Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 13:12:14

The Prince Who Was Never King

Updated: August 3, 2013 4:25 pm

Sanjay Gandhi has always remained a bit of an enigma. A discussion about him usually tends to end with the statement, “What if he had lived?” It is a relevant poser. Sanjay Gandhi died young, he had only seen 33 summers when the Pitts S-2A bi-plane crashed in Delhi`s diplomatic enclave, killing him and his co-passenger Subhas Saxena. Probably he would have given India a firm governance with a thrust to population control, had he not met a violent end on that summer morning in June 1980.

Vinod Mehta`s book was originally written in January 1978, when Sanjay Gandhi was in the political wilderness. The Janata government, which had a thumping majority in Parliament, seemed bent on prosecuting him and his mother, Indira Gandhi. But who knew that Morarji Desai`s coalition had only 18 months life left and that Mrs Gandhi would be back in power by January 1980?

Mehta begins with the tumultuous events, which preceded the marriage between Indira Nehru and Feroze Gandhi in March 1942. As is evident, happy days did not last long and according to Mehta, by the late forties, the couple was in a state of “unofficial divorce”. Sanjay Gandhi, Indira`s second son who entered the world on December 14, 1946, must undoubtedly have affected by his parent`s strained relationship. The impression of his schoolmates in Dehradun`s famed Welham Preparatory as well as Doon School bears this out. Sanjay is described as a loner who never adjusted to boarding school life. Even his diet had to be special, particularly in the early days. The death of his father at the age of 14, no doubt, was a blow for the young lad, and as Mehta recounts wayward behaviour with a streak of recklessness
followed, fast cars, late nights, hectic partying, all the ingredients of a spoilt brat were present in the young man who would in due course be hailed as “the hope of the nation”.

Sanjay now wanted to be a Henry Ford, in other words, a pioneer in indigenous car manufacturer. He started off in a shed in Delhi with a queer and unsophisticated mechanic called Arjun Das (this latter-day Municipal Corporator fell victim to Sikh extremists as he was widely believed to be involved in the 1984 riots.). The establishment of the Maruti plant at Gurgoan and the misuse of official machinery in the mid-seventies are all too well documented to be repeated here.

Sanjay`s years as the “crown prince” during the Emergency will undoubtedly catch the attention of the critical reader. The demolitions, the Turkaman Gate firing and the sterilisation campaign led by the glamour girl, the late Rukshana Sultana are given their due in the book. The author has also added some interesting tit-bits like a few samples of Sanjay`s exchanges with the press. It would have been interesting however, if Mehta had added another chapter on the last three years of Sanjay Gandhi`s life after the debacle at the polls in 1977. One is left wondering what would have happened if Sanjay had not been flying the plane in Kolhapuri chappals, undoubtedly one of the contributory factors to the crash!

By Arvindar Singh

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