Indira Gandhi

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


A profile

India Today

Shekhar Gupta

November 6, 2014

It is generally accepted wisdom that the Indira Gandhi years were the pinkest in India's economic history. Also, that her second phase (at the peak of her glory in 1971 till post-Emergency fall in 1977) was the most deeply socialist of three, the first being 1966-71 and the third 1980-84. Some of India's worst economic laws were enacted by her largely illegitimate Parliament during the Emergency, some even in its embarrassing sixth year. Most symbolically notable of these is the word socialist, along with secular, added to the Preamble of the Constitution.

The 30th anniversary of her assassination would probably have passed less eventfully if the formality of the usual official ceremony had not been dispensed with as Sardar Patel's birth anniversary on the same day got precedence, as you would expect now that we have our first Government of the Right, and unabashedly so. But this controversy provided just the spark needed to reignite some fresh debates on the years of our most significant prime minister so far. Much of the stuff on her politics, creative destruction of the Congress and Emergency, her iron will and patriotism is familiar to most Indians.

Fresh, intriguing and sometimes pleasant surprises, however, emerged on how her economic thinking evolved over these years. As you would expect, T.N. Ninan, our most formidable commentator on economy and business (and my executive editor at India Today, 1985-88), initiated this with a provocative column a few days before the anniversary. He said, intriguingly, that far from reinforcing her socialist drive, Indira Gandhi had actually begun to loosen things up, or at least start some review and introspection by the end of 1974, a year before the Emergency.

Briefly, his thesis is that by this time India was in deep economic distress. Inflation was running high, there was widespread popular disenchantment, and Indira made her most significant economic blunder yet. Under pressure from her durbari Leftist cabal, D.P. Dhar, P.N. Haksar, etc, she nationalised grain trade that too in a crisis year for agriculture. It caused such anger among farmers that, for the first time in her prime ministership, she was forced to withdraw a major decision. This set in motion the process of review and rethink. This was strengthened by two personalities, though one in departure and the other in arrival. In 1973, an Indian Airlines crash in New Delhi took away her steel and mines minister, and her most leftist comrade, Mohan Kumaramangalam, a former Communist Party member who had learnt as much ideology at Kings College, Cambridge, as law. Second was the rise of Sanjay Gandhi who, at least on his view of business and economy, was Kumaramangalam's opposite, even if you would not describe him as a libertarian in any other manner whatsoever.

One can find a great deal of wisdom and insight in Srinath Raghavan's brilliant essay on Indira Gandhi in Makers of Modern Asia, edited by Ramachandra Guha.

Raghavan says Indira's "socialist phase" continued till 1973. But this momentum was broken by a crisis inevitable in a post-war, populist economy. Monsoon failures and the 1973 oil shock, he reminds us, had taken our inflation rate to 33 per cent by late 1974. This also fuelled the JP movement. Indira first resorted to a tough anti-inflation squeeze, never mind the warnings of her Left ideologues that these would annoy people. She preferred, Raghavan tells us, the advice of the "more liberal" economic advisors, led by that virtuous usual suspect, Dr Manmohan Singh. She also approached the IMF for a $935 million (a lot then) bailout, quietly allowed the rupee to depreciate, thereby improving India's exports and reserves. Raghavan argues that 1973-74 "marked an important turning point" in her economic policy, one that remains "underappreciated". The shift, he says, was attitudinal more than substantive, but it brought growth. During 1975-78 India grew at 6 per cent per year, which was twice the fabled Hindu rate.

By1973-4 India faced 33% inflation, and historian Srinath Raghavan tells us Indira took the advice of the 'more liberal' economic advisors, led bythat virtuous usualsuspect, Dr Manmohan Singh.He quotes extensively from a fascinating exchange of letters between Indira and her close advisor and cousin, B.K. Nehru, whose views on economics seemed more liberal than on individual liberty he had hailed the Emergency as a "tour de force of immense courage". Now he was telling her to replace garibi hatao with utpadan badhao (increase production). Some of Nehru's lines are stunningly prescient, and we have been repeating the same thought, even if not so succinctly, during Sonia Gandhi's povertarian UPA 2. Raghavan quotes a December 1974 letter from an irritable Indira reminding Nehru that "under present conditions there can be no economic growth which ignores social justice" (Sounds familiar?). Nehru bravely joins that battle of ideas by asking whether "social justice [means] equality in poverty or growth in the size of the national cake which may continue to be divided in unequal portions if necessary". He goes on to argue that "all other objectives should be subordinated to this one objective of increasing production". This isn't much different from an oft-repeated lament of "equal distribution of poverty" by my economist friend Surjit Bhalla, who P. Chidambaram describes as being way to the right of Adam Smith, and which led me to the discovery of that trade-marked term, povertarianism.

