Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

After the victory, the unravelling

Former PM Indira Gandhi (Source: Reuters) Former PM Indira Gandhi (Source: Reuters)
Written by Inder Malhotra | Posted: June 23, 2014 12:06 am | Updated: June 23, 2014 9:05 am

Looking at yesterday to explain today, tomorrow: Leaders of all opposition parties, united only in their hatred of Indira Gandhi and divided by everything else, jumped on the JP bandwagon.

Indira Gandhi’S finest hour was rather short-lived. The afterglow of the liberation of Bangladesh faded surprisingly fast.

One reason for this was the sudden failure of rains by the middle of 1972. This natural disaster came at a time when her government’s overflowing granaries had been emptied to feed the 10 million refugees from Bangladesh. To make matters worse, heavy expenditure on the war had sharply drained government funds and foreign exchange reserves. Acute shortages and rising prices of food and other essential necessities caused deep unrest even among those who had earlier adored the prime minister.

She could hardly do anything about the cruelty of the rain gods. But there was something that she could and should have controlled, but didn’t. This destructive factor was corruption, a part of India’s life from time immemorial, which was assuming enormous proportions in her time. Because of her supremacy, her henchmen, flaunting their loyalty to her, became both corrupt and arrogant. When serious and plausible charges were made against them in the press or even in Parliament, they told her that the attack was not on them but on her. She evidently believed this, because she started using her brute majority in Parliament to stonewall all allegations. That is how the deathless evil of Parliament’s disruption, sometimes for the entire session, began.

In 1973, rains were again scanty. She compounded the dismal situation by superseding three senior Supreme Court judges who had not sided with her in her confrontation with the higher judiciary. This announcement hit the country like a thunderbolt and dismayed the middle class, especially those in the legal profession. Shortly thereafter, the first oil shock shook the world and hurt India most, because of its almost complete dependence on imported crude oil. This aggravated the people’s woes and added to their anger. Pocketing her pride, Gandhi had to ask the International Monetary Fund for a big loan. It was offered on conditions that ran counter to her populist policies. She had no option but to accept.

By this time, assembly elections in the politically key states of Uttar Pradesh and Orissa were looming. Huge election funds were needed and all Congress chief ministers and other functionaries had to do their best. This was to lead to a major upheaval in Gujarat first, and then across the country.

In Gujarat, the chief minister was Chimanbhai Patel, later nicknamed “Chiman Chor (thief)”. Gandhi disliked him because he had toppled his predecessor within months of the latter’s appointment by her. Even so, she had to ask Chimanbhai to collect the cash. He was happy to oblige but chose a method that proved catastrophic. In a state where the crucial and lucrative trade in cooking oil was continued…

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