Did Rajiv Gandhi advise Indira not to lift Emergency in 1977?
'No leader who enjoys popular support of people will become dictator'- Anonymous
This comment is now relevant in the context of Indian polity when the nation is debating the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi 43 years ago. There is little to dispute that Indira Gandhi had turned imperious and would brook no criticism. It was largely guided by her personal ambitions and selfish political motives, that she crushed fundamental rights of the citizens and destroyed institutions. Looking back, the politics pursued by her and her party deserve to be scrutinised even after four decades because what is essential to India’s democracy was put to litmus test.
But in circa 2018, what will be more relevant to examine is what about the locus standi of the Congress party which talks about tolerance, democracy and even makes repeated reference to virtues of secularism. Does it deserve to speak on this lofty idealism?
It is also worth mentioning that the Congress party often makes a big claim of Indira Gandhi’s polity and says notwithstanding the fact that she had clamped Emergency, it was her ‘firm commitment’ to the essence of democracy that she decided to fall back on ‘people’s popularity test’ and decided to lift the Emergency in 1977. The million dollar question that one can throw up is – did Indira Gandhi withdraw Emergency merely in adherence for her faith in democratic principles.
According to many analysts and contemporary historians, Indira Gandhi decided to withdraw the provisions of Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) chiefly because she probably sensed that the Emergency was going out of control. The fact of the matter is Indira, liberator of Bangladesh, had begun to crumble under the spell of her son Sanjay.
With regard Sanjay Gandhi, many stories are told and retold. But a striking feature of 1977 March – when Emergency was lifted and Indira Gandhi opted to go for elections - an important but little known story is that her elder son Rajiv Gandhi had reportedly suggested Indira “not to lift” Emergency.
The general refrain is a section in the family and Congress party including Rajiv Gandhi believed the timing was ‘not perfect’ to call for elections. In fact, this theory was later given due authenticity in 1996-97 when Pupul Jayakar, Indira Gandhi’s biographer, too spoke on the same line.
Late Jayakar also had said that none other than Indira Gandhi knew it well that “she might lose” – but she decided to take risk and did not subvert the electoral process.
Pupul Jayakar in her best selling ‘Indira Gandhi: A Biography’ (Viking/Penguin India publication) also had written: “She (Indira Gandhi) would have succeeded in convincing the people of India of her right intentions (about Emergency) but, unfortunately, rumours of increasing corruption around her, and her arrogance, alienated many of her admirers”.
Jayakar in her interaction with a select group of journalists – mostly talking about her book – had also mentioned that perhaps Indira Gandhi could not handle the ‘success’ post 1971 creation of Bangladesh.
“She (Indira) felt everyone was whispering and conspiring against her,” Pupul Jayakar had said. By 1973 once monsoon failed and economy went berserk with nearly 20 per cent inflation, Late Jayakar had said – suddenly her arrogance turned mistrust and she could not communicate with people.
It was around this time, a senior journalist, recalls – Indira Gandhi almost turned paranoid – suspecting about everything. “And once Emergency was imposed and Sheikh Mujibar Rahaman and his family members were killed in Bangladesh on August 15, 1975, she felt there was a “plot” and that even she and her children will be targets,” a senior scribe quotes Jayakar as stating.
However, Indira Gandhi’s admirers and other associates on different occasions have maintained that her ability to make the ‘tough choice’ had always come handy. In the context of betrayal, she faced after 1977 defeat, Jayakar wrote in the book that Indira Gandhi herself described the situation well when she had said: “Sorrow comes in like a circle”.
In fact, people are generally said to be self-centred in politics. It was more so in a system that was promoted by Indira Gandhi. During Emergency and even later, it came to light that she preferred a system and political loyalists – who would not only take orders from her or her son Sanjay. She also had immense liking for the likes of Devkanta Barooah, who was willing to even take orders from Indira’s trusted lieutenants – Yashpal Kapoor or Lalit Narayan Mishra. In other words, Indira had liking for those who were willing to court her courtiers.