Dubai: Indian Congress party president Rahul Gandhi on Friday said the sense of protection that his family offered to him as a child was not shattered even when their house was “tear-gassed by police” in New Delhi in 1977.
Addressing a gathering of business leaders and professionals in Dubai on Friday, Gandhi recalled events that unfolded months after his grandmother and then prime minister Indira Gandhi lost elections after Emergency ended. Indira was arrested in October 1977 from her 12 Willingdon Crescent bungalow where her family had moved after she was ousted from the Prime Minister’s house on Safdarjang Road following her defeat.
Gandhi is on a two-day visit to the UAE as part of an international outreach programme.
“In our house, there was almost a blanket of love and affection, particularly from my parents, grandmother and uncle. It was a very protected environment … my grandmother, uncle and father were competitive people and would not let us be comfortable. You felt protected until 1977 and that was the first time we saw the political conflict … suddenly police coming into our house, tear gas being fired into the house. Still, we had that love and affection even though Dadi [grandmother] was going to jail and Chacha [uncle Sanjay] were going to jail … we were quite comfortable. If you ask my sister, she would say ‘those were the best days’,” Gandhi recalled the day when police raided his grandmother’s house on October 3, 1977.
Gandhi, 48, was seven years old then.
Indira’s arrest on corruption charges was well documented by the media. ‘Mrs Indira Gandhi Arrested’, screamed the banner headline of Indian Express the day after. However, the most detailed account came from NK Singh, the officer who raided Indira’s house. “ … Indira Gandhi took time to get ready and locked herself in a bedroom where she was found holding parleys with her party men and family members for a long time. We repeatedly knocked the doors, with no result yet no physical force was used nor was there any roughing-up. She was extended all the courtesy due to her as a top political leader who had been the Prime Minister for 11 years. When she came out, after persuasion and show of legal firmness, she created all sorts of trouble. Our own car carrying her was followed by about 15 vehicles of theirs, led by Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. En route, she kept shouting out to the bystanders and curious onlookers, ‘look, they are taking me away under arrest’,” Singh wrote in The Hindu newspaper in 2001.
“She was ultimately taken to the Kingsway camp police guesthouse and kept during the night at the VIP suite, offered food, which of course she declined. To be fair to her, when I took leave of her, she called me and apologised for all the acts of hoodlums, both in Wellingdon Crescent and en route,” Singh added.
On Friday in Dubai, speaking of his childhood in response to a question on his personal life, Gandhi also recalled her grandmother’s assassination. “Next was Dadi’s death … you got to sense that someone who was so close to you suddenly and violently disappeared,” he said of Indira’s assassination by her bodyguards in 1984.
He said his father Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was an unexpected blow to the family in 1991.
“Papa’s death was different than Dadi’s death because in Dadi’s death, we sort of suspected that something would happen [but] we had no confusion that Papa was not going to die. A very interesting thing happened to both me and my sister as a result of this combination of lot of affection and love and sudden traumatic violence, which is that we don’t hate people, we don’t dislike people, we find it difficult to hate. I don’t know how this happened because intuitively you would think that if violence is done to him, we would think that violence is an option. But it showed me the complete inefficiency and ineffectiveness of violence,” he said to applause from the business leaders.
The interactive meeting was organised by the Indian Business and Professional Council in Dubai. Around 200 business leaders and professionals attended the function. It was attended by prominent business leaders, including Yousuf Ali M.A, Dr Azad Moopen and BR Shetty. Suresh Kumar, the IBPC chairman, asked questions to Gandhi who were sitting on the stage with Sam Pitroda, chairman of Indian Overseas Congress.
Earlier, the Congress president hailed bilateral relations between the UAE and India and paid tribute to the entrepreneurship of Indian businessmen and traders. “Our community has played a tremendous role here and there has been a partnership between the government of Dubai, the leaders of Dubai and the people of India, that partnership has been very successful. It’s an honour for me come and see what our people have created in Dubai. Most of you have come [here] without huge amount of wealth as entrepreneurs, started from scratch and built huge empires,” he said.
He said Indian economy was failing because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is regurgitating the ideas of the nineties. He blamed “centralisation” of powers under Modi for corruption and said election funding must be made transparent.