Battle lines drawn in the Congress

On 3 October 1977, the CBI arrest­ed Indira Gandhi from her resi­dence at 12 Willingdon Crescent. I was at home when I got the news from a

United News of India correspondent that Indira Gandhi, along with K.D. Malaviya, H.R. Gokhale, P.C. Sethi and D.P. Chattopadhyaya, had been arrested. The correspondent told me that I, too, was likely to be arrested.

  • requested a friend (who was visit­ing) to go fetch my wife, Geeta, who had gone out to watch a movie. And then I waited on the lawn with my pipe, tobacco, matchbox and a small suitcase. I decided I would not apply for bail, and prepared myself for an indefinite stay in jail. Geeta came back and together, we waited for the police, but nobody came. After about
  • m., I told Geeta that instead of waiting for the police, we could go to Indira Gandhi’s residence and find out what was happening there. We left a note with our servant in case the police came looking for us—that we would be at 12 Willingdon Crescent.

At Indira Gandhi’s residence, we found several people, but not Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi came in later, and was surprised to see me. He had been told that the police had already picked me up. I heard from him the details of Indira Gandhi’s arrest, and then we talked about making arrangements for the next day. I returned home at 2 a.m., only to go back to 12 Willingdon Crescent a few hours later. The area had now been cordoned off, and it required a fair amount of coaxing for me to be allowed in. Having met the others inside, Vasant Sathe and I left for Police Lines, where we were told that Indira Gandhi had been taken to court. We headed there, making our way past numerous groups of pro- and anti-Indira demonstrators. The anti-Indira rallies were mostly Janata Party demonstrations against her. ‘Hang herl’they shouted. Some of their slogans were in very bad taste. The pro-Indira demonstrators, on the other hand, were shouting slogans against the high-handedness of the Janata government and the political­ly motivated arrest of Indira Gandhi.

The courtroom was crowded and we would not have made it inside

A few minutes later, the judge, R. Dayal, delivered his judgement and she was honourably acquitted…. without police help. Indira Gandhi stood in the dock, a Shantiniketan bag hanging from her shoulder. She saw me and asked, ‘How come you are here?’I told her what had happened.

The arrest was full of drama. The police came at 3 p.m., without a prop­er warrant. They produced one only when this was pointed out to them. In the meantime, uniformed as well as plainclothes policemen surrounded the house. Maneka Gandhi contact­ed as many people as she could (her phone had been spared from being disconnected), and a large number of Congressmen and leaders assembled
at 12 Willingdon Crescent. The law­yers—who had a previously sched­uled appointment with Indira Gandhi for 3 p.m.that day—got into an argu­ment with the CBI’s N.K. Singh.

The drama notwithstanding, Indira Gandhi was taken away late that evening, but not before she made a brief statement to the press that the arrest was politically motivated. While Sanjay Gandhi did not react, Rajiv Gandhi’s reaction was sharp. He pointed out that the Janata Party government was unlikely to have any­thing against Indira Gandhi, aside from some flimsy charges of ‘illegal connivance’to secure some jeeps for the party.

Indira Gandhi was followed by her lawyers, a group of loyalists and fami­ly members—Rajiv, Sonia, Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi. It was decided that Nirmala Deshpande would accom-

Rajiv Gandhi’s reaction was sharp. He pointed out that the Janata Party gov­ernment was unlikely to have anything against Indira Gandhi, aside from some flimsy charges of ‘illegal connivance’ to secure some jeeps for the party.

 

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