Sanjay Gandhi: A Law Unto Himself

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On the morning of 23rd June 1980, a two-seater plane took off from the Delhi Flying Club and crashed. Along with the instructor, it killed the man who had emerged as an extra-constitutional authority during the Emergency. He was Sanjay Gandhi.

Sanjay Gandhi with wife Maneka | Free Press Journal
Sanjay Gandhi with wife Maneka | Free Press Journal

Inexperience and a nonchalant disregard for flight safety rules cost Sanjay his life. He died at age 33, leaving behind a young wife, Maneka, an infant son Varun, and a devastated mother, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Sanjay Gandhi with mother Indira | Deccan Herald
Sanjay Gandhi with mother Indira | Deccan Herald

Sanjay had assumed he would be his mother’s successor and was already a law unto himself. He pulled the strings inside and outside the government and his word was law.

Sanjay’s foray into politics began with the making of a car that would rule Indian roads. Fascinated with cars and engines, he cut short his apprenticeship at Rolls Royce, London, and started to work on a prototype in a garage in Delhi. The year was 1966.

Sanjay Gandhi with first ever Maruti car | Mororoid
Sanjay Gandhi with first ever Maruti car | Mororoid

In 1971, the government approved Sanjay’s proposal to make his dream car. Thus, Maruti Limited Company was incorporated with Sanjay as its managing director. Rules had been bypassed and the Opposition accused Indira of promoting dynasty politics.

By 1975, Sanjay lost interest in the project and became his mother’s dependable ally. He soon became an extra-constitutional authority during the Emergency (1975-77) even though he held no position either in the government or in the Congress.

Sanjay took decisions on behalf of Indira and became the face of the excesses during the Emergency, especially his forced sterilisation programme, which shocked the nation, took lives and eventually cost Indira her chair as Prime Minister.

Sanjay’s death in 1980 forced his brother Rajiv onto the political stage. Rajiv, who did not want a career in politics, was a commercial pilot. But after his mother’s assassination in 1984, he became Prime Minister.

Sanjay also brought in a generation of confidants who went on to become senior leaders in the Congress, namely, Kamal Nath, Jagdish Tytler and Ambika Soni.

Although Sanjay's project finally came to life with Maruti rolling out its first car in 1983, from where it rose to become the most successful Indian automobile company, Sanjay is remembered for the Emergency and the excesses that went with it.

Cover Image: Free Press Journal

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