How do we view the post-Indira Gandhi politics in India and the fortune of the Congress that has unfolded in these 30 years?
Shortly put, the India between October 31, 1984, and October 31, 2014, has seen the world's largest democracy deepening its roots more as the party which had guided it once fell from grace. Ironical indeed.
Indira Gandhi was a ruthless realist leader
Indira Gandhi was a leader who believed in realism and could turn utterly ruthless to prove her point. She was a prime minister who never compromised with the nation's interest and her contribution in the liberation of Bangladesh is something which doesn't have much parallel in international politics. She was also a leader who faced serious adverses at home and was thrown out of power for punishing democracy. And she had to pay the price of faulty domestic policies with her life.
Congress was never the same again after Indira Gandhi
The Congress was never the same force once Indira Gandhi was gone. Ideology was never relevant after Jawaharlal Nehru's death, the organisation declined because of Indira Gandhi's strong centralising tendencies and the succession issue was resolved through the family. The seeds for the Congress's decline were sowed during and after the life of Indira Gandhi.
Smaller parties tried to make up for Congress's decline after 1989
This had a different implication for the nation's politics though. The more the Congress declined (it went out of single-party power in 1989 after the Bofors scam Indira's son and successor Rajiv Gandhi), the more diversified the Indian democracy became.
Smaller parties wrestled it out in the sun to evolve as an alternative for the grand-old party just like the Janata coalition had in 1977 but it was too much of an ask for the smaller outfits to cover the big vacuum left behind by the collapse of the Congress system.
The BJP was growing by utilising the scope for majority politics which was created by the Congress's minority appeasement and put up a good show in the 1991 elections but still it was nowhere near the influence that the family-ruled Congress had once exerted on Indian politics. From 1989 till 1999 (India saw the occupant of the prime minister's chair seven times in this decade), India simply struggled to achieve a political stability and the old days of the Congress's majority were missed. Was Indira Gandhi the best answer India ever had for its assertive pluralism?
From 1999 onwards, the era of stable coalition began
But from 1999, an era of stable coalition started in Indian politics. The third government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004) and the two Congress-led coalition governments by the name of United Progressive Alliance (2004-14) completed their terms in office despite the odd threats before India returned to the age of the majority government in May 2014 when Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre.
Modi's rise is an anti-thesis to what Indira Gandhi's India had once stood for
This new pattern of majority government in India is distinct from the earlier era for it has nothing to do with the Congress, which in fact, has been relegated to a marginal position now. The successors of Indira Gandhi are being fooled repeatedly by the Modi government and few now have the doubt that the current Gandhis lack the ability to turn around the tide like Indira Gandhi had done in 1980. Reason: The current leadership of the Congress lacks the positives that Indira Gandhi had, namely, conviction, fearlessness, interest, courtesy, and above all, the will. The Congress has not been able to find an answer to Modi's well-organised march throughout the country and that has been acknowledged by none other than the party president herself, the daughter-in-law of the late Indira Gandhi.
Foreign policy: The area of similarity between Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi
Speaking about the close comparison between Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi, it is still a long way to go for the latter. But in one area where he has a resemblance with the late leader is the focus on foreign policy affairs. Modi has taken a special interest in the country's foreign policy and is particularly attentive on the China policy.
Indira Gandhi, too, had excelled in the foreign policy domain and Pakistan was always under her scanner. She had sacrificed the idealism of her father to cement a pact with the former USSR to deal with the USA-Pakistan-China axis in the early 1970s. It is to be seen to what extent will Modi be successful in his dealings with China.
The current Gandhis might feel upset that an outsider from Gujarat has hijacked the legacy of Indira Gandhi but this is the biggest blessing of democracy. Given a chance, it gives equal opportunity to all. Indira Gandhi might not have wanted this way, but even her might could not stop democracy from choosing its own course of progress.