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December 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         December 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Dec' 2017


Her signature was Leadership !

S. Narendra

As an Indian I was both sad and upset to see in my morning daily newspaper a half-page bland display advertisement on Indira Gandhi by the Congress party announcing on 19th November her birth centenary.The party in its present form, under dynastic leadership, continues to exist solely because of Mrs Gandhi's daring and successful confrontation against the old guard in 1969. The party's credentials as a pro-poor, secular outfit with pan -India appeal are based largely on her record. Even posthumously, her name earns votes. The half-page newspaper tribute is one more evidence of the absence of imagination and leadership in the party. Purely in utilitarian terms, Indira Gandhi's centenary was a great opening for reminding the post -1991 Liberalisation generation of the unquestionable contribution of Indira Gandhi in putting India first in several fields. This was also a missed opportunity to come forward with the leadership's vision for a youthful India, especially when Rahul Gandhi is likely to replace his mother as party president.

Like all political leaders who wielded enormous power about whom posterity reads in history books, Indira Gandhi's record was mixed. As an adversary,she was formidable and the present ruling establishment has lots of causes to despise her. But we as a nation have to thank her for a lot of things that may be politically inconvenient for the present rulers.
Again as a nation, we cannot forgive her for imposing 'her political emergency' in 1975, abusing the Constitution. Nothing prevented Indiraji of those days from preceding Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and many others who declared themselves to be heads of their governments for life.
But she redeemed herself by abruptly ending the emergency and opting for election in early 1977.And, Indiraji should be remembered for this act alone, If not for other reasons I am about to list.
I was more upset to see the Congress tokenism, because if in power, the party would have splurged government money on 'celebrating' Indiraji's centenary and made it a political event. In 1969, the party and Indiraji politically exploited Gandhiji's birth centenary and claimed impliedly that Indiraji was out to fulfil Gandhiji's dream of wiping the tears of the last man in the line [the talisman].
In 1989, an election year, Rajiv Gandhi's government opened the government purse to observe the Nehru centenary for a year to tell the nation that his grandson deserved to be rewarded by the electorate.

Dakshin Gangotri In 1969, the Nehru family's hold on power was about to slip out. Indiraji resolutely rescued the dynasty and made the Congress a family owned party, against daunting odds.She, thus, set the trend of dynastic politics.
Regional leaders-Karunanidhi, Jayalitha, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Patnaik, Deve Gowda, to name a few,later only followed her example of promoting dynasties.
What all did the Congress party miss out to tell? The present government is presenting its successful confrontation against China at Doklam as an example what strong leadership could achieve. No doubt, that must be noted and applauded. The successful face-off against China was facilitated by Indiraji's gutsy master stroke in making Sikkim a part of India in 1975, where the Indian army ,at present ,is deployed in strength.
For those unfamiliar with Doklam geography, it is at the tri-junction between Sikkim,Bhutan and China, a highly contested territory, important for India as it helps in protecting the narrow(24 km wide) Siliguri corridor that connects the North-East States to the rest of India. If Sikkim were not part of India, it would have placed India in a precarious situation.
The Sikkim annexation was not the only peaceful expansion of India's territory. Indiraji was also responsible for the ground work that entitled India to a piece of territory in the Antartic, one among half a dozen countries to set up research stations there. Not only that India's exclusive rights to explore polymetallic nodules from sea-bed in central Indian Ocean basin have been extended by five years in August 2017. These rights are over 75000 sq kms of area in international waters allocated by International Seabed Authority for development activities for polymetallic nodules.

How did that come about? This was possible because the government set up a separate Ocean Development Department in 1981 and encouraged it to pioneer in developing seabed survey and research, including the technology for seabed mining. The Ocean Department and the Indian Navy cooperated in carrying out the sea bed survey in 2000, that entitled India to claim seabed territory.

Chandrayaan ISRO, India's space agency, is globally hailed for its innovation in the satellite technology business. The Space Commission and ISRO took shape in 1969 and Aryabhata satellite went up in 1975. Satellite TV broadcasting was introduced through SITE experiment; this was followed by satellite telephony experiment. Indiraji was criticised for spending money on fancy projects. In a congratulatory message to ISRO, Indiraji had said; 'expensive high technology was low cost in the long term when harnessed for development'. ISRO's Chandrayaan and other odysseys have made the country proud.
Pokharan-II nuclear explosions in 1998 made India a nuclear power, and in 2009 India shed its status as a nuclear pariah when the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement was signed. The efforts of the present government to gain the membership of NSG, pacts for nuclear cooperation with Japan and with others, would not have been possible without Pokharan- I in 1974.

Coming to the strides made in agriculture, rural development, poverty reduction and Make in India, the humongous contribution of the nationalised banks must be acknowledged.