But if one air crash had broken the socialist momentum, another intervened to disrupt her reformist phase as Sanjay died in his aerobatic plane so early in her new term (June 23, 1980). Indira did lose her will and spirit to a great extent and was never the same again. Her intellectual shift, however, continued.

I have it on the authority of several key officers and advisors who watched her closely, including foreign service giants like Jagat Mehta and J.N. Dixit, that she felt rotten at the position India was forced to take on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She felt humiliated that some of the speeches by our envoys at the UN sounded more grating than those of the Cubans. She also-probably-had the sense that the Cold War was going to end, and India couldn't afford to end up being totally on the loser's side. There is evidence that she had begun course-correction on foreign policy as well. In the 1981 multilateral summit at Cancun, Mexico, I believe she sought out Ronald Reagan, her first contact with the US at a high level after her disastrous time with Nixon. The following year she visited Washington and a process of mending relations was well and truly under way. She seems to have realised that in the new global strategic and economic order after the Cold War, India could not carry on being at odds with the West.

By 1983, however, India's internal security situation had deteriorated badly and left little scope for further economic action. Nellie and other massacres happened in Assam in February 1983. By this time Bhindranwale had risen, guns and all, in Punjab as well. What followed, until her assassination three decades ago, is relatively better known, more recent history. She has been deservedly given a place in history as a great patriot and martyr, a champion of India's integrity and sovereignty. Could it be that we have not yet fully appreciated her intellect and prescience on economic and foreign policies?

Postscript: While I was a full-time reporter 1977 onwards, I was too junior to get much opportunity to observe Indira Gandhi closely. My first, 10-minute, conversation with her was in 1979 as I button-holed her during a transit stop in Chandigarh, en route to Srinagar. She was out of power then, and had the patience for a persistent little reporter. I saw her up close again in somewhat different circumstances four years later as she came to Nellie a day after the terrible massacre that left more than 3,000 Muslims dead. There was fury writ large on her face. "Kitna dhoola udta hai " (how awfully dusty is it), she said several times as she walked out of the helicopter, its rotors hardly fully stationary yet. But her anger was not over the clouds of dust, as we soon saw.

She first looked daggers at KPS Gill (Inspector General of Police, Law and Order, in Assam) as if he were some delinquent neighbour and asked: "Kab tak jalta rahega yahan ?" (Until when will this place burn?) Only Gill could have the nerve to deal with that. "Let elections be over, Madam," then we will bring it to normal. Indira ignored him and walked ahead, officers, local party leaders struggling to keep pace.

She looked at the carnage, hundreds of bodies, fresh graves, the wounded. I do not believe I detected a tear in her eye. Just plain anger. As she turned around, the cowering figure of R.V. Subramanian, who ran the state under president's rule as chief advisor to the governor. "Teen hazaar Mussalman maare gaye, kaun jawab dega inko?" I remember she said "inko" and not "iska". She wasn't asking who was guilty, the first question was a moral, and political, one: how will we answer the Muslim minority?

By this time I saw her eyes turn moist. She put on her sunglasses, repeated the same question to a speechless Subramanian, turned and trudged back to her Mi-8, never mind the dust its rotors had already begun to churn. One thing I can tell you for sure. She would have been even more furious at the anti-Sikh carnage that followed her assassination.

1965: Prevented ban of first Chhattisgarhi film

The Times of India, Apr 30 2015

Avijit Ghosh

When Indira saved first Chhattisgarhi film from ban

Exactly 50 years ago, a section of brahmins in Raipur was outraged to know that Kahi Debe Sandesh, the first film in Chhattisgarhi dialect, was an inter-caste love story between a scheduled caste boy and a brahmin girl. They threatened to set fire to Manohar Talkies ­ it no longer exists ­ where the film was to be released and forced the owners to pull down the posters. The agitators wanted the movie to be banned. “But help came from two progressive Congress politicians: Mini Mata and Bhushan Keyur. Both spoke in favour of the movie. I was told Indira Gandhi (then I&B minister) also saw portions of the film and said the film promotes national integration. The protests died down after that,“ recalls the producer-directorwriter Manu Nayak, now 77.

