Monday, November 18, 2013


19th November is Indira Gandhi’s 
97th Birth Anniversary

Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao

(From the Book “Dear to Behold” 
written by Krishna Nehru Hutheesingh)

On the night of 19th November 1917, the day the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamal was born, Anand Bhavan was brightly lit. People were going in and out of rooms…servants were rushing around to serve soft drinks to the women, Scotch-and-soda to the men. The baby was named Indira by Motilal. Jawaharlal and kamala added Priyadarshini meaning “dear to behold”. A serious, solemn child, Indira walked around freely to listen with curiosity to grown-ups who were to have a vital role in the history of India. She took in a great deal of what was happening.

The atmosphere of politics that pervaded Nehru home put unusual ideas into Indira’s head. Growing up almost alone, she amused herself by playing political theater, using dolls for dramatic scenes. From the high walls of Anand Bhavan she watched processions of Congress volunteers clad in white Khadi and carrying the Congress flag. Indira’s earliest memories are of cruel separation, as one or the other member of the family was suddenly hauled to prison. It was her grandfather who influenced her more than anyone else in her childhood. On December 6, 1921 little Indira at the age of four shouted at a police man who came to her house to confiscate some priceless carpets. She literally flew at the Inspector shaking her fists at him. Elders had to pull her away and calm her!

Jawaharlal Nehru believed that Indira being intimately associated with eminent men and women would do her good. He wanted to expand her outlook, in preparation for the kind of role in India’s national life that Nehru family assumed as a patriotic duty. She seemed to hunger for knowledge and was always very attentive to the conversations. Such contacts furthered her education. Nehru in every aspect right from her childhood prepared Indira for a bigger role in the national scenario. In the year 1930, on the New Year’s Day, the draft speech of declaration of Indian Independence, to be delivered by Nehru, was first readout to him by Indira, when she was just 13 years old!

When she was twelve, she rallied the children of neighborhood with a proposal to setup a children’s volunteer organization to fight for the freedom of the country. Indira named it as “Vanar Sena” (Monkey Brigade) based on a story in the epic Ramayana. She adopted the story to practical purposes. The bridge that she built was a bond of union between children and adults. Thousands joined her brigade. They worked as an auxiliary to the Congress making a flag, addressing envelops, serving water to the volunteers in the processions. They even bravely carried messages from one group to another in a truly underground system.

Indira changed number of schools. To compensate, Jawaharlal used to order number of books for Indira and she would read fairytales, children’s editions of Shakespeare, Dickens, Shaw and many of the classics. On reading them, Indira was fascinated by stories about Joan of Arc and practiced to be like her. She believed even at that age, that, some day she will lead her people to freedom just as Joan of Arc did. Since Indira never had a continuous schooling, Jawaharlal, in prison, supplemented her education by means of correspondence. He wrote a series of letters with the intent of providing direction to her thinking and learning. His next series dealt with happenings in the world from early man to modern civilizations. Indira loved her father’s letters. They stimulated her to read other books too.

While studying in Poona’s Pupils School, as a student, she was conscientious, hard working and intelligent. She was especially good in English and history and was proficient in French. She participated in cultural programs and sports. Her knowledge of politics and her excellence in school debates resulted in a school mock parliament electing her Prime Minister. After three years of formal course of study in Poona she passed matriculation and entered Santiniketan. Indira developed an interest in art and dancing and learned the Manipuri style of dancing and even performed a solo once. When she had to leave after one year, Rabindranath Tagore wrote to Jawaharlal: “It is with heavy heart that we bade farewell to Indira, for she was such an asset in our place…..I know she is extremely popular with the students….I hope she will soon return here”.

Indira left Santiniketan to take her mother to Germany and to stay with her. There they were joined from time to time by Feroze Gandhi, who would come over from London. He was an ardent admirer of kamala Nehru who was responsible for enlisting him in the civil disobedience movement as a Congress Volunteer. To Indira, he became a tower of strength in her solicitude for her mother. With Jawaharlal, Indira and Feroze at her bedside, Kamala Nehru died in February 1936.

Indira went to England to enter the Badminton School at Bristol to prepare for London Matriculation Examination. She saw a great deal of Feroze then. After Bristol she attended Oxford. Politics was in her blood. She worked for the India League under Krishna Menon on trips to London. While in Oxford she generally kept to herself. However she could always turn for companionship to the ever loyal Feroze. Because of her father’s long standing friendship with eminent Europeans, Indira had opportunities to meet wonderful people. Indira returned home in 1940 from Oxford and stayed in a rented accommodation in Mussoorie. That time Nehru was in Dehra Dun Prison.

On one of her visits to her father in prison Indira told him that she wanted to marry Feroze Gandhi, whose family was staying in Allahabad. Nehru initially was somewhat upset and suggested to Indira that she should postpone a final decision and take advantage of the opportunity to meet other young men. But Indira had made up her mind. When critics commented, Nehru issued a public statement and said: “When Indira and Feroze wanted to marry I accepted willingly their decision and they have my blessing”.

