Sanjay’s men and women
Sanjay Gandhi has been resurrected. Forgotten for nearly thirty years, both, the BJP and the Congress, are invoking him. For different reasons though.
The BJP leadership is seeing Sanjay as the “lesser villain” in, as quote L.K. Advani blogged “the unforgiveable crime” of imposing Emergency. To the BJP the Emergency is like Nazis rule and its imposition a greater sin than its excesses.
The Congress, on the other hand, charges Sanjay Gandhi of “over enthusiasm” in dealing with certain programmes and I quote yet again: “Unfortunately, in certain spheres, over enthusiasm led to compulsion in enforcement of certain programmes like compulsory sterilisation and clearance of slums. Sanjay Gandhi had by then emerged as a leader of great significance. It was due to his support to family planning that the government decided to pursue it more vigorously. He also promoted slum clearance, anti dowry measures and promotion of literacy but in an arbitrary and authoritarian manner much to the annoyance of the popular opinion”.
In its recently released volume “The Congress and the making of the Indian Nation” commemorating the 125th year of its founding, the Congress admits to its mistakes not of the Emergency but its excesses; the authoritarian style of Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi inability to deal with the power brokers in the Party.
I knew both Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi. Sanjay was an authoritarian and Rajiv a gentleman; Sanjay was obsessed with politics and Rajiv wanted to steer clear of it. Sanjay had no patience while Rajiv was tolerant and made space for viewpoints other than his. Sanjay helped his friends come to power while Rajiv friends spelt his doom. Sanjay’s pals swore by him; Rajiv’s buddies parted ways. Sanjay was a self-anointed Emperor; Rajiv a reluctant ruler. Equally Sanjay’s wife, Maneka, was madly ambitious; in contrast Rajiv’s widow went into a shell and did not join politics till it became absolutely necessary. Given a chance Maneka would give her right arm to grab power; Sonia willing to call it a day sooner than later.
Sanjay’s regime saw the emergence of young and educated people. If Ambica Soni, Kamal Nath, Ghulam Nabi Azad are ministers it is thanks to Sanjay Gandhi: it was he who handpicked them and pushed them to contest elections. When they entered Parliament as MPs it was a pleasant change: for the first time the corridors were dominated with fresh and young faces who were forthcoming, frank and articulate. In the House, of course, they functioned as Sanjay Gandhi’s shouting brigade: ready to kill if anyone uttered a word against Mrs Indira Gandhi or her tyrannical rule during the Emergency. If the Opposition rued throttling of democracy, Sanjay’s lieutenants blocked all criticism, thanks to lung power. So if one were to assess whether the young MPs made any significant contribution within Parliament the answer is easily NO. Their brief was to shout down everyone who even attempted to criticise, attack, demean or demonize Mrs Gandhi. On this count, their scores were enviably high.
There is a view that if Sanjay Gandhi had lived, India’s Destiny would have been different. For better or worse is anybody’s guess. Sanjay loyalists, and there are still quite a few, swear that
Sanjay would have put the country on fast track development: irrespective of consequences. His critics, who easily outnumber the handful of his supporters, argue that he would have steered the country to Disaster. He was undoubtedly authoritarian and rarely took no for an answer. In fact never. His style was: I command; you obey.
Sanjay was a man of few words. His speeches did not extend beyond four sentences: literally. His pet themes then were blood donation and tree plantation, if I remember correctly. He was known to push his friends irrespective of their antecedents. Arjan Das was one such, I think a motor mechanic by profession and one who dabbled in politics; his contribution mainly being his nuisance value.
Sanjay’s best friends were Kamal Nath and Jagdish Tytler: Kamal Nath, now a minister and Tytler somewhat out of favour. The eighties slogan was: Sanjay Gandhi ke do haath; Tytler aur Kamal Nath. The two wielded power and were Sanjay Gandhi’s eyes and ears. His death, however, changed equations: Mrs Indira Gandhi banished Tytler while Kamal Nath, though granted access, lost the influence he wielded during Sanjay’s lifetime.
One person who Sanjay Gandhi hated-reportedly-was Dhirendra Brahmachari: yoga guru who trained Mrs Indira Gandhi and was in many ways her mentor. The infamous slapping story, wherein Sanjay Gandhi had allegedly struck his mother, had something to do with the differences the two had over Dhirendra Brahmachari.
During the Emergency, his constant companion was Ruksana Sultana: actor Saif Ali Khan’s former mother in law: his ex wife Amrita Singh’s mother. Ruksana claimed that she and Sanjay were “ice cream buddies”. In other words, he would take her for a drive past midnight and buy her ice cream at India Gate: Ruksana’s version of course. She wielded immense clout during the Emergency; had an enviable collection of jewellery, which she told me, like she did the ice cream story, were heirlooms. But I suspect that she looted them from the jewellers in the walled city, who thanks to Sanjay, were terrified of her.
Amrita Singh, I knew as a kid. At that point in time, only her mother used foul language. She abused in English. Years later when I met Amrita on the sets in Mumbai during one of her shootings, I heard her also use foul language. I was not shocked because neither she nor her mother, despite claims of blue blood, were well bred. It is ironic but even Maneka Gandhi, who Sanjay later married, uses foul language: and bi-lingually. Mrs Indira Gandhi’s problem with Maneka, among many, was that she was ill bred.
So much for Sanjay’s men and women.