Kahi Debe Sandesh (Convey the message) is today regarded as a classic. Earlier this month, it was shown at a film festival in Raipur amid acclaim to celebrate the golden jubilee of Chhattisgarhi cinema. The film had premiered on April 16, 1965 in Durg and Bhatapara. Due to the controversy, it was released in Raipur only in September 1965. “It ran for eight weeks at Rajkamal Talkies (now Raj),“ said Nayak, who lives in Mumbai.

How the movie was made is even more exciting than the controversy.As a teenager, Nayak ran away from Raipur to Bombay in 1957. After several twists and turns, he landed a job at the office of well-known director Mahesh Kaul (Naujawan) and top writer Pandit Mukhram Sharma (Ek Hi Raasta). Kaul and Sharma co-owned the banner, Anupam Chitra, which made films like Talaq (1958) and Diwana (1967).

“I was asked if I could copy dialogues in Hindi. Then I was asked to type something. I was hired for a salary of Rs 60 per month. When I left in 1963, it was Rs 300,“ he said.

Nayak was an odd jobs man at Anupam Chitra. Working with the two, he picked up the nuances of a script.NC Sippy, who later produced hits like Anand and Chupke Chupke, was the manager with the banner. “From him I learnt the business of cinema,“ he says.

The release of Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo, the first Bhojpuri film in 1962, created nationwide rip ples. Many producers announced language films. “I was fired up with a desire to make a film in Chhattisgarhi. But Kaul saab discouraged me.He asked, `Where would you show the films? How many cinema halls will exhibit a Chhattisgarhi film'?“ Nayak said.

But he was consumed by the idea.To begin with, Nayak recorded a song by Mohammed Rafi, Jhamkat nadiya bahini laage (The flow ing river is my sister). “I paid him Rs 400 from my T pocket,“ he says. Malay Chakraborty, a singer in the famous Little Ballet s troupe, was the music director. 4 Raising money was the bigger problem and Nayak put his own borrowing from relai tives and friends. It was crowdsourcing before the word was invented.“If you count the print and publicity, it cost Rs 1.25 lakh,“ he says.

Salim Khan, superstar Salman's father, was the first choice to play male lead. “But he quit before the shooting started saying he'd got a role in a Bhappi Sonie film. Madhavi, the heroine of Hamari Yaad Aayegi, also left,“ Nayak says.

Finally, Nayak settled for theatre actor Kaan Mohan, hero of the first Sindhi film, Abana (1958). Uma, a newcomer, was the leading lady. Surekha, the heroine of KA Abbas's touching tale of the roofless urban underclass, Shaher aur Sapna, was the second lead. Kapil Kumar, who later made his name as a lyricist in Basu Bhattach arya films, also had a role.

The film was shot in village Pal ari, 70 km from Raipur, between Nov and Dec 1964. The shooting was over in 22 days because the raw stock was finished. The remaining portions and two songs were filmed in Mumbai.

Distribution was difficult. “Distribu tor Tarachand Barjatya offered Rs 70,000 for the film which was about 60% of the cost.I refused and distributed the film myself,“ says Nayak.

The black and white film was shown in theatres, touring cinemas and village fairs. “I spent the next two years paying off my debts. But I had the satisfaction of making the first Chhattisgarhi film,“ he says. Nayak never made a film again, working the next 40 odd years as production assistant in Bol lywood films.

Now Chhattisgarhi films are a mini industry. In 2000, Bastar-born Satish Jain's film Mor Chhaihan Bhu inya (My shadow and earth) hit the bull's eye prompting a flurry of mov ies in the dialect over the next decade.

But Nayak isn't happy. “In today's films, only the dialogues are in Chhat tisgarhi. Nothing else ­ neither the characters nor the ambience ­ have the regional flavour,“ he says.

