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Mainstream, VOL LV No 48 New Delhi November 18, 2017

The Indira Legacy | PC Joshi

Sunday 19 November 2017

by P.C. Joshi *

Indira Gandhi is no more. The people of India are slowly emerging out of the trauma of her brutal assassination. Their psychological state is that of a people stricken by a massive earthquake, struggling with themselves to face the devastation and to start the processes of repair and reconstruction. What has stricken India, however, is not a natural calamity but a social, man-made, disaster. It has been caused by the evil forces generated from within but buttressed from outside. The menace is not yet over but it continues to hang like a dark cloud over our life in the present and the future. This menace can be fought only with the full involvement of each one of us.

We continue to be haunted by the question: Who killed Indira Gandhi? Let the Commission of Enquiry set up by the Government of India deal with this question. But it would be a great underestimation of the gravity of the danger facing us if our attention is concentrated solely on identifying the assassins who riddled Indira’s body with a shower of bullets and the elaborate network supporting them. We must promptly focus our attention on the evil forces which created a political environment hostile to Indira Gandhi’s leadership and to the principle of secularism so dear to her. What killed Indira Gandhi? This is the more pertinent question that we must ask ourselves. The assassins were the products of a pernicious social psychology, of a poisoned political environment, and unless this psychology and this environment are purified and cleansed through a collective national effort by all of us, the danger will continue to hang like a dark cloud over our present and future.

Let us not forget that this is the second assassination — the first one was in 1948 which resulted in the martyrdom of the Father of the Nation. Nehru warned us then of the communal poison being spread in the country which had an effect on people’s minds. Indira Gandhi had also been warning us of the communal poison which was being spread during the past years and months, polluting our political environment and distorting people’s attitudes and conscious-ness. It is this poison of vicious religious fanaticism that we see around us, fanaticism of an aggressive militant type having political and monetary support from powerful forces outside the country. Our complacency, our lack of unity and internal vigilance, our weak commitment to secularism, the looseness of our state apparatus at key points—all these have helped the forces of fanaticism to feel emboldened to strike at Indira Gandhi, the very symbol of India’s unity in diversity.

At the time of the Mahatma’s assassination, Nehru had called upon the Indian people “to face this poison of communalism, to root it out, to face all the perils that encompass us, and to face them not madly or badly, but rather in the way that our beloved leader taught us to face them”. Indira had also called on her countrymen, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others “not to shed blood but to shed hatred” and to cooperate in fighting poverty, disease, illiteracy, inequality and social oppression. These evils do not discriminate between people of one religion and another but they afflict the vast majority of people from all religions.

How to prevent the communal poison from spreading fast in India’s social organism and from corroding the vitals of Indian polity — this is the foremost task which should occupy us at this hour of crisis. Each one of us must resist the poisoning of our own minds and souls by this virus of communal fanaticism and give our anti-communal commitment a practical form. Let every Hindu take a pledge to protect and rehabilitate every afflicted Sikh in the Hindu majority areas; and let every Sikh take a pledge to protect every Hindu in Sikh majority areas. How we act in the Capital city of Delhi will determine what happens elsewhere.

A sinister attempt is being made to tarnish the image of the entire Sikh community as fanatic and communal, just because the assassins of Indira happened to belong to it. This must be stopped at all costs, this poisoning of the Hindu mind and this falsifying of Indian history. We must awaken the national consciousness of our Sikh brothers who are under the influence of communal fanatics; let us make them aware of the great teachings of the Gurus and of their great patriotic heritage and tradition. Let us enlighten the Hindus unaware of the great contribution of our Sikh brothers to the anti-imperialist movement for freedom and the anti-feudal struggles for social emancipation.

Amritsar is a holy city with its Golden Temple embodying the heritage of the great Gurus. It is also holy because of the martyrs’ memorial at Jallianwalabagh where the blood of Hindus and Sikhs mingled together in resisting tyrants who showered bullets on unarmed citizens, both Hindus and Sikhs. Jallianwalabagh symbolises the undying unity of Hindus and Sikhs who became martyrs in the common cause of freedom. We remember the immortal revolutionaries of Punjab, including Sardar Bhagat Singh, whose very name became the synonym for patriotism. We recall how the pledge for Puma Swaraj was taken on December 31, 1929, on the banks of the river Ravi, a pledge the echoes of which reverberated throughout the length and breadth of the country from Punjab. Above all, we recall Guru Nanak and his immortal words. Highly relevant for today are the following utterances of Nanak:

There is no counting fools, the morally blind,
No counting thieves and the crooked,
No counting the shedders of innocent blood,
No counting the sinners who go on sinning,
No counting the liars who take pleasure in lies,
No counting the dirty wretches who live on filth,
No counting the calumniators,
Who carry about on their heads the loads of sin,
Thus said Nanak, the lowliest of the lowly!

Let us not commit today the unpardonable sin of vilifying a whole community for the sins of a few fanatics who happen to act in the name of this community. Let not the fanatics by their evil acts be allowed to obscure the great traditions and the heritage of a community which produced sages like Guru Nanak and martyrs like Bhagat Singh and whose contributions to pre-independence India and to independent India are so rich and varied. We must preserve our faith that certain members of this community, now under the influence of anti-secular and secessionist ideology, will soon return to the national mainstream of liberalism and secularism and nationalism. Let us not forget that Indira Gandhi was the first to recognise the grave danger posed by communal fanaticism but she never lost faith in the people’s capacity to overcome and eradicate it. She always distinguished between the few hardened fanatics and large sections of the community who were not inherently communal but were misled by communal propaganda. She persevered in her effort to win over and re-educate the erring members of this heroic community.

