NEW DELHI — A trusted aide to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has revealed that Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Union Minister in the BJP government, Maneka Gandhi, knew everything that was going on at the time of the imposition of Emergency in 1975 and had "no reservations" about it.
Sonia and Maneka married Indira's two sons Rajiv and Sanjay respectively. Rajiv Gandhi, who was the 7th prime minister of India, was assassinated in 1991 at the age of 46. Sanjay Gandhi died in a plane crash in 1980. He was 33 at the time.
Maneka's involvement could embarrass the BJP which was bitterly against Emergency -- a 21-month period between 1975 and 1977 that was the darkest period in the Indian democracy. The national press was censored, civil liberties curbed, political opponents rounded up and imprisoned and elections suspended by Indira. Many of BJP's senior leaders courted arrest at the time.
Indira's former aide RK Dhawan said that it was the former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray who gave Indira the idea of Emergency.
"Maneka knew everything Sanjay was doing and was with him at all times and cannot claim innocence or ignorance," Dhawan was quoted as saying.
Maneka, he said, was fully aware of the mass sterilization and slum clearance drives led by her husband.
Dhawan claimed that Indira knew nothing about Sanjay's highly controversial decisions such as forced sterilizations, Turkman Gate demolitions and land being acquired for a Maruti project.
In the interview, Dhawan recalled how he was present when Indira and Ray called on then President Fakhruddin Ahmed and said they wanted him to declare an Emergency. The President had no hesitation, Dhawan said.
"The President asked Ray to draft the proclamation and he did so," he said. Dhawan went on to describe the course of events that he said justified the Emergency. He also said that Indira was "visibly relieved" when she was told that she had lost the 1977 general election.
"She was then having dinner, relief broke out over her face and she said she would now have time for herself and the family," Dhawan was quoted as saying.