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Patriarchy-diseased society: Has Indira's 'every drop of blood' invigorated the nation?

Swearing in ceremony: 1967
By Prakash Prabhakar, Mansee Bal Bhargava* 
For the past many decades, every year October 31 brings back memories that have deep learning. The day is commemorated for various happy and painful events that happened in the country, from the dreadful pogrom against the Sikhs that haunt us till date as the ‘1984/Chaurasi’ to the birthday of dearest politician freedom fighter, Vallabhbhai Patel, who is bestowed the titles of ‘Sardar’ and ‘Iron Man’.
The day is also remembered for two noted women of India who were born around same time a century ago and lived on both sides of the country’s freedom struggle. First, the death of novelist, essayist, poet, and first women to win the Sahitya Akademi Award, Amrita Pritam; and second, the dreadful assassination of the first and only woman ‘Iron, Lady’ Prime Minister the country had in 75 years, Indira Gandhi.
Importantly, the day is also celebrated as the Rashtriya Ekta Diwas or National Unity Day to mark the birth anniversary of the Iron Man for his contribution in unifying the administratively divided country post-independence. Ironically, the country, till date, stands socially-economically divided with its layers of diversity that existed even before and during the Independence.
We can only imagine through the historical narratives what happened a century ago, but what is instigating our concern today is how as a country we are struggling (wonder if we are trying) to get over the divisions (particularly by religion and caste though gender, colour, occupation divisions are equally concerning) which is further deepening with every passing day pushing us towards a broken society.
It is therefore we focus here on paying our tribute to the Iron Lady to realise how her every deed invigorated the country for decades towards unity, progress, and wellbeing, as we wait for a leadership that can at least try to rebuild the country by its value of ‘Unity in Diversity’.

The Indira India loves and hates

Indira Gandhi undoubtedly had a privileged platform to claim the position of Prime Minister being the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Her contemporaries like Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asaf Ali, Laxmi Sehgal, Matangani Hazara, Subhadra Kumasi Chauhan, Kanak Lata Barua, Bhikaji Cama, Suchita Kriplani and others, even if they did not hold that position, their contribution to the nation building immensely attributed.
What one cannot take away from Indira Gandhi is that she made her electoral endeavors (pretty fair in those days with ballot papers and without much media) on her merits, besides proving her candidature for the position with several crucial decisions towards nation building.
With Gujarat ministers: 1970
Besides, as a woman in a patriarchy diseased society, she is definitely to be reckoned to realize the capability every woman of this country holds and awaits hopes to contribute. As Raghu Rai puts it, “It is said that she was ‘the only man in her Cabinet’, and how powerful Indira Gandhi was can be gauged from this photograph shot in 1970, during a meeting with her MLAs from Gujarat.”
If she hadn’t been the Prime Minister, it looks India is still not ready to have a woman in that position. And mind you, our favorite country to follow, the USA, has not yet managed to elect a woman President despite the efforts made by the privileged Hillary Clinton. Anyway, having one woman among fourteen Prime Ministers in 75 years is still indiscriminating in a country that has nearly balanced sex ratio besides a high percentage of educated (and unemployed) women.
She definitely had the premonition of her life’s end coming soon but opted to risk her life instead of diluting her conviction
Given this condition, she deserves all the due credit for her hard work to stay in the top position for a long span and walking the country to newer highs besides genuinely working towards reducing the divisions induced distresses.
Like, every leadership has their fair share of positive and not to positive steps/decisions that they are associated with, Indira Gandhi too is known on the one hand for, making India a globally recognized powerhouse, but on the other hand the dark era of the misgovernance through the Emergency, the Khalistan Movement and the Operation Blue Star.
With her left of Center leaning and having articulated a preference for Socialist Welfare as the predominant economic policy of the Indian State, she never hesitated in responding to the Americans in the same coin as they treated her – walking a tight rope of preference in the context of a deeply divided and polarized world during the Cold War era and yet not conceding the ground of the Non-Aligned Movement, upholding India’s interest and her dignity paramount.
To say Kissinger was one of India’s biggest detractors wouldn’t be an understatement and yet he begrudgingly admitted that he had deep respect for Indira Gandhi, and her commitment to the Indian cause.
If Indira Gandhi gets the bricks for purported atrocities during emergency, she should also be given the accolade for the numerous achievements during her second longest tenure as the Prime Minister of Independent India – a military win over an enemy state in less than two weeks leading despite the American hostility, end of oppression for the Bengali population in East Pakistan and formation of the independent nation of Bangladesh, diplomatic sagacity in annexation of Sikkim to the Union of India and even voluntarily restoring electoral democracy in India after two years of Emergency.
During Emergency
Her political adversaries who contested her, lacked a vision for the country and thus squabbled in pettiness to eventually failing miserably to complete a full five-year term in the office. Not surprisingly, Indira Gandhi was voted back into power with an overwhelming majority as the political leader of preference for India.

End of an era

Just a few days prior to her assassination, she was advised by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) about the threat to her life that the two Sikh men posed and that she was better off relieving them from their official duty. Notwithstanding this, she refused to change the security men merely because they practiced a particular religious faith. Like all tall personalities, the Iron Lady believed that the strength of political leaders’ words is best corroborated by their actions and conduct.
Hence, setting aside the professional advice of the IB in preference to her conviction that being a secular nation was the only viable way forward for India’s prosperity – where the Indian state is indifferent to her citizens’ religious preferences is definitely noteworthy and praiseworthy. She definitely had the premonition of her life’s end coming soon but opted to risk her life instead of diluting her conviction that had prompted the inclusion of the “secular” word in the Preamble of our Constitution.
Any tribute to this great daughter of the land will be incomplete without making a mention of how in a nation of patriarchy enslaved in a feudal mindset, she successfully crafted and fortified her position. From the Baby Doll of Independent India, she worked her hard to be acknowledged as the Iron Lady of Distinction. She held her head high and dignified even though she was tasked to administer a nation struggling with its unique set of social, economic and diplomatic requirements, often conflicting in nature.
It is not very surprising that she was also referred to as Durga by her fiercest detractors. Her life is an ode to the great women who inspired India in flesh and blood during various ages despite all the challenges. Her words spoken just the previous day at a public rally in Bhubaneswar that, “If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation”, have turned prophetic from the dawn of digitally global India to the new century until recently when the country was rising in all spheres.
Remembering her becomes all the more crucial in the ongoing (undeclared) state of social, economic, ecological, diplomatic, and climate emergency. Today, Mother India truly needs a Mother, a Women, to lead with a Heart of Compassion to bridge the rising social divide, with a Mind of Calibre to beat the rising economic crisis, and with a Soul of Values to keep the Constitution intact in words and in spirit.
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*Prakash is passionate about equitable prosperity, social justice and competitive capitalism. Mansee is a water enthusiast, a governance scholar, and a keen political observer; more about her work is at www.mansee.in

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