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All Indians would probably be living a very different life today had 23 June 1980 not taken place. With an accident in the sky, the sky came crashing down for the Gandhi family and there was no going back now.
Died on 23rd June 1980
Tradition says that the elder son inherits the family’s power and prestige but the Nehru-Gandhi clan had already broken this rule with Indira stepping into her father’s shoes. Similarly, instead of her elder son Rajiv, her younger son was trained to follow in her footsteps. The plan was to bestow the reigns of India’s oldest political party in his hands but a different thread of fate was cut for him.
Born on 14 December 1946, this scion of the country’s well known political party was brought up to be a leader. A rather unknown fact about him is that instead of enrolling himself in a university, Sanjay chose to work as an apprentice at Rolls-Royce. This hands-on approach also got him into politics where he started working closely with his mother.
Sanjay stepped into the limelight at a rather dark time- the Emergency. Indira Gandhi had imposed the Emergency in the country and her government was engaging itself in acts not suited to democracy.
Here, Gandhi became his mother’s right hand and his most notorious act remains sterilizing people forcefully.
Neither did he have any experience in politics and nor did he hold any position, yet he rose to the highest ranks and managed to use Indira’s power without having virtually no checks on it.
Many claimed that Sanjay ran the PMO and through it, the entire nation, along with his friends, according to their whims and fancies.
When the Emergency was eventually lifted in 1977, his party lost the elections and so did he. The defeat broke the INC in half. Things became worse when Janata Party’s ministers accused him and Indira of many serious crimes. The demand was to arrest them and a trial was initiated. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as Indira managed to gain the sympathy of the masses and got back in power very soon.
In the 1980 elections, the INC managed to win over the country with a roaring majority and Sanjay again appointed and sacked ministers at his own behest.
He was in charge and it was now understood that he was to succeed Indira as the leader of the party.
But things took a completely different turn. On 23 June 1980, Sanjay decided to put up an acrobatic performance, a display of his aviation skills near the Safdarjung Airport. While he did hold a pilot's license, he was not accustomed to flying at low heights. Despite multiple warnings from Rajiv Gandhi, he chose Kolhapuri Chappals over his shoes to perform his stunts.
Then, the worst happened. Sanjay’s aircraft came crashing down as he lost its control. He suffered serious wounds on his head that caused his death on the spot. The accident was so big that it took 8 surgeons to stitch back his body.
And just like that, the man who had survived multiple assassination attempts lost his life due to his own recklessness. Not just his family but the entire nation was stunned. To fill in his place, Rajiv had to step in.
There are many theories regarding his death that are still making rounds. Many believe that the crash that took his life was actually planned. No matter if this is true or not, Sanjay Gandhi’s untimely death put Indian politics on an entirely different course.
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