Eminent American Scholar on India, Prof. Paul Brass, Speaks at Jamia

On Thursday Feb. 7, the Department of Political Science organized a talk by Prof. Paul R. Brass titled, “‘Indira Gandhi Live: Interview and Discussion’ by Prof. Paul R. Brass with Indira Gandhi on 26 March 1978”. The session was chaired by Prof. Muhammed Badrul Alam, Head, Department of Political Science, JMI.

Prof. Paul Brass (right) with Prof. Badrul Alam (left) speaking at the Department of Political Science; Thursday Feb. 7, 2013 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel)
Prof. Paul Brass (right), with Prof. Badrul Alam (left), speaking at the Department of Political Science; Thursday Feb. 7, 2013 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel)

An expert on South Asian politics, ethnic politics and collective violence, Prof. Brass started his talk with a backgrounder on the period of termination of national emergency (1977) in India and the ultimate defeat of Indira Gandhi in the 1977 general elections. Follwing his short talk, he then played about half an hour long audio file of his interview with “the most controversial Indian political personality of her times.”

The interview had Ms. Gandhi answering the professor’s questions, which touched on the decline of the Congress, her alliance with Charan Singh, her role in selection of Chief Ministers in states, her special programmes for ‘Harijans’ and many other of her political decisions. One of the many interesting points in the interview was Ms. Gandhi’s admission that calling for general elections in January 1977 was a political mistake. “It was politically a miscalculation but not from the national point of view,” she said. “I had to choose between my political career and the country’s economic future. I chose the country’s economic future,” said Mrs. Gandhi to Prof. Brass during the course of the interview.

In response to a question about the breakdown of alliance between her and Charan Singh, Ms. Gandhi is heard blaming Charan Singh’s personality as the cause for the breakdown of the alliance. “He has weird ideas about any policy,” she says. “He’s not bothered about the way how things happen,” she opined, adding that Charan Singh had a following among only one caste, which, in her opinion, was dangerous for other castes. She further lauded her own efforts of reaching out to the harijans who had “been neglected for long.” She also rejected the allegations of intervening in the selection of Chief Ministers of states, saying that all she’s seen is “if they are honest and sincere.”

Commenting about his interview with Indira Gandhi, Prof. Brass said, “I got answers that revealed her character and her primary interests.” He, however, disagreed with Ms. Gandhi’s views on Charan Singh and termed them — “absolute nonsense.”

Responding to a question on why he called Charan Singh as “my hero” during the course of the discussion, Prof. Brass clarified that he didn’t share the same political stance as Charan Singh, but that he had “great respect for him because he was an honest man who talked straight and wasn’t likely to tell lies either.” Incidentally, Prof. Brass’ latest work is a three-volume biography on Charan Singh, entitled “An Indian Political Life: Charan Singh and Congress Politics, 1937 to 1961”

When asked if he ever had the opportunity to interview any of the other members of the Gandhi family, for instance Sonia Gandhi, he replied that he had not, and then added: “Why should I be interested in interviewing her?”  Following which he remarked, “Indira Gandhi was very interesting”; thus implying that Sonia Gandhi isn’t and therefore does not garner enough interest to be interviewed.

About Samreen Mushtaq

Samreen Mushtaq is a Staff Writer for Jamia Journal, and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science. She can be reached via email at: samreen_mushtaq[at]ymail.com

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