How shall we remember Indira Gandhi? We remember her today with a deep feeling of anguish, a gnawing sense of shame, for our failure, nay reluctance, to adequately understand the Indira phenomenon, the bigness of Indira and her leadership in today’s India. It is only after her demise that we see so clearly how she stood like a rock between order and chaos, between progress and reaction, between independence and neo-colonial domination, between communalism and secularism. When she warned us that internal and external vested interests were joining together and conspiring against India and that she was the principal target of their attack for her unshakable determination to keep India strong and united, we thought she had political motives in raising the bogey of danger to the country. We were guilty of dismissing in a light-hearted manner the grave danger to India and to Indira that was gathering on the horizon. Thus small men with small minds and small ambitions tried to interpret Indira’s thoughts, dreams and actions in a small way. They were incapable of grasping the bigness of the issues which Indira raised at every forum and on every platform where she stood to address the nation. Indira has now joined the great galaxy of martyrs of the modern age like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King who stood up valiantly against the evil forces of racialism, communa-lism and sectarianism.

At the time of the Mahatma’s martyrdom, Nehru aptly said that “a great disaster is a symbol to us to remember all the big things of life and forget the small things of which we have thought too much.” Let Indira’s martyrdom be a great unifying, revitalising and humanising force. Let it not turn into a disintegrating, debasing and a dehumanising force. Martyrdom is the noblest sacrifice made by Indira for the cause for the integrity and unity of India. Let it not arouse the worst passions and sentiments among her countrymen. Let it evoke nobler feelings and urges. Let it cement the bonds of love, friendship and brotherhood among members of different religious communities and regions. Let not India’s deep and immense love for Indira turn into its very opposite—mindless hatred and venom against a particular community.

Very fortunate was our generation for it witnessed Jawaharlal’s daughter grow into a national leader in her own right and then into a statesman of world stature. She symbolised India, her poverty-stricken but awakened millions, in the same manner as the Mahatma came to symbolise India during the anti-imperialist struggle. Whether her critics recognised or not, for the Indian people and for the international community Indira became the voice of India and the spokesperson of the newly-liberated and non-aligned nations.

Indira was tireless and dedicated, fearless and steadfast, committed and uncompromising, humane and compassionate to the last moment of her life. She was fully aware of the danger to her life, specially during the last few months when acute passions and prejudices had been aroused on the Punjab issue. Not for a moment did she allow the thought of personal security prevent her from freely moving from one part of the country to another, spreading the message of love and brotherhood and the awareness of national challenges and tasks. Her energy and courage were unparalleled. Few leaders of the world could match her in her will, energy and fearlessness!

Indira’s interests were as varied, diverse and many-sided as the facets of India’s personality or the problems of India. Indira’s personality evolved through her creative and dynamic response to India’s many-sided problems. We have seen how persistent negativism resulted in the dwarfing of the personalities and eclipse of many leaders in the Opposition. Indira’s positive and creative attitude towards Indian problems and her direct approach to the Indian masses raised her stature. She occupied the Indian stage as a colossus to the last moment of her life. While she acted, recognising every problem facing the nation as her own, others only reacted, noticing only shortcomings and refusing to see the tremendous advance made by India under her leadership.

Indira was intensely human and not superhuman, fallible and not infallible; she was full of inner tension, contradiction and inconsistency characteristic of a great leader presiding over the Great Transition in a multi-class, multi-regional and multi-lingual country of sub-continental size. Even though she committed Himalayan blunders, the achievements to her credit are of Himalayan dimensions. Her blunders and errors do not affect in the least her claim to greatness. Did her predecessors, Gandhi and Nehru, become smaller just because their leader-ship was not free from mistakes and blunders? The rich and colossal legacy left by Indira to her successor provides a strong foundation for building a new future for India and her people. Under her leadership India has pursued in a steady and uncompromising manner the path of national reconstruction leading to national self-reliance and social justice for the weaker sections of society.

Under her leadership India has moved forward along the path of modern scientific and technological progress and utilising the fruits of it for accelerating India’s agricultural and industrial revolution. India, the agricultural hinterland of the British Empire until 1947, is now an economically self-reliant India. It stands today on the threshold of a new breakthrough, thanks to Indira’s leadership for a decade-and-a-half.

We should not forget that Indira’s emergence into national and international prominence itself marks a break with India’s traditional past in many ways. In a country where the woman was traditionally treated as an ‘abala’ (the weaker sex) and where she was understood to be in perennial need of protection—from the father in her infancy, from the husband in youth, and from the son in old age—in such a conservative society Indira represented new values and the coming of a new era. She represented a new concept of womanhood, struggling valiantly for emancipation within the framework of the national struggle, as man’s equal partner in all spheres. In a country where the birth of a daughter still causes gloom and unhappiness to conservative parents, Indira overfulfilled the prophecy of Motilal Nehru at the time of her birth that she was destined to bring much greater glory to the family and to the country than a son would ever have brought.

The tearful homage paid by India’s millions as well as by heads and representatives of more than 100 nations at the time of her cremation is an eloquent tribute to the world stature of this great and worthy daughter of India.

* Dr Joshi was a Professor, Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi.

[This article orginally appeared in a late November 1984 issue of Mainstream]

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