Describing Indira Gandhi as a great statesman and the best prime minister India ever had, former President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday said she never shied away from reality.
He was delivering the Indira Gandhi Memorial speech on her 100th birth anniversary day organised by Bidhan Memorial Trust, Kolkata. The programme was chaired by Congress leader Somen Mitra.
Mukherjee said this was proved in her interaction with a group of British reporters in 1978, three years after the Emergency was imposed in the country.
“In November 1978, she went to London to attend a birthday function in memory of Jawaharlal Nehru and I came to know all big papers in the UK were writing she should not be given importance and was labelled by them as a fascist and dynastic lady,” he said.
The former president said as they reached the Heathrow airport, they were asked by the airport personnel to leave by a different exit since a group of hostile looking reporters were waiting to meet Gandhi at the airport’s main gate.
But she refused, he said.
“As we faced them, one of the journalists loudly asked her what did she gain by declaring Emergency,” Mukherjee said.
“And Indiraji replied ‘that we have been very comprehensively alienated by all sections of people’ and all the mediapersons smiled and the ice was broken,” he recalled, adding, “she had never shied away from reality”.
Talking about the ‘Operation Bluestar’ in Golden Temple in 1984, Mukherjee said she had never compromised with blind religious faiths or with the social force which was at work to split the country into different parts.
To the words of caution by her well-wishers before the operation against extremists, she had replied ‘I know may be I have to sacrifice my life for this act’, he said.
She had also said that as the prime minister of this country her priority was to safeguard the unity and integrity of India and her personal security issue would come later, Mukherjee recalled.
Praising Gandhi for her foresight, Mukherjee referred to the 1974 nuclear explosion at Pokhran.
“Before the Pokhran blast, she had rightly pointed out that while five countries of the world would make nuclear bomb, the rest 189 countries would be deprived of nuclear materials to process electricity,” the former president said.
She asked these nuclear nations to drastically reduce their nuke arsenal and told them that India was screwdriver technology away from manufacturing a nuclear bomb but if they drastically reduced their arsenal then India won’t do it, he said.
“But as the five nations did not listen, India had to trigger the nuclear bomb explosion at Pokhran in 1974 to show that we can. Twenty-four years later in 1998, India conducted another nuclear bomb explosion (second time) and then prime minister AB Vajpayee rightly said that they followed the path paved by Indira Gandhi,” Mukherjee said.
He said Gandhi was instrumental in setting up ISRO. “In today’s space science India occupies the third spot. This happened as she had founded ISRO.”
The function was attended by several Congress leaders including Pradip Bhattacharya, Omprakash Mishra and Somen Mitra.