New Delhi: In 1971, days before the fifth general elections in the country, an Italian journalist had asked Indira Gandhi about the issues that were bothering her party. “I am the issue,” tout came her reply. Indira had split the Indian National Congress into two parts before the elections. But the split didn’t matter. Few weeks later, her party won 352 seats and decimated the opposition.
“Indira Gandhi was India’s first Dabangg leader,” said TOI’s consulting editor Sagarika Ghose. “She was a formidable and ruthless leader who perceived power like no one else.” Ghose was speaking at the Times LitFest 2017 in New Delhi.
Sharing the stage with Ghose was retired diplomat Wajahat Habibullah and senior journalist Nalini Singh. The topic, ‘Indira Gandhi and the supremo cult in Indian politics’ was synonymous with Indira’s style of governance. “
There was a sense of Indian-ness among the people in the 1970’s and Indira captured that exceptionally well,” said Singh. “Woh kehte hai Indira hatao, main kahti hu, gareebi hatao,” Singh added, quoting Indira’s speech before the ’71 polls. Eradication of poverty was Indira’s top priority and Habibullah believed that she did everything in her power to remove the ‘gareebi’ she had mentioned in her election speeches.
“Indira was a fearless leader. She travelled to crime-infested Belchhi in Bihar, when no other leader wanted to step foot there,” said Ghose. “It’s been over three decades since she was assassinated, but the country still remembers Indira Gandhi’s brand of politics,” she added.
The Emergency was one of the most critical phases of Indian politics. “More than it’s implementation, what’s interesting is when Indira called it off,” Ghose explained. “Not many leaders would let go off the Emergency and calls for fresh polls. But the half-baked dictator that Indira was, went for it.”
She got the wrath of the nation when she was dismissed in the 1977 general elections, but made a stunning comeback two-and-half year later and started her second stint as the PM.
Habibullah and Singh both shared the same sentiments when they said that no other Indian politician would ever match Indira’s persona. “No country has ever achieved independence in 14 days; Indira Gandhi liberated Bangladesh from Pakistan in two weeks,” concluded Singh.
This article first appeared in The Times of India, Delhi Edition during Times LitFest Delhi 2017