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From Gungi Gudiya to Iron Lady

This year, on 19 November, had she been alive, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi would have been 100. The day was conspicuous by the remarkable silence of the Congress, which feeds on the Nehru-Gandhi clan and by the complete absence of any celebration nationwide. 

I was never a fan of Mrs. Gandhi. She was brash, arrogant and dictatorial. Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha had unseated her on the equivalent of a minor traffic offence and despite my dislike for the lady, I thought if she had stepped down and fought the case in a higher court, she would have won accolades.  That she didn’t, upset my generation’s understanding of politics and democracy.

Today, when you look back, you understand her better.  She had got into the prime minister’s saddle not because she was a Nehru, but because the squabbling old men in the Congress thought she would be a gungi gudiya and act to their bidding.  Little did they realise that she was her woman. She broke tradition, asking parliamentarians to vote for Giri against the official presidential candidate Sanjeeva Reddy!  

 

Closest to a dictator...

She had contempt for the opposition, for inner-party democracy, and was the closest to India being led by a dictator.  She masterminded the idea of a ‘committed civil servant,’ and later of the ‘committed judiciary.’ In a silent coup, she began the destruction of institutions; a practice perfected in later years and continued to date.   Her decision to declare Emergency will forever remain a black mark, and her over-dependence on Sanjay Gandhi as an extra-constitutional authority was insulting. But then everyone needs a sidekick. 

She had her pluses. Her way of getting things done may have been inappropriate, but there was no denying she was patriotic. India worked better with a stick and she administered it with aplomb. She had a finger on the pulse of the people. She won the Bangladesh war. Vajpayee, a later day prime minister, called her Goddess Durga.  Mrs. Gandhi was fearless. She could see Uncle Sam eye-to-eye, and shielded India from US pressure. President Richard Nixon disliked her, but she didn’t care a hoot. Pokhran 1 was an act of courage coming as it did at the time when India was mostly a dependent economy.  Under her, India became self-sufficient in food and made serious progress in space-related programmes. It took gumption to send the army into the Golden Temple to flush out extremists. She knew she was signing her death warrant but didn’t mind it. 

Mrs. Gandhi was truly secular. Days before her assassination when Intelligence suggested that she remove her Sikh security guards, she refused.  She paid for it with her life. In the land of the Mahatma, a frail woman shot from point-blank range by security guards whose job was to protect her is a picture that will stay entrenched in people’s mind forever.

That the birth centenary of arguably one of India’s tallest prime ministers went unnoticed is unfortunate. 

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