1969: ‘socialism’

When Indira banked on socialism, July 19, 2019: The Times of India

19 July 1969 was a historic day for the world
Other reports that day included floods in Assam, Congress infighting and the historic Apollo-11 Moon mission
From: When Indira banked on socialism, July 19, 2019: The Times of India

One day before Neil Armstrong took the famous “giant leap for mankind” on the Moon, Indira Gandhi took her own giant step towards consolidating her image as a pro-poor leader by nationalising 14 major private banks. Several other industries were to be nationalised in the years to come, but none was quite as significant politically or economically.

What came to be seen as the Indira brand of ‘socialism’ can arguably be traced back to that moment on July 19, 1969 when the PM announced the decision to the nation at 8.30 in the evening.

The idea of nationalising banks had been tossed around for much of the 1960s as private banks collapsed at a rapid rate, but politics played at least as large a role as economics in Indira biting the bullet.

Move aimed at ensuring credit availability to the rural sector

Indira Gandhi told the Congress session in Bangalore on July 12, 1969 that private banks would have to be nationalised, prompting her finance minister, Morarji Desai, a known advocate of promoting private enterprise, to quit. What she did not reveal was that she intended to push the plan through within the next week. The short time frame was forced on her by the impending resignation of acting President V V Giri on July 20 to contest the presidential polls. With the Syndicate — a rival faction within the Congress — pushing its own candidate for the post, it was far from certain whether Giri would win (as he eventually did) and almost certain that a Syndicate-supported president would not give the go-ahead for the planned legislation.

D N Ghosh, then deputy secretary, banking, in the finance ministry, recalled in his autobiography how a trio including him, P N Haksar, principal secretary to Indira, and A Bakshi, deputy governor of the RBI, were put on the job of drafting the ordinance that was to be issued. Neither L K Jha, the then RBI governor, nor I G Patel, secretary, economic affairs, in the ministry were involved in the exercise till the last minute, though Patel had earlier advised in favour of a move along these lines.

The stated objective of the move was to ensure that credit was available to the rural sector, something the private banks had failed to provide. Between 1951 and 1968, industry’s share in bank loans had nearly doubled to 68%. During the period, agriculture received just around 2% of bank credit. Considering the factor, this was also the time when the Green Revolution was being pushed, it was indeed a key factor.

Ready with the ordinance, which was drafted within 24 hours, Indira called a cabinet meeting at 5 pm on July 19, which cleared the legislation. Within hours, President Giri promulgated it and Indira addressed the nation at 8.30 pm.

Those linked to the banks taken over included some of the biggest names in Indian business — the Tatas, Birlas, Pais — and members of the social elite like the Maharajah of Baroda. But in a style that has come to be associated with her, once she had decided to go ahead, that was no deterrent for Indira.

“The bank nationalisation of 1969 was not a purely economic decision, politics was also involved. The question today is different whether we should have so many public sector banks or only a certain number of public sector banks. The question is whether the public holding can be diluted below 51%. The 1969 nationalisation was a major step which helped expand banking. The banking reforms of early 1990s helped to create an efficient banking system. Bank nationalisation helped take banking to newer areas, rural areas and the 1991 banking reforms helped provide stability and soundness to the banking system,” said C Rangarajan, former RBI governor.

The nationalisation was confined to the 14 largest Indian-owned banks, categorised as “major” by the RBI. These were banks with a deposit base of over Rs 50 crore, which between them accounted for 85% of bank deposits. There was some discussion within the government on whether or not National and Grindlays, a foreign-owned bank, should be included in the list of those to be nationalised, but it was felt safer not to antagonise foreign interests.

Not surprisingly, the nationalisation was challenged in the Supreme Court, which struck it down on February 10, 1970 on the grounds that it was discriminatory and the compensation being paid — a little under Rs 9,000 crore all told — was too little. But Indira decided to override the SC order by bringing in a new ordinance four days later that was subsequently replaced by the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings ) Act, 1970.

Today, most bankers agree that nationalisation may have done more good than harm, though it may no longer be a relevant model. Former SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya said: “If the aim of nationalisation was to take banking to the farthest reaches of the country, then it is has succeeded to a large extent…However, probably we have got to a point where there is a need to experiment with newer models for efficiency of delivery.”

“The Unseen Indira Gandhi” in India-Pakistan war, 1971: K. P. Mathur

The Times of India

A day after the India-Pakistan war erupted in 1971, then prime minister Indira Gandhi was so cool that she was changing the bedcovers on a 'diwan' when her personal physician walked in.

