Untold history of Humanity Reflection on the life of Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi was elected president of the Indian National Congress in 1959. After her father’s death, Indiraji was first
appointed minister of information and broadcasting. Her coming to politics was not dynastic, though it came misleadingly to appear so. When her father’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died abruptly in 1966, she was appointed as prime minister of India. She was elevated to the leadership of the Congress party in one of the most difficult trying periods in the history of the party. Indira Gandhi was a clever and tactical politician, who held the office of the Prime Minister for 15 years in two separate tenures.
In Hilaire Belloc;s lines: Indira ji was like ‘ King’s command when all the swords are drawn’ The world was a bi-polar bloc
during Indira Gandhi’s helm of affairs. The Cold War was at its height. One bloc was led by the US and other by the Soviet
Indira Gandhi followed a policy of non-alignment as laid down by her father Jawaharlal Nehru. Her role in the non-aligned
moment was duly recognised at the Seventh Conference of NAM at New Delhi in 1983, when she was elected its chairperson in 1983. Her
performance as the NAM Chairperson was superb and balanced, and it commanded respect not only of member-states but also of the superpowers. This Conference became a historic one and the resolutions passed at the Conference reflected Indira Gandhi’s statesmanship and farsightedness. Her most important contribution in the realm of world peace was the shaping of the NAM. It also led to a better understanding of the common problems of freedom, peace and social justice for the people of the Third World. It was through this Conference that Indiraji made a feel of humanity important in the UN.
In one of her speeches in 1983 Indiraji quotes: The crisis which confronts our civilization today is unprecedented in history. Great tasks call for wise decisions. We appeal to the great powers to give up mistrust, engage in sincere, forward-looking negotiations in a spirit of shared good faith to reach agreement on various disarmament measures and to find a way out of the deepening economic crisis which threatens all of us. Unitedly, the measures of the Non-aligned Movement are prepared to do everything in this process. The earth belongs to us all let us cherish it in peace and true brotherhood, based on the dignity and equality of man”.
This provided the ultimate death to cold war and Rajiv ji vigorously pursued it. This movement of non-aligned is now cold shouldered by the present regime of India. On March 26, 1971, before being arrested by the Pakistan military, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, declared independence of East Pakistan and asked his people to continue the fight ‘till the last Pakistani army’ was driven away from Bangladesh. Shortly after he declared independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested by the Pakistan army.
President Yahya Khan and his military commanders committed atrocities on unarmed civilians, killing them in thousands. Bengali women were raped indiscriminately and their houses set on fire to crush the rebellion, which was termed an “Indian-inspired” conspiracy.
The unprecedented atrocities led to a mass exodus to India, where an estimated 10 million people took refuge for nine months. Indira
Gandhi stands as a great champion of humanity when safe shelter was provided to the unprecedented migrants from Bangladesh.
India, under Indira Gandhi, opened its eastern borders allowing streams of refugees to take shelter. When the elected representatives of people formed a government in exile, with imprisoned Mujib becoming the President and Tajuddin Ahmed Prime Minister, India helped settle the provisional government and finally got involved in the war first indirectly but later directly, when Pakistan opened another front in India’s western region.
Supported by the then Socialist bloc, led by the Soviet Union, Indira Gandhi, despite being the lone voice against the mighty
U.S., travelled across the world to mobilise support for the beleaguered people of Bangladesh.
In 1971 India struggled to cope with the huge influx of Bengali refugees from East Pakistan fleeing persecution. India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had not only planned and prepared for this war, it also armed and trained the Mukti Bahini (or Liberation Army) —which wanted freedom from West Pakistan - for quite a while. War was officially declared on December 3, 1971, after Pakistani aircraft strafed 11 Indian Air bases in the west in an attempted pre-emptive strike. As India engaged with the Pakistan in the east and the west, The Soviet Union and the United States took sides. The US, under President Richard Nixon, chose Pakistan. But before the two nuclear powers and Cold War rivals could get actively involved, Pakistan’s eastern wing surrendered to the Indian forces. The war was over. Bangladesh was born. The soldiers captured by Indian Army were released gracefully and sent to Pakistan.
This is the greatest gesture of humanity every demonstrated by any wining nation on the totally devastated nation viz. Pakistan. The political and personal role of Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 is inseparable from the country’s history. Under Indira Gandhi’s able leadership, India provided shelter, food and medicines to about 10 million people who fled their homes to the neighbouring West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam, to escape the marauding Pakistani army and its hoodlums.
