Why wasn’t the vice-president Gopal Swarup Pathak made the president of India after his term unlike his predecessors?

By Sunil Kumar

Interesting question. For this we have to delve a little into the politics of 60s and 70s India; and the labyrinth of Delhi’s bureaucracy.

As everybody knows in India; the office of President is not nearly as important as the Prime Minister; and we often have had rubber-stamp heads of states; content to adhere to the agenda of the party in power.

Gopal Swarup Pathak was the vice-President of the country from August 69 to 74. Before him V.V Giri, Zakir Hussein and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had been Vice-Presidents who became President.

As a noted intellectual and law practitioner; he had become VP and entered the fray at Indira’s request. The 60s were also no different from now in terms of ambition; and Congress leader Margaret Alva’s mother-in-law Violet Alva had been promised the post by the Congress and Indira. Disgruntled at the fact that Pathak had been chosen; she was shocked and passed away a few days later.

Indira Gandhi who became PM after the popular Lal Bahadur Shastri was initially mocked by a significant number of people and powerful people in her own party(The So-called Syndicate; composed of Kamraj, Morarji Desai etc).

After his visit to America in 1966(short time after she became PM for the first time); came the devaluation of the Indian rupee allegedly under U.S pressure. Lyndon Johnson; the American President at the time was very impressed and charmed by Indira. For Nehru’s non-aligned India to accede to American pressure was a cardinal sin in India’s politics which was “socialist” and left-leaning.

As Indira faced her first crisis with the Congress losing seats in many states(first time since Independence); and worst of all opponents like the Swatantra Party(founded by Rajagopalachari and Masani); Jan Sangh(precursor to BJP); and the Communists gaining power; she began her first “iron woman” act.

Unlike Nehru who was old-school and still had some moral scruples; Indira had none of the above.

She was a grandmaster of the political chessgame in India; and routinely dismissed governments opposing her using Article 356(dismissing elected governments in states); for which Presidential assent is required.

When Indira first came into power; the President was Radhakrishnan; who had a paternalistic but overbearing attitude towards the “goongi goodiya”(‘dumb doll’- words which Ram Manohar Lohia used to mock Indira with; but he was disastrously wrong as proved by later events). Radhakrishnan knew her as Nehru’s daughter; while Indira was already determined to leave her imprint on the country.

Her first move after an unpopular devaluation was to shift back to the “Con”gress image of being a friend of the poor; the underprivileged and the minorities. Zakir Hussain was therefore appointed as the First President.

The Syndicate(Kamraj, Desai etc) resented that the person they had brought into power thinking that she would be a pretty puppet; like an English queen; while they managed everything was beginning to undermine their positions. She did not consult them for anything; and firmly opposed any “Syndicate” recommendations for President.

In 1969; she suddenly announced the nationalisation of 14 banks; on the plea that private institutions were largely for rich businessmen and princes; not the common man. Quite like PM Modi’s demonetization; very few people knew about this to ensure implementation.

In one move; she again became the darling of the electorate; cut off funding for her political opponents Swatantra Party and the Jan Sangh; outsmarted the “internal” power Syndicate; with the Congress image restored to a leftist, pro-poor party. The Syndicate formally expelled her from the Congress; leading to the formation of her own unit; the now famous Congress(I)- Congress Indira. But she regained power with some opposition help and decimated anybody opposing her.

With her chosen candidate for President V.V Giri defeating Syndicate nominee Neelam Sanjiva Reddy; Indira Gandhi was ecstatic with the President and the VP now firmly under he control.

Her advisor through this; and in the 1971 war was the famous P.N Haksar; an astute intellectual Kashmiri Pandit(the same community as her). In 1967 her son Sanjay Gandhi had returned from England; failing to complete any educational course.

Like his father Feroze; he was fond of mechanical tinkering and cars. Apparently thrown out even of his motor apprenticeship for arrogance and arrested for overspeeding in England; Sanjay knew his mother was the “uncrowned” Empress of the Indian democratic republic. Indira approved of his plans for constructing a local car and the first attempts at “Maruti” were launched. Anybody opposing her son’s plans was quickly kicked out; like Taneja; Chairman of Central Bank of India.

For cronies and sycophants; the going was smooth. Pranab Mukherjee(future President of the Republic) was given charge of Banking, Income Tax and Customs. Bansi Lal; CM of Haryana was very “helpful” to Sanjay and Indira; with hectares of land given at rock-bottom prices.

