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Special: “Indira Gandhi’s fearlessness brought out the best in her”

She was at her best in the midst of India’s ordinary women, men and children — talking to them, listening to them, sharing their happiness and their woes, in what was an almost familial relationship.

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indira gandhi

No past Prime Minister of India evokes as much passion as Indira Gandhi. Her admirers believe she could do no wrong and was the messianic leader India needed in her time; her detractors hold her responsible for creating a personality cult, encouraging dynastic politics and weakening the institutions of democracy. As in the case of any leader with a long tenure and an enduring impact, her legacy is one that will be debated long into the future, when today’s politicians and journalists, who tend to make snap judgments, have given way to historians and analysts with a longer and more discerning perspective.

The conventional way of looking back at the Indira Gandhi era is to do an accounting of her policies and programmes, their successes and failures. Such an approach yields broad areas of convergence as much as sharp divergences. Few dispute the success of the Green Revolution, but not all agree that the decision to devalue the rupee in 1966 was beneficial or necessary. There is near-unanimity that the 1971 war was the unmatched high of her years in office — but there are those who see the Simla agreement that followed as having left the whole business with Pakistan unfortunately unfinished.

Her economic policies — the nationalisation of banks and the grain trade, the high taxes, the emphasis on the public sector against the private sector — all have their supporters and denigrators. Yet there is near-unanimous admiration for her space and nuclear programmes, and gathering respect for her championship of nature and the environment, manifested in ways that no other leader in this country has remotely approached.

The imposing of the Emergency (1975-77) and the rise to political prominence of her younger son, Sanjay, have few defenders; but her restoration of the democratic process in lifting the Emergency and calling for elections is grudgingly acknowledged. There is widespread admiration for the way she battled her way back to office in just three years and restored the Congress party to pre-eminence. Her handling of the Punjab and some other domestic issues is criticised, in contrast with her sweeping success on the global stage which she strode with confidence, whether dealing with the two superpowers and the Western world or leading the Non-Aligned Movement and the developing world.

But in the end, the best way to assess the impact of Indira Gandhi is to witness the thousands who visit her memorial at 1 Safdarjung Road every day, ordinary people from all over the country, for whom the journey is almost a pilgrimage to the sanctum of one with whom they still connect, 33 years after her assassination. The Indira Gandhi they see and take away is more than the embodiment of programmes and policies which — if they weren’t necessitated by emerging circumstances — sprang from her deeply held beliefs and values. The image of Indira Gandhi they experience and cherish in memory is shaped by the character and qualities that dictated her actions.

Foremost among them must surely be her fierce pride in her country. “I cannot understand,” she wrote, “how anyone can be Indian and not be proud.” Whether dealing with the likes of US President Richard Nixon, or cementing friendships that would give India an advantage, or handling probing questions during interviews, the strength of her conviction and confidence shines through the years leading up to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Her staunch independence, her determination to act in what she saw to be the national interest, was the rock on which she stood through all her dealings with the outside world.

Indira Gandhi’s compassion and concern for the people whom she governed manifested itself in diverse ways. She was at her best in the midst of India’s ordinary women, men and children — talking to them, listening to them, sharing their happiness and their woes, in what was an almost familial relationship.

Most important, perhaps, was her fearlessness that brought out the best in her when she faced a challenge. It was this quality that prompted her to act resolutely, time and again, defying the odds, taking on the might of the Syndicate in her own party, just as she did the might of the United States during the Bangladesh war. It was this bravery that came to the fore years later, when she fought her way back from a humiliating electoral defeat, and eventually confronted the final battle of her life, against the threat to India’s unity posed by the militancy in Punjab. It is this quality that is enshrined in the website dedicated to her life, appropriately named “I Am Courage”, and in the exhibition being inaugurated in New Delhi on her birth centenary on November 19, called “A Life of Courage.”

(Suman Dubey, a veteran journalist, is the Secretary of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. The views expressed are personal.)

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BJP leaders brainstorm for second day, say govt ready for talks with farmers

Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Agriculture Minister Narender Singh Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam.

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Farmers on Protest

Eager to break the deadlock with famers who are agitating for scrapping the new farm laws, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership held meetings for a second consecutive day on Monday and sent out the message that the Union government is ready for talks.

