This moment, where Indira Gandhi rode on an elephant back to a remote village in Bihar, signalled her political resurrection. It was an emotional visit for Dalits in Belchi, and a pivotal moment for Indira’s political career as it won hearts.
After the disastrous Emergency she had imposed in 1975, Indira called for elections in 1977. She hoped the people of India would vindicate her rule but she lost decisively. The Janata Party came to power but it was wracked with internal bickering.
Indira kept a low profile and waited for the right moment to make her political move. It came in July 1977, when landowners massacred 11 people, mostly Dalits, in Belchi in Bihar. It took days for the news to reach Delhi. Worse, the Janata Party government was slow to react.
Indira saw Belchi as a pivot for her political comeback. Although the Dalits had voted against her during the Janata wave, they still had a special place in their hearts for Indira and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.
Belchi was a remote village, cut off from the outside world during the monsoon. To make it there, Indira travelled by car, then jeep, then in a tractor and finally, when the tractor couldn’t take her across a flooded river, she rode in on elephant back.
Dramatically, Indira arrived in Belchi at sunset. The local Dalits rushed to catch a glimpse of her and be comforted by her. Instantly, she struck a chord. In that moment, Indira knew the Dalits would return to the Congress.
But, even if people were willing to forgive and forget her excesses during the Emergency, Home Minister Charan Singh was determined to hold her accountable. So, in October 1977, he got Indira arrested on charges of corruption.
It was a disastrous move as the paperwork was not in order and the charges did not hold up in court. Indira was indeed arrested but released the next day. The Janata Party government had egg on its face.
Indira was on the comeback trail – and she knew it. In November 1978, she contested a bye-election to the Lok Sabha from Chikmagalur in Karnataka. She won by a large margin.
But the Janata Party government hadn’t given up. Indira was arrested again, this time for obstructing officials investigating the Maruti car company. She was released after a week. Soon, the Janata Party split and the government fell in July 1979.
Ironically, Charan Singh and Indira mended fences and formed a government with Charan Singh as Prime Minister with the Congress extending support from the outside. The government fell in just three weeks, when the Indira-led Congress withdrew support.
Fresh elections were held in January 1980 and Indira romped home with a landslide victory. On the 14th of January 1980, Indira was sworn in as Prime Minister again – a politician who never gave up, despite the odds.
Cover Image: The Week
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