"I had the occasion to see PM herself changing the bedcovers on the diwan," K.P. Mathur says in his just released book based on the many years spent with Gandhi. "It was the day after the Bangladesh war had started and she had worked late into the night," says the book, "The Unseen Indira Gandhi" (Konark Publishers).

"When I went to see her in the morning, I saw her engaged in the exercise of dusting. Perhaps, it helped her release the tension of the earlier night."

The 151-page book is full of anecdotes that the former physician of Safdarjung Hospital here recalls from his nearly 20-year association with Gandhi till her assassination in 1984. According to Mathur, when Pakistan attacked India on December 3, 1971, Gandhi was in Kolkata. She flew back to Delhi.

"During the flight, she was cool and composed as ever; her mind was obviously occupied with the strategy of war, the future course of action." But the same Gandhi used to be nervous soon after she took charge as prime minister in 1966, the book says.

"During the first year or two of her becoming PM, she used to be very tense, a bit confused and not sure of herself. She had no advisors and was almost friendless...

"She would also get stomach upsets in the early days of being PM which I believe was the result of the same nervousness."

Mathur describes Gandhi as "a pleasant, caring and helpful person" who treated servants in her household well, addressing each one by his or her name. "Nobody was shouted for."

Gandhi lived a simple life with no sign of opulence. "Thrift was her guiding principle." She refused to move into Teen Murti House and added "a couple of rooms" only after Rajiv Gandhi married Sonia in 1968. When she went on tours, breakfast was ordered from the South Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place. After the Rajiv-Sonia marriage, "PM was very keen that Sonia should get into the social and cultural life of the country". She described Sonia as "bahurani" while speaking to others in the house. Describing Indira Gandhi as "a loving mother, grandmother and an understanding and non-interfering mother-in-law", Mathur says Gandhi took an immediate liking for Sonia. "PM and Sonia took to each other in no time... Sonia very soon took over the responsibility of running the (Gandhi) household."

Indira Gandhi would take it easy on Saturdays, the book says. And on Sundays and other holidays, she relaxed with books, especially biographies of great men. She also liked books on subjects connected with the body and mind and was fond of solving crossword puzzles.

"Sometimes, after lunch, she liked to play cards. Her favourite card game was Kali Mam." Mathur says that Gandhi accepted her defeat in the 1977 Lok Sabha election "gracefully".

"Initially, PM felt a bit lonely after losing the elections. She had nothing to do. No files would come to her...

"She had no office, no staff car or even a car of her own. The staff car allotted to her had been withdrawn and she had no telephone operator to help and she had forgotten the telephone numbers of friends."

The book says Gandhi was not only religious but also superstitious. She wore a rosary of rudraksha beads received from spiritual guru Anandmayi Ma. "I am not sure whether PM performed a regular puja every day but she had framed pictures and small statues of many Gods arranged in a separate room with a small mat on the floor, presumably for her to sit on and pray.

"She would make it a point to visit every famous temple in any part of the country during her tours. "She prayed at the Badri-Kedar and many south Indian temples. She had visited Tirupathi several times as well as Vaishno Devi, always fully observing the prescribed rituals."


Tapping IB to guess verdict in election malpractices case

The Times of India, Sep 20, 2015

'Indira tapped Intelligence Bureau to gauge verdict in 1975 case'

Forty years after the momentous Allahabad HC verdict which declared then PM Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha void, culminating in the imposition of Emergency, former Intelligence Bureau chief TV Rajeswar has revealed how the agency tried to find out which way the wind was blowing in the case.

In a memoir that hit the stands on Saturday, Rajeswar writes that there was "keenness bordering on fear" on the part of those close to Gandhi to find out what was going on in the mind of justice Jagmohanlal Sinha, who was the judge in the case.

Rajeswar says he sent an experienced IB officer J N Roy to make discreet enquiries. "Roy found to his dismay that justice Sinha's personal assistant more or less stayed in the judge's house and could not be reached at all. Some of justice Sinha's colleagues, who tried to draw him out in the course of casual conversation, found him totally non-communicative. We drew a blank," writes Rajeswar, who was IB joint director during the Emergency,

On June 12, 1975, Justice Sinha declared Gandhi guilty of dishonest election practices, excessive poll expenditure and of using government machinery and officials for party purposes. He ruled her election void and also barred her from running for any office for six years. Though she did get a conditional stay, the Supreme Court suspended her right to vote in the House as an MP. The opposition launched an agitation and, on June 25, Gandhi imposed the Emergency.

