The Troublesome Fascination with Sanjay and Indira Gandhi

Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi (Source: The Print)

On 25 June 1975, India saw the extension of the external emergency, imposed since 1965 into the domestic affairs of India. More than 25 years have passed; yet, the public memory of the Emergency is conspicuous by its absence. It is as if this event, the darkest episode in the memory of India since its long colonial slavery, never happened. There have been no protests by so called liberals against the event. Our youth have no inkling on the events of that horrid night and the subsequent two years of dissent crushing of the worst possible magnitude.

The amnesia of this country’s conscience is troublesome to say the least. Few accounts exist of what had transpired apart from the odd memorial of journalists – it is pathetic to note how our so called doyens of media of the time were hand in glove with the establishment of the time. Lal Krishna Advani’s adage - You were asked only to bend, but you crawled – was a tight slap on the face of the pliant journalists, and yet there was no self-introspection ever. To this day, the only things I have heard are how wonderful things were during the emergency; how there was discipline for a change. Leading this brigade of shame were people like Khushwant Singh, who more than placed himself at the feet of the Gandhis for this very act alone. To this day, hardly any books have been written, academically or journalistically, about the Emergency. Kuldeep Nayyar and Coomi Kapoor are the only two journalists who wrote books about it; Tavleen Singh discussed it in pieces in a book. Among the politicians, the only account that I have read to this day about the plight of the political prisoners is that of BJP leader and former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar’s memory of his stint as an Emergency prisoner, thanks due to his status as the Opposition’s elected representative. The two other books one sees are historical accounts; of course, those too are colored enough to identify the real danger in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as the real danger to India’s democracy, making one somewhat clear about the whitewash effort.

Contrast this with the marches that take place every day on 21 February each year in Bangladesh – a day when the citizens of then East Pakistan rose to fight language discrimination, to the point that Ekushe February became the International Mother Language Day. The tyranny is not forgotten to this day, and its memories are kept alive by the country’s citizens so that the young never forget.
While D. K. Barooah, Rajni Patel and S. S. Ray were the architects of the Emergency declaration, Sanjay Gandhi was the tour de force of the excesses that followed. While many try to delink Indira Gandhi from this ghastly episode, it is well understood that the sole reason behind the emergency was to save Indira Gandhi’s election. Forcible arrests, torture of kin, forced sterilizations, harrowed conditions in jails – these are barely some of the things that happened in a span of less than two years. People were jailed for uttering even a single grumble against the Emergency. Newspapers were forced to print blank pages. In this terrifying atmosphere of intimidation, lynch mobs of Sanjay Gandhi’s brigades roamed around everywhere, putting to task the steps necessary to enforce Sanjay’s writ. Constitution and the institutions were essentially rendered useless – illegal insertions, utterly incomprehensible but biased appointments and illegal extensions to the terms of governments were undertaken. Singers, poets and authors risked their lives, reputations and jobs if they uttered even a mere word critical of the establishment. People went into hiding, burnt their possessions and did innumerable things only to ensure that no harm befell on their families and their future. An atmosphere of fear had gripped the nation, and held its tongue such that it dared not even utter a single syllable of concern, let alone protest the outrage to its modesty.

In any democratic setup worth its salt, such people would not have been allowed back into politics, let alone power. However, these days, I see within the right wing this strange fascination with Sanjay Gandhi, even as Indira Gandhi’s hagiography continues unabated amongst the Lutyens Darbar, marvelling at her strength. The same set also has no qualms to eulogize Sanjay Gandhi in many ways, attributing his bullying nature and disregard for institutions to a ‘go-getter’ attitude. Many of these fail to remember just what Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi really reduced India to. It is shameful to say the least that the two are eulogized often just because of their actions at different stages against specific groups. How can these people forget just what was done to them, their families? I do not expect better from the socialist brand of politicians in this country, who despite having been jailed in hundreds continue to kiss the feet of the same dynasty and party – their existence essentially remains thanks to the ruling family’s politics. The muzzling of voices from the ground should have been unforgivable; and yet, the fascination with the two remains. Had Sanjay Gandhi been alive, a whole host of today’s pretentious right wingers would vote to make him the undisputable leader of this country. Do they really think that under the likes of Sanjay Gandhi, the voice of this civilization could have surfaced? The man who did not bat an eyelid when hitting his own mother only thought of this country has a backward hellhole. To this day, one does not acknowledge the fact that Sanjay Gandhi had mastered the fraud that was Maruti, which saw redemption only after Suzuki came to its aid, sensing a classical keiretsu style opportunity in India. In the words of Sunil Sethi:

Essentially, Maruti Ltd. turned out to be a huge land grab and financial scam-290 acres at throwaway prices in Gurgaon, a sycophantic loan mela by nationalised banks, extortion and blackmail to squeeze funds from business groups and traders. Bankers, cabinet ministers and captains of industry who opposed or resisted Sanjay's muscle-flexing were threatened or sent packing; Mrs Gandhi remained impervious to the outcry in Parliament or the raging disquiet in the PMO. Her most senior and trusted advisers, for instance, principal secretary and diplomat P.N. Haksar, or P.N. Dhar, the distinguished economist, were shunted aside. There was no roadworthy car, of course, only faltering Maruti front-companies to be milked for cash.

And yet, we have several of his coteries that continue to wield considerable influence within the Congress and Lutyens durbar. Kamal Nath, Ambika Soni, Navin Chawla, R.K. Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad are just a few names of yesterday’s goon brigade leaders turned suave politicians, and we only see deference from eminent media personnel on the same. These people have even bigger crimes to their names, and yet the amnesia continues about them and their association with Sanjay Gandhi.

Strength is an attribute often associated with Indira Gandhi. However, it is laughable to say the least. The manner in which Sanjay treated his mother should be clue enough about her so called steely resolve. Both she and her son were essentially opportunists who benefited from the untimely death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, with the support of an anti-national group of leftist traitors in the country. Had she been so powerful, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir would have been part of India in 1971. Had she been so powerful, East Pakistani Hindus would not have suffered so much in that war, a fact she and her government hid in every manner possible. The two wrecked India’s economy by only increasing license raj and encouraging cronyism. Favors were granted to those who curried favour with the darbar; the rest were supposed to rot. A decline starting from the late nineteen sixties, all the way up to the early nineteen eighties, in every sphere of India’s existence – economic, social, cultural - can be directly attributed to the two of them. Yet, the fascination within the right wing with respect to the two continues unabated. Many of us harbour impressions that simply don’t stand the mirror test. In a democratic set up, we would have seen the disappearance of the family from the political scene altogether. Yet, the irony remains that it is the right wing, that truly fought the excesses of the emergency, is accused of fascism and destruction of the ethos of India by the durbaris, who to this day are labelled eminent by many a people. Sanjay Gandhi was nothing but a goon, and Indira Gandhi was nothing more than an opportunist – I have no hesitation in saying that, much to the chagrin of some of these admirers I know. We are often told that one should not talk ill of those who cannot respond; however, should we just keep silent and forget what happened to the country’s spirit under the two of them, and let the hagiography continue unabated? It is time to call a spade a spade; those who killed democracy in India, and those who supported its murder at the guillotine cannot be allowed to get away by mere condoning. Tough questions need to be answered by many of them. I for one will continue to ask them from these supporters.


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