In Indira's Footsteps: Will History Repeat Itself?

Last week this column suggested that the Congress should be buried Some elaboration is in order. Many Hindutva supporters seek only Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's defeat or removal. They are pathetic. It is immaterial whether she wins or loses in Rae Bareili. She is not the problem. She is the symptom of a problem. She did not create our grotesque political culture. She is its creation. She is the culmination of a century's decadence and subservience to foreign influence.

Today the world is interdependent. Transnational operations frequently transcend national interests. Peoples of all nations, including America, are often victims of global exploitation. What distinguishes this nation is easy acceptance by its leaders of the degree of exploitation and foreign arm-twisting. Our subservience to foreign direction is old, goes back a long way. Our leaders were most free perhaps before India gained Independence. At that time they sometimes could think independently, and for the nation. That luxury ended after 1947. We won a spurious freedom, the rewards of which were conferred on spurious freedom fighters.

There is a common misconception that the Partition of India against which the Congress had pledged itself became inevitable because of communal riots. That flies on the face of established facts. It is true that Bengal was witness to riots since Jinnah's call for Direct Action in 1946. How ironical that Bengal went up in flames to prevent the proposed partition of the province by Lord Curzon decades before Independence, but became acquiescent when the same province was partitioned to become part of a new sovereign Pakistan!

In Punjab the Partition was scandalous. Communal riots had nothing to do with it. On June 2, 1947 the Congress officially accepted Partition. Being of school-going age I was at that time staying in my home town, Lahore, during transit from Karachi to Delhi. As a government official my father had been transferred. In Lahore I followed the radio commentaries of Wimbledon which is played in June end and July beginning. There was peace. Only after Independence, in late September 1947, did the British inspire riots in the Punjab to force a transfer of populations. They were furthering their post-war global interests. No wonder Independent India's first Punjab Chief Minister Bhimsen Sachar and Mr. IK Gujral's father, as members, attended the inaugural meeting of Pakistan's Constituent Assembly when Jinnah made his famous secular speech. Very few in Punjab had any intention of leaving their homes, before being compelled to do so by riots instigated by the British-commanded Baluch regiment and by outsiders who had moved into the province.

So, it should be clear, Sonia Gandhi is by no means the best example of the foreign hand. Our venerable heroes of the freedom struggle preceded her. By accepting Partition because of British pressure, and not because of riots, the Congress betrayed its pledge to keep India united. It lost its moral right to become the first government of independent India. There is no need to elaborate on this subject. Books have been written on it. Only one question needs to be addressed. How could Mahatma Gandhi have permitted this? Why did he go back on his pledge that Partition would take place only over his dead body? 

The short answer is he faltered. Gandhi was perhaps the greatest human being among political figures of the twentieth century. He was arguably among the very few who left an indelible mark on the twentieth century world. But he was human. He erred. 

Lord Mountbatten had labored to ensure that the Congress would formally accept his Partition Plan. June 2 was the fateful day. Gandhi observed that day as his day of silence. That precluded his participation in the proceedings. Nevertheless Lord Mountbatten was worried. He went to warn Gandhi not to oppose his Partition Plan. The following is an extract from the Transfer of Power papers.

'Mountbatten Papers. Viceroy's interview. 2 June, 1947, 12.30 pm: 'I saw Mr. Gandhi immediately after the first session with the seven Indian leaders. As this was a Monday, he was observing his day of silence; and he apparently did not consider the occasion of sufficient importance for him to break his rule, so he satisfied himself by handing me the attached note. The original of this is in my possession; it is written on the back of five separate old envelopes and will be, I feel, a document of some historic importance.' '

And this is the most relevant extract from what Gandhi wrote on the back of an envelope to Mountbatten: 'Have I said one word against you in my speeches? If you admit that I have not, your warning is superfluous.' 

Two days later Krishna Menon informed Mountbatten that Gandhi might denounce the Partition plan in his prayer meeting. Mountbatten invited Gandhi to see him before the prayer meeting. Gandhi arrived at 6 pm one hour before the prayer meeting. Mountbatten wrote: 'He was indeed in a very upset mood'. I replied immediately that while I shared his upset feelings at seeing the united India he had worked for all his life apparently destroyed by the new plan' this plan was nevertheless the only possible course. I told him that although many newspapers had christened it 'The Mountbatten Plan', they should really have christened it 'The Gandhi Plan', since all the salient ingredients were suggested to me by him'. I subsequently reported this conversation to both Mr. Krishna and Mr. V. P. Menon, and asked them to work on similar lines in talking to Mr. Gandhi. Both reported that the line I had taken had been remarkably successful.'

Readers may conclude for themselves whether these leaders were better serving India or Britain. After being totally marginalized by Nehru and Patel, Gandhi eventually tried to undo the damage. He resolved to settle down in Lahore after communicating with Jinnah. Along with 50 Punjabi refugee families he planned to journey by foot to Lahore starting February 14, 1948. He was killed a fortnight before that. He acted too late, too little. Gandhi, marginalized by Congress in his last days, became after death its global brand logo. On the last day of his life Gandhi wrote a will wanting the Congress party to be dissolved. Alive, he would have destroyed it. Dead, he resurrected it.

This partial background should help Indians decide whether it is more important to defeat Mrs. Sonia Gandhi or bury the Congress. It may not be possible to achieve the first without realizing the second. In Rae Bareili Mrs. Gandhi will attempt to emulate Indira Gandhi. She has started her campaign to rise above party and become a national icon. She is following the Indira script very faithfully.

In her maiden campaign speech in Rae Bareili Mrs. Gandhi said: 'I am enemy number one for many. After I resigned, others are silently helping each other to save themselves. My relation to Rae Bareili is not merely linked to elections. It is five generations old since the days of Motilal Nehru. You are like my family. I am a fighter. There is no looking back and there is no surrender'

This is harking back to the Garibi Hatao days of Indira Gandhi. Most people believe that it was the 'Remove Poverty' slogan which brought Indira Gandhi success. They are mistaken. The complete slogan in English and Hindi was: 'I say remove poverty. They say remove Indira. Now you decide. . (Main kehti hoo garibi hatao. Voh kehte hain Indira hatao. Ab faisla aap keejiye.)' It was the appeal of the innocent defenceless woman fighting a lone battle against the Syndicate ruffians. It worked. Not surprisingly, the woman vote in that election was exceptionally heavy.

As a self-professed victim of political machinations Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is attempting the same strategy. History is repeating itself. Time will tell whether it delivers tragedy or farce.   


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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