Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Nov 01, 2004
Government - Politics
Remembering Indira Gandhi
R. C. Rajamani
Well, all this must remain in the realm of imagination. Indira has been dead for 20 years though her memories live on in the nation's, and people's minds and psyche.
But, then, Indira had caught the imagination of the world as no other developing nation's leader had then, or since. Perhaps, only she, frail exterior and all, could have given a piece of her mind to the American administration under the Pakistan-leaning Richard Nixon.
War clouds were gathering over the Indian horizon in the aftermath of Islamabad's military crackdown on East Pakistan after the Awami League had won the national elections and its leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, was poised to take over as Prime Minister. But the Punjabi-dominated, Urdu-speaking military would not countenance a Bengali-speaking Prime Minister.
Troops landed in thousands in Dhaka and all over East Pakistan and let loose a reign of terror. Panic-stricken, East Pakistanis crossed the border into India in their thousands.
Indira Gandhi went on a world tour, apprising leaders of the problems India faced in the wake of the massive influx of refugees from East Pakistan. She gave Nixon, who still tended to side with Pakistan, an earful.
What happened within few months is history. Indira Gandhi defeated Pakistan in a war forced on India and helped the Bengalis of East Pakistan win independence to form Bangladesh. Even her political opponents hailed her as `Ma Durga'.
While politically Indira often displayed her steely guts and appeared somewhat Machiavellian, she was a loving mother and doting grandmother to Rahul, Priyanka and Varun. She missed Varun, son of Sanjay and Maneka, when the latter left the Indira home after a spat some time after Sanjay's death in June 1980.
Indira loved simple Indian food and always ate with the family. She also found pleasure in reading simple, light stuff and enjoyed watching comedies.
Perhaps not many know that Indira loved Hollywood comedies. Between 1977 and 1980, when she was out of power, she did go to cinema halls in Delhi to watch films, with no security whatsoever.
For me, it was a pleasant surprise to see Indira, Sanjay and Maneka, a row behind me at a cinema in New Delhi's Greater Kailash, obviously enjoying the Peter Sellers comedy Return of The Pink Panther.
At the intermission, some people went up to her and exchanged pleasantries. There were no Black Cats, no SPG. But, then, the era of extremism was still to be born. Ironically, the person who is said to have been partly responsible for ushering in much turbulence was enjoying the last days of peace.
After the film was over, Indira, Sanjay and Maneka left unobtrusively in a regulation Ambassador car. Not even a lathi-wielding cop was present. A group of Congress supporters raised slogans as the family drove off.
One is curious to know what Ms Sonia Gandhi was doing those days. By all accounts, she was leading a private life with husband Rajiv and children Rahul and Priyanka. She hated politics and, according to her own admission, "fought like a tigress" to stop Rajiv from entering it. But, then, you cannot escape politics if you are a Nehru-Gandhi. When in Rome, do as Romans do. Ironically, this came very true for Ms Sonia Gandhi.
Indira always dressed gracefully and was the cynosure of all eyes anywhere. On that fateful last day of October 1984, she wore a saffron colour sari "... the hue of sacrifice or renunciation," as her biographer, Inder Malhotra, wrote and was walking briskly thanks to her discipline, frugal food habits, and yoga practise across the lawns of her Safdarjung residence to her office for an interview with a foreign TV network.
Suddenly, a hail of bullets from her own security guards tore through her frail body, soaking the ground with her blood.. What she had prophetically said just a few days ago, that she would not hesitate to shed her blood for the cause of the nation, had come horribly true.
(The author, a former Deputy Editor of PTI, is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist.)
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