Nagpur: Any moment of the present you live in holds seeds of the future. You have to be perceptive enough to see them and understand them… If only, we had the wisdom to read the portends of time so many future calamities could be avoided!
All these thoughts come to mind when I think back to that day of winter 1975 when our batch of Journalism students of N.U. had the privilege of meeting Smt. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India.
The ‘Professor’ accompanying us, HOD of our Department, Mr. G.T. Parande, also former Editor of Hitavada had presumably been told to get us to Mrs. Gandhi’s residence early in the morning. We reached around 7.30 a.m. to see many groups already waiting for her in the garden outside.
It was her custom, when in Delhi, to have this session of Jan darshan every morning. A fixed number of ‘groups’ were allowed in, and those who could not be accomodated that day were asked to come later.No one was disappointed. In fact, I remember for anyone going to Delhi as a tourist always had a day marked to “meet the P.M.”
She soon emerged from her house walking towards the first group in her trade mark brisk gait. She was accompanied by a PR person and photographer, that’s all! The place remains the same, a bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi, a luxurious part of New Delhi, the capital of India. The ‘person’ was the same – popularly elected P.M. of independent India. But there the similarity ends… can anyone even think of present day P.M. Modi without an entourage of at least 100 black suited gentlemen as his security ‘detail’? And when was the last time an ordinary Indian citizen could aspire to ‘meet the P.M.’ and do it too? (We hear even his Ministers cannot often get an appointment, not to talk of M.P.s or ‘lowly’ state MLAs of his own party).
She would stop for a few minutes with every group, inquire about which part of India they had come from, ask about their well being, pose for a group photo – everyone else sitting, she standing – and then walk to the next group.
She came last to our group. When she was told we were Journalism students, she courteously invited us to come in into her drawing room. There were at least 20 of us, but she asked us each our names. Kamini and I were the youngest of the group, and looked it, she tweaked our cheeks like elders do! With others she shook hands.
Then she talked with us gravely for some time.
“You are all going to be serious newspaper writers soon.” ( There was no TV then).
“You will be the conduit through which the people of India will come to know what is happening in the country and in the world. You will have a choice, either indulge in sensational journalism, blowing up any negative happening anywhere; or write about the positive things happening all around. Remember, we are an old civilization but a new country ( we had been a Republic for just 25 years then), it is an exciting period of nation building… write about that! Will you keep this in mind at least?”
Remember this was the time when the 1971, Liberation of Bangladesh war was 4 years behind us, and emergency was just a few months away!
After being hailed as a Savior and a ‘warrior leader’ compared to Jhansi ki Rani even,Indira Gandhi had begun feeling the barbs of constant negativity ( as she saw it) that was a precursor to her declaring emergency.
But all the negative press she was getting and the virulent opposition from the main opposition – which was then the newly formed ‘Socialist’ (Samajwadi) movement and the Left had not made her anti people. BJP was not in existence, there was just Jan Sangh which hardly had any real national presence. RSS was seen as a ‘fascist’ organization of men clad in khakhi shorts with its H.Q. in Nagpur.
What must have riled her more was that the men arrayed against her were all mostly ex Congressmen, colleagues of her father.
Had her behaviour that day given us any hint at all of what was in her mind?
Did the way she intermingled easily with people from all walks of life from all over the country make her – and later her elder son Rajeev, very easy targets to assassinate?
Not that she had not sensed which way the winds were blowing world wide, even in her beloved India.
Remember when she was killed, nine years later on 31st October 1984, she had been elected back to power with a good majority. Emergency was left far behind. Whatever other politicians keep harping on, people of India had long forgotten and forgiven that period. Privately, many people, specially in states like Maharashtra opined that Emergency had brought in much needed discipline among govt employees, even bankers, so they did not think there was anything to forgive in the first place.
Yet, Mrs. Gandhi had said that curious thing in the last public speech she gave in Bhuvaneshwar.
I am here today; I may not be here tomorrow. But the responsibility to look after national interest is on the shoulder of every citizen of India. I have often mentioned this earlier. Nobody knows how many attempts have been made to shoot me; lathis have been used to beat me. In Bhubaneswar itself, a brickbat hit me. They have attacked me in every possible manner. I do not care whether I live or die. I have lived a long life and I am proud that I spend the whole of my life in the service of my people. I am only proud of this and nothing else. I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.
But it was not the only thing she said. Her speech taken as a whole is worth pondering for every Indian.
Our progress has been acknowledged by other nations. Be it big universities or big international economic organizations, everybody acknowledges that India has pursued the path of progress, despite difficulties, without incurring big debts or without being trapped into any crisis. Since 1980, every year, we have done something or the other which is remarkable and every time it has helped to enhance the reputation of the country in the comity of nations. The young generation of India and the intellectuals of this country have new opportunities to achieve name and fame and expand their scope of knowledge. That is why we have to see that India continues to move forward on this path. ”
This voice was silenced, ironically by the very man she trusted the most, despite numerous warnings from her security advisors.
But her vision for India will continue guiding us, which party may be in power.
The present government would also do well to remember her words.
As she often said ” India does not raise her voice only for her own sake. If we raise our voice it is not on behalf of the Congress. We are speaking here on behalf of the people of India, on behalf of the weaker sections of India, on behalf of the women of India, on behalf of the intellectuals of India and above all, on behalf of the younger generation of India, for the future belongs to them. If they move forward on the right path and if they engage themselves in constructive activities and do not indulge in sabotage then a bright future awaits them.”