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Mainstream, VOL L, No 10, February 25, 2012

Indira Gandhi’s Priorities

Monday 27 February 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty



A touch of shameless audacity marks the character of politicians when they are sustained by hardly any sense of responsibility towards the people whom they are supposed to represent. Democracy has certainly its moments of glory but there is no dearth of its dishonour at the hands of bankrupt politicians who sometimes hold it to ransom.

This could be seen in the most blatant form in the responses and reactions to the Indira Government’s order on February 17 to dissolve the Ministries and Assemblies in as many as nine States. The reason adduced by the Indira Government in taking such a drastic step is the very same—no less and no more than what the Janata Government had trotted out in 1977 in justification of exactly a similar step dissolving nine State Assemblies of its own choice. The argument in both cases has been the same: that these Assemblies have ceased to reflect the change in the attitude of the electorate. Indira’s Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh, openly said that “in retrospect” his government felt that the Janata decision to dissolve Assemblies in 1977 had been “correct”—though at the time, the Congress had raised a terrific howl. Much the same is being done by the Janata leaders and their allies today: they are shouting with the same vehemence as did the Congress leaders in 1977 about democracy being in danger because their own parties are being removed from office in the States.

By and large, democracy means their own party rule for these politicians—whether it is the Congress or its opponents. There are of course honourable exceptions in the clan of politicians who had disapproved the dissolution of Assemblies following the Janata victory in 1977 and who have expressed opposition with equal emphasis to Indira Gandhi taking the same step this time.

Ever since her return to power on January 14, Indira Gandhi was preparing for the toppling of the State governments run by parties which had not been able to win the majority of Lok Sabha seats from their respective States. There is however a difference, howsoever slight, in the pursuance of formalities between what she has done now and what the Janata did in 1977. The Janata Government bluntly wrote to the concerned Chief Ministers to resign on their own, and when they did not oblige, ordered the dissolution. Indira Gandhi first tried to bag them by large-scale defections without the least bother of scruple and she succeeded in this bid in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh but failed in other States. Then came the dissolution under the Article 356 on the convenient plea that these Assemblies had ceased to reflect the will of the people afer the recent Lok Sabha elections—the very same plea that Morarji Desai and his Janata colleagues had put forward in 1977.

Meanwhile, the doomed Chief Ministers were given no respite. The UP Chief Minister faced the brunt over the Narainpur outrage for which Indira Gandhi and her son had shed a lot of tears—a remarkable example of high-powered PR exercise—in which the Opposition parties were left far behind. Significantly, no tears trickled down these VIP cheeks—not at least in public—for the equally gruesome outrage at Parasbigha in Bihar: was it because the culprits there happen to be earnest workers of the Congress-I? Similarly, the restoration of law and order has become the major concern of the Indira Government and rightly so: one wonders if the same yardstick would be applied to a shocking incident in Orissa, where at a picnic spot about a hundred kilometres from Bhuba-neswar a group of schoolgirls were molested by a gang of hoodlums who, as per press reports, belong to the Sanjay Youth Congress.

There are obviosuly two immediate compulsions for Indira Gandhi for going in for the Assembly elections in as many as nine states–a sort of mini-General Elections. For one thing, the Indira Congress is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, which promises a constitutional deadlock for any legislation or other business that her government would like to push through Parlia-ment. It is only with the Indira Congress gaining in strength in the State Assemblies that the situation could be retrieved, and there is no doubt that the new State Assemblies to be formed after the coming elections would restore the balance between the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in favour of the Indira Congress.

Secondly, Indira Gandhi knows that if the elections to these State Assemblies were allowed to be held two years later as they would be in the normal course, the climate might not be favourable at all for her party: this year’s euphoria is not indelible and once it wears out, the prospects at the polls for her party might turn out to be bleak indeed.

A further impetus for this plunge—even if Indira would not like to call it a gamble—is that the Opposition parties are yet to close up their ranks, and dissension, apart from demorali-sastion, is rampant. The Urs Congress is day by day becoming a non-entity in many parts of the country: Sardar Swaran Singh’s return to the Indira Congress–pointedly termed “re-admission” by Congress–I functionaries—may inflict more wounds to the already maimed organisation; and its position in Maharashtra has been considerably eroded. The trek back from the Janata by Nandini Satpathy may be a pointer to her return to the Indira Congress, but one cannot be too sure that even if she is “re-admitted”, her fate would be anything better than Bahuguna’s or Brahmananda Reddy’s so far.

The malady inside the Janata is reflected in the confusion that prevails within its most well-knit component, namely, the Jana Sangh, Balasaheb Deoras’ RSS’ olive-branch to Sanjay Gandhi has obviously embarassed, if not visibly annoyed, some of the Jana Sangh stalwarts like Advani and Vajpayee. Not an auspicious omen for the Janata in the coming State-level poll confrontation with the Indira Congress.

The more serious is the problem with Babu Jagjivan Ram. Supposed to be the leader of the Janata in Parliament, Babuji is having uninhibited slanging match with different Janata leaders. At the time of writing these lines, it appears that he is only gathering steam to make his exit from the Janata; may be after a stop-over at some half-way transit camp, set up by his forgotten CFD, he may follow the Bahuguna trail into Indira Gandhi’s lair—with this difference that he is today divested of all levers for bargaining with her, a misfortune which he could have averted had he joined her before the January Lok Sabha election: in fact, he could have claimed a share of the kudos for her landslide victory.

With such favourable winds will Indira Gandhi be adding new strength to her arms? In terms of pure politicking, she has proved to be superior to the entire Opposition lot. But successful politicking is not the same thing as uplifting the politics of the nation. The country is beset with formidable problems. The manage-ment of the economy is being neglected with as much unconcern as in the Janata days, despite all the high-level committees she has been setting up and co-ordination meetings being held: the stark reality is that no direction is provided by the political leadership, no perspective set. Major political problems can no longer be shelved since garlands and boquets do not provide solutions to issues like Assam and the North-East, which have assumed alarming urgency. In foreign affairs Indira Gandhi may have restored the style that Morarji lacked, but nobody can dare ignore the extremely serious situation in which India has a role to play. From the price of sugar and onions again shooting up to the US arms openly pouring into Pakistan for the Afghan rebels and also to let Zia do his sabre-rattling, the situation both at home and abroad provides a forbidding prospect. Where is the sign of the awareness of its gravity, not to speak of tackling it for the good of the nation? This is not the cup-of-tea for the Bhinders and Dhawans, the Brahmacharis and Kamal Naths.

Whatever may be her justification for dissolving the nine State Assemblies, the fact of the matter is that the major preoccupation of Indira Gandhi and her entourage in the next three months will be with the elections—distribution of tickets, the campaign itself, right upto the formation of new Ministers.

The urgent problems both at home and abroad do not seem to be rated high in her list of priorities. This is not the way to run the affairs of a great country. With all the purifying havans that have been performed to fumigate the Prime Minister’s official residence after Morarji Desai’s brief occupancy, Indira Gandhi’s stars will not help her very far if she chooses to persist in neglecting the urgent jobs that no Prime Minister in her senses can sleep over for long without harming her own interests as also those of her nation.

(Mainstream, February 23, 1980)

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