A gesture that had touched the ‘Iron Lady’ in India

New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) Margaret Thatcher did not approve of the state of emergency in force during her visit to India in 1976. But she was so touched by a gesture of her host and prime minister Indira Gandhi that she made it a point to mention it in her memoirs.

“I lunched with Indira Gandhi in her own modest home, where she insisted on seeing that her guests were all looked after, and clearing away the plates while discussing matters of high politics,” Thatcher, who died Monday, wrote in “The Path to Power”.

“Both her sons, Sanjay and Rajiv, were present, although it was the former who had most to say for himself. He had, indeed, allegedly been responsible for many of the abuses such as forced sterilisation and compulsory re-housing which had provoked such bitter opposition,” she said.

“But in spite of everything I found myself liking Mrs. Gandhi herself. Perhaps, I naturally sympathised with a woman politician faced with the huge strains and difficulties of governing a country as vast as India.”

Thatcher had visited India in September 1976 as an opposition leader, three years before she became prime minister, at the invitation of Indira Gandhi. The British press had criticised her for her comment post-visit: “I came to learn and not to comment.”

Yet, in her memoirs, Thacker did say that she did not see eye-to-eye on Indira Gandhi’s emergency and the restrictions on the press.

“In spite of a long self justificatory account she gave me of why the state of emergency had been necessary, I could not approve of her government’s methods,” said Thatcher, who was called the Iron Lady for the way she handled some pressing labour issues.

“She had taken a wrong turning and was to discover the fact at her Party’s devastating election defeat in 1977,” Thatcher added.

The fact that Indira Gandhi’s gesture of clearing the plates herself had touched Thatcher is also mentioned in the declassified documents from British archives that were released in December 2006.

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