Shri Vasant Sathe has claimed that Smt.Indira Gandhi wanted to quit office after the Allahabad High Court judgement of June 12, 1975, disqualifying her as a member of the Lok Sabha and debarring her from contesting elections for six years. Shri Vasant Sathe is a politician from Nagpur who made it big after joining the Congress party in 1972 and winning the Lok Sabha by-election from Akola in Vidarbha region.
?Bunkum? is the mildest word that came to mind when one read this claim published by the Hindustan Times on March 5, 2005 in a news story about the autobiography he has written and which was released in New Delhi on March 6, 2005.
For someone who, as the Chief of Bureau of Motherland, the daily newspaper which had launched a relentless struggle against the dictatorial rule of Smt. Indira Gandhi, this claim of Madam'srenunciation wish is as ridiculous as Sathe's?farce (fast) unto death? operation at the feet of the Mahatma'sstatue in Parliament House some years ago.
?What made her change her mind?? asks the special correspondent of the Hindustan Times and then finds the answers from the book, Memories of a Rationalist. The first, according to Sathe, was that Indira ?could not tolerate the manner in which Opposition leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), Morarjibhai Desai and Atal Behari Vajpayee were holding demonstrations to put pressure on her to quit.?
Pray, what should have been the manner of airing their demand? Of course, one would imagine, these leaders were supposed to pray before her with flowers and incense (Jayaprakash Narayan was like Indira'sfather ) and appeal to her to resign?
But Shri Sathe, on the eve of his 81st birthday, unwittingly reveals the real reason behind Indira'sdecison not to quit office after this damning judgement, as any self-respecting politician should have done.
Says Sathe: ?There was no consensus within the Congress on the caretaker PM,? while anyone during those days would have suggested the name of Jagjivan Ram, the Defence Minister, and senior to even Indira. Sathe says, ?Jagjivan Ram, the Defence Minister, added to the crisis by staking claim for the job as the seniormost cabinet minister.?
Why should this name have created a crisis? It was apparent that Indira had already made up her mind that her son Sanjay would succeed her and thus handing over power, even temporarily, to Babu Jagjivan Ram might had had disastrous consequences for the family.
The Hindustan Times quotes Sathe as saying that things had come to a crunch on June 24, when JP and Morarjibhai announced that their countrywide dharna would also include a siege of her residence. ?With Indira'ssupporters also converging at her residence every day, the position would have become explosive,? says Sathe.
What had happened on or after June 12? Indira Gandhi was in tears even as a West Bengal Congress leader, Smt. Purabi Mukherjee, had started wailing loudly at 1, Safdarjung Road. Indira later attributed her lachrymose mood to the death of her most trusted lieutenant and Planning Minister, D.P. Dhar, that very day. Another body blow to her party and so to herself was the defeat of the Congress party in the Gujarat state assembly elections, the results of which came on June 12 itself.
Since the Allahabad High Court had given 20 days? time to file an appeal against Justice Sinha'sjudgement in the Supreme Court, the lawyers had started getting ready to prepare the appeal. And efforts were on to make the Congress Parliamentary Party adopt a resolution reaffirming its support to Indira.
Accordingly, on or about June 20, a special meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party was convened at the Central Hall of Parliament House in the afternoon. After making a brief speech, Indira withdrew from the meeting since the subject matter of the meeting was she herself and it would not have been proper for her to preside over such a meeting. In her absence, and perhaps without anyone presiding, Babu Jagjivan Ram took the floor and asked fellow members to adopt a resolution saying that ?Indiraji should continue to lead the party in her capacity as the Prime Minister.?
So Babu Jagjivan Ram asked members to raise both their hands and support the resolution which he read out. Interestingly, he repeated the phrase, ?Pradhan Mantri ke roop mein? (?In the capacity of the Prime Minister?) not once, but twice. This exercise was staged by Indira Gandhi in order to accord some sort of legitimacy to her continuance as the Prime Minister, and she got Jagjivan Babu involved in this exercise in order to preclude any claim by him for the office at that stage.
This meeting took place much before June 24 that Vasant Sathe speaks of. In any case, that date should be June 25. That evening, the Opposition parties had organised a huge public meeting at the Ram Lila Ground. No newspaper published the report of this meeting because on the night of June 25 itself, Indira Gandhi saw to it that no newspaper came out the next morning. The Motherland too was a victim of the move since its power-line was cut off at three in morning, just when the last stage of printing was to commence. It is another matter that we, in the Motherland, got this item published in the special supplement we brought out on June 26, when power was restored and the government had imposed censorship. We brought out the supplement by defying the censor and the ?prize? for this was the shutting down of the Motherland office the same evening by the police.
The ?rationalist? Congressman sings paeans about the Emergency. One may well ask, why then did Indira Gandhi along with her son and the Congress party suffer defeat in the 1977 elections?
One more word about Shri Sathe. Being a fellow Nagpurian, I am aware of his younger days in politics. He was a Praja Socialist Party (PSP) leader till 1971 and joined the Congress just on the eve of the Lok Sabha by-election from Akola constituency in Vidarbha. It was this PSP which had betrayed the cause of Samyukta Maharashtra in 1957 (in the Vidarbha region only, not in western Maharashtra or Marathwada-Konkan), when all non-Congress parties of Maharashtra had come together (yes, including the Jan Sangh and communists) to defeat the Congress. The PSP of Vidarbha region, however, did not join and the result was a Congress sweep in that region. On the strength of the seats won by the Congress in the Vidarbha and Gujarat regions of the composite Bombay state, the Congress party formed the government under the chief ministership of Yashwantrao Chavan then. Gujarat and Maharashtra were bifurcated on May 1, 1960.