Despite an adverse international atmosphere the United States supported Pakistan India extended full support to the Bangladeshi freedom fighters providing them arms and training facilities. And, finally, it sent its troops to fight against the Pakistani forces under a Joint Command with Bangladesh. US had moved its 7th Fleet across the Indian Ocean to coerce India to surrender. But for the timely and boldest action of Indira ji, India would have surrendered and the nation’s honour and pride would have been shattered to pieces. She stood like Joan of Arc in the midst of utmost adversity.
With the clear and decisive victory, India established itself as a major power and force in the world. Indira Gandhi emerged
as the world’s most popular and powerful leader. In her letter to Nixon, she refrained from scoring any points beyond referring her deep hurt at American culpability in a situation, where the potential for constructive US action was warranted. Henry Kissinger
admits in his memoirs that Indira Gandhi outclassed and outmanoeuvred Nixon and Kissinger. It was a giant leap in international stature. The year 1971 represented the peak of her political career. She tackled Nixon on equal terms. Even her bitter critics were forced to admire her prowess. Sri. Atal Behari Vajpayee proclaimed Indiraji as ‘Durga’, the ultimate Goddess. The present leadership need to take lessons from such historical episodes.
Indira Gandhi and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement on 2nd July 1972. The two leaders eventually, agreeing to resolve the dispute of Kashmir by peaceful means. Her work eventually led to the creation of the new and independent nation of Bangladesh. But it is sad to note that her efforts have gone unnoticed. Besides providing support and refuge to the people of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi travelled across the world to mobilise support for the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Sheikh Hasina’s government in 2011, decided to confer the Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona on Indira Gandhi posthumously for her outstanding contribution to the country’s independence from Pakistan. Indira Gandhi, in fact, was the first foreigner to be given the highest state honour. Indiraji acquired international reputation as a statesman, and there is no doubt that she was extraordinarily
skilled in politics. Her slogans, and one — Garibi Hatao, “Remove Poverty” — became the rallying slogan for one of her election campaigns. She was convinced that only if the nation’s industry, agriculture and services were closely guided by the state, equity
and justice be assured. She was wary of imperialist pressures on India- political, educational and economic she never relinquished her belief that foreign hands would always seek to undermine not only stability and independence but also political power as well. Indiraji also led a movement that came to be known as the ‘Green Revolution’. In an effort to address the chronic food shortages that mainly affected the extremely poor Sikh farmers of the Punjab region, Indira Gandhi decided to increase crop diversification and food exports as a way out of the problem, creating new jobs as well as food for the countrymen. She brought about great change in
agricultural programs that improved the lot of her country’s poor. The revolution in agriculture ushered in by Indiraji provided India the necessary platform to create surplus food for the nation from the acute shortage situation. This is a great sterling role played by her in the economy of the country. The Blue Revolution ushered in by Indiraji was yet another hall mark in the sector of animal husbandry. The 20 point programme, aimed at ending poverty of the Indian masses, Indiraji introduced the programme for her deep concern for poor while her commitment to eradicate poverty was universal. 1967, when Indiraji was the Prime Minister, she endorsed India’s strategic atomic energy programme. India has always stood for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but on several occasions the country has made it abundantly clear that it will not be cowed down by a nuclear threat. In 1974, Smt. Gandhi okayed nuclear tests which were carried out in Pokhran near the Thar desert thus putting India on the international scientific map. Smt. Gandhi wrote to her Pakistani counterpart to assure him that India would use nuclear power only for peaceful purposes. This signalled India’s nuclear potential and its unwillingness to abide by the nuclear rules of the superpowers.
Indira Gandhi is symbolised as the Third World’s champion of resurrection. Under her dynamic leadership, Indian foreign policy matured from the conscious assertion of the rights and aspirations of newly free nations to a keen awareness on their part of their own responsibility in the global context. By not signing the NPT she gained political applauds for upholding India’s independence and for taking a principled stand against a discriminatory treaty. With Indira Gandhi at the helm, India re-emerged and made a mark in the world as an unrivalled leader and a champion of the Third World. Indira Gandhi reflected the restless spirit of mankind desiring to establish a world order free from human sufferings. She struggled for the creation of an essentially human order in place of one based on brute force. She was against all forms of domination and exploitation of one country by another. She opposed colonialism and racialism on the ground that
these created tensions and hostility. She firmly believed that the adoption of non-alignment by a fairly large number of countries would automatically widen the area of peace and security. She advocated disarmament which alone could bring confidence and hope for survival among the neglected people of the world. Indira Gandhi’s role in guiding the developing nations of the world and her personal contribution towards disarmament, global peace and fight against hunger were duly acknowledged by the international community. The image of India as a country which had to be taken seriously was definitely her biggest contribution.
