Saturday, October 31, 2009

To the critics of Indira Gandhi

Ever since the British handed over the power, the greatest challenge in Indian politics till today always revolved round the alleviation of poverty and dissemination of national policies to the hand of the marginal people tickling down through the gigantic corruption of Indian Bureaucracy. Nevertheless, throughout in the first four decades of post Independence era, when neo-liberalism was not a fad of state policy and populism ruled a great part of democratic spectrum in the Europe and the India, Indira's legacy was one of the consistent mark of progress and social justice deeply entrenched in the Indian values of peace and harmony. However, for the most part of her career as a president of Indian National Congress and Indian prime minister, she has been branded as an autocratic and intolerant leader. Her opponents jump into the immediate example of emergency she imposed in 1975 suspending democracy of India. Besides, they bring several examples of small incidents where she treated ministers and office bearers as her own servants-she changed their chair at her mercy.

While all of this is true, we need to analyze her actions and consequences with historical context and further view it with the personality cult of Indira which was built as an assimilation of ideas from the greatest leaders of the 20th century like Gandhi, Rabindranath, Krishna Memon and not to mention Neheru himself. She had witnessed the brutality of British police in India with sharp contrast to British liberalism in Britain, lived in austerity with great defiance of materialism inspired by Krishna Menon, Gandhi and Tagore and finally for the most part of the second world war, although bed-ridden for acute tuberculosis, she volunteered to help the wounded in the battle of Britain. She had first hand experience of savagery of second world war and imperial police storming into Neheru's house almost as a monthly affair. Growing up with the bitter experience of western materialism and teaching of eastern spiritualism by Tagore and Gandhi, she developed a profound liking for social benevolence as opposed to aggression and inhumanity perpetrated by western imperialism. Therefore, for the rest part of her life, we would find her as a fierce leader against American imperialism, Pakistani atrocities in Bangladesh and social menaces of Indian tradition. She championed social democracy by nationalizing the banks and other national wealth solely inspired by cause of social justice rather than any left leaning ideology-she had none.

It will be worthwhile to take deeper look into emergency in India. On June 26th, 1975, why was she compelled to sacrifice democracy of India? Remember she admitted her mistakes publicly in 1980 for imposing the emergency. But was that too bad of a decision? Was it solely motivated by the greed of power when Alahabad High Court disqualified her MP status and subsequently imposed a ban of six years for fighting in the election?

Decree of emergency suspending all the civil liberties was issued by president Fakhruddin Ali Ahamed by article 352 of Indian constitution as advised by Indira Gandhi on 26th June, 1975. Wikipedia version of the situation that led to the event of emergency is quoted below:

Raj Narain, who had been defeated in parliamentary election by Indira Gandhi, lodged cases of election fraud and use of state machinery for election purposes against Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court. On June 12, 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court found the Prime Minister guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years. Ironically some serious charges such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held responsible for misusing the government machinery, and found guilty on charges such as using the state police to build a dais, availing the services of an IAS officer, Yashpal Kapoor, during the elections before he had resigned from his position, and use of electricity from the state electricity department. Because the court unseated her on comparatively frivolous charges, while she was acquitted on more serious charges, The Times described it as 'firing the Prime Minister for a traffic ticket'. However, strikes in labor and trade unions, student unions and government unions swept across the country. Protests led by J.P.Narayan, Raj Narain and Morarji Desai flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the PM's residence. The persistent efforts of Raj Narain, was praised worldwide as it took over 4 years for Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha to finally pass judgement against Indira Gandhi. The ruling later became the primary reason for the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi. It also encouraged greater belief in the judiciary and democracy in India.

When you read the history like this, anybody will get into a convincing belief that Indira had no other reason but to save her chair and power when clearly she was deposed by ruling of Alahabad High Court. But in all fairness, did we ask ourselves the question, was that ruling so unsettling for her as we all may think? Sonia Gandhi is no prime minister of India and yet she is still Congress supremo, the most powerful politician of India. Indira would have stepped down very easily as PM and would have continued to be president of INC-would that had taken her out of power corridor? No way. Then when there was no reason to believe she would not have lost any control of power even by following High Court ruling of Allahabad Court, why did she impose emergency? Remember Supreme Court of India granted a conditional stay of execution on 24th June-2 days before the emergency. Therefore, she was not at all under constitutional crisis when she declared the emergency as the case was hanging in Supreme Court with a clear stay order. She would have fought and won easily given that the allegation was not good enough to unseat her from PM position although Supreme Court might have ordered re-election as she indeed violated the election laws in 1971 which she admitted in later years. Later in 1975 Supreme Court nullified Alahabad High Court order but since, it happened during suspension of democracy, we should not view that to be a perfectly neutral judgment.

Indeed, all evidences in hand suggest, it was not the lust for her power but for the fact Jayprakash Narayn almost brought India to a virual halt, Indira was forced to take a very unpleasant decision as patriotic nationalist. GDP growth was sinking to worst during 1973-1975 as opposition movement unleashed reign of strikes throughout the country and Indira observed "People tend to forget their duties but remember their rights ".

Last sentence was the clue. In 20th century all the great civil and communist movements fell flat on the face because of the fact that while fighting for the right of equality and civic liberties, those political systems ignored production and logistic need to be maintained , people need to be fed and jobs have to be generated. Else, the state would collapse. In West Bengal, I do believe we have achieved more social equality and removed caste barriers than other parts of India because of progressive Left Front Government but at the end, the state is simply collapsing because of what Indira said- Left Front government was more concerned about the political right of the people than make them aware of their duties. This resulted in a complete stagnation and virtual collapse of the state economy which has the highest number of registered unemployed youths and lowest median salary even for those who are employed.

Indira believed in Nationalistic Socialism and as it was true for other leaders of same ideology, national progress always outweighed democracy in their line of thinking. Indeed Indira was quite aware of this when she said "My father was a statesman, I am a political woman. My father was a saint. I am not." And she had courage to speak that because she was imbibed with nationalism "Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood... will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic"

And she looked back at JP's movement from two angles-first it was impediment and obstacle to national growth and secondly, she has been victimized by conspiracy of male politicians all over the India because guided by inherent male ego, they could not put up with the image of a strong woman. Therefore she said "All my games were political games; I was, like Joan of Arc, perpetually being burned at the stake."

So it is clear that she saw JP's agitation as danger to national growth as it can easily be cited by the GDP growth data during 1974-1975 when per capita GDP fell from $164 to $156 ! One of the rare year in the history of post Independence in which India achieved negative growth thanks to JP's call to shutdown the whole country! I don't think, Indira would have at all cared for her possible ousting from Indian PM position as she was well secured in the INC but such a cataclysmic failure of Indian economy thanks to JP's agitation had to be put to an end or else, India as a nation was clearly sinking. Remember she was able to reverse the trend of negative growth to highly positive one-in 1977 when India's per capita GDP roofed to $184! Almost more than 15% growth over 1976 which India would never achieve again even in the early years of vibrant neo-liberalism of 91-2000! While I would never advocate growth by sacrificing democracy but when India was sinking to nadir, people were losing jobs left and right, whatelse she would have done? And indeed emergency achieved what it was intended for-reversing the negative GDP trend to a very high positive growth which a poor country like India desperately needed to struggle against hunger and chronic unemployment.

So to all of her critics, I would speak what she spoke "There exists no politician in India daring enough to attempt to explain to the masses that cows can be eaten" . Yes, when such is the pathetic state of populism in the politics of India, we do need a leader like Indira Gandhi who would have courage to take unpopular decision for the sake of national interest.