Sonia doing an Indira

CONGRESS president Sonia Gandhi carries herself with ease and emits confidence. She has an air of authority around her, but she is not authoritarian unlike her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. Yet, Sonia Gandhi has not overcome the bias. She harbours a perceived notion against institutions or individuals—something which she has inherited from Indira Gandhi. This trait reflects insecurity. Indira Gandhi showed it when she took desperate steps to cover her imaginary fears. Sonia Gandhi makes similar mistakes but gets less blame because she occupies no position in the government. She directs or misdirects from behind the scenes.

Take the Gandhi Peace Foundation at Delhi. The institution was allotted land when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. He wanted the Gandhian thoughts to have a prime place in the society’s debate. The foundation has been a venue of many seminars on Gandhi and his views on governance, particularly the steps to ameliorate the living conditions of the poor.

Yet Indira Gandhi suspected that the foundation provided a place to the opposition parties and others to "conspire against her." In fact, the foundation worked for conciliation. It was the venue for talks between D. P.Dhar, Indira Gandhi’s emissary, and a nominee of Jayaprakash Narayan. The talks matured into a meeting between India Gandhi and JP. But he could not reconcile to the "corrupt and dictatorial" set up that Indira Gandhi had built up for personal rule.

What happened later in the shape of the emergency is too well known. JP was arrested from the foundation premises. It had to suffer untold miseries which Indira Gandhi perpetrated during the emergency and again when she came to power in 1980. She concentrated on taking over the foundation itself on flimsy grounds.

She also constituted the Kudal Commission that combed through the accounts of the foundation. Respected people were vilified because they were associated with the foundation. The commission found nothing incriminating against the foundation and wasted crores of rupees of public fund. One thought that the commission’s inquiry was the last act. But Indira Gandhi’s vengeance had no bounds.

The foundation became the target again in 1982. This time the charge was that the foundation had constructed certain sheds on its premises in violation of the lease terms. It was asked to vacate the premises. The foundation appealed to the Delhi High Court in 1987 against the order and received a favourable ruling.

The government did not accept the High Court’s decision. It is here that Sonia Gandhi comes into the picture because her government took the matter to the Supreme Court as if the foundation could bring down the Congress-led government. Not only that, the government’s lawyer once again repeated the charge which Indira Gandhi had leveled that the foundation was indulging in "anti-government activities." This is what the deep-rooted bias on imaginary grounds has brought to the fore. One, the foundation is not involved in anti-government activities because it never participates in the seminars held on its premises and, two, the criticism of the government which the speakers at seminars voice do not amount to anti-government activities.

At least, the Supreme Court’s verdict is clear and categorical. It has not only expressed its unhappiness over the Centre seeking to take back the land allotted 50 years ago but has also said that institutions like the Gandhi Peace Foundation are "sacred and should not be treated like the ordinary allottees." The government at best imposes fine or dismantles the extra structure. Why apply a different yardstick to the foundation?

The basement has books on Gandhi and some related papers. If a desk has been placed there in order to help the researchers sit and consult the material, what wrong has been done? Should the researchers go down the stairs every time to consult books? In fact, the point of complaint against the foundation can be that it has not done enough to promote the teachings of Gandhi. The government itself has done little in this field, except to print his photo on the Rs 500 currency note. The Khadi Board, once propagating the use of khadi, is practically doing nothing because the government appoints its chairman and members. They are some Congress cronies who are accommodated because of their connections in the ruling party.

The government has already made a mess of Gandhian institutions which it finances. It can at least leave the Gandhi Peace Foundation alone. The foundation has got relief from the court case after 22 years and the Sword of Damocles hanging on its head has gone. The problem is not with the foundation but with the bias. I hope the matter will rest there. But you never know when Sonia Gandhi’s prejudice will take another shape for her to have another go at the foundation.  

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