Economically, Indira Gandhi led India to one of the fastest growing economies in the world toward the end of her time as Prime Minister. Indira ji is still remembered for her lasting legacy in varied fields. When India gained Independence, our banking system had a total of 96 reporting banks with a total cash deposit of Rs 43.43 crore. Most of the banks were privately owned and only a very low proportion of banks were located in rural areas, making it extremely difficult for the Indian farmer to access agricultural credit. Not that the private banks were very keen in the first place to bail out a farmer in financial distress. Indira ji was committed to greater financial inclusion and the need of farmers. In July 1969 she nationalised 14 banks which held nearly 75% of all private deposits. A decade later, in 1979, the total number of branches of these banks increased more than three-fold; from 8,262 in 1969 to 30,202 in 1979. Today the Aggregate Deposits of Nationalised Banks is Rs. 4978988.15 crore and the total Branches of Nationalised banks are 64711. Nationalisation of Banks was one of the most impressive hall marks of achievements of Indira Gandhi.
The firm foundation Indiraji laid for the banking system in India, led to the survival of Indian Banking even during the
World Economic Recession of 2008-09. Not a single Indian bank was shut down while many prominent banks across the world collapsed under the adverse effect of recession which includes the US, UK and many Middle East countries.
Many radical reforms - land ceiling, land to the tillers, liberation of bonded labour, liquidation of rural debts, and empowerment of artisans were the successful hallmarks of programmes of Indiraji that could not be implemented but for the declaration of emergency in the year 1975. The author has personally witnessed many episodes of Indira Gandhi which reflected her great strides of humanity even at the worst period of crisis. Indiraji was expelled from the Parliament in the darkest days of Parliamentary democracy.
She had chosen to contest from Chikmagalur Lok Sabha from Karnataka. Several attempts were made to assassinate Indiraji. During one of her campaigns the author along with Indiraji were passing through Karkal which was one of the assembly segments in Chikmagalur Lok Sabha. The author sensed that the rivals had conspired to attack her and consequently, the route was diverted and Indiraji was taken to the Travellers Bungalow. Indiraji became quite furious and entered the room and refused to take food. The author waited for more than four hour and later when Indiraji came out, she enquired whether the author had taken his food. The streak of her motherly affection is always manifest. Later in the morning when she came to know of the conspiracy, she confided in me that she was harsh on me the previous night.
When the opponents in the Congress party was quite active in 1979, they hatched a conspiracy to make Congress Mukt Bharat under the Jantha Dal and also erase the reputation of Indiraji from Indian history. The author boldly told Indiraji that a conspiracy is on to erase the Congress and she had to take action to defeat the rivals in the party. She said she has already suffered international reputation on the ground that she is after grabbing power and did not want to take any action to capture any longer. The author reminded that the conspiracy was to make Congress Mukt Bharat and consequently the democracy of the country will be at perils. In the interest of upholding democratic values and safeguarding the party from oblivion, she need to step up and save the INC and democracy in the country. Replying to me she said ‘you are stepping into a dangerous zone where the opponents will target not only me but also you so take care of yourself and your family and get back to Bangalore’. Even though I succeeded in my endeavour to make her get back into active politics, I could witness what Indiraji did was in the interest of the party and the country and in upholding democratic values and ethos.
The opponents of Indiraji, just ignored the positive impacts of the programmes by enforcing the rule of law in the country
while reminding only some of the evil effects of emergency created by the elements without the knowledge of Indira Gandhi. No sooner, Indiraji realised that emergency will not serve the purpose of democracy of the country, she did not wait for a minute to repeal emergency and declare election.
This kind of high democratic ethos and humanitarian spirit was unfortunately not recognised by many. The movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, gave a call to army and police to revolt against the democratic government and this compelled invoking emergency to save democracy. Perhaps future historians will definitely call this action as saviour of democracy or otherwise anarchy would have prevailed and we would have been one like Pakistan or Myanmar and many other nations where democracy is curbed and dictatorship and military rule emerged.
Indiraji, always had Indian interest in International events and world affairs. She believed that India had earned, through
its own efforts and often mentioned India’s breakthrough in agricultural productions and public distribution system in many international forums. She had India’s national interest but she was also an internationalist in thinking and vision. The UN held the first global conference on the human environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm in June 1972.
Indira Gandhi was an Indian to the core but at the same time her vision went far beyond her own nation and embraced the entire human race. Indira Gandhi used the platform to express the inextricable goals of poverty alleviation and environmental protection. “There are grave misgivings that the discussion on ecology may be designed to distract attention from the problems of war and poverty,” she said. “We have to prove to the disinherited majority of the world that ecology and conservation will not work against their interest but will bring an improvement in their lives.”
