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Tribute to Indira Gandhi, a towering personality of global stature

By S N Sahu | PUBLISHED: 31, Oct 2020, 19:46 pm IST | UPDATED: 30, Dec 2020, 12:26 pm IST

Tribute to Indira Gandhi, a towering personality of global stature Today is the death anniversary of Shrimati Indira Gandhi who was Prime Minister of our country, a charismatic and beloved leader of our people and a towering personality of global stature. She was laid down her life in defence of the unity and integrity of India when fell to the bullets of the assassins.

Bank Nationalisation
She made history for her bold and progressive measures for abolishing privy purses of the princely rulers and nationalizing banks. Her  bold act of brining the banks to the public sector was historic step in mobilising finances of our country for overall growth of national wealth and providing common people's access credit which  has been described by Muhammed Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, as a human right.

Liberation of Bangladesh, Self Sufficiency in Food Grain Production and Promotion of Science  
It was under her strong leadership that India decisively defeated Pakistan in war which resulted in liberation and birth of Bangladesh. It was during her regime that India attained self sufficiency in food grain production on account of green revolution and she unilaterally terminated PL 480 agreement with the USA based on which we used to get wheat and rice from that country to meet our massive food shortage. In fact India attaining self sufficiency in food grain production in 1971 has been described by Professor M.S.Swaminathan as more remarkable than man walking on the moon. Her courageous decision to conduct Peaceful Nuclear Explosion in 1974 in Pokhran heralded the new brave nuclear era for our country. After her tragic assassination in 1984 she was described by the editors of the world famous science journal The Nature as the Heroine of Indian Science. She often said  that our rural areas are thrusting for science.

Women in Development
It was during her tenure as the Prime Minister that women's issues were given a separate category by taking them from the broad category of welfare. For the first time in the history of our planning she introduced a separate chapter entitled Women and Development in the sixth Five Year Plan Document and thereby outlining their distinctive role and contributions in building our nation.

Indira Gandhi gave a new perspective to development  by looking at it from  the perspective of environment. She became country's  first Prime Minister who Indira Gandhi to include the issue of environment in the Planning Commission document. In fourth five year plan document of  1970  she introduced  a chapter "Long Term Perspective"  and in it a under the sub heading  "Quality of Environment" the  environmental perspectives on development were outlined. It is worth quoting that perspective.

"A healthy environment is vital for gcod life. It is an obligation cf each generation to maintain the productive capacity of land, air, water and wild life in a manner which leaves its successors some chance  in the creation of a healthy environment.. At present there is no' point in the structure of Goverrment where the environmental attention in an integrated manner. Nor are there sufficient numbers of experts who can analyse environmental problems and examine developmental projects from this angle so as to be able to give balanced advise. These deficiencies have to be overcame before any advance can be made. Meanwhile, ii is proposed to make arrangements to provide for environmental expertise in teams constituted for planning major projects so that environmental aspects are net left out or mis-judged""

In incorporating environmental issue in the planning document she made  India a global leader in taking up the issue of environment much before it  was taken up at the global level in 1987 through the Bruntland Report titled "World Commission on Environment and Development : Our Common Future".

Poverty as worst source of pollution
More than that Indira Gandhi would be remembered for ever for her lasting contributions in looking at environmental issues from the perspective of poor and developing countries. When Maurice Strong, the Chairman of the first UN Conference on Environment, came to India in 1971 to invite Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to participate in the said UN Conference in 1972 being organized in Stockholm, he sent his request through Indian External Affairs Ministry to get an appointment with her. He got a reply that the Prime Minister of India who was busy in handling the rising tension between India and Pakistan had no time to discuss peripheral issues like environment. Not happy with such a reply from our Foreign Office Mr. Strong approached Indira Gandhi through his friends in Delhi for an appointment.

Immediately Indira Gandhi agreed to see him for fifteen minutes. However the meeting lasted for two hours. After the tragic assassination of Indira Gandhi Mr. Strong wrote a piece to pay tribute to her. In that piece he glowingly acknowledged that it was because of that meeting with Indira Gandhi in 1971 in Delhi that he decided to change the agenda of the first ever UN Conference on Environment by incorporating the perspectives of developing countries on environment. It may be mentioned that Indira Gandhi was the only Head of the Government who attended that UN Conference and famously stated that poverty is the worst source of pollution. Maurice Strong stated that the formulation of Indira Gandhi that Poverty is the Worst Source of Pollution became part of the folklore of environmental movement in the world. He went on to candidly admit that it was Indira Gandhi who changed his notion of pollution by looking at it beyond high levels of industrialization and the resultant toxic emission contaminating air and water. It is she who educated him for the first time to look at the problem of environment and pollution from the angle of poverty which she considered as worst source of pollution.

Therefore, Maurice Strong credited Indira Gandhi with a vision which enabled the UN Conference on Environment to look at pollution from the perspective of poor and suffering millions of the developing countires. In that brilliant article Maurice Strong vey elaborately outlined her contributions to environment and hailed her as a Planetary Citizen of the World. When Maurice Strong was conferred with Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1996 for his seminal contributions to protect environment, I was asked by Mr. K.R.Narayanan, then Vice President of India, to do research on Maurice Strong for drafting a speech for him. I got more than ten of speeches and writings from Canada where he stays and read all those line by line. That was how I got familiarized with Maurice Strong's writings including the one he wrote paying tribute to Indira Gandhi in which he gave her the exalted status of a PLANETARY CITIZEN.

On this solemn occasion I pay my tribute to her.

#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.