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

On Indira Gandhi

Sunday 19 November 2017, by Eduardo Faleiro

We commemorate this year the birth centenary of Smt Indira Gandhi. She is often acknowledged as the most popular Prime Minister especially among the poor and weaker sections of our society. Under her leadership the word Socialism was added to Secularism and Democracy in the Preamble of the Constitution and in 1975, her government formulated the 20-Point Programme. The basic objective of the 20-Point Programme was the removal of rural poverty, health, education and housing for all as well as justice for SCs and STs and empowerment of women. Smt Indira Gandhi nationalised private sector banks, turned them into the most gigantic public sector banking system which enabled poor people to get loans for self-employment. Since employment for all could not be provided, self-employment was encouraged. I happened to be involved in the implementation of the 20-Point Programme when I was the Union Minister of State for Finance. The banks were instructed to provide loans to persons of poor and weaker sections who wanted to set up some small business. People across the country got small loans for setting up their own ventures. The rate of repayment of these loans was as good, if not better, than the repayment of large amounts.

For the benefit of people across the country, the number of bank branches was increased substantially. In Goa, we had branches of the State Bank of India and of some other banks in the main towns. During my tenure, in the process of implementation of the 20-Point Programme, branches of different banks were set up in practically every village. Similar steps were taken in all States across the country.

Smt Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in 1975 and it lasted for 21 months. The Emergency was introduced to prevent the moves of the Opposition at that time to destabilise the government and the country. Inder Malhotra, the biographer of Indira Gandhi, wrote: “The return of life after relentless disruption by strikes, protest marches, clashes with the police was applauded by most people. In its initial months at least, the Emergency returned to India a kind of calm it has not known for years.” During Emergency there was public order and discipline, two things that that were absent in the previous years. Much of the criticism of Emergency emerged from the family planning programme which was implemented in North India sometimes in a rather drastic and brutal manner.

In Goa itself and in South India, generally, Emergency proved to be beneficial. The administration became more efficient, black marketing and hoarding ceased and food and other articles of general consumption were easily available which was not the case earlier. The support of the Goan people to the Union Government during Emergency benefited the Congress Party which in the general election held in 1977 went on to win the Lok Sabha seat of South Goa. This was the first ever election victory of the Congress Party in Goa. Until then, the Congress had not won a single seat either in Parliament, in the Assembly or even at the municipality level.

Smt Gandhi lost her Lok Sabha seat from Rae Barelli but immediately thereafter in 1978 she won a by-election from the Chikmaglur constituency. The Janata Party then brought a motion to expel Indira Gandhi from Parliament. My party, the Congress (U), supported this motion. However, I felt that I could not support it since, in my view, I had won the Lok Sabha elections in the name of Smt Gandhi. I met Shri Yeshwantrao Chavan, who was the leader of the Congress (U) in Parliament. Shri Chavan permitted me to oppose the motion. During the debate, whilst my party supported the motion, I strongly opposed it. Smt Gandhi was present in the House and apparently she never forgot my support to her on that day. In the next elections to the Lok Sabha, I was the only candidate in the whole country belonging to the Congress (U) who was also endorsed by the Congress (I). Indiraji came to Goa, addressed a meeting at Azad Maidan and expressed the support of the Congress (I) to my candidature.

After Liberation, there were two opposite points of view regarding the status for Goa, Daman and Diu. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party wanted merger of Goa into Maharashtra on the ground that Goa identified culturally with Maharashtra. The United Goans Party as well as the Congress held that Goa should not merge into Maharashtra. The MGP felt that this matter should be decided by voting on the floor of the Assembly. This was strongly opposed by the UGP and Congress. Thereafter, during the premiership of Smt Indira Gandhi an Opinion Poll was held for Goa. This was the first Opinion Poll and so far the only one ever held in the country. The Opinion Poll went against the demand for merger. The Congress and the United Goans Party then demanded Statehood for Goa. Later, the MGP also supported this demand. In 1971, Shri A. N. Naik of the United Goans Party brought a resolution in the Goa Legislative Assembly demanding Statehood for Goa. It was passed unanimously. In 1976, Shri R. L. Pankar of the MGP brought another resolution in the Assembly with the same demand. Whilst replying to this debate Smt Sashikala Kakodkar, the then Chief Minister, said: “In the early years after Liberation the MGP stood for merger with Maharashtra and fought for it through the Opinion Poll in a democratic way. The verdict of the Poll went against the merger. The MG Party accepted the people’s verdict because it believes in the wisdom of the electorate.”

My first speech in the Lok Sabha echoed the demand for Statehood. The Union Government was then led by the Janata Party, and Prime Minister Morarji Desai was not in favour of small States. In 1980, Smt Indira Gandhi returned as the Prime Minister and I moved a Bill for Statehood to Goa. Shri Rajiv Gandhi, then the General Secretary of the Congress Party, met me and assured that Statehood would be granted to Goa. Statehood was granted to Goa during the next term of the Lok Sabha under the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi himself. Statehood was obtained due to the efforts of the then Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane, Shri Purshottam Kakodkar, my colleague in the Lok Sabha, Shri Shantaram Naik and other leaders of the Congress and MGP.

Indira Gandhi passed into history when she fell to the assassins’ bullets. As a mark of respect to the departed leader, her birthday, on November 19, is observed as the National Integration Day to promote the feelings of unity and common identity among the people of our country beyond race, culture, religion and region.

The author, a Congress leader from Goa, is a former Union Minister.

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