Friday, April 18, 2014 - Every family is subject to its feuds and tensions, and the Nehru family is no exception. Because the husband of Jawaharlal Nehru’s only child, Indira Priyadarshini, was re-named “Feroze Gandhi” by Mahatma Gandhi himself, the Nehru family has usually (and inaccurately) been referred to as the “Gandhi family” when in fact there is no blood tie between any of them and any member of Mahatma Gandhi’s family. Indeed, the latter have been conspicuous in the way in which they have declined to take advantage of their world-famous ancestor.
Whether it be Gopal Gandhi, the soft-spoken diplomat who was also Governor of West Bengal, or any of the other descendants of the Mahatma, each has shown a modesty and a dignity that has remained immune to the lure of either power or money. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi has adopted a leading role in the country’s politics, and uses such perquisites of high office as corporate jets while staying in a huge mansion that would cost about $150 million if placed on the open market. Of course, she gets it virtually rent-free from the Government of India, which also takes care of much of the travel and other costs incurred by her and her family members. Interestingly, both son Rahul as well as daughter Priyanka have their own state-provided mansions in Delhi, even while there mother stays in a dwelling that is by any standard palatial, and which has more than enough room to accommodate the two children There has always been tension between Sonia Gandhi, the wife of elder son of Indira Gandhi Rajiv Gandhi, and Maneka Gandhi, the Sikh bride of younger son Sanjay. During the period from the Congress defeat at the 1977 polls to Indira Gandhi’s victory in the 1980 polls, it was Sanjay and Maneka who gave courage to Indira Gandhi, and who carelessly worked towards a political comeback. During this entire period, Rajiv And Sonia were abroad for extended lengths of time, or spending time away from Indira Gandhi and Sanjay.
Indeed, it was no secret that Rajiv and Sonia regarded Sanjay Gandhi as responsible for the downfall of Indira Gandhi, or that Sonia Gandhi had the same feelings towards the younger and attractive Maneka as have been immortalised in “Bahu versus Bahu” soap operas throughout the subcontinent, whether in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangla Desh. After the death of Sanjay Gandhi in 1980,which occurred soon after Indira Gandhi returned to power and Sanjay emerged as the second-most powerful person in the country, reports have it that Sonia worked ceaselessly to poison the mind of Indira Gandhi against the young widow, Maneka Gandhi, such that the latter was forced to leave the Prime Ministers House along with her infant son. Since then, Maneka has followed a political career entirely independent of the Nehru family, unlike family of Rajiv Gandhi, which has enjoyed the privileges of state patronage ever since.
How did Sanjay Gandhi die? It was in an air crash, when the small aircraft flown by him crashed. But Sanjay was an excellent pilot, and there is talk that the aileron wires were filed in such a way that a few hard tugs on the joystick would have resulted in their fraying and breaking away, thereby sending the aircraft into a fatal dive, which is exactly what happened. There have been whispers that the incident was arranged by local agents of the intelligence agency of a huge country that Sanjay was open in his dislike of. This was the USSR, now defunct. Moscow saw Delhi as its most important strategic partner in Asia, and was apprehensive that Sanjay Gandhi would persuade his mother to move away from the USSR to get closer to Washington, the way Anwar Sadat had in Egypt.
Certainly Sanjay Gandhi was an individual of firm views, and he was never afraid to express them. Such transparency may have been his undoing. Certainly, with the death of Sanjay Gandhi, all expectations of a geopolitical shift from Moscow to Washington disappeared. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were very respectful of the USSR and it needs to be mentioned that this loyalty by a Congress Party dominated by them continued to the very last hours of the USSR. Of course, much of the cause was the approach of Washington towards Delhi, with successive US administrations looking not for the crafting of a fair bargain but a surrender by India to the dictates of the US. Sonia Gandhi has several admirers in the Indian media, among which is Vir Sanghvi, who lost his temper at this columnist on a television show some days ago. This was because Vir (who is ordinarily very pleasant and well-mannered) mentioned that Sanjay Gandhi’s widow Maneka “was not a Gandhi”. Such a view is in sync with that of much of the media, which forgets that Indira Gandhi had two sons, and that both families have the same right to legacy of the family.Indeed, out of fear or respect for Sonia, a conscious effort has been made to airbrush Maneka and her son Varun (who is also an MP in the BJP) from any discussion of the Nehru family.
However, because of the fall in popularity of the Congress Party and a rise in popularity of the BJP, there seems to be rising panic within the ruling party’s ranks. In order to ensure that Maneka and Varun are not seen as what they are, full members of the Nehru family, a diatribe has been launched against them, including by Sonia and her two children. This is unfortunate. Family is family, and civilities need to be maintained untainted by politics.No more can the fiction be maintained that Indira Gandhi had in effect only a single son,Rajiv, and that other son, Sanjay (and his wife and son) are seen as unpersons. The more Sonia and her children rail against Maneka and her son,the faster will be the loss of their public support and popularity. The people of India respect family ties,and those that uphold them.