Friday, December 12, 2014
“I knew I had no skeletons in my closet,” says prez Mukherjee
New Delhi: Those who have been looking out eagerly for some juicy bits about the inner-goings on and palace intrigues of party politics in the late 1960s and through the 1970s in president Pranab Mukherjee’s “The Dramatic Decade The Indira Gandhi Years” (Rupa; Pages: 321; Price: Rs 595), the first of three volumes, will be sorely disappointed. Like all good Indian politicians, Mukherjee refuses to divulge the secrets. It is straight and drab.
Two features of his political career stand out in the first volume. First, he mooted the idea of a united anti-Congress front in West Bengal in 1966 while he was a member of the breakaway Bangla Congress led by Ajoy Mukherjee. Second, his unwavering loyalty to Indira Gandhi.
On the Emergency, he supports the economic measures taken then such as “crackdown on tax evasion and smuggling”, but he thinks that suspension of fundamental rights and “large scale arrests of political leaders and activists” as negative. His conclusion: “The Congress and Indira Gandhi had to pay a heavy price for this misadventure.” (Page 83)
The little nugget of information about Indira Gandhi he reveals is that she did not know the Constitutional provision for the imposition of internal Emergency and it was Siddhartha Shankar Ray who had told her about it. “It is believed that Siddhartha Shankar Ray played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency: it was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it. In fact, Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the constitutional provisions allowing for the declaration of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance...” (Page 45)
With regard to the anti-Congress front, the president recalls: “ It was on 8 June 1966, when on a tour of the state with Ajoy babu, that I first mooted the idea of a ‘United Front’ to him: ‘Ajoy da, if we want to defeat the Congress, we have to unite all parties...If we the elections on a common platform, we could defeat the Congress.’ Ajoy babu then began efforts in that direction.” (Page 6-7).
Then he remembers the advice his father gave him in 1978. “...when the Congress split under Indira Gandhi, he told me: ‘ I hope you will not do anything that will make me ashamed of you. It is when you stand by a person in his or her hour of crisis that you reveal your own humanity. Don’t do anything which will dishonour your forefathers’ memory.’ His meaning was clear, and I didn’t, then or later, waver from my loyalty to Indira Gandhi.” (Page 5) His father, Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee, was, in the words of the president, “a staunch nationalist and a dedicated Congress worker”.
Though Mukherjee speaks without hesitation about his participation in the Emergency, he says with reference to allegations made against him by “Blitz, a news magazine run by R.K. Karanjia, a close confidante of Indira Gandhi” he says, “I knew I had no skeletons in my closet and though mud was slung at me by the media, the baseless allegations did not bother me too much.” (Page 113)
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