Did Indira Gandhi have no role in the Emergency?

First Maneka Gandhi was unceremoniously kicked out of the Indira Gandhi household in an episode that presaged the saas-bahu TV serials by about two decades. Now, her late husband, Sanjay Gandhi, it seems, is himself being sent to the doghouse in the Congress.

The description of Indira Gandhi’s mercurial younger son as “arbitrary and authoritarian” in a two-volume official Congress book, holding him responsible for the controversial family planning and slum clearance measures, can be seen either as setting the record straight, or as convenient white-washing.

According to the book, while vast sections of the population welcomed the moves initially since general administration improved,

“…civil rights activists took exception to the curbs on freedom of expression and personal liberties. Unfortunately, in certain spheres, over-enthusiasm led to compulsion in enforcement of certain programmes like compulsory sterilisation and clearing of slums”.

While the acknowledgement of Sanjay Gandhi’s role is welcome, it begs the question: was Indira Gandhi really a puppet in her son’s hands? Did post-independent India’s “strongest prime minister” have no say in any of the controversial measures of the Emergency, including press censorship?

Was she that amenable and vulnerable to an extra-constitutional authority even if he operated from her own house?

Equally, while fixing the blame for the Emergency, 35 years later, might seem odd, the fact that no such effort is being made for the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 reveals a bit. Would Sanjay Gandhi have suffered this fate at the hands of Congress hagiographers if he were still alive? Or if his widow and his equally execrable son, Varun Gandhi, were not on the other side of the political fence?

Also read: ‘Middle-class will never understand Indira Gandhi

CHURUMURI POLL: Was Emergency good for us?