Delivering a lecture on Indira Gandhi at a function organised by Congress to mark the beginning of the former PM’s birth centenary year, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday seemed to be sending a message or two to the grand old party. He said Indira Gandhi will always remain in the “heart of the people of India” and continue to be the “ideal” with whom all future PMs will be compared.
Mukherjee did not dwell at length on Emergency, but pointed out that Indira did not pass the buck and accepted full responsibility for the defeat in 1977.
Mukherjee said Congress leaders had then argued that people had punished the party for the Emergency and had wanted it to offer constructive cooperation to the ruling party.
“Indiraji, however, believed that the electoral defeat does not change the role of the opposition. It is the opposition’s duty to oppose, expose and, if possible, depose,” he said. Mukherjee said Indira was of the view that if Congress remained “apologetic for what has happened in the past”, it would not be able to inspire the people and party workers and highlight sufferings of Dalits and minorities because of “policies” of the then government. “And history has proved who was correct,” he added.
Speaking on the back-to-back Presidential elections in 1967 and 1969 — Indira was pitted against her own party in the latter — he wondered whether N Sanjeeva Reddy’s nomination in 1969 by her own party was an attempt to curtail powers of the PM.
“…Why did Sanjeeva Reddy, a relatively young man, only four years older than Indiraji, who had been Chief Minister twice, president of the Congress party and minister in the Union government decide to opt for the Presidential office, with hardly any executive powers? Was Sanjeeva Reddy’s nomination an effort to curtail the powers of the Prime Minister? Did Indiraji’s rivals want to use the Constitutional Office of the President to provoke a confrontation between the President and the Prime Minister?”
“Perhaps Indiraji opposed Sanjeeva Reddy’s candidature because she saw through this game… Indiraji felt strongly that in a parliamentary democracy like that of India the role of Prime Minister should be paramount,” he said.
Mother, mentor, friend’
Congress president Sonia Gandhi called Indira Gandhi her “mother, mentor and friend” from whom she imbibed her earliest political lessons. “Her sacrifice in preserving a united, diverse, egalitarian India will be remembered. All the more so at a time when, in the quest for shortcuts to greatness, we find leaders willing to undermine the very foundations of our national character,” she said.