Indira Gandhi is the “most acceptable ruler, Prime Minister, of a democratic country even today,” President Pranab Mukherjee said on Saturday, hailing Indira as “one of the most remarkable personalities of the 20th century”. The former prime minister had raised her voice “against communal and sectarian forces”, and courage, conviction and fearlessness were hallmarks of her functioning, both nationally and internationally, the President said.
“She was one of the most remarkable personalities of the 20th century all over the world. And to the people of India, even today, after her passing away on 31st October, 1984, she is the most acceptable ruler, Prime Minister of a democratic country even today,” Mukherjee said on the occasion of the release of the book, India’s Indira — A Centennial Tribute.
Mukherjee, who has had a long association with the Nehru-Gandhi family, was a senior minister in the UPA I and UPA II governments.
At a time when the Congress faces unprecedented challenges, the veteran politician reminded the assembled leaders of the party about Indira’s determination and focus in bouncing back within three years of losing power in 1977.
“Those who have worked closely with her in her short period in her political wilderness remember how active and how determined she was to have her objective,” Mukherjee said. After the Congress lost power for the first time in 1977, she had told him, “Pranab, don’t get unnerved by defeat”, Mukherjee recalled.
“This is the time to act, (she said,) and she acted,” the President said.
Mukherjee cited several other decisions too, to drive home the point about Indira’s decisiveness and courage. He recalled that after being elected party president on January 2, 1978, she had taken only until January 20 to finish the process of formation of the working committee, the parliamentary board, PCCs and AICC structures, so the party could prepare for elections to the state assemblies of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam and NEFA that year.
Soon after, he recalled, Indira led the Congress to a two-thirds majority in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and it became the single largest party in Maharashtra, where it formed the government along with the party’s breakaway faction.
The Congress under its present leadership has faced repeated criticism for indecision, including the delay in the elevation of vice-president Rahul Gandhi to the party presidentship.
On Operation Blue Star, Mukherjee said it was not that Indira was unaware of the dangerous consequences it could lead to. “Sometimes, history demands some action which may not prove correct later on, but perhaps most relevant at the time. These decisions cannot be avoided,” he recalled Indira as having told him. He added: “I have no intention of festering the wound. The short point that I am trying to make is the fearlessness in her action.”
The book, edited by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, was unveiled by Vice President Hamid Ansari. Rahul was on the dais. Mukherjee received the first copy of the book.
Sharma said, “Belittling Indira Gandhi’s contribution and sacrifice will be a great injustice and a historic mistake. This is my firm and clear view that history cannot be rewritten or erased. History will triumphantly assert itself.”
The Congress has been accusing the BJP of trying to either appropriate Congress icons of the freedom struggle, or to belittle them, especially those belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Vice-President Ansari said Indira had “succeeded in good measure” and “faltered in places”, and recalled she had lived in troubled times for India. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said Indira was not only India’s prime minister, but also an acknowledged leader of developing countries.
In a message read out by Rahul, Congress president Sonia Gandhi dwelt at length on her personal relationship with her “nurturing mother-in-law”, who had a “broad and tolerant outlook”, and a “brand of patriotism, which was inclusive”. She recalled “how kindly she (Indira) welcomed me, nervous and shy as I was, into her home, how patiently she taught me to adapt to the new country and family. She understood my difficulties, drew me into her heart and opened my eyes to India’s great history and culture.”
Sonia, who is still recuperating after a recent illness, did not attend the function.