Monday, January 18, 2016
Was Indira Gandhi more despotic than the British? A Bihar Government website recently described her treatment of Jayaprakash Narayan as worse than colonial Britain's treatment of Mahatma Gandhi. The Congress Party made noises of righteous indignation, but what are the facts? There is enough on record to show that Indira took major decisions on the basis of what was good for her in the short term no matter what it meant for the country.
There is an issue-by-issue assessment of Indira's record by Ramakrishna Hegde. True, they were political opponents from the time of the famous Congress split in 1969 when Hegde took the side of his mentor S.Nijalingappa against the new Indira Congress. Later Hegde was one of the national leaders honoured with imprisonment during the Emergency. But Hegde was fundamentally an intellectual. That is why a speech he delivered before the Bangalore Social Science Forum in 1992 still remains a perceptive analysis of some major events of the Indira years. It makes frightening reading today.
Hegde's basic premise was that until the end of the Janata Government rule in 1979 and despite the Emergency, disruptive forces had not raised their heads in the country. Terrorism was unknown. Mass violence for political reasons had not happened. Regionalism and fundamentalism had not gained strength. By and large life was peaceful.
Then a series of catastrophic events occurred. As Hegde put it: "Suddenly Bhindranwale was discovered to create trouble for the Akali Dal Ministry in Punjab for the only reason that the Akali Dal was with the Janata Party. Bhindranwale having tasted blood became a Frankenstein monster. There were no disturbances in Kashmir until Farooq Abdullah's government was unconstitutionally dismissed through organised defection. The Bodo movement was created and nurtured in Assam as a counter force to the Assam Gana Parishad Government. Darjeeling was a tourist paradise. Subash Geising was discovered and encouraged to organise a violent movement against West Bengal's Left Front Government. LTTE had not infiltrated Tamil Nadu. These and many other problems that threaten the very survival of India as a united country started after Smt. Indira Gandhi came back to power".
It's when Hegde goes into the details of the cases that the diabolic nature of Indira's politics comes out. Just to get a few votes in Haryana and to punish Punjabi politicians who did not merge with the Congress, she kept Chandigarh the combined capital of two states, an artificiality that was a standing invitation to trouble. Things reached such a state that the Government in Delhi pitted one group of militants in Punjab against another group. Chandigarh remains the world's only capital that houses two competing governments.
In Jammu & Kashmir Indira and Rajiv played a more dangerous game. Although Farooq Abdullah initially tended to put J & K interests first, his love of power soon made him a willing camp-follower of Indira and the Congress. Sharing power with the Congress in 1986, he lost his credibility. The Congress, wanting the whole cake for itself, openly rigged the election in 1987. "Young supporters of the opposition Muslim United Front, became militants. Disillusioned with the ballot, they took to the bullet.... Pakistan could not have found a fertile ground for its operations if it were not for the policies of Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah."
Assam and much of the north-east turned into perennial war zones as a consequence of Indira-Rajiv moves to exploit the problems between locals and migrants. The All-Assam Students Union had gained wide popularity and the Congress's response was to polarise the population along irreconcilable linguistic-communal lines. Violence became endemic, some major tragedies like the Nellie massacre (3000 dead) attracting world attention. To gain electoral advantage for the Congress here and there, the highly sensitive north-east was turned upside down, endangering the national interest in multiple ways.
What made Indira so negative? It couldn't have been just love of family. Perhaps more serious attention needs to be paid to the insecurity complex she is believed to have suffered from. She was neglected by her father during her growing-up years, she resented her mother being humiliated for being a "country woman", and she was herself put down more than once by aunt Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. All this might explain her turning to her sons and family retainers for protection and seeing political opposition as something to be destroyed. It might explain things, but never justify them. The selfishness of our leaders prevented India from achieving in six decades what China did in three.