New Delhi: Then prime minister Indira Gandhi seemed visibly relieved when she was told that she had lost the 1977 general election, her former aide R.K. Dhawan has said.
Dhawan, who in June 1975 was Indira Gandhi’s trusted private secretary, also told India Today Television that the person who should be blamed for the Emergency rule is then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray.
In his first and so far only comprehensive TV interview on the Emergency, Dhawan has revealed the full inside story of that turbulent period when thousands of opposition leaders and activists were jailed and democratic rights were curbed.
Dhawan said that Indira Gandhi called the 1977 Lok Sabha election after being told by the Intelligence Bureau that she would win up to 340 seats in the Lok Sabha. Her principal secretary P.N. Dhar gave her the report.
Cabinet minister Jagjivan Ram’s break with Indira Gandhi came as a surprise. It made her realize the election campaign would be difficult but she didn’t think she would lose.
Dhawan said it was he who broke the news to Indira Gandhi that she — and the Congress party — had lost the 1977 election. She was then having dinner. According to Dhawan, relief broke out over her face and she said she would now have time for herself and the family.
Dhawan says Indira Gandhi never accepted that her younger son Sanjay Gandhi, widely blamed for the excesses of the Emergency, was in any way to blame for her electoral defeat. He said it was Ray, then chief minister of Bengal, who was “the architect” of the Emergency that lasted from June 1975 to March 1977, when the Janata Party dislodged the Congress nationally.
He said that as early as on January 8, 1975, Ray wrote to Indira Gandhi suggesting an Emergency style “drastic action”. And in June 1975, after the Allahabad High Court ruled against Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha, Ray forcefully pushed for an Emergency.
Dhawan revealed that Indira Gandhi’s first response on hearing the high court ruling striking down her election was to quit. She dictated a letter of resignation. It was typed but it was never signed. This is because her cabinet came to see her and insisted that she must not resign, he said.
Dhawan added that her elder son Rajiv Gandhi – then a pilot with Indian Airlines – and his wife Sonia had no reservations about the Emergency. The story that they did was not true.
And Sanjay Gandhi’s wife Maneka Gandhi, now with the Bharatiya Janata Party, was fully aware of everything her husband did during the Emergency, including the mass sterilization and slum clearance.
She cannot plead ignorance or innocence now, he said. According to Dhawan, power went to Sanjay Gandhi’s head because Congress chief ministers encouraged him to exercise power.