All my adult years belong to an age where she was an object of vilification, responsible for everything wrong with Indian politics. This is also an age that found her father a romantic fool whose capacity to lead a nation-state was overestimated by those who anointed him leader and those who adored him. And an age that had to be reminded about the Father of the Nation, with whom Indira came to share a last name, through a blockbuster movie. That's life.
This week, therefore, has been really interesting. Starting about midweek on Twitter, I began to notice tweets mentioning Mrs. Gandhi and attempting 140-character assessments of her contribution. They were from television journalists I follow, so I suppose they were preparing for programmes scheduled for her 25th death anniversary. (They have also been discussion the anti-Sikh riots that followed Mrs. Gandhi's assassination.)
India's Indira, NDTV.
Remembering the 'Iron Lady' of India, Times Now.
At the short programme held at Shakti Sthal, Javed Akhtar read his poetry. In Times Now's documentary shown on October 31, Shyam Benegal, Saeed Naqvi, Inder Malhotra and Kuldip Nayar were among those who offered assessments and reminiscences. Some of these people I remember as 'anti-Indira' at one time or another, or just plain, 'anti.' Hmmm, I thought.
Newspapers have had the most fascinating bouquet of articles. The Indian Express, Indira's staunch supporter turned foe, which published and distributed blank pages to indicate that it was being censored during the Emergency, carried these:
- Shekhar Gupta, The Idea of Indira, October 31, 2009.
- ‘People have never been able to associate themselves with any other leader as they did with Indira Gandhi,’ Ambika Soni in their Idea Exchange, November 1, 2009.
- Sudheendra Kulkarni, Indira and India, November 1, 2009.
Twenty-five years mark a milestone, fair enough, but what accounts for the whiff of nostalgia in these reminiscences and revaluations? I have a few guesses apart from the most obvious reasons: the resurgence of the Congress party as a player in national politics and the appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi family in its new, chastened avatar. I think people are tired of what the endless politics of identity conflicts has done to the fabric of this polity. Governance failures are not acceptable any longer and while Mrs. Gandhi did undermine institutions with disastrous results, people are now associating her with this UPA 2's resolve to try and address those issues. Twenty-five years is also long enough for most people to forget bad news and with two generations that can barely remember the past, a strong leader with a clear focus must seem appealing. We live in a technocratic age where the messy details of Turkman Gate and the innumerable arrests of the Emergency might even seem like inconvenient expediencies. These are my guesses, not scholarly analyses. Not today, anyway.
Is India ready to dispassionately evaluate Indira Gandhi's contribution to its politics, institutions and socio-economic change? I don't really know. What do you think?