"The IB wasn't consulted on the Emergency," Rajeswar told TOI. He said that six months into the Emergency, the IB advised calling it off, releasing all prisoners and going for polls in March 1976. "Mrs Gandhi was inclined to go with the IB's view but in the end, it was Sanjay Gandhi who had a decisive say," writes Rajeswar.

1984: Assassination

India Today December 29, 2008

It was a political assassination that shocked the nation perhaps as profoundly as that of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. On the morning of October 31, 1984, prime minister Indira Gandhi had an appointment with well-known actor Peter Ustinov to record an interview. But it was an appointment she could not keep. “She died in the one contingency that her legion of security officials had been unable to guard against: traitors from within her own security guards,” said India Today in November 1984.

1984: After her assassination

Delhi Police told to report to PMO

The Times of India, May 9, 2016

Academic and journalist Vinay Sitapati -given unprecedented access to hundreds of P V NarasimhaRao's personal papers -reveals how as home minister, Rao received a phone call on the evening of October 31, 1984 from a Congressman very close to Rajiv, informing him that Delhi Police, from the commissioner to SHOs, would report directly to the PMO, bypassing Rao.

The ostensible reason was to better contain violence in the aftermath of Indira's assassination. The less charitable explanation was to ensure inaction, at least for a couple of days, while Sikhs were attacked by Congress-led mobs.

1984: Death threats to Thatcher for attending funeral

The Times of India, Jul 18 2015

`Thatcher got death threats for attending Indira funeral’

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had received death threats to her life in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination in October 1984, according to newly-declassified UK government documents. Thatcher flew down to New Delhi to attend her funeral on November 3 that year against the backdrop of at least two documented threats to her life. The UK embassy in Helsinki had received a phone call from a man with a "Middle Eastern or Asian accent" who said: “I have a feeling there is going to be an attack on Thatcher. I have never been wrong before,“ according to a telegram to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office released under the 30-year declassification rule.



Silent Valley

Indira Gandhi as PM saved unique rainforests in Kerala: Book , Apr 16, 2017: The Times of India

KOCHI: Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister saved one of world's unique rain forests by overruling her own party's stand to set up a mega hydel power project in Kerala's Silent Valley, says a new book.

The book titled "Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature" authored by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh says both the Congress and the CPI(M) in Kerala wanted to build a hydroelectric project across the Kunthipuzha River that runs through Silent Valley, home to the one of the most endangered primates of India-- lion-tailed macaque.

Referring to the four-decade-old Silent Valley movement of Kerala, the book says powerful Congress leader K Karunakaran and party's local MP V S Vijayaraghavan were in support of the project proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board(KSEB) in Silent Valley nestled in the high mountains of the Western Ghats.

"Indira Gandhi took almost three years to discuss, debate and decide against it in October 1983," says the book to be launched on June 10.

The supporters of the hydel project across the river in Palakkad district had argued that the development of the Malabar region of Kerala would be affected if the project was dropped.

Talking to PTI, Ramesh, a former Union Environment Minister, described Silent Valley Movement as second most important landmark in India's environment history after the Chipko Movement.

He said it was a very tough fight as all the powerful political personalities were on one side and all the environmentalists and activists who really have no political influence were on the other side.

Ramesh said Gandhi had expressed her strong views on the Silent Valley through her letters sent to Chief Ministers of Kerala including CPI(M)'s E K Nayanar and Congress leader K Karunakaran.

The Congress leader said his book on Gandhi was done by drawing extensively from her unpublished letters, notes, messages and memos.

The book offers a lively, conversational narrative of a relatively little known but fascinating aspect of the former Prime Minister's tumultuous life, Ramesh said.

The nature lover

Jairam Ramesh , The Natural politician “India Today” 5/6/2017

In his new book, Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature, Jairam Ramesh displays some deft footwork in walking the line between hagiography and candour. The Congress veteran has a reputation for being independent-minded to the point of being a political inconvenience (something he demonstrated in his term as environment minister) but his loyalties have never been in question either. While this book is certainly intended to cement the iconic if not universally-loved former PM's deserved reputation as a champion of nature in general and wildlife protection in particular, it does thankfully stop short of the fawning prose Mrs Gandhi notoriously encouraged in her day. And there's plenty in this essentially anecdotal volume to delight both loyalists and sceptics-among them a few winking asides, notably this classic: "I was unable to get some of her [Indira's] letters to her younger son Sanjay-his widow told me that 'deemaks' have eaten them away over the years."


