President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in the first installment of a trilogy of his memoirs, The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years, has recounted his version of the Emergency period. He has recalled the turbulent times when Indira Gandhi after being described as a ‘goongi gudiya’ (dumb doll) by Ram Manohar Lohia in parliament rose to become the nation’s supreme leader. But after Mr. Mukherjee’s disclosures this writer wonders whether Lohia was not right and history a false narrative. According to Mr. Mukherjee Indira Gandhi was not to blame for the decision to impose the Emergency. She was misled into imposing the Emergency by Siddhartha Shankar Ray who advised her.
Mr. Mukherjee writes:
“Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the Constitutional provisions allowing for the declaration of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance, particularly since Emergency had already been proclaimed as a consequence of Indo-Pak conflict in 1971.”
Indira Gandhi may not have known about the relevant Constitutional provisions relating to Emergency, but she surely knew that the Emergency had been imposed in order to overtake a court ruling to unseat her from office. About his own role Mr. Mukherjee writes:
“It will be sufficient to say here that many of us who were part of the Union Cabinet at that time (I was a junior Minister) did not then understand its deep and far reaching impact.”
What about the not-so-deep and obvious impact? Thousands were thrown into jail without trial to preserve a government in power. The “deep and far reaching impact” that Mr. Mukherjee and his senior colleagues failed to understand was that the Indian people would soon throw out the bunch of unprincipled sycophantic opportunists unconstitutionally clinging to power. By absolving Indira Gandhi of blame and holding Ray responsible, Mr. Mukherjee perpetuates a long standing tradition of Indian politics. Never blame a leader but only advisers who misguide. Nehru was blameless but Krishna Menon gave him wrong advice! So was Indira blameless but Ray gave her wrong advice! By implication was Indira Gandhi just a dumb doll being led by others.
Could Mr. Mukherjee be right? If so, it would explain many strange facets of this so-called great leader’s decisions. When releasing 90,000 prisoners of war Indira Gandhi signed the Simla Accord without even converting the Kashmir cease fire line into an international border did she not act like a dumb doll? When without China accepting the Colombo Proposals Indira Gandhi established diplomatic relations with Beijing just because America had done so, did she not act like a dumb doll? After Bhindranwale formally renounced Khalistan to Rajiv Gandhi’s emissary (this writer) and Indira Gandhi nevertheless ordered Operation Blue Star, did she not act like a dumb doll…?
Authors can obfuscate their narratives of events for all their worth. Eventually truth will prevail.