Rajiv Gandhi cannot possibly afford to function as the apex of a pyramid. To carry his colleagues along with him and to make the system run as effectively as possible, he will have to foster collective functioning without in any way permitting his initiative to be stifled. This way alone can emerge a viable framework of governance as also open up the potentialities for his leadership of it. The Congress, though a ruling party, has a history in which it was for long regarded as the common national front, while since independence, it has continued as a loosely held organisaton, largely for the purpose of holding periodic elections. Factions bristle within its ranks—perhaps they consti-tuted the major threat to the stability of the Indira Raj at the State level—although at the moment, they are to a large measure subdued at the loss of their chief campaigner for the coming General Election. But this is only temporary.

For Rajiv Gandhi to iron out the factions would be a major task. With the disappearance of the banyan tree protection that Indira Gandhi provided them all, it is possible that the urge for survival might help Rajiv to reduce, if not eliminate, group politics. Side by side there appears to be an urge, at the moment incipient, among a good number of old Congressmen who had strayed into different Opposition formations, to return to the fold having seen through the bankruptcy of leaders like Charan Singh and Chandra Shekhar. The trend was perceptible in the last days of Indira Gandhi and is likely to grow in the coming months. It will be important for Rajiv Gandhi to consolidate into one organi-sation all those belonging to what may be termed as the Congress culture.

In the last four years, there grew up around Rajiv Gandhi a band of young Congressmen—regarded as a management elite—who have their strong points as having drive and self-confi-dence; at the same time they have yet to imbibe the ethos of the Congress as it has grown over the years. It will be for Rajiv Gandhi himself to harness them and harmonise diverse interests and outlooks into a one homogenous whole. This way will he be able to rebuild the Congress in the conditions of today and this way too holds the promise of his establishing its effective leadership.

Beyond the confines of his party, Rajiv Gandhi will have to evolve through persuasion and pain-staking endeavour the code of national consensus which alone will enable him to deal with the intractable problems that stare him at the face today. This way too perhaps the fragile structure of Indian democracy can still be saved.

(‘Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream, November 3-10, 1984)

Being a Proud Indian

Amidst the profusion of tributes paid to Indira Gandhi on the tenth anniversary of her martyrdom on October 31, perhaps the most eloquent but concise was by the eminent scientist-philosopher, Professor Yash Pal, who said she had made us feel proud of being an Indian.

To be proud of belonging to our motherland was the constant injunction that my generation had to abide by when we were young students—that was before the country became independent. The galling yoke of foreign rule was not allowed to thwart the personality of a true Indian. How elated we used to feel those days when our young revolutionary heroes mounted the gallows singing Rabindranath Tagore’s memorable lines—“Blessed is my life that I am born in this land”! It was the same spirit which could be suppressed neither by the bullet and the bullying of the Raj nor by the incessant ideological refrain of the White Man’s superiority.

This by itself was the surest guarantee for the triumph of our freedom struggle. All our great leaders have not only harped on the greatness and grandeur of our civilisation but instilled into millions upon millions of their countrymen the sense of irrepressible pride of being an Indian—born out of the soil of this mother earth that is India. Not everybody could face the trials and tribulations of being an activist in the freedom struggle, but everybody, even those who could not come forward to make the sacrifice for the struggle for independence, were mandated not to bend their heads in servility before the foreign ruler. Even today we could get a touch of that unbending spirit as we watch scene after scene in Attenborough’s Gandhi. To be kowtowing to the Raj or be a scab was the worst from a disgrace in the eyes of the awakened public those days.

This feeling persisted even after independence, rather our leaders who were wielding power could perceive the strength of this pride as a national asset and could draw upon it for the rebuilding of our country after independence—its economy, its culture, its foreign policy. Nowadays we hear a lot of attacks on the Nehruvian model of development. But any unbiased observer would concede that what Nehru tried to achieve was the rebuilding of a strong economy shattered by colonial depre-dation. The preference was for the industrial revolution model. The government had to step in because the private sector was at that time too weak and bereft of resources to undertake the building of the basic industries, in short providing for the necessary infrastructure. As for external help, the World Bank authorities made it abundantly clear that they were not interested in underwriting a programme of industrialisation of the country.

At this point, the strength of our national movement came into full play—instead of submitting to the dictates of the powerful vested interests of the developed countries and their friendly multilateral agencies, we in our country launched our unique programme of industriali-sation. We had no hesitation in seeking the advice and cooperation of a whole galaxy of economists from many countries cutting across the Cold War dividing lines. That was how our mixed economy was planned, which held to the motto of self-reliance.

Without this, we would not have been where we are today. We might have had a sort of imported industrialisation that would have been at the mercy of the industrial giants abroad. More likely we would have met the fate of Pakistan, which lagged miles behind in economic growth while burdened with a bloated military outfit that was tied to the Pentagon while bringing in instability in government and politics of the country. Much as our pundits of today may run down the economic strategy of the Nehru era, it needs to be realised that with all the shortcomings of that strategy, there could have been no economic growth today without the foundations laid yesterday.

In a sense, our foreign policy strategy of non-alignment has been the manifestation of that same urge to be proud of being an Indian. After having liberated itself from the rule of the mightiest empire of the time, India was in no mood to be subjected to pressures by any outside power in foreign affairs. As the world got virtually bifurcated into two blocs—the Western bloc under Washington and the communist bloc under Moscow—our leaders refused to submit to either. Hence came non-alignment. As decades passed, more and more countries joined the ranks of the non-aligned—including a number of those who had originally joined one power bloc or the other—the snooty critics some of whom had branded non-alignment as sin, found themselves out of step with the growing worldwide urge against bloc politics until one of the superpowers collapsed thereby bringing an abrupt end to the Cold War itself. Non-alignment marked the triumph of self-respect in international politics.

During the current drive for economic reforms in our country, the term very much in fashion today is globalisation. There is certainly no place for an autarchy in today’s interdependent world. Both the advance of technology and extension of the frontiers of knowledge have made narrow nationalism anachronistic and definitely harmful to our economy and polity as well. At the same time, a copycat importing of any foreign model would not only be repugnant but harmful for our country.

The subservient implementation of diktats from the Fund-Bank bosses that the Finance Ministry mafia has all the time been clamouring for, can only harm the economy and in effect would undermine the very purpose of the economic reforms as befitting this country. What is missing in the present dispensation is a pride in our own achievements; instead has come the mortgaging the fate of our economy to the new Moghuls of the world economy, the giant conglomerates miscalled multinationals. The spirit that fought tenaciously to overthrow the domination of the Raj fifty years ago can hardly be expected to bow to the dictates of the super-moneylenders of the Fund-Bank caucus. If we allow ourselves to be subservient to the Fund-Bank order, we shall be swamped by the economic overlordship of the G-7. Already when we talk about our impressive foreign exchange reserve, we do not at the same time tell the country the enormous debt servicing that we have to bear now and this will continue for years to come.

Does that mean that we should have chosen to wallow in the backwardness of a stagnant economy? Not in the least. What a self-respecting country led by a government proud of its strength and accomplishments would have done would be to carefully review its own unique experiment of mixed economy for four long decades, and on the basis of such a re-examination of the past, design its own model of modernising the economy, removing the shackles that are impinging on its growth and rousing the entire nation with the vista of a strong economy that could harness the nation’s wealth, tap its human resources and ensure the social well-being of its billion strong people. All this demands the discarding of inferiority complex and rekindling the spirit of being a proud Indian. Globalisation in that case would not be mere subservience to the giant marauders that prowl the world market. It’s time the Prime Minister had spelt out the sign-posts of his Middle Way.

(Mainstream, November 12, 1994)

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