Indiraji further, said “We do not wish to impoverish the environment any further and yet we cannot for a moment forget the grim poverty of large numbers of people,” she said. “Are not poverty the greatest polluters?” This statement has echoed down the halls of climate change debate ever since. Indiraji was referring to the realities of life below the poverty line. “Who can care for the environment when their basic needs are not being met?” She quoted. “The environmental problems of developing countries are not the side effects of excessive industrialisation but reflect the inadequacy of development,”
The conference in Stockholm also gave birth to the concept of global environmental co-operation. The final declaration of the meeting called on all nations to take responsibility for the environment and encouraged a collegium approach. She enjoyed well-deserved prestige and profound respect on the international scene. Indiraji stood up as a world leader by her bold declaration at the Stockholm Global Conference on Environment. This demonstrates her strong concern for mankind and its welfare.
In the elections following her defeat after the Emergency Indiraji toured northern India for days, sleeping very little at night. Once when asked by the then German ambassador if she did not feel fagged out, she replied: “Tiredness is a state of the mind, not of the body.” Behind Indiraji’s soft exterior and smile, lay an indomitable spirit, self determination, unerring women instinct, and a rare political sagacity. She took decisive action with courage and faith.
The first war on terrorism in the world was launched by Indiraji against the Sikh militants led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale who had made the Golden Temple a safe shelter for the militants. Indiraji’s took firm step to cleanse the holy Sikh shrine from the terrorists holed up there. This later cost her life and she became a victim, assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards mercilessly.
Historians will have to correct history because this was the first act on terrorism in any country and later terrorism proved to be the greatest menace on humanity and mankind. She shined like a beacon light in laying down her life in the service of humanity against hate and terrorism. Indiraji declared that: ‘If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation‘. Next day she was no more.
Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time. Non-violence is not a sterile passivity but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. As one penetrates deeper and deeper in the search of truth, he discovers the basic truth of his spiritual nature over and above his sensate nature and his spiritual unity and solidarity with all existence. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.
In this rapidly changing world man as a human being is becoming eliminated. He is becoming a thing, a mere object. His hopes and visions yield to the material ends of increased production and consumption. He finds it difficult, if not impossible, to exercise independent judgment. We have no personal dimension,. We have lost our desire for private life. We have become helpless pawns with no freedom of choice or action. We are becoming parts of a huge machine and we sacrifice ourselves in an ecstasy of enthusiasm for the good of the machine. Thus we are at cross-roads of history. We are not able to develop a firm attitude of purposeful hostility towards the danger of universal destruction. We are courting it by our attitudes and actions. We seem to be moving towards a world catastrophe with our eyes wide open and our ears deaf to the voice of the law of non-violence.
n man, there is always an urge to self-transcendence; but, until it becomes absolute unselfishness, narrow loyalties and destructive rivalries will prevail. The unrest in the world is a reflection of our inner disharmony. People are saved not by their military leaders or industrial magnates or by their priests and politicians, but by their leaders of impeccable integrity, patriotism and high sense of humanism. We should bear in mind that the doctrine of Ahimsa or non-violence, if rightly understood and practised, leads us to self-reliance, self-realisation, self-control, sympathy and serenity. It leads us to everlasting bliss.
Nothing was less inevitable in modern Indian politics than Indira Gandhi’s rise to power. Indira Gandhi is and will be remembered as the most popular, powerful and enlightened Prime Minister of India and the most forward looking leader, who brought her country to the world’s stage.
Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984, marked the passing of the generation that brought India to independence. She was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest political leaders of India. She was the champion of the Third World and will be remembered as the greatest stateswomen the world has ever seen. She was like a mother to her cadres.... mother to the suffering humanity of the world and her heart was always pulsating to uphold the cause of mankind. Indiraji always remained as a beacon light of humanity.
In her first press conference, after taking charge as the party chief Indiraji said ‘The nation is in a hurry and we can’t afford
to lose time. My complaint against the Congress is that it is not going as fast as people are advancing....”
These words are even more relevant today as Congress faces defeat after defeat and the Congress cadres are in disarray. It is time we re-think on the above lines if we need to counter the forces trying to achieve their dream- ‘Congress Mukth
Bharat’. While the history and future of Indian National Congress is enduring every Indian and Congressman will have to be cautious on the evil design of the rivals who are out to demolish the democratic spirit nurtured through the blood of the great martyrs like Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Rajiv Gandhi and lakhs and lakhs of martyrs who laid down their lives for India.