After over four decades of an active political career and lately having been a governor, Margaret Alva in her autobiography — Courage & Commitment — sheds light on key events of India’s post-Independence history, from the imposition of Emergency and rise of Sanjay Gandhi to lack of trust between former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In an interview to Manish Anand, Ms Alva recalls the working style of Sanjay Gandhi that harmed the Congress, and says that outside interference led to the undoing of the UPA-2 government led by Dr Manmohan Singh.
in her autobiography — Courage & Commitment — sheds light on key events of India’s post-Independence history, from the imposition of Emergency and rise of Sanjay Gandhi to lack of trust between former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
In an interview to Manish Anand, Ms Alva recalls the working style of Sanjay Gandhi that harmed the Congress, and says that outside interference led to the undoing of the UPA-2 government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. After a 44-year political career, you’ve penned an autobiography. What made you want to share your experiences During my days in Raj Bhavan, I began thinking that I should write my experiences during my 44-year-long political career. I do not wish to criticise anyone. I wanted to write about my life and of having worked with different Prime Ministers, including Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Besides, I also saw from close quarters the emergence of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. Though I was not part of UPA-1 and UPA-2, I was a governor. Throughout my career, I maintained my right to speak, which may have been my undoing. With Rajivji, there was no age difference between us and he appreciated my views. Rao was sedate, sensible and very mature.
I grew up as a girl who walked to her school barefoot and hailed from a middle-class background. I entered politics in 1969. My story could be inspiration for women. And maybe because of that I wrote my autobiography.
You were quite close to the events that led to the imposition of Emergency. Was it possible for Indira Gandhi to have avoided the decision I was not even in India when the Emergency was imposed; I was in Mexico and got the news from local newspapers. But there was a group of politicians, including S.S. Ray and Rajni Patel, who were actively advising her to impose the Emergency.
The JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement was at its peak. There were reports that calls were being given to Army personnel to revolt, which were being seen by the Congress as hints of an impending insurgency.
You faced tough situations when Sanjay Gandhi was calling the shots within the Congress in the 1970s. How did his rise affect the functioning of the Prime Minister’s Office Yes, there were a few events during which I argued against what Sanjay Gandhi was advocating — like the merger of the NSUI with the Youth Congress. After I was asked to speak, Indiraji went with my views, and that angered Sanjay. He misused his position, which can happen anywhere. He was getting very powerful. Indiraji was also getting uncomfortable with the caucus surrounding Sanjay. She began saying that things were slipping away. And that’s why she afterwards announced elections.
She did not want to rule without the people’s mandate. Whether the PMO is strong or not depends on the person holding the office. And that’s why I believe the UPA-2 failed as there was too much interference from outside, including the coalition compulsions... there were a lot of things.
What was wrong with Sanjay Gandhi — that he sought to push his programmes, including the family planning and demolition of Turkman Gate, unilaterally He (Sanjay Gandhi) was a very politically aware person. He was a go-getter. He sometimes took on the government. He fought the battle for the party. He went to jail. He won Indiraji a re-election. After the Emergency, he had matured into a sensible person. His five-point programme, which included “each one teach one”, family planning welfare, plant a tree, “Be Indian, buy Indian,” and anti-dowry, were all demands of the time. But the way he went about pushing his plans, including the demolition of Turkman Gate slums in Delhi in the name of beautification of the city, cost the party very heavily later.
How much did the Congress contribute to the collapse of the Janata Party government The Janata Party government, which came to power in 1977, was highly unstable from within, with too many ambitious people. Morarji Desai was on the high chair, but Chaudhary Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram were playing clan and caste politics.
The Congress surely helped Charan Singh to become Prime Minister. But the Janata experiment collapsed due to the weight of its inner contradictions. The far-right Jan Sangh was part of the government. Politics is a game of chairs.
You were a minister under the P.V. Narasimha Rao government and you’ve mentioned a deep lack of trust between Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister then. I do not want to blame anyone. My book should not be seen in a way that I’ve attacked Mrs Gandhi. I met her and handed her a copy of the book. I told her that I’ve written what’s of historical importance. Everything is already in the public domain. Rao is even said to have put his IB men to keep a watch on key Congress leaders of his time. But Rao laid the foundation of change in the economy and at that time many within the party felt that he was going against the ideology of the party.
You came under scrutiny after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Yes, that was very frustrating. I shared all details with Mrs Sonia Gandhi. I went to her and shared the details. But there were a few people in the party who dragged my name in the controversy, saying that the assassination was part of a Catholic conspiracy to make Mrs Gandhi Prime Minister of India.
You were comfortable with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who gave you charge of two states besides Rajasthan, and you completed your term as governor, unlike others who had to quit. Yes, he (Modi) told me that I was doing a good job and assigned me additional responsibilities. I met him and handed over a copy of my book. I keep writing to him. I told him that he should not allow the merger of the Mahila Bank with any big bank. I wrote to him on coastal security, too.