It is 25 years since Ms.Indira Gandhi was assassinated by a Sikh guard. There were several programmes on TV last week to mark this occasion. If I were still a young man in his twenties, I would have believed all the lies the TV channels uttered. But I was already an engineering student when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966. And I was in my late twenties when she imposed emergency on the country in 1975. I was in my mid-thirties when she was killed brutally. I watched with sadness the downward slide the country took under Indira Gandhi's leadership. Therefore, I can not agree with the TV channels on their description of Mrs.Indira Gandhi as the best Prime Minister the country has ever had.
Indira Gandhi was one of the most popular Prime Ministers. May be, even the most popular. But that can not blind us from making a fair judgement of her contribution . If this great divide of time namely 25 years does not enable us to look at her period of rule with clear hindsight , what else will? In my opinion, Indira Gandhi set the country back by two decades in terms of economic progress. She was not a natural believer in Socialism or Leftist policies. She used these as a tool to beat her inner-party opponents with. But that brought disaster to the country's economy. She wanted to discredit the old 'Syndicate' politicians of the sixties; so she nationalised the banks. She wanted to win the elections in 1971; so she coined the slogan 'Garibi Hatao'( Drive out the poverty). What is her contribution to removal of poverty other than mouthing such slogans? Did she lay any great policy foundations for the economy to take off? Like all the Socialist Politicians, she called for fair distribution of wealth. But when and where was the wealth created? There was only poverty to be equitably distributed. She supported the loss-making Public Sector companies and made it difficult for Private Sector to do honourable business without greasing the palms of the ruling party politicians. Corruption grew to monumental proportions during those times and that is eating into the vitals of the country till date.
Her dislike for equals or near-equals was legendary. She nipped in the bud career of any Congress politician who showed promise. She was highly insecure and so could tolerate only intellectual pygmies around her. She permitted or rather promoted the growth of a personality cult around her name. The slogan 'India is Indira, Indira is India' coined by one of her stooges Dev Kant Baruah had her tacit approval. She was a dictator by temperament.
Indira was no friend of the working class though she talked of socialism in bated breath. The brutal way she crushed the All India Railway Employee's strike in 1974 was a national shame.
Indira Gandhi wanted her arrogant son Sanjay Gandhi to succeed her as Prime Minister. She was never a true democrat. She was the one who firmly laid the roots for dynastic politics. She let him play the role of an unconstitutional authority . The lad assembled a lot of lumpen elements around him and ran a parallel Government. Imposing Emergency was probably more his idea than hers. But it suited her, so she played along and imprisoned several political leaders including the then-80 year old Morarji Desai. Her admirers even now proudly recollect that trains ran on time during emergency. They do not have any other grounds to defend the draconian emergency.
People in the know say that Indira Gandhi was solely responsible for the rise of Binderenwala which later led to the blood bath in the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
Popularity among the public is no yardstick to measure one's contribution. The Indian villagers have always blamed poverty on their fate and spared the rulers of any role in it. Politicians like Indira Gandhi reaped the benefits of such an innocent world-view of things. Indian people vote with their heart. I wish they voted with their mind or at least their stomach.
Indira Gandhi might have had several good traits as an individual. As a daughter, as a wife and as a mother. Even as a person interested in fine arts, literature and music. I do not know. But Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister was not a good thing that happened to India. People cite victory in Indo-Pak war of 1971 to praise her leadership qualities. Even granting it, a single achievement over a period of 18 years can not cloud all the overwhelming negatives.
Indira Gandhi's period throws up a lot of lessons to the people. Never hero-worship any leader. Never believe empty slogans. Never loosen the guard over democracy. Never vote for a politician because of his or her family background. Never trust a leader who thinks that Prime-ministership is God's gift to his or her family for all times to come.