Indian National Congress (INC) leader Rahul Gandhi has said that the Emergency imposed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a “mistake”. In a conversation with Kaushik Basu, a professor at the Cornell University in the US and India’s former chief economic advisor, the former INC president said what happened in the mid-1970s was “wrong”, but it was fundamentally different from the current scenario as the INC at no point attempted to capture the country’s institutional framework.
Rahul Gandhi said he was all for internal democracy in the INC, which fought for India’s independence, gave the country its constitution and stood for equality.
Asked about his views on the Emergency, he said, “I think that was a mistake. Absolutely, that was a mistake. And my grandmother (Indira Gandhi) said as much.”
Asked about Indira Gandhi announcing election at the end of the Emergency and Pranab Mukherjee telling Basu later that she did so as she wanted to test whether her apprehension that Congress (Indira) might lose, the former INC chief said there was a fundamental difference between what happened during Emergency, which “was wrong”, and what is happening in the country now.
“The Congress at no point attempted to capture India’s institutional framework and frankly, the Congress does not even have that capability. Our design does not allow us that and even if we want, we cannot do it,” he said.
Overlooking the INC’s own record of planting its acolytes in key positions of the administration since 1969, Rahul Gandhi alleged that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is doing something “fundamentally different” and filling up the institutions of the country with its people, adding “So, even if we defeat the BJP in the election, we are not going to get rid of their people in the institutional structure.”
Gandhi recalled a conversation with former INC chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Kamal Nath before his government was overthrown. Nath had told him that senior bureaucrats in his government would not listen to him as they were RSS people and would not do something that they were asked to do. “So, it is fundamentally different what is going on,” he said.
Emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi for a 21-month period from 1975 to 1977 when curbs were imposed on the fundamental rights of citizens.
On internal democracy within the INC, Gandhi said he is the one who pushed for elections in the party at the Youth INC and NSUI levels but was criticised and attacked by his own party leaders.
The No. 2 in INC wondered why nobody raised questions on why there was “no internal democracy” in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). He said such questions were asked about the INC as it was an “ideological party” and has the ideology of the constitution. “Therefore, it is more important for us to be democratic,” he said.
Asked about how he felt about the death of his father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, Rahul said, “It made me understand violence”. Gandhi said he saw his father’s death coming as he was fighting many forces at the time.