India: carrying on the Nehru tradition
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''I am the victim of a witch-hunt which probably has no parallel in history, for it is a culmination of a sustained and determined campaign by political opponents of my father and all that the Congress has stood and struggled for....Skip to next paragraph
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''A book by a journalist against me, full of libelous statements such as that I tried to bribe the judge with Rs. 500,000, is selling like hotcakes. The lawyers advise against suing, for past experience shows there will be even more defamatory remarks during a long drawn out trial....
''Different types of pressures are brought to bear. Businessmen are asked to make statements against us under threat of confiscation of their licenses or raids on their premises, and so on. It is our information that, with the connivance of the police, an attempt was made to kidnap the daughter of a high official. Government officials are being threatened that they will lose their jobs. The police are told to give false reports....
''The scapegoat for all real, imaginary, or concocted wrongs is my son, Sanjay. People make statements against him in the hope of saving their skins. In the Western press he has been described as a playboy. In reality, he is an abstemious and serious person. He does not smoke or drink. Not only is the government looking into factory affairs, but involving him in all kinds of cases , including some concerning murder.
''Sanjay was shot at during the electon campaign. The bullet missed by just two inches. Our lives are also threatened. Neither my son nor I are suicide-committing types, so I hope you won't believe any such news?
''I am not a hysterical person or given to exaggeration or easily afraid. I do not listen to gossip, but it is Ministers of the Cabinet who are saying that they are determined to 'get Sanjay' and are talking of torture, and so on. The whole administrative machinery seems to be pitted against one small family who doesn't even have the means for proper legal defense. Unless there is some unexpected development, this government is headed towards fascist functioning with all the outward wrappings of democracy.''
Referring to Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of Bangladesh, who was killed in 1975 by the military leaders of his country, she wrote:
''Perhaps it would have been better for me to suffer Mujib's fate, which I avoided in 1975, than be subjected to this kind of character assassination and be made to feel an outcast.''
In June 1980, the year Mme. Gandhi was reelected prime minister her son Sanjay was killed in an airplane crash. Her own comment in a letter to me:
''Sanjay was so young, so vibrantly alive and such fun to have in the house. It was no mean achievement for such a young person to ride the waves of propagated antipathy and the persistent campaign of calumny with such dignity and wrest from it the admiration of millions, as was evidenced by the outpouring of grief throughout our country.''
On a visit to her home, I asked if she would have preferred any position in life other than head of government.
''The question is difficult because I have never really thought about it,'' she said. ''It has never occurred to me that I would do anything different in life. My grandfather and father had a lifelong commitment to a certain goal. My grandfather's role was largely confined to that of advocate; my father's role was expanded when he had the job of governing the nation he helped bring into being. My job is to preserve that which they helped to create.''
''Are there rewards?'' I asked.
''Certainly. There is always the reward that comes from knowing that the primary aim has been achieved. India exists and is free. But it is a precarious existence and the freedom has yet to be consolidated. The most difficult ordeals are not behind us. I don't have much time these days to think about personal preferences concerning what other career I might have had. One does what one has to do.''
Rajiv Gandhi is prime minister today because India is in the same need of continuity and confidence as it was after his grandfather's death. He will do as the Nehru tradition would have him do.