This year completes hundred years of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s birth. She was born in the year of the Bolshevik Revolution and died when the chain of orthodox Bolsheviks was on the decline. Her age existed almost with the Russian Communism and she witnessed and dealt successfully the most tumultuous phase of modern history, the age of the Cold War.
Her ideology of action was human-centric which found support from socialism; she was also the first economic reformist as she worked on the new technology and used it successfully in the agricultural sector. Her reforms were not to make a liberal state but to strengthen the people and country. She implemented distri-butive justice even before the arrival of the theories of John Rawls by nationalising the banks in 1969 and making poverty alleviation as a major thrust of her political agenda.
She was the original leader. Though Nehru nurtured her with intellectual resources, she evolved as an autonomous individual and decided on crucial issues with decisiveness and non-interference from the external world. This was her attribute but her one grave mistake—the authoritarian tilt in the form of imposition of the Emergency was alien to the political soil of the country; and she was quick to realise her folly and returned to the democratic platform after lifting the Emergency in 1977. This was the time when in Pakistan, Bangladesh the authori-tarian regimes had come and continued but she returned to the original system. This established her as a truthful political leader and the reward was soon to follow: she was again at the helm of affairs in the next election.
This autonomy of her personality made her what she became in later years—a Prime Minister who is still remembered for her decisions. This autonomous thinking pattern was ingrained in her personality since her childhood when she desired to be the ‘Joan of Arc’. Even when Nehru was the Prime Minister and a towering personality in the Congress, she expressed herself when she went to sign with the Ginger Group though not belonging to it. Welles Hangen in his book After Nehru Who? says that “in January 1959 she signed a manifesto of the Congress party’s so-called ‘Ginger Group’ attacking the party for lethargy and failure to carry out its stated policies”.
Foreign policy is the policy-area where she succeeded more than the others. She was pragmatic as she established very good cohesive relations with the USSR in 1971 by concluding the Treaty of Friendship but she was not keen to be viewed as the satellite partner of the USSR and her organisation of the NAM meet in March 1983 in Delhi was a grand success that established India as a leader of the developing world. Fidel Castro’s political hug was acceptance of India as a leader at the global platform and solidarity among different cultures and nations for a fight against capitalist exploitation which led to South-South Coope-ration; though with her departure in 1984 the demands for the NIEO and South-South Coope-ration also weakened. It was her value and strength on the global platform that she continued her fight against powerful countries.
National interests governed her foreign policy decisions; she was a realist in the mould as Morgenthau had theorised. Her stand on the NPT and nuclear explosion in 1974 made India what it is today: a country of power, strength and substance.
She was a lady with scientific and environ-mental concerns. She had said at the 1972 Stockholm Conference: “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. Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters? For instance, unless we are in a position to provide employment and purchasing power for the daily necessities of the tribal people and those who live in or around our jungles, we cannot prevent them from combing the forest for food and livelihood; from poaching and from despoiling the vegetation. When they themselves feel deprived, how can we urge the preservation of animals? How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source? The environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty. Nor can poverty be eradicated without the use of science and technology.”
Her ideas on poverty matured with the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Develop-ment Goals. There can be no sustainable develop-ment as long as there exists poverty. She also highlighted in the Conference the concept of ‘Design For Living’, which the Indian delegation with others had proposed during the 14th UNESCO conference in 1968.
The world is yet to devise the design for genuine living about which Mrs Gandhi had talked in 1972. Her concerns for environment and emphasis on scientific approach to life, which she inherited from her father Pandit Nehru, found expression in the Fundamental Duties of Article 51 A in Part IV A which she introduced by the 42nd Constitutional Amend-ment wherein ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures; (and) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform’ were added; though at present the scientific approach has been pushed back and religious elements are being fed to the citizens of India.
Mrs Gandhi was a perfect social engineer; she developed the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) alliance in Gujarat with M. S. Solanki and kept together upper-caste Hindus with Muslims in political alliance in other States which ensured election victories with development promises. Though caste-based politics, an evil, took growth during her time, she never hindered development of new ideas and projects.
It is to her credit that the Telecom revolution started in her time and matured in Rajiv Gandhi’s time. Sam Pitroda, the Telecom Guru, has narrated his interaction with Mrs Gandhi during his first presentation in the book Dreaming Big: My Journey to Connect India (Sam Pitroda, David Chanoff) thus: “I don’t think Mrs Gandhi or the others in the room understood everything I was saying in the presentation, especially regarding the specifics of the technology. But what Mrs Gandhi did understand very well was the core of my vision. When I finished, she looked at me and said, ‘Good.’ And then she smiled. After Mrs Gandhi left the room it was as though the floodgates had opened. All the Ministers wanted to talk to me. They had heard her ‘Good’ and caught her smile. She had given me an hour—that in itself was a message. She had basically said: This idea has merit. Go ahead with it (and) on April 26, 1984, the Cabinet approved the creation of C-DOT and set aside a whopping 36 million dollars to be used over a three-year period.”
She was aware about the challenges emerging from the fundamentalist and neo-liberal forces; to deal with them she introduced the words Socialism and Secularism in the Preamble of the Constitution, thereby making these philoso-phical bases of governance of India as part of the constitutional ethos. She proved prophetic and India of today witnesses erosion of this ethos. India of today, particularly the youth, can learn a lot from her life. The courage, vision, pragmatism, hard work and country First and, above all, to learn from the mistakes and improve continuously and look forward for novel innovations are the values which can guide us. The girls of today can learn that all impediments—social, cultural, economic and others—are fleeting, the need is to organise and fight as Mrs Gandhi did several times in her illustrious life.
Dr Vivek Kumar Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur; he can be contacted at vpy1000[at]yahoo.co.in