The First Family and Other Animals

For fourteen years, Indira Gandhi lived in Teen Murti House, the prime minister's official residence in a lush green 65-acre complex with peacocks and various other birds. This sprawling colonial-era bungalow was originally built for the British commander-in-chief who started living there in 1930. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, there was concern that Nehru might be the next target. A reluctant Nehru was persuaded by his cabinet to move into the bungalow, which he did on August 2, 1948. Indira Gandhi shuttled back and forth between Lucknow and New Delhi, before moving in full-time with her father in early 1950. The prime minister's residence was a mini-zoo of sorts-as graphically described by Indira Gandhi herself seven years into her stay there:

We always had dogs, the good kind with long pedigrees and others rescued off the streets that were just as devoted-also parrots, pigeons, squirrels and practically every small creature common to the Indian scene. And we thought life was pretty full, looking after them on top of all the older [sic] chores. Then in Assam, we were presented with a baby cat-bear (or red Himalayan panda), although we did not know what it was until we reached Agartala and were able to study the book of Indian animals in the Commissioner's library [...] Much later we got him a mate [...] and now they have the most adorable little cubs-the first, I believe, to be bred in captivity. My father calls on the panda family morning and evening. They miss him when he is out of station...

Two years ago, we received our first tiger cubs-there were three named Bhim, Bhairav and Hidimba. A man came from Lucknow Zoo to teach us how to look after them [...After a while] we sent them off to the Lucknow Zoo where you can still meet Bhim and Hidimba; magnificent beasts, their muscles rippling with power and grace. [Marshal] Tito asked for one of them and Bhairav now resides in Belgrade.

Finding Favour

Less than a fortnight after taking the hugely controversial step of devaluing the Indian rupee and opening up the economy, Indira Gandhi embarked on a four-day tour of the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh. After landing by helicopter in Uttarkashi on June 16, she was received by the 29-year-old district magistrate Manmohan 'Moni' Malhoutra. They drove to the rest house where Indira Gandhi's political colleagues were waiting. There, she talked to them, after which Malhoutra and Indira Gandhi had a conversation on administrative issues in the district, which began thus-as recalled to me by Malhoutra:

Indira Gandhi: Well, my people tell me you are not being very helpful to them.

Moni Malhoutra: Madam, you mean helpful or pliant?

Sucheta Kripalani (chief minister of UP): Indiraji, he is one of our finest officers.

...A month later, on July 20, she visited Uttarkashi again-but this time with no entourage and without any fanfare whatsoever. She had come with her sons for a four-day private holiday at Harsil, a remote village that had no telephone and telegraph facilities. As protocol demanded, Malhoutra was in attendance. In this desolate place, the prime minister and he conversed about life in the mountains, trekking and books.

Indira Gandhi flew back to New Delhi on July 23. Three months later Malhoutra was told that he had to move to the prime minister's secretariat as an under-secretary-the lowest position in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) hierarchy in the Government of India. There was no formal office order regarding what exactly he was supposed to do but, as it turned out, Malhoutra was to assist the prime minister directly on environmental subjects for seven years. This shows the non-hierarchical manner in which Indira Gandhi ran her secretariat for the first five-six years.

Cold War Climate Change

The monsoon had failed miserably in 1965 and 1966 and India was forced to be a supplicant for wheat, especially from the USA. This had contributed to Indira Gandhi's determination to make India self-sufficient in the production of foodgrains at the earliest. Much has been written about this in her biographies and in the histories of the bilateral relationship between India and the USA.

But two successive monsoon failures also led to top-secret environmental diplomacy which has not been written about by anyone, except American historian Kristine Harper. With Indira Gandhi's approval in late 1966, the USA was to launch Project Gromet-a cloud seeding venture by the US military in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh-in the early months of 1967. President Lyndon Johnson and Defence Secretary Robert McNamara were its greatest champions.

