Category Archives: India

Indira II

Indira became the prime minister of India in 1966 following the death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on the 11th of January 1965. Both Nehru and Shastri were from the Gandhi camp and they were no doubt inspired and influenced by his non-violent stance and his rather peaceful approach to things.

While both men were without doubt able administrators, and were more than capable of governing the country in times of peace neither were suitable candidates to govern in times of war and could be blamed at least partly for India’s relatively poor showing in the first Indo-Pakistan war (1947 – 1948) or the war of Kashmir, the Sino-India War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Despite the fact that almost little or no territory changed hands in all three wars there was a significant loss of lives.

Things however were vastly different in the Liberation War of Bangladesh 1971. The Nixon administration fearing a rise in Soviet influence, primarily due to affairs in Afghanistan where the Soviet Union was gaining a firm foothold, encouraged their then allies to send supplies to Pakistan and were prepared to overlook or ignore the 1971 genocide of Bangladesh.

It is also worth adding that in the aftermath of 1947 it was obvious that India needed to bolster its defense capabilities and that to some degree explains the BJP’s success in recent times i.e. the willingness to spend extensively on defense. This coupled with the fact that there have been significant improvements in indigenous defense systems and the BJP’s willingness to maintain the trend has helped increase the BJP’s popularity. As far as the average Indian is concerned there are certain sectors that he or she wants to see significant improvements in and defense is one of them.

Indira was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi at an early age and was no doubt familiar with him, his work and his teachings but she could never be described as a leader in the Gandhi mold or even as a leader who was in the Nehru or Shastri mold for that matter and despite having served under both of them – she served as her father’s personal assistant and following her father’s death in 1964 she was appointed the minister of information and broadcasting by the Shastri government, she was nothing like them. She was also appointed the president of the congress party in 1959 and served in the capacity for a year.

There was nothing in her past to indicate that there would be a gradual move away from democracy towards a more state based economy, but that was in effect what happened following the 1966 elections, when the congress party won the elections, albeit by a smaller number of seats and Indira became the prime minister of India. I suspect that the move towards socialism was spurred on not by a sudden fixation for communism but rather a need to address the countries more pressing problems i.e. poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality. Despite the constant criticisms that are hurled at it, socialism does in fact advocate for a more equal distribution of wealth.

As soon as she was appointed the prime minister of India, Indira showed a boldness that would take many of her congress allies by surprise especially those that were expecting a docile leader who would accede to all their wishes because her actions clearly told the congress party that she was prepared to throw party politics out the window.

I am not going to say that she didn’t create a class of hyper rich, I think she did but not intentionally. It happens with nationalization i.e. when ownership is transferred from the private sector to the state and then back to the private sector it tends to create a class of hyper rich people who have a monopoly over certain sectors.

She also entrusted certain key people with the development of certain sectors for example the iron and steel sector and pioneered the growth of the Tatas, the Birlas and numerous other multinational companies like them.

In 1969 Indira nationalized the fourteen largest banks in India and while her popularity with the congress party especially its president was going downhill, her popularity among the regional parties was growing especially the DMK and that started the south’s long-standing infatuation with Indira.

I’m not saying that the leaders of the DMK are not rich. To the contrary they are exorbitantly rich but they too were founded on socialist principles and idolized both Lenin and Stalin and the bottom-line here was simply a better distribution of wealth especially among the Dravidians who felt left out and marginalized by the north. Whether that was indeed the case or otherwise was and is an entirely different matter but at that stage they saw in Indira a leader who was willing to address the inequalities and the alliance was formed.

Indira I

This is my first attempt at writing something that remotely resembles a biography and the person I have selected is none other than the iron lady of India, its second longest serving prime minister and perhaps the most complex person to serve as the prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi.

Of all the prime ministers of India, I am most fascinated by Indira and unlike most prime ministers who served in times of peace, she was one of the few women prime ministers who served during a war – a war that India was never expected to win, and if it wasn’t for her tenacity, India in all probability, would have lost the war.

At the onset, I have to admit that it is impossible to cover her whole life in an article or a series of articles because it was a long and illustrious career and her tenure as prime minister spanned more than a decade. Her first tenure lasted for ten years and her second tenure for four.

The events that we will be looking at here will be the events that piqued my interest as a young boy reading the New Straits Times between the age of 10-14 and we will look at the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, the death of her son Sanjay – a death that rocked the nation and a death many believe was an assassination, the subsequent fall-out with her daughter in law Maneka, who remains the only member of the Nehru dynasty who is not associated or affiliated to the Congress Party of India. Maneka who has had a long and illustrious political career herself serves with the BJP and finally the events that led to Indira’s death.

