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Indira Gandhi on India, democracy, the superpowers

There is not a strong opposition party in India today. Does that help or hurt democracy?

I don't think that it makes a difference, because democracy is not whether there is an opposition or not, but whether the people can express their views. And the opposition, however small, is vocal, and it has all the press with it. It has a lot of people in very high authority. Also they act in a way which weakens us. . . .

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Are there more poor people in India today than 10 years ago?

No. But the idea of poverty has changed. What was poverty then is now less. But there are others who consider themselves poor, comparing themselves with what others have.

Every year there is improvement, but along with it, the population grows, and along with it, the needs grow.

It is good that people are not satisfied. But there are two kinds of dissatisfaction: One is that you moan and you whine and you say nothing can be done, nothing will be done, and so on; and the other kind says, 'Well, we want so much more, and let's do something about it.' I am for the second type of dissatisfaction.

Are the higher expectations of people in India causing problems?

Naturally. We cannot meet all the expectations. People still are not getting all their necessities. . . .

In the West, the growth of industry has created pollution and many other different types of problems. I think these have created alienation. You have psychological and other problems.

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Now in India, we don't yet have those problems. I hope we can avoid having a completely consumer-oriented society. All your advertising says that now you must buy this. You may have enough of everything but you still feel you have to buy something because it is advertised, or it is the latest fashion, or it is a few miles (per hour) faster. Countries like India should try and avoid that sort of thing.

Are you saying that people have artificial demands?

I don't know whether we can call them artificial. But the thing is that if a child has too many toys, he isn't really interested in any of them, and they do nothing to help him grow. Now it is the same with grown-ups. Just having more cars or more of things has not enabled humanity to grow as it should have in wisdom. Humanity as a whole has remained fighting and not been able to rise above situations.

What are some of the misunderstandings between India and the United States?

The image of India that is projected by and large in the US is really biased and prejudiced. The press, and also people in authority, tend to put a label on a person or a happening, and then try to fit the person into that label without seeing whether the label really applies or doesn't. The second thing is that in foreign policy, our viewpoints are very different.

One strong impression in the US is that India appears to be closer to the Soviet Union than to the United States. It that true?

This is another one of those labels that is repeated every time India is mentioned.

Then would you say your policy is just pro-India?

Our policy is nonalignment and of course pro-India. In India, we are still - at least, my generation is very close to the fight for independence. And we certainly did not suffer and sacrifice in order to let that independence be diminished in any way after forming our own government.

Which country do you think is a better friend to India, the Soviet Union or the US?

Comparisons, as you know, are odious. I wouldn't like to compare the two. The two are quite different.

The example that most Americans give is that we have voted more often with the Soviet Union in the United Nations. This was first asked of me by an American president, and at that time I didn't have the actual figures of voting. So I said, ''Well, I don't know the number of times we voted but I am sure that we have not voted with the Soviet Union for the sake of supporting the Soviet Union. There must be some other reason.''

Afterwards, when I checked, I found that it was not really correct that we had voted more with the Soviet Union. But the items on which we have voted with the Soviet Union were India voting with what is known as the Group of 77, that is all the developing countries, and mostly these were on issues of anticolonialism or South Africa or something like that.

Now so far as the friendship is concerned, initially the Soviet Union helped us in areas where the West was not willing to help. For instance, when we wanted to put up our own steel plant, it was to America we went first, and it is only when they said no, (I think we went to West Germany next and they said no), that then the Soviet Union came forward.

In basic machine building, and helping us to be more self-reliant, the Soviet Union has been of great help. The United States has also helped us in many areas. When I first became prime minister (1966), and even earlier, there was a very bad food situation here. We had a countrywide drought and the help we got from the US was very timely and important to us.

But the great difference is this: Whereas the Soviet Union helps what we call the public sector, the US usually helps private industry. But they have helped us in agricultural research.

Do you think that the private sector should be given a larger role in development?

. . . It is entirely an incorrect notion to think that here everything is nationalized or is under the government. It isn't. The private sector has by far the largest chunk (of the economy). All agriculture is private. Everything that touches the people - like retail trade, health, education, and most of industry, even big industry - all these things are in the private sector. We have only what we call the ''core sector'' (controlled by government).

We have not taken anything from anybody. It is true that we nationalized coal and banks - only some banks, not all. They were unwilling to give loans to any but a very small privileged group, their families and friends. Nationalized banks made a tremendous difference to the farmers especially, but also to new entrepreneurs and new small-scale industry. . . .

We had to nationalize coal because they were working the mines to death and not making provisions for the safety of the miners, or for seeing that we get the most out of the mines. . . .

We find many owners in industry - although they make enormous profits - don't modernize them. And when the mills suddenly stop working, then they say the mill is sick (bankrupt), and ask the government to take it over. Then we have a dilemma: We have to nurse the industry back to health or return it to the owner! If we don't take it over, so many people will become unemployed, and that becomes a problem. If we take it over, we have to spend money putting it right, and we have to give it back to them.

So in no way is the private sector getting a raw deal here. On the contrary, they have been very much pampered. At certain points, we had no choice because the choice was: We help them to increase their production and to diversify, or we buy (products) from outside India. Obviously, it is better to make it in the country, even if it is helping a few people to become richer.

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