Gromet was not as innocent and straightforward as it appeared. It was very much part of the Cold War and linked with the use of the 'weather weapon' by the US military in Laos and Vietnam. It is inconceivable that Indira Gandhi would have been unaware of this, but whatever objections she may have had would have found counter-arguments by key advisors like Vikram Sarabhai who had been appointed as the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in May; L.K. Jha, her secretary; and B.K. Nehru, India's ambassador in the USA. It is a measure of how weak she was politically and how desperate the situation was agriculturally that she allowed herself to be persuaded to go along with Gromet, even though ultimately it amounted to nothing.

As it turned out, the monsoon in 1967 and 1968 revived without this project. Besides, by then, new high-yielding crop varieties had started generating enthusiasm among farmers in Punjab and Haryana. The moment of extreme danger had passed.

Till the Cows Come Home

November 7, 1966, had seen a most unusual attack on Parliament. Thousands of sadhus-many clad in saffron robes, others naked-staged an assault demanding a national law to ban cow slaughter immediately. Police had to resort to firing and a few of the protesters were killed. Indira Gandhi quickly secured the resignation of home minister Gulzarilal Nanda, who was widely seen to be sympathetic to the agitationists.

On June 29, she set up a high-powered committee to examine the entire issue of a national law to ban cow slaughter. It was headed by A.K. Sarkar, a former chief justice of India, and had, as its members, chief ministers, political leaders, religious figures, cow protection activists, animal husbandry experts like Dr V. Kurien, and the then chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission, Ashok Mitra. The high-powered committee was given six months to submit its report.

Meanwhile, conservationists got involved in the debate and, at the behest of Zafar Futehally, Dillon Ripley [the legendary ornithologist] wrote to Indira Gandhi on October 3 suggesting a study be conducted by the BNHS [Bombay Natural History Society] and the Smithsonian Institution on India's cattle issue from the point of view of environmental management. He wrote:

I personally believe that one of the most important studies that might be undertaken today is an ecological approach to the age-old problem of the impact of cattle on lands in India.

I write at this time with some sense of urgency because of the recent developments which have led, I am informed, to the appointment of a committee which will report to your Government on the issue of imposing a ban on the slaughter of cows throughout India.

To ensure that his letter got the prime minister's personal attention, Ripley added a postscript:

I hope to come to Delhi soon and have a chance to speak once more to the Delhi Bird Watching Society. Salim Ali took me along with him to Bhutan this spring. Peter Jackson joined us. We had a marvelous time and had wonderful birding.

The letter was acknowledged a week later by an official in the prime minister's secretariat. But the next month, on November 7, India's US Ambassador Chester Bowles reprimanded Dillon Ripley:

At my request, my deputy Mr Greene, found an opportunity the other day to sound out Mrs Gandhi's right-hand man, P.N. Haksar, about your letter. Haksar readily confirmed that it had been received and as much said he thought it better to leave the complexities of the cow problem to the Government of India. Mr Greene asked whether the Prime Minister had replied to your letter and was told that she had not; we infer that she probably will not.

It would help to get acceptance of projects in which you are interested if you would forward them to us for comment and/or discussion with the Government of India, rather than directly.

From then on, Ripley was to make sure that Salim Ali approved all his letters to Indira Gandhi. As for the study, it never did take off and the cow protection committee itself was to keep meeting for 12 years till it was disbanded in 1979 by Indira Gandhi's successor. It never submitted its report.

Mathai claimed intimacy with Indira Gandhi

The Times of India, September 22, 2015

Former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief T V Rajeswar has claimed the exist claimed the existence of a highly controversial “missing“ chapter in the memoirs of M O Mathai, the private secretary of Jawaharlal Nehru, in which he allegedly wrote about his purported intimacy with Indira Gandhi. He told a TV channel that in 1981, when he was IB director, M G Ramachandran, then Tamil Nadu chief minister, had given him the chapter. Rajeswar in turn handed it to Indira Gandhi. She received it without comment. When asked if he read the chapter, Rajeswar said “I did not. There was no need. There was no discussion.“ The de tails of the episode form part of Rajes war's recently pub lished book “India, The Crucial Years“. The “missing“ chapter was apparent chapter was apparently removed before the publication of Mathai's memoirs. Accord ing to the publisher's note on page 153, the chapter was with drawn by Mathai himself.

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