The events that I have mentioned here are by no means complete or comprehensive and for anyone who wants to acquire an insight to the life of India’s iron woman, it is best that they get a copy of her biography (there are a few in the market).

I read one of her biographies many years ago and to date I have never really managed to grasp the depths of it. Her life was by no means simple.

Indira was India’s third prime minister; her father Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first and longest serving prime minister and Indira was his only daughter. Indira in fact was an only child and being born in one of the most politically influential families in India, it would be fair to say that she would have come to terms with the intricacies and the subtleties of Indian politics at an early age.

India is one of the most difficult countries in the world to govern, not only because of the size of its population but also because of its diversity and each of its 29 states often demand separate attention and it is more often than not difficult to appease all the parties in the mix, but despite that Indira managed to keep a lid on things. This coupled with India’s external foes makes governing India challenging to say the least.

Indira was a Kashmiri Pandit or a Kashmiri Brahmin and she was born in Allahabad a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a state rich in history but not without its share of conflicts. Even at birth Indira could never be described as the contemporary Indian because Indians today are normally associated with states like Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana or Bengal and places like Mumbai and Delhi from the western perspective of things anyway.

The young Indira could aptly be described as the orthodox Brahmin girl and she was without doubt conservative but that was only to be expected given the strict upbringing most Kashmiri Pandit girls have.

Indira however was very, very intelligent and I remember reading somewhere that she loved reading and she was very knowledgeable and that she’d even read works like the arthashastra, something that most people don’t read. So it is fair to say that even at a young age, well before being elected the prime minister of India, the concepts of conflict and war were not alien to her and she was to a very large degree or extent able to accept conflict and war for what it was and that would have no doubt helped her during her tenure as prime minister where she would have had to face conflict and war over and over again.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

Among the top tier parties in India with a larger support base than most parties and a party that has a bigger national appeal than many of the other parties and is not limited to a specific state, region or territory is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose core supporters come from the schedule castes, schedule tribes and other backwards castes and while the party doesn’t have a manifesto per se or has opted not to release one, it represents the rights of those who do not belong to the upper class or castes and while people outside India may have difficulties coming to terms with the caste system, it does play a role in Indian politics. Caste based politics is an ugly facet of Indian politics and representatives do get elected on the caste ticket especially if they represent the dominant caste in a specific area or constituency.

In addition to state interests and national interests’ politicians in India sometimes also have to contend with caste based issues and this can at times lead to heated debates in the political arena but it is not as bad as some people make it out to be. Most Indians these days realize the mistakes that they have made in the past and are working towards overcoming caste related obstacles and likewise most parties realize that in order to either acquire or hang on to the reins of power they need support from all sections of the community and both the BJP and the INC are working towards building a broader support base and are wooing supporters from all sections of the community, regardless of caste, race or religion.

Despite the fact that there have been numerous reports on caste biasness, the official stance has always been to give more privileges to the less fortunate especially when it comes to education and employment.

The government strategy for many, many, years has been to give preference to those that belong to backward castes but that mechanism can sometimes break down at regional levels and it is almost impossible at times to steer away from caste based issues especially when there are politicians who choose to play up on those issues.

The BSP is not without its internal divisions but that is only to be expected. Any party that has a large and diverse following is bound to have internal divides.

The party was founded in 1984 and has been around for some time. Its founder Kanshi Ram was born in the Ropar District of Punjab to a Sikh family. He also founded the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees’ Federation (BAMCEF) in 1971 and the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti in 1981 which was the predecessor of the present BSP to raise awareness among Dalits on caste based issues and the role of Dalits in the wider political spectrum.

Caste issues are not only prevalent among Hindus but it was and in some instances still is an issue among Sikhs. He died in 2003 (18th September) and was succeeded by the incumbent, Mayawati, who has served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh four times and can be described as a veteran politician who still has a very strong following in Uttar Pradesh.

Mayawati is an outspoken critic of the BJP, a party that she views as a predominantly Hindu party and at once stage she even threatened to convert to Buddhism if the BJP doesn’t change its attitude towards the Dalits, but as I have mentioned earlier the BJP is making efforts to widen its support base, it has too if it wants to remain in power.

The party continues to campaign for the rights of Dalits who without doubt belong to the most vulnerable sections of the community and are sometimes threatened with violence. In 2017 for example, a BSP party leader Rajesh Yadav was shot dead and that is an indication of how heated things can get.

The party is currently trying to expand its support base, especially after the BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and is willing to join hands with other secular parties if the terms are acceptable. The BJP’s victory as far as the party is concerned was largely due to the use of Electronic Voting Systems and the party is current pushing for a return to paper balloting.