Debating India

Indira Gandhi as parivar heroine

Thursday 23 June 2005

K.S. Sudarshan’s praise of Indira Gandhi at a recent function in Lucknow is yet another command centre barb aimed at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s supposedly week-kneed leadership. Commemorating the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh supremo described him as the ideal king, strong and courageous: the only post-Partition Indian leader to show similar steel was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who won the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. To be sure, Mr. Sudarshan qualified the eulogy by recalling the anti-people Emergency and Mrs. Gandhi’s authoritarian ways. He also blamed the country’s ills on the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The official RSS version is that the sarsanghchalak’s comments were restricted to the three figures he mentioned - Shivaji, Indira Gandhi, and Nehru. Nonetheless politics is all about context and timing. In a television interview given some months ago, Mr. Sudarshan refused to count Atal Bihari Vajpayee among India’s best Prime Ministers - and bluntly advised him and his former Deputy Prime Minister to make way for the younger generation. It is against this backdrop that Lal Krishna Advani, once beloved of the Sangh, travelled to Pakistan and eulogised Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 "secular" vision.

Mr. Advani’s speeches and fraternal gestures in Pakistan seem to have provoked not just the lunatic fringe in the parivar but the command centre itself into white-hot ideological fury. In RSS-style retaliation, Mr. Sudarshan warmed to Indira Gandhi’ s feats on the battlefield; after all, she was instrumental in `partitioning’ the poisonous fruit of Partition, so to speak. She executed this in the teeth of fierce opposition from the United States, which branded India "aggressor" and ordered the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise, into the Bay of Bengal. Mr. Sudarshan’s admiration for Indira Gandhi might be redoubled if he took the trouble to go into the U.S. State Department’s website,, and study the primary archival material on "South Asia Crisis, 1971." The priceless Nixon-Kissinger conversations transcribed from the Nixon tapes; the U.S. President’s choice expletives and abuse of "these goddamm sanctimonious... [and] pretty vicious... Indians... Look these people are savages... Cannibalise... that’s what ... [they’re] up to’’; the bluster, the frantic international moves, the mostly empty threats; Kissinger’s desperate admission (to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) that "we are the ones who have been operating against our public opinion, against our bureaucracy, at the very edge of legality"; a masterpiece of a message from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi delivered on December 15, 1971 and Nixon’s incensed reply three days later - these reveal extraordinary boldness, patience, presence of mind, intelligence, and footwork on the part of the Indian Prime Minister and her team. The RSS passed a resolution commending Mrs. Gandhi on the liberation of Bangladesh, and Mr. Vajpayee’s characterisation of her as "Durga" is part of political folklore. The parivar as a whole suffered during the Emergency but Mrs. Gandhi’s "heroic martyrdom" at the hands of Sikh extremists made up for that in RSS eyes. Quite improbably, the pantheon of Sangh heroes includes Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Mr. Sudarshan has now consecrated Indira Gandhi’s place in that pantheon and you know who’s missing.

See online : The Hindu

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