Source: The intricate financial web that shrouds Sanjay Gandhi’s many-faced Maruti empire

At the time the President in 1974; Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was Minister for Industrial Development and Company laws. Sanjay according to many famous journalists and commentators of the period had “great” influence over her; more than the “sober” Rajiv; who was more westernized and refined.

After the 1971 war; one of the greatest triumphs ever; Indira had transformed completely from a shy, nervous woman to a powerful, dominant PM who was even called as “Abhinav Chandi Durga” by her political opponent future PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee(like all politicians; he “supposedly” denied this later). Indiraji had won against great odds a war against Pakistan at a time when America under Nixon hated her.

Under Yahya Khan; Punjabi and Sindhi Muslims who ruled the Western half launched a ruthless genocide on their fellow Muslims and hapless Hindus due to a “different” language and their “dark” complexions.

Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis were killed and raped; specially created knives were used by the Pakistani army to gouge out eyes and breasts. The U.S; always a hypocritically outspoken votary of “human” rights quietly looked on at a slaughter in some ways even worse than the Jewish “Holocaust”.

Even when Indira made a tour of Western capitals to garner support for India’s cause; Nixon reportedly called her “a bitch”; “that woman” and “old witch” to his Jewish crony secretary of state Kissinger. American Presidential debates in 2016 were kind of similar.

Nixon’s comments on India are even more illustrative of his mentality; “I don’t know why anybody cares to reproduce in that goddamn place. Indians are deceitful, slimy and Pro-Soviet”.

Despite America’s cold shoulder to the world’s biggest democracy; and warming up to Pakistan and opening diplomatic relations with China; Indira knew how to play her cards well and finally signed a “Treaty of Friendship” with the Soviet Union. Already on the offensive and losing soldiers in Vietnam; America threatening India with a warship was countered by Soviet Power.

After a relatively quick victory and the dismemberment of Pakistan into Bangladesh; Indira grew very arrogant. Although the war had been won under her resolute leadership; the other real architects of the triumph were her advisor Haksar, and great generals like Manekshaw, Jagjit Singh Aurora and J.F.R Jacob and the blood of many Indian soldiers of all castes and religions.

Mrs. Gandhi soon sacked Haksar as her advisor as Sanjay Gandhi reportedly did not like him; and advised his mother that Haksar was taking all the credit for the 1971 war. After the “high” of the triumph; Indira won a landslide and a majority.

She was often referred to as the only “man” in a cabinet of old “women”; and never forgot any slights easily. Her aunt Vijaylakshmi Pandit who had called her “stupid” and “ugly” in childhood was shunted out of any important position and forbidden to attend any official event.

But within the next three years; the situation had changed. Inflation and unemployment increased; and India began to witness unrest and strikes in different states. George Fernandes and other noted political “luminaries” had accused her of “nepotism” and not listening to reason when it came to Sanjay; where she was a foolishly “doting” mother.

An all-India railway strike led by Fernandes in 1974; shook Indira’s confidence leading her to overplay the situation as “anarchy”

Jayaprakash Narayan; another Indira-hater; respected Gandhian and freedom fighter had launched a non-violent movement from Bihar called “Total Revolution”. Unlike her father Nehru; Indira’s authoritarian streak ran even deeper and she wanted to cling on to power regardless of any adverse judgment or “loss of face”.

For this; she needed a “yes-man”. Short moral of the story if you’ve managed to read this far. Now; by all accounts Pathak was also indebted to her for making him the Vice President; but Ahmed; later to become President in place of Pathak was probably more appealing due to his religion.

Being a Muslim was good for the votebank; as political calculations were never far away from Indira’s strategic electoral mind. The first one to be bypassed; later examples in political history include Krishan Kant, Basappa Dasappa Jatti and Mohammed Hidayatullah.

Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who was the VP from 2002 to 2007 was a BJP nominee to the post like the President A.P.J Abdul Kalam. He resigned after losing the election to Pratibha Patil; and was followed by Hamid Ansari who was VP for a record 10 years and has been replaced by the present incumbent Venkaiah Naidu.

So; in conclusion, Pathak was probably not that “strategic” in the political chessgame and therefore abandoned for a stronger play and Presidential assent to Indira’s assault on Indian democracy; aptly named “The Emergency”.

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