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Why Priyanka Gandhi’s arrest in UP is evoking comparisons to grandma Indira’s 44 years ago

On 3 Oct 1977, ex-PM Indira Gandhi & four other members of her Cabinet were arrested under corruption charges. Congress leaders draw parallels between Priyanka's and Indira's arrest.

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New Delhi: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was arrested Tuesday, 24 hours after being detained at a guest house in Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka was en route to meet the victims of Sunday’s Lakhimpur Kheri violence that killed eight people, including four farmers and a journalist.

Besides Priyanka, senior Congress leader Deepender Singh Hooda, UP Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu and party MLC Deepak Singh have also been held under Section 151 of the CrPC.

The four protesting farmers who died were hit by a convoy of three SUVs, one of them allegedly owned by Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni.

On Tuesday, Priyanka tweeted an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that she has been in detention for 28 hours without an FIR and questioned why the person responsible for the deaths of the four farmers was not arrested yet. She also tweeted a video showing protesting farmers being run over by an SUV.

A video of Gandhi arguing with Uttar Pradesh Police officials at the time of her detention had gone viral Monday, as Youth Congress President Srinivas B.V. and former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar drew parallels between Priyanka’s detention and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s arrest, which took place 44 years ago.

Indira Gandhi’s arrest

On 3 October 1977, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and at least four other members of her Cabinet were arrested in the national capital under corruption charges in two separate cases.

According to a contemporaneous report in The Washington Post, one of the cases involved pressuring companies to obtain 104 jeeps for election work in several districts, while the other involved the awarding of an oil drilling contract to a French company that was allegedly not the highest bidder.

Indira Gandhi had said her arrest was purely a “political” move. “It is to prevent me from going before the people. It is an attempt to discredit me in their eyes and the eyes of the world,” she had stated prior to being taken into custody, The Washington Post had reported.

This arrest had taken place during the short-lived tenure of India’s fourth Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. Desai led the Janata Party government which took charge in March 1977 after defeating the Congress in the general elections, but later collapsed in July 1979 due to numerous intra-party disputes.

Also read: No allies, no understanding in Priyanka’s team — why UP Congress leaders are flocking to SP

Public ire shifted towards Morarji govt

The Janata Party capitalised on public opposition to the Indira-led Congress government which imposed the draconian national Emergency from 1975 to 1977. Numerous human rights violations were reported in this period.

However, according to reports in The Washington Post and India Today, arresting Indira Gandhi under purported corruption charges was “not the correct move politically” for the Desai government and the then-Home Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh.

The Washington Post had argued that Desai would have garnered greater public support, had Gandhi’s arrest been in March when the public’s ire towards Gandhi was at its peak and she had lost the elections.

By October, public ire, however, shifted towards the Desai government while Indira was attracting wide support in rallies. The Washington Post cited “labor arrest, rising prices, and…the apparent inability of the Desai government to take any decisive action” as reasons for the government’s unpopularity.

India Today referred to the arrest as Home Minister Singh’s “darkest hour” in his political career and the Desai government’s “greatest administrative bungle”.

In its cover story published in October 1977, India Today provided a chronological breakdown of the days leading up to the arrest. While Charan Singh had wanted to make the arrest as soon as the Janata Party had come to power, there were many obstacles along the way, India Today had said.

“As the officials waded through the files, one political crisis after another had confronted the old man. Indira Gandhi could wait. There was time enough to catch her, he said to himself. Moreover, he had a soft spot for her,” the magazine’s report said.

Congress’ return to power

In an opinion piece on News18, D.P. Satish writes that the timing of Indira’s arrest by the Desai government sank the latter, as its “actions were seen as vindictive” and “failed to achieve the desired goal” of putting a powerful political opponent behind bars.

“After she came out of jail, Indira Gandhi became more decisive and took the Morarji Desai government head on. Even during the election campaign in 1980, the Congress used Indira Gandhi’s jailing to garner sympathy of the voters mainly villagers across India,” Satish argued.

Following the collapse of Desai’s government, Chaudhary Charan Singh was India’s Prime Minister for a little under six months, before Congress returned to power in the 1980 general elections. Indira returned and stayed PM till 1984 when she was assassinated.

Indira’s politically motivated arrest did not lead to a decline in popularity for the Congress. It is this arrest that is being compared to the detainment of the current Congress general secretary and Indira’s granddaughter, Priyanka Gandhi, by other Congress members as well as supporters of the party on social media.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: Veerappa Moily ‘dissociates’ himself from Congress G23, says never meant to attack high command



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