This is a photograph of Indira Gandhi emerging with Andre Malraux for a press-conference at the Embassy of India in Paris in the Autumn of 1971. (My father, pictured in the centre, had been posted to the Embassy just a few weeks earlier in anticipation of the visit. [My father recalls her asking him during or between one of these meetings, "Mr Roy, I am very hungry, can you please get me something to eat?", and he went and grabbed a small hotel plate full of peanuts which she devoured...]) Indira was making the serious diplomatic effort that she did in world capitals to avert war with West Pakistan over its atrocities in East Pakistan. War could not be averted and within a few weeks, in December 1971, Bangladesh was born.
“Indira Gandhi’s one and paramount good deed as India’s leader and indeed as a world leader of her time was to have fought a war that was so rare in international law for having been unambiguously just. And she fought it flawlessly. The cause had been thrust upon her by an evil enemy’s behaviour against his own people, an enemy supported by the world’s strongest military power with pretensions to global leadership. Victims of the enemy’s wickedness were scores of millions of utterly defenceless, penniless human beings. Indira Gandhi did everything right. She practised patient but firm diplomacy on the world’s stage to avert war if it was at all possible to do. She chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to go to war and how to win it. Finally, in victory she was magnanimous to the enemy that had been defeated. Children’s history-books in India should remember her as the stateswoman who freed a fraternal nation from tyranny, at great expense to our own people. As a war-leader, Indira Gandhi displayed extraordinary bravery, courage and good sense.” (From my review article of Inder Malhotra’s Indira Gandhi, first published in The Statesman May 7 2006 and republished elsewhere here under “Revisionist Flattery”.)
“She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin. It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time….” (From “Unhealthy Delhi” first published in The Statesman June 11 2007, republished elsewhere here).