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Sanjay Gandhi was one of those thrust into the limelight for a few brief moments by the sheer accident of birth.|
Save his birth as Indira Gandhi's son and Jawaharlal Nehru's grandson, Sanjay Gandhi had little going for him.
Born to Indira Gandhi and her husband Feroze Gandhi on December 14, 1946, Sanjay Gandhi was a mediocre student in his Doon School days.
Like his mother Indira Gandhi and older brother Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi's college education was a joke and he failed to get a degree.
Sanjay's passion for cars led him to an internship at Rolls-Royce. He also loved flying and got a pilot's license.
In 1971 with his mother as Prime Minister of India, the Government of India embarked upon a project to make a cheap, people's car for the middle class. Although he had little experience in the automobile line, Sanjay Gandhi won the exclusive license to make the car.
Despite all the official and political support he got, Sanjay's Maruti automobile project to manufacture the people's car for the middle class made little headway. It was only after Sanjay's death that Maruti started mass manufacture of cars and today ranks as one of the largest car companies in India.
By his late 20s, undistinguished in every respect, devoid of any talent and with plenty of free time on his hands, Sanjay Gandhi took the easy way out by throwing his hat into the political arena.
Sanjay's mother Indira Gandhi had won the 1971 Indian Parliamentary elections on the populist slogan of Garibi Hatao (Abolish Poverty). Despite her resounding victory over the old guard of the Congress party, her honeymoon with the Indian electorate soured quickly. People grew disillusioned with her policies and there was growing unrest - sometimes violent - in many parts of India.
Unlike her father Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi lacked a strong intellect or appreciation for democratic norms. She responded the way of any tyrant - by clamping the Emergency and suspending civil liberties. Several opposition partyleaders were hauled off to jail and many of them tortured.
These were dark days in Indian democracy. But well suited for the rise of wastrels like Sanjay Gandhi.
After his entry into politics, Sanjay became one of the most powerful men in India, perhaps the most powerful.
Sanjay Gandhi's power derived not from any position in the government or elected office (until 1980) but because of his proximity to the seat of power as the son of Indira Gandhi. He became leader of the youth wing of Congress party.
Surrounding himself with a bunch of sycophants, Sanjay Gandhi came out with a five-point program - promoting literacy and birth control, planting trees, abolition of dowry and caste system.
His slum-clearance and family planning drives inflicted untold miseries on the poor people of India.
"Like Mrs. Indira Gandhi, [Sanjay Gandhi] looked upon politics as a tactical exercise rather than a forum for resolving public problems, and like a budding Latin-American dictator, he covered his nakedness with the attractive doctrine of progress, even if blindly," wrote James Traub in the New York Times.
But within the sycophantic Congress party, senior party leaders vied with one another in praising him to the skies. Maharashtra Chief Minister S.B.Chavan described him as "a new star rising in the political firmament of India."
However, the excesses of the Emergency took its toll when Indira Gandhi was vanquished in the 1977 Parliamentary elections. Indira Gandhi lost her Parliamentary seat to Raj Narain (1917-1986).
Sanjay Gandhi who had contested for the Parliamentary seat of Amethi lost to a young lawyer Ravindra Pratap Singh of the Bharatiya Lok Dal party.
Following the defeat of the Congress party in the elections, the Janata Party took over the reins of power under a81-year-old, urine drinking politician called Morarji Desai, who succeeded Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister.
Details of the misuse of power by Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi came to light soon after the Janata Party assumed power. These were the dog days for Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. Courts and special commissions examined the actions of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi.
A District Sessions Court in February 1979 convicted Sanjay Gandhi for destroying a movie ridiculing his mother's government. Judge O.N.Vohra ruled that Sanjay and former Information Minister V.C.Shukla were guilty of "criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, mischief by burning property and destruction of evidence."
Sanjay's response to the verdict: "This is a false case."
But the Janata Party - formed by a medley of opposition parties that had come together to defeat Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi at the polls - was riven by infighting and disintegrated in three years. Tired of the constant bickering of their political leaders, the people reelected Indira Gandhi and her party Congress (I) took over the reins of government in 1980.
Sanjay Gandhi, who had played a crucial role in selecting the candidates and engineering her victory, was also elected from the same Amethi constituency that had snubbed him three years earlier.
"The admiring minions, the bowing supplicants and the cheering crowds reflected a comeback for Mr.Gandhi that in some ways was even more dramatic than his mother's remarkable turn of fortune and return to power," wrote the New York Times' Michael Kaufman after Sanjay's death.
Sanjay's star rose.
Just as it seemed that sky was the limit for this young prince, Sanjay Gandhi was killed on June 23, 1980 in a plane crash when his single-engine two-seater Pitts S-2A plane crashed while he was attempting to make a risky loop maneuver. His co-pilot was also killed.
The Indian Central Cabinet adopted a resolution of "profound shock and grief" at Sanjay's death and described him as "a person of extraordinary dedication and dynamism and a symbol of the young generation."
Writing in the New York Times, James Traub felt that "Sanjay Gandhi's death, like that of a tyrant in a classical tragedy, may help release his native land from captivity. Though the initial reaction in India has naturally been one of sympathy...a sense of relief is sure to set in."
Sanjay Gandhi was cremated on the banks of the Yamuna river in Delhi.
Besides his grieving mother, brother Rajiv Gandhi and a whole bunch of sycophantic cronies, Sanjay left behind his wife Maneka Gandhi and a two-month son Varun Gandhi.
Sanjay's widow Maneka Gandhi is now a politician, animal rights supporter and environmental activist. Maneka and her son Varun Gandhi are both members of the Hind nationalist BJP party.
Election Commission of India
The New York Times
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Laloo Prasad Yadav