Indira Gandhi's life through her doctor's eyes

New Delhi: Late Indira Gandhi wanted her younger daughter-in-law to help her in politics after the death of Sanjay but Maneka was in the company of people who were antagonistic to Rajiv.

"Although PM was always more fond of Sonia, during the period after Sanjay's death, she became a little more inclined towards Maneka.

Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi

"However, it failed to bring Maneka closer to her. Generally Sonia held the upper hand in household affairs while Maneka's views were considered by the PM when it came to political matters since Maneka had good political sense," says K P Mathur, Gandhi's personal physician.

Mathur, a former physician at Safdarjung Hospital here who served for nearly 20 years as the physician to the late PM and called on her every morning till her assassination in 1984, details Gandhi's journey as a politician and her relations with family in a new book 'The Unseen Indira Gandhi,' (Konark Publishers).

Within a couple of years of the death of Sanjay Gandhi, the book says, Maneka had to leave the then PM's house under rather trying circumstances.

"After Sanjay's death, PM's attitude towards her softened a great deal. In fact, she wanted Maneka to come and help her in politics.

"But Maneka was often in the company of people who were antagonistic to Rajiv. This grew into the formation of the organisation, the Sanjay Vichar Manch. It was an organisation which wanted to carry on with the legacy of Sanjay Gandhi. Maneka and her associates were part of it they were known to be acting against Rajiv although I never came to know what specifically they were doing," says Mathur.

What brought matters to a head was a convention of the Sanjay Vichar Manch which was held in Lucknow, which Gandhi advised Maneka not to address. Gandhi was touring abroad at that time and sent a message to Maneka but the latter went ahead and addressed the convention.

After Rajiv and Sonia's marriage the doctor said the former PM and Sonia took to each other within no time. "Sonia gave a lot of respect and the latter showered her with affection and regard... Sonia very soon took over the responsibility of the household."

A voracious reader, Gandhi during Sundays and other holidays relaxed with some books, especially biographies of great men. She, says Dr Mathur, liked subjects connected with the body and the mind as well as popular science magazines and was fond of solving crossword puzzles in international publications.

"Sometimes, after lunch, she played cards. Her favourite card game was Kali Mam..." says the book.

The 151-page book describes Gandhi as "very tense, a bit confused and not sure of herself" in the first year or two of her becoming the PM in 1966.

"In the initial phase of her premiership, PM used to be especially nervous when faced with some speaking assignments, either in Parliament or outside and would try and avoid it," writes Mathur who mentions Gandhi as getting stomach upsets during her early days as PM, which he believed was a result of nervousness.

But, says the book, notwithstanding the initial jitters, Gandhi was a very determined person. She visited Madras University, which was the epicentre of the anti-Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu and remained undaunted by hostile sloganeering. "She told the students,'Don't say down with Hindi. Say up with Tamil. I will learn Tamil and you also learn Hindi'," Mathur recalls.

The doctor writes that the former prime minister appeared "quite perplexed and fidgety in the hours leading to the May 18, 1974 Pokhran explosions. "When I asked about her health, she just answered in monosyllables. I tried to make some small talk but she wasn¿t attentive. She fixed her gaze on the telephone on her bedside table, lifted the receiver once and put it down. I looked in that direction and saw a notebook on which gayatri mantra was written in long hand," the book said.

The book also refers to the 'ominous emergency' years after Emergency was imposed on June 25, 1975, when thousands of people were put in jail all across the country.

"The discontent against PM and Sanjay was growing by the hour and she as fast losing her people's confidence and sympathy... PM herself was not satisfied with the state of affairs, but somehow she did not intervene and let it go on. Perhaps she had become a victim of the tyranny of the excessive love she had for her younger son..."

After her defeat in the elections of 1977, Indira Gandhi decided to visit Belci in remote Bihar where upper caste land owners had massacred a number of Harijans over some land dispute but found it difficult to get transport to travel in the rainy season.

"Ultimately with her courage and determination she reached Belchi in the dark of night riding on an elephant.... All this she narrated to me on her return," says Dr Mathur. The book is interspersed with written instructions and messages on bits of paper, collected by the doctor.

The tome talks about Gandhi's relations with foreign heads of government including Margaret Thatcher, former PM of the United Kingdom, who Mathur says, "respecting her age and seniority showed due deference" towards Gandhi.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has written a foreword to the book which describes Dr Mathur as one whose keen sense of humour and an ability to grasp the finer details of human emotion endeared him to all.

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