By Anjana George
Edited by, Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
I recently stumbled upon a book titled ‘The Sanjay Story: From Anand Bhavan to Amethi’ written by Vinod Mehta, senior journalist and editor-in-chief of the Outlook magazine. The book took me back to a story of a prominent political figure who tried to change the face of Indian politics- in a style abhorrent to many. I have read through quite some records of political analysts on the bygone events of Indian democracy and of the persons behind it but the cameo played by a personality like Sanjay Gandhi grabbed my interest purely because of its unconventionality.
Being a part of Gen-X did not entitle me to a firsthand experience of the events of the 70’s but accounts like the ones by Vinod Mehta are a technical means of understanding the past as closely as possible. The story of Mr. Sanjay Gandhi could be of interest today considering the turning-point at which the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty lead Indian National Congress is standing today. Had Sanjay Gandhi been alive, would the state of the Congress party be different today? Would the democracy in India have been completely different? Would there even have been a Janata Party? If I even try linking many more questions, then we would eventually have to answer whether there would be a superstar Prime minister like Narendra Modi!
Sanjay Gandhi, over the years, has been described as autocratic, dictatorial, ambitious, compulsive and even the black sheep of the Gandhi family. These adjectives may have by far been the creations of the critics who have followed the man’s life. Much has been said about his aggressive ways and his irrational decisions that won him more haters than followers. Touted as the heir to the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Sanjay rose to prominence under the ‘fame’ wing of Mrs. Gandhi, rather than through his own political acumen.
Through the short span that Sanjay made his presence felt, he is remembered to have emphasized on his five point agenda- promoting literacy and birth control, planting trees, abolition of dowry and caste system, and slum-clearance drives. Now this list interests me simply because even after over three decades, India is facing the same problem elements and still making a hue and cry about it without having found a solution to these predicaments. Government after government, and laws and laws later, it is agreed that with or without Sanjay, India still hasn’t grown out of its crisis.
Isn’t it ironical that today again we are fighting the same evils from the 70’s? Biology textbooks of students today are explicitly talking about birth-control and contraceptives to knock some sense into us that we are pretty much going to be the world’s largest population. This wouldn’t have really been much of a problem had we found a means to do something effective with this human population-unemployment, poverty, hunger still seem to haunt a large percentage of us.
With India rising as being unsafe for women with rapes and domestic violence, the age-old trend of dowry for marriage hasn’t taken a back seat. Caste system is just as prevalent, and it is interestingly noticed that no one really wants to eradicate it because certain officials want to benefit from vote bank politics. Slums too have been an unwanted but integral part of India as has been portrayed glossily by some Hollywood movies. The point being made is that Sanjay Gandhi’s agenda for the country was just as justified as it is today; yet he is described as the villain of Indian democracy.
Sanjay had been accused of inflicting untold misery to the poor and some religious groups with his slum-clearance and forced sterilization drives. His methods of governance were judged as autocratic and against the progress of the country. He made many enemies in political circles and was accused of taking over power even without being formally elected into any office. His ways were not friendly and his mannerisms as arrogant. Sanjay touted his power during the period of inflicted emergency and since then the Gandhi dynasty has an image of being a power hungry political entity. Sanjay Gandhi’s personality has been a controversial one and that’s why his death too has been just as mysterious.
Life seems to have come to a full circle as the Congress party is down in the dumps today just as it was in the post emergency period. The Janata Party is ruling the roost just as it did in the early 80’s. And just like in the past, can the Congress party gain back the confidence of its people? Can it recreate the same aura of the Gandhi dynasty that it once did? Only time will answer that one, but it makes me wonder, if Sanjay Gandhi was alive today, would he have done something better or would the fate of the nation have been different or should we believe the old saying that says ‘whatever happens, happens for good’.
Anjana George is a second year student pursuing Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from Christ University, Bangalore. She believes in the power of words and their magic to entwine people in thought and understanding. Her subjects of interest include politics, spirituality, architecture and movies among others. She is an avid reader and takes keen interest in writing, storytelling and photography. She aspires to be able to know people, places and lives and share her knowledge of experience with others. She can be contacted at the following email address- firstname.lastname@example.org.