If I were bothered about my own self I would not do many things I have done,” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi recently told India on radio. “I have chosen a different path because the question is not of an individual but of the way society should move.”
Last June, Mrs. Gandhi advised the president of India to declare a national emergency shortly after she had been convicted of breaking election laws. She faced possible expulsion from office. She also wanted more power to deal with growing violence and economic disruption throughout the country. Subsequently, more than a thousand political opponents were clapped into preventive detention; the press was censored; and India’s democracy vanished overnight.
Liberal Western observers were outraged. Once in control, the 58-year-old daughter of India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru, promptly pushed through legislation retroactively nullifying those bothersome election laws. Outrage in the West intensified. And then, with the same unchecked hand, Mrs. Gandhi began to write the most progressive legislation of her regime.
Today both government and industry are achieving greater efficiency due to less red tape. Labor and management have traded no-strike, no-lockout accords. Censorship—especially of the foreign press—has been considerably relaxed. Inflation has not only been halted but in some areas of the economy reversed. Indira Gandhi’s popularity among her country’s 600 million citizens has never been higher.
In her radio chat Mrs. Gandhi summed up the positive aspects of the continuing emergency (an 8 percent drop in wholesale prices, a $125 million program to bring three million more acres under irrigation, etc.). She did not mention the members of the opposition who are still in prison or when the emergency might end. Nor did she summon up any references to her heroine Joan of Arc, as was her custom once. But there is no doubt that the grandmotherly dictator still sees herself as India’s savior saint.