An Interview with Indira Gandhi By Oriana Fallaci,
New Delhi, India – February 1972
The text is from Oriana Fallaci’s 1976 book, ‘Interview with History’ – a collection of 14 historic interviews done by the author. Among the 14, only two were women political leaders; Golda Meir (1898-1978) and Indira. Altogether, Fallaci had asked 46 questions, and Indira had given longer answers. I provide the first part of the interview here. At the time of the interview (Feb. 1972), Indira’s political contemporaries were, Richard Nixon (USA), Leonid Brezhnev (USSR), Georges Pompidou (France), Wily Brandt (West Germany), Edward Heath (UK), Mao ZeDong (China).
I have three biographies of Indira Gandhi in my bookshelf, among the many published so far. These were, Uma Vasudev (Indira Gandhi – Revolution in Restraint, 1974), Inder Malhotra (Indira Gandhi – a personal and political biography, 1989) and Katherine Frank (Indira – The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi, 2002). As Oriana Fallaci’s book was published in 1976, Uma Vasudev’s book preceded it. Inder Malhotra had failed to provide details of this Oriana Fallaci challenging interview. Katherine Frank makes mentions of the interview passingly, by incorporating Indira’s answer to one question, [Only one among 45-odd questions!] and doesn’t do justice to the extensive text available.
It is refreshing to read Indira’s thinking, even after 42 years, after she had won the Dec. 1971 war against Pakistan (then led by Gen. Yahya Khan and Ali Bhutto). Perennial unanswered question in 1984 was that, could Indira have repeated her actions in Sri Lanka as well, like what she did to East Pakistan in December 1971? When the situation was ripe, her life was snuffed out, by two of his trusted Sikh bodyguards. Did they act, only on behalf of the Sikh nation Khalistan? Or were they pawns in the hands of vested interests, who got scared that at any given moment, Indira could repeat the ‘same act’ what she did in East Pakistan 13 years previously?
In transcribing, I have used the first names of interviewer and interviewee. The beauty of this interview is that Oriana was able to elicit Indira’s thoughts on many issues in 1972, political and personal life, when other interviewers had failed miserably. Wherever dots appear in questions and answers, they are as in the original.
Oriana Fallaci: Mrs. Gandhi, I have so many questions to ask you, both personal and political. The personal ones, however, I’ll leave for later – once I’ve understood why many people are afraid of you and call you cold, indeed icy, hard…
Indira Gandhi: They say that because I’m sincere. Even too sincere. And because I don’t waste time in flowery small talk, as people do in India, where the first half hour is spent in compliments: ‘How are you, how are your children, how are your grandchildren, and so forth’. I refuse to indulge in small talk. And compliments, if at all, I save for after the job is done. But in India people can’t stomach this attitude of mine, and when I say, ‘Hurry up, let’s get to the point,’ they feel hurt. And I think I’m cold, indeed icy, hard. Then there’s another reason, one that goes with my frankness: I don’t put on act. I don’t know how to put on an act; I always show myself for what I am, in whatever mood I’m in. If I’m happy, I look happy; if I’m angry, I show it. Without worrying about how others may react. When one has had a life as difficult as mine, one doesn’t worry about how others will react. And now go ahead. You can ask anything you like.
Oriana Fallaci: Fine. I’ll begin with the most brutal question. You have won, more than won, a war. But quite a few of us consider this victory a dangerous one. Do you really think that Bangladesh will be the ally you hoped for? Aren’t you afraid it may turn out instead to be a most uncomfortable burden?
Indira Gandhi: Look, life is always full of dangers and I don’t think one should avoid dangers. I think one should do what seems right. And if what seems right involves danger…well, one must risk the danger. That’s always been my philosophy. – I’ve never thought of the consequences of a necessary action. I examine the consequences later, when a new situation arises and I then face the new situation. And that’s it. You say this victory is dangerous. I say that today no one can yet tell if it’s dangerous, that today I don’t see the risks you mention. If, however, those risks should become reality…I’ll act in accordance with the new reality. I hope that sounds like a positive statement. I want to answer you in a positive way. I want to state that there will be friendship between Bangladesh and ourselves. And not a one-sided friendship, of course – no one does anything for nothing; each has something to give and something to take. If we offer something to Bangladesh, it’s obvious that Bangladesh is offering something to us. And why shouldn’t Bangladesh be able to keep its promises? Economically it’s full of resources and can stand on its feet. Politically it seems to me led by trained people. The refugees who took shelter here are going home…
Oriana Fallaci: Are they really going home?
Indira Gandhi: Yes, two million have already gone back.
Oriana Fallaci: Two million out of ten. That’s not much.
Indira Gandhi: No, but give them time. They’re going back fast. Fast enough. I’m satisfied. More than I expected.
Oriana Fallaci: Mrs. Gandhi, in mentioning the dangers of your victory, I wasn’t referring only to Bangladesh. I was also referring to West Bengal, which is India, and which is now clamoring for its independence. I’ve heard the Naxalites in Calcutta…And there’s a sentence of Lenin’s that says, ‘The world revolution will pass through Shanghai and Calcutta.’
Indira Gandhi: No, That’s not possible. And you know why? Because a revolution is already taking place in India. Things are changing here already – peacefully and democratically. There’s no danger of communism. There would be if we had a rightist government instead of mine. In fact the communists gained strength in India when the people thought my party was moving to the right. And they were correct. In the face of such a threat, they had no other choice but to throw themselves to the far left. But now that the people are conscious of our efforts, now that they see us resolving problems, the communists are losing strength. As for the Naxalites in West Bengal, they are completely under control, and I’m sure that the ones in Bangladesh will also be brought under control. No, I don’t expect trouble.