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‘I did not waver from my loyalty to Indira Gandhi’: Pranab Mukherjee in ‘The Dramatic Decade’

President Pranab Mukherjee’s book The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years takes the readers through the economic and social unrest of the period leading up to the Emergency, the rise and fall of leaders, and splits within the Congress party, while promising to offer more in the next two volumes of the trilogy. 

The first volume, which was launched exclusively on Amazon on Thursday, documents Mukherjee’s relationship with Indira Gandhi through her good and bad years, as he tried to capture the essence of those years. According to the author, East Pakistan’s struggle for independence in 1971, the oil crisis of 1973, the Emergency in 1975 and the advent of coalition politics in 1977 were among the developments that signaled a ‘’turning point in the history of independent India’’. At many points in the book, the 13th President of India comes close to justifying the idea of Emergency. 

Mukherjee, who has written four books earlier, describes himself as a ‘’boy who moves from a flickering lamp in a remote village in West Bengal to the glittering chandeliers of the national capital’’. The Dramatic Decade, from Rupa Publications, filled with letters, photographs and extracts from official documents including the Budget of the times, begins with Mukherjee’s home town Mirati, his disinterest in studies as a child and his subsequent Master’s in political science and modern history, and then a degree in law. 

He recounts how his father Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee, a Congress loyalist, had reminded him about standing by a person in his or her hour of crisis. It is then that ‘’you reveal your own humanity’’, his father had told him. ‘’I did not, then or later, waver from my loyalty to Indira Gandhi,’’ the President writes. Even as he has been keeping personal diaries over the years, Mukherjee had to depend much on his memory for writing this book as much of his material was lost when his house got flooded.

The chapter on Emergency is titled ‘The Midnight Drama’, where he narrates how, as a minister then, he was urgently called back from Kolkata – then called Calcutta – where he had gone for Rajya Sabha election. Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then West Bengal chief minister, played an important role in the decision to declare Emergency on the grounds of internal disturbance, according to Mukherjee.

Once Emergency was declared, there were plenty of people claiming authorship of the idea, the book says. Again, ‘’not surprisingly, these same people took a sharp turn’’ later. Ray was no exception, writes Mukherjee. He cites an instance when Ray ran into Indira Gandhi draped in a crimson sari while deposing before the Shah Commission. ‘’You look pretty today,’’ Ray told her. ‘’Despite your efforts,” she retorted.

A large number of ministers and bureaucrats appeared before the Shah Commission, and evidence recorded by the Commission indicated that the Emergency decision was taken by Indira Gandhi alone and the Cabinet was not taken into confidence, the author notes. ‘’The proceedings of the Shah Commission were peculiar…. Suffice it to say that it seemed that the Commission was collecting material and information only to substantiate a pre-conceived conclusion.” 

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