Union home minister Amit Shah met Union minister for agriculture, NS Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam. A senior party functionary said, “The message from the top is clear that the laws are not anti-farmers and that the farmers are being misled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that laws will offer better opportunity for the farmers.”

The functionary said the government is ready to sit across the table and discuss the new laws and “address whatever concerns” the farmers have.

Speaking in Varanasi, the PM on Monday said the laws have given farmers new options and legal protection. He lashed out at the opposition for “misleading” the farmers and said earlier decisions of government were opposed now rumours have become the basis for opposition and propaganda is being served even though the laws favour the farmers.

The party has also opted for a cautious, measured response to the agitation. Even though it is pinning the blame on the opposition for provoking the protest, it is taking care not to rile the farmers. “The farmers are innocent. They are being misled by those with vested interests. The laws have barely been implemented and their impact is yet to be ascertained, so how can people rush to call these anti-farmers,” said Rajkuamr Chahar, head of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha.

He said the Punjab unit of the Morcha has been communicating with the farmers’ representatives and has relayed the government’s willingness to address their concerns.

On Monday, even as the party tried to diffuse the anger against the bills, its ally the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) joined the chorus for the rollback of the laws. Rajasthan lawmaker and RLP chief, Hanuman Beniwal, shot off a letter to Shah, seeking the reversal of the laws.

“….In view of the countrywide sentiment in support of the ongoing farmers’ movement, the recently introduced three bills related to agriculture should be immediately withdrawn. (The Centre must) implement all recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, and immediately hold dialogue with farmers in Delhi,” he said.

The BJP, however, played down the ally’s demand. Its national spokesperson on economic issues, Gopal Krishna Agarwal said, “We assure all, including our NDA partners that farmers’ well-being and welfare are in our heart. Large scale market reforms are needed and that has always been the consensus.”

He went on to add that while the BJP opposes misgivings about the APMC mandis being dismantled and MSP being withdrawn, the opposition is politicizing the issue along with the Arhtiyas (commission agents) and middleman.

“We have offered all the basic facilities to farmers, drinking water, toilets, shelters and medical facilities. They have been given permission to protest and also been invited for dialogue. We are open for all discussions on the merits or demerits of the three bills. If farmers have certain serious concerns, we are ready to listen to them,” he said.

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Lunar Eclipse: Chant these mantras for peace during Chandra Grahan

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Lunar eclipse

Lunar Eclipse 2020: The fourth and the last Upachaya Chandra Grahan (Penumbral Lunar Eclipse) of 2020 will take place today. Though Sutak is not applicable during Upachaya Chandra Grahan, the constant movements of the Grahas (planets) may cast an impact on zodiac signs. It may influence people’s natal charts. Hence, people must chant mantras to negate the negative effect of Grahan.

The Lunar Eclipse will have a duration of 4 hours and 18 minutes. It will begin on Monday at 1.04 pm and reach its peak at 3.13 pm. The Lunar Eclipse will end at 5.22 pm and will have a magnitude of 0.82.

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Uttar Pradesh law on love jihad seeks to divide communities, writes Kapil Sibal

The Ordinance also goes against the right to privacy. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing their partner’s religion

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Love Jihad

When laws are motivated by communally divisive agendas, they breed suspicion within communities, resulting in a sense of alienation. That in turn negatively impacts societal peace and harmony. Occasionally, it leads to sporadic violence. When such laws attempt to interfere with personal relationships or emotive issues of choice, which are at the heart of individual freedoms, the outcomes are even more disturbing. That explains why matters relating to marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance polarise dialogues and attitudes.

Such agendas germinate a majoritarian culture pitting “us” against “them” and give birth to electoral majorities. The road to power then becomes a relatively easy enterprise. The rise of right-wing assertions, a global phenomenon, is based on such engineered societal divides. The Uttar Pradesh government’s recent promulgation of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, relating to “Love Jihad” is yet another attempt, in a string of communally charged initiatives, aimed at reaping electoral dividends.