Pokharan-I When Mrs Gandhi nationalized the 14 commercial banks on July 19, 1969, their total number of branches was less than 2000 and their total deposits was less than Rs3000 crores.Of the total bank lending, barely 1.75 per cent went to agriculture.
When the present government is taking credit for announcing the earmarking of highest bank credit (10 lakh crore) for agriculture, it has to be noted that this would not have been possible if the banks had not been nationalized. India now can boast of being a leading producer of milk, vegetables and fruits and agriproducts.

Impartial research would show that the farm and rural directional change in economic growth and development was ushered in by the 1970 budget. Prime minister Indira Gandhi had presented this budget as the finance minister. A document accompanying the Budget-titled 'growth with social justice' had launched the small farmers development agency, dry land development agency and many others with self-employment avenues (dairy farming, poultry, animal husbandry) assisted by nationalised bank finance. This white revolution is noted but its author is less remembered. Indiraji's CSRE {1972} or crash scheme for rural employment has now turned into MNREGA, aboon to landless labour in drought seasons.

The government's direct intervention for reducing poverty, distress in agriculture took off in a big way. Of course, lots of money has been syphoned off by politicians of all hues from such schemes but Mrs Gandhi cannot be blamed for the leakages. Politics teaches its practitioners to tap into any and every government programme with a kitty. This 1970 budget also tightened the 'Licence raj', under which many industrial houses, new and old, flourished. And, crony capitalism spawned big businesses.Owners of some of them today are making it to the list of billionaires in the Forbes magazine.

Her finest hour, and that of India, was December 16, 1971 when the Pakistan army surrendered to the Indian army at Dacca in Bangladesh and the latter became an independent country. On that occasion, the poet in Atal Behari Vajpayeeji came out to anoint her as 'Durga'. This powerful and benign 'Durga', unfortunately, showed to the future prime minister and to her other political rivals her dark face in 1975.

The opposition and the regional parties also must thank her for breaking the cycle of simultaneous elections to the Lok sabha and the state assemblies in 1971. The argument advanced then was that the issues in play in a parliamentary poll are national in nature,unlike in Assembly elections in which regional and local issues are agitated. This one Indira move incapacitated the Congress juggernaut from steamrolling into power across states.Smaller and regional political outfits had very little chance of coming to power if simultaneous polls were held for the Lok sabha and assemblies. Strangely, now there is talk of undoing this in the hope of establishing a political monolith on the lines of the Congress party before 1967.

Pokharan-II History has mysterious ways of revisiting itself. Unlike her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, after India's victory over Pakistan in 1971, Indiraji` veered towards the cult of personality. Wikipedia explains it thus: cult of personality arises when a regime uses mass media, propaganda or other methods such as government - organized demonstrations to create an idealized, heroic and at times worshipful image of a leader,often through unquestioning flattery and praise.

Jawaharlal Nehru Her party president Devkant Barooah became famous with his quote; 'Indira is India'. Indiraji became irritated by media criticism and began to ignore the media. She had said that the media represent 0.001 per cent of the population and public opinion. Editors like B.G.Verghese who were critical of her policies and centralisation of power, came under their newspaper owners' pressure and were sacked. Her contempt for free media, not unexpectedly, showed up as media censorship during the emergency.
However, her contribution to media development was significant.Under her instructions, the TV training was added to the Film and Television Institute in Pune in 1974 and the institution became a full-fledged visual media training facility with full government support. The film documentary wing as well as the film development corporation for financing creative films flourished.
The newspaper industry starved of newsprint due to global scarcity let out a sigh of relief when the government responded to its appeal for producing newsprint by government mills.
Indira Gandhi, when she became PM after the sudden death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, initially did not have power; it was wielded by her appointees in the party. But she acquired it by sheer dint of her determination and wielded it demonstratively.

The academic literature on Power states that power is rarely given; It has to be acquired and exercised and make others feel it in action. She brought that into full play in the months leading up to the Indo-Pak confrontation over Bangladesh.
The crisis was an opportunity for Indira Gandhi to establish herself as a leader to be reckoned with internationally. Her face-off with US President Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger is well documented. The Indo-USSR 20- year agreement for peace and friendship signed a little before the Indo-Pak war of 1971, was a diplomatic coup that unsettled both the US and China that were siding with Pakistan.

This pact, according to some commentators, stopped the US from sending a contingent of its 7th Fleet into Indian Ocean to browbeat India.

Many Indians love Indira Gandhi for what she stood for and what she did. Many Indians shun her memory for what she did between 1975-77.But her imprint on the post-Independence history of India is indelible. In the government policy area, the shadows of her polices linger, though unacknowledged. Her signature was leadership!