When Jawaharlal consulted Gandhiji, he advised Indira that the marriage should be a fairly big affair, even though he preferred a simple ceremony, to set aside rumors that her father is unwilling to stand by her. Indira’s wedding was performed with all the Vedic rites and took more than an hour and half. Her wedding sari was woven from yarn spun by her father during one of his prison terms. Instead of jewelry she wore ornaments made of flowers which were the Kashmiri custom. Indira Gandhi and Feroze after their marriage settled in Allahabad and for a brief time led a carefree and happy life but soon both of them were deeply absorbed in politics and involved in arrests.

In August 1942 after attending AICC meet in Bombay and staying with her aunt Krishna Nehru Hutheesingh, Indira Gandhi left for Allahabad. By then all the elders of Nehru family as well as Gandhiji were arrested. Feroze was in underground in Lucknow. In this background one day Indira deliberately courted arrest while hoisting the Congress flag. Later, on another occasion, when Indira Gandhi decided to defy the ban imposed by British on public meetings, and started addressing the gathering, she was arrested again along with Feroze. She was released after sometime on health grounds.

Indira Gandhi gave birth to her first son Rajiv Gandhi on August 20, 1944 in Bombay where her aunt Krishna Nehru Hutheesingh was living. For a while she devoted herself to the care of her son Rajiv. In November 1946 Feroze family moved to Lucknow in view of his joining in National Herald as Managing Editor. There, Indira Gandhi busied herself with local Congress activities. During that time, as Interim Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had to live in an official residence in New Delhi. Indira had to shuttle to and fro between Delhi and Lucknow to help father. At this juncture, Indira was to have her second confinement in New Delhi. She gave birth to Sanjay Gandhi on December 14, 1946.

During the partition days of India, when Hindu-Muslim struggle started, and number of refugee camps started functioning, Indira Gandhi though not well and anemic after the birth of her second son, rallied for the work of alleviating the misery of the refugees. When she heard that a mob surrounded the house of a poor Muslim, Indira went there bravely, and despite protests from Hindu crowd she got the whole family into her jeep and took them to her father’s house. Gradually the violence subsided and sanity returned.

After India became independent, Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister. In October 1949, he along with Indira Gandhi made their first trip to USA. The official residence of Prime Minister in Delhi was changed to present day Teen Murti House. Indira had to set up the new house and slowly she had no option except to continue to stay with her father almost permanently. She was the hostess when important visitors came from abroad. Feroze suggested to his wife that he would make frequent visits to Delhi instead of her travelling to Lucknow with children and the arrangement continued.

Indira Gandhi accompanied her father to almost all foreign countries. When foreign dignitaries like Khrushchev, Bulganin, Nasser, Chou En-Lai and Roosevelt visited Delhi, for Indira Gandhi it was an opportunity to make acquaintance with them as she always attended meetings with them. During the first general elections under the new constitution held in 1952 and when Jawaharlal travelled the length and breadth of the land, Indira Gandhi often campaigned alongside him. In the process, Indira Gandhi made her home in her father’s house in Delhi and had to sacrifice her family life with Feroze Gandhi. He however was active in politics and even won Lok Sabha seat. Though Feroze moved to Delhi, he stayed separately. He also made a name for himself as an MP. Feroze passed away on September 8, 1960 when Indira Gandhi was on his bedside.

In 1957 elections Indira campaigned for her father in Phulpur, where her speeches drew large crowds. In February 1959 she was elected AICC President. In that capacity she persuaded the Parliament to dismiss the Kerala Communist Government and bring under President Rule. In the subsequent elections Congress returned to power there. When her father fell ill people started asking questions like “After Nehru, who?” To every one’s surprise Nehru brought Lal Bahadur Shastri into the cabinet hinting at he was his successor. On May 27, 1964 Nehru passed away and Lal Bahadur succeeded him as PM. Shastri persuaded Indira Gandhi to join his cabinet as Minister for Information and Broadcasting. In that capacity she moved to Safdar Jung Road official residence. During the night to celebrate the Tashkent pact after the dinner Shastri had a heart attack and died.

   There were many in the race for PM post. Chief among them were Morarji Desai, YB Chavan, Guljarilal Nanda, Jagjivan Ram, SK Patil etc. AICC President Kamaraj favored Indira Gandhi and suggested her name to the working committee. Morarji dissented and wanted an election. The date of the election was fixed for January 19, 1966 when the Congress party MPs had to elect the leader. Indira Gandhi secured 355 votes against Morarji Desai’s 169 and she was elected the leader and succeeded Shastri as the 3rd Prime Minister of India.

From then it has been a contemporary history and she proved to be the strongest PM of the country and as one of the most powerful leaders of the world! 

No comments:

Post a Comment