Love jihad is a concept the contours of which are blurred. However, in simple terms, all that it means is that if a Muslim boy, in love with a non-Muslim girl chooses to marry her and she embraces Islam, such a union will be looked upon with suspicion by the law and is liable to be declared void. This strikes at the root of individual liberty since such a union cannot be held to be legally suspect. It strikes at the core of the ‘right to privacy’, which is protected constitutionally.

The Ordinance also targets mass conversions, which have taken place in the past. These include conversions to Christianity in the 1930s, to Buddhism by Dalits in the 1950s and Mizo Christians to the Jewish faith in the 2000s. Those seeking to convert allure marginalised castes and tribes with hope, dignity and material enticement. Dr Ambedkar, disenchanted with the caste structure of Hinduism, converted to Buddhism.

The reasons for such mass conversions are complex and need to be addressed separately. Under the proposed law, those guilty of mass conversions are liable to face a jail term extending up to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. While it is justifiable to prevent conversion based on force, coercion, undue influence, misrepresentation and allurements, it is difficult to prove these elements if a Muslim boy and a non-Muslim girl or vice-versa exercise their free will to marry for reasons that are entirely personal. The reason why non-Muslims convert to Islam is because the children born in wedlock would otherwise be excluded from inheritance under Muslim law.

Absent this conversion, the union of a Muslim with a non-Muslim or vice-versa will be a difficult proposition. That is why the intent of the proposed law is suspect as it seeks to target conversion and not marriage. The Ordinance provides that in an interfaith marriage, if one of the partners wishes to embrace another religion, that person will have to inform the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate in writing at least two months in advance. A format of the application seeking permission for conversion will be provided by the government.

Under the proposed law, it would be the responsibility of the person embracing another religion to prove that such person was not converted forcibly or through fraudulent means. Those who abet, convince or conspire are also liable to be prosecuted. Any such violation of the law would entail a jail term of six months to three years and a minimum fine of Rs 10,000.

Marriage between two people is personal to them. It allows either of them to opt out of the marriage. In addition, the person victimised is free to allege use of force, coercion, fraud, undue influence or misrepresentation against the other. In the absence of any of these, it is unthinkable that the law mandates a person who voluntarily embraces another religion to seek permission to prove that the decision was not actuated by any of those elements. Reversal of the burden of proof in matters of personal choices of a life partner may be legally unsustainable.

The obligation to seek permission for conversion two months in advance is fundamentally arbitrary and a violation of the ‘right to privacy’. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing the religion of the partner. The state can certainly regulate acts of forced conversion but the starting point of such regulation has to be a complaint made by the individual who opts to convert. In most of these cases, it is the parents who complain that their daughter has been fraudulently enticed into a relationship and is a victim of forced conversion.

The Ordinance allows members of the family of those who convert or any relative to lodge an FIR. This makes the Ordinance an instrument of harassment in situations where interfaith marriages are voluntary.
We have seen this being played out in Hadiya’s case in Kerala. The couple went through trauma when Hadiya’s husband and some organisations were targeted for allegedly having induced her to convert to Islam. This was despite the fact that she constantly denied the allegations, asserting that she had embraced Islam voluntarily and much before she had met her husband.

The drama was then played out in court after the Kerala High Court held the marriage to be void on grounds that there was no reasonable explanation given by Hadiya for her marriage to a Muslim without the consent of her parents. Finally, while appearing personally in the Supreme Court, she unequivocally stated that she had married her husband of her own free will and converted to another religion much before her marriage. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was asked to investigate the circumstances in which Hadiya had married and converted.

The NIA decided to widen its investigations. From a list of 89 such marriages, it investigated 11 cases and in the absence of prosecutable evidence, all such matters resulted in closure. The bottom line is that the Ordinance serves a political purpose. It is yet another way to polarise our polity. The issue is emotive and seeks to divide communities. The constitutionality of such a legislation when challenged should be decided with utmost speed. The court, hopefully, will find such laws to be antithetical to the constitutional ethos and our civilisational values. Any attempt to delay adjudication would only be playing into the hands of those intending to divide and not unite India.

This article first appeared in the newindianexpress on Nov 30, 2020 under the title ‘The perils of an economic oligarchy’. The writer, a senior Congress leader, is a former Union minister.

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