Arguably, Mrs Gandhi remains India’s most written about political personality.
Journalists and writers such as Kuldip Nayyar, Tariq Ali, Inder Malhotra and Janardan Thakur have authored extensive articles or books
on the massive subversion of constitutional rights following her government’s decision to impose the Emergency in 1975 — which was declared 45 years ago today—while bureaucrats, political leaders and intellectuals such as P N Dhar, T V Rajeshwar, Rajni Kothari, A G Noorani, Nayantara Sehgal, Uma Vasudev, Tariq Ali, Pranab Mukherjee, Shankar Dayal Singh or Pranay Gupte have come out with their own versions. Among the available biographies on Mrs Gandhi, the one by American author Katherine Frank is the most complimentary.
Mr Sen has done extensive research, trawling through an ocean of published and unpublished material relating to Mrs Gandhi’s pre-Emergency years in office to arrive at this important proposition: That Mrs Gandhi — far from being the dictator she is made out to be — lacked the resources or the capability to tame the messy affairs of the Congress during the pre-Emergency period. Therefore, the logical supposition: That the subversion of constitutional democracy — as witnessed during the Emergency years — had not been prefigured by the political developments of Mrs Gandhi’s earlier years in office. Needless to say this: This thesis is much at variance with the conventional belief articulated by some noted political scientists.
The author’s exploration is painstaking, as he navigates the reader through a maze of mindboggling twists and turns of a fascinating and critical period of the nation’s political history: The emergence of the non-Congress Opposition for the first time in 1967; the split of the Congress in 1969; and the implosions and explosions within and outside the Congress when the “Aya Rams and the Gaya Rams” emerged on the political scene and party defections turned a routine feature of Indian politics.
In just five years — from 1967 and 1972, as the book recounts — Bihar witnessed nine governments, three spells of President’s Rule, and a mid-term election. This was also a period when chief ministers “imposed” by the Centre did not last long in their tenures — as was witnessed in various states including Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh. Mrs Gandhi, at the peak of her political career following the overwhelming victory in the 1971 parliamentary elections, had failed to install Ram Niwas Mirdha as Rajasthan chief minister. Based on such and related evidence, Mr Sen makes this observation: “In the prelude to the imposition of the Emergency, Mrs Gandhi had no overwhelming preponderance either within the party or in the government — except what could be expected in the case of a Prime Minister who was also the undisputed party leader”. In 1977, she announced general elections in the hope that she would get rewarded by the people for having disciplined the country but got unceremoniously thrown out of power.
Mr Sen’s book contains this important message: That current, past and future political narratives often have an umbilical link. The book strengthens theories that Indian political trends have continued to be marked by continuity and change.