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

Indiraji’s Martyrdom

Sunday 19 November 2017, by Mohit Sen

Ten years have not dimmed but, on the contrary, brightened the image of Indira Gandhi as one of the most luminous leaders that India and the entire world have known in modern times. These years have also made it clear why she was murdered and who did the murdering.

In assassinations of this kind it is rarely, if ever, that any enquiry commission finds out the conspirators even if the actual assassins are caught red-handed. This has happened in the case of President Kennedy. So also has it happened in the case of Indiraji. What, however, goes beyond surmise is that in her case the bullets were clearly aimed against India and meant to halt our country from recovering from the disasters of the rule of the destabilisers in 1977-79. It was also meant to revenge the reverses that the US neo-colonialists suffered in 1971 with the aided birth of Bangladesh. What has happened subsequently cannot vitiate the fact tht this was a defeat for the military-industrial complex of the US and its swordarm, the CIA, of a dimension surpassed only by its still more spectacular reverse suffered in Vietnam in 1975.

It is no accident that the three leaders who made any contribution, differing widely in the extent of that contribution, to the 1971 setback for the US neo-colonialists were murdered. Alongwith Indira Gandhi they were Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

In the case of our dear, departed leader it was not only her pre-eminent role in the liberation of Bangladesh that rankled. That only formed part of a more epoch-making happening. And that was the taking of India on to the level of a global great power. That level was, of course, not reached in a day. Arrival there was the climax of a process set in motion by Pandit Nehru from our very birth as an independent country but more especially from 1995. This process received a jolt in 1962 with the Chinese aggression and even reached crisis proportions in 1967-69. In those latter two years we went through a phase of acute national soul-searchig and even more than a shade of demoralisation. The Congress itself faced the test of choice between breakup and resurgence.

It was Indiraji who set this ancient land and our people with their immemorial past moving again. Her actions and achievements were multifaceted. This is not the place to even attempt an enumeration and analysis of all of them. It must suffice to mention the Green Revolution which made us self-reliant in food, the scientific-technological breakthrough including the Pokhran implosion, the substantial and strategic expansion of the public sector, and the resounding reiteration of the national objective to remove poverty and build a democrtic socialist country.

Very many would agree that the above-mentioned were historic acheivements and also that they were made under her leadership. Not so many would, however, agree that these contributions were the chief reason for her assassination. In fact, those who wittingly or unwittingly made her murder happen, if that is the right word to use, point to some other reasons for the tragedy of October 31, 1984. These need to be critically examined.

The first of such reasons cited is that she hurt the Sikhs beyond bearing by the ‘Operation Bluestar’. It should be said straightaway that the actual carrying out of the ‘Operation’ was in the hands of General Sundarji. Of course, there were certain political constraints which Indiraji laid down. All of them were for avoiding civilian casualities and minimising the hurt to the religious sensitivities of the Sikhs. These sensitivities were, of course, hurt. But the responsibility for that is, first and foremost, Bhindranwale’s. It was under his leadership that the Golden Temple was converted into an infamous headquarters of an anti-national conspiracy which could have converted Punjab into another Kashmir with far greater loss to the nation and with more dangerous possibilities of some kind of international intervention. In the midst of all the talk about the “Sikh psyche” it is quite amazing that the damage done to the Sikhs by Bhindranwale is never mentioned.

It is said that Bhindranwale was Indiraji’s creation. To go into this question would involve opening of a probe into the roles of persons both alive and dead which would be harmful and unproductive at this stage. What can be gone into, however, is who did what once the anti-national activities of Bhindranwale had been revealed. The Akali leaders, in general, aided him either because of terror or because they hoped to make political capital out of the passing popularity of the Khalistan slogan among a section of the Sikhs. All sections of the Opposition were busy holding conclaves with these Akali leaders with the primary objective of damaging Indiraji because she had committed the sin of returning to power and set about repairing the damage done by the Janata Party Government backed by the CPI-M with great enthusiasmn and the CPI with shamefaced reluctance.

It was left to Indiraji to deal with this menace to the nation even though she knew that this spelled danger to her life. If the Golden Temple had not been liberated from the anti-national forces, there would have been catastrophic consequences for our unity and our existence.

The second of such reasons cited is that Indiraji had so unsettled conditions in the country and in the Congress that lawlessness and anarchy were in the air, if not murder itself. The exact opposite is the truth. The conditions had been unsettled after the Janata Party had been voted to power following the protest vote against the Emergency excess in the northern, eastern and western parts of the country. It is through the Janata Party Government that the RSS (operating through the Jana Sangh supposedly dissolved in the Janata Party) infiltrated key sectors of the state apparatus including the radio and television. It was Madhu Limaye who told me that the experience of working with the BJP had given him more lessons on how the fascists operate than a dozen books could have done. The strange interlude of the government headed by Charan Singh only made matters worse.

It was left to Indiraji to mount the offensive against the destablilisers and to win by sheer courage, grit and skill. It is to be remembered that she chose the slogan—“elect a government that works”—with which to rout the Janata Party and the odd and variegted alliances that had sprouted since 1978.

It should also be remembered that the CPI-M continued its opposition to Indira Gandhi’s return to governance on the ground that it would mean the return of authoritarianism. it would not be unfair to say that the CPI-M preferred anarchy to Indiraji and then they complain that she was responsible for unsettling the country! The CPI chose to support Charan Singh on the ground that he represented the weak bourgeoisie whereas Indiraji represented the strong bourgeoisie. It came to the same position as that of the CPI-M—stability was worse than instability. As it turned out, it was her government that restored governance and stability. And that was why she was assassinaed.

The cruellest canard spread against Indiraji by her opponents is that she was reponsible in some way, however indirect, for the dastardly attacks made on the Sikhs after her assassination. Her secularism is sought to be questioned in this manner.

The fact is that she was a peerless secularist and despite all advice insisted that none of her Sikh guards should be removed, including those who actually murdered her. The anti-Sikh riots were, in fact, the second time that she was murdered. This canard is the third time that she is being done to death especially when in the name of not reopening wounds the tenth anniversary of her martyrdom is to be commemorted on a low key. This is said to be the decision of the committee set up to work out the programme to commemorate precisely this event. Vendattas are being carried on beyond the funeral pyre!

As a matter of fact, Indiraji went byeond and, as it were, back to the Mahatma in upholding and popularising secularism among the younger generation, especially of the Hindus, born after freedom and grappling with the phenomenon of the hate-India wenom of Pakistan as well as the dilemmas of develop-ment in conditions of democracy. She made a great contribution in separating religion from communalism which is essential if secularism is to be rooted among our people. She also continued the Mahatma’s great work not only in this respect but also in contesting the communalists’ claim that they were the true custodians of Hinduism. She was as misunder-stood and misrepresented about this as was the Mahatma himself. She was evolving a modern, progressive nationalism with all the richness of our history, our diversity as well as the strength of our unity. It is a tragedy that she had to leave the message of this nationalism as the lesson of her death.

(Mainstream, October 29, 1994)

A prominent Marxist ideologue, the author was close to Indira Gandhi both during and after the Emergency. A CPI leader, he subsequently became a leading figure in the United Communist Party of India.

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