Tuesday, August 08, 2006
In memoriam: Nandini Satpathy Inder Malhotra Indian Express: Monday, August 07, 2006
For many years until the rather terse announcement of her death on Friday, few outside Orissa had thought or heard of Nandini Satpathy, at one time a woman of power and glory in both New Delhi and Bhubaneswar. At a relatively early age, she had risen to prominence in the nation’s capital when she became deputy minister for information and broadcasting. This, by itself, was no big deal. It became important only because Indira Gandhi was her boss and I & B minister. Shy, tongue-tied and new to Parliament — her ‘goongi gudiya’ phase had yet to begin — Indira left it to Nandini the task of answering parliamentary questions most of the time. The younger woman did so well enough and impressed the future prime minister. No wonder eventually Nandini served first as deputy minister and then as minister of state in the prime minister’s secretariat, as the PMO was then called. Interestingly, the word went round — and this is also typical of Delhi — that Nandini Satpathy was on a strong wicket because she was an ardent devotee of Sri Aurobindo, and the Mother at Pondicherry had commended her to IG.
Never the one to hide her pronounced Leftist leanings — at a time when to be left-of-the Centre was a recommendation, Nandini Satpathy stuck loyally to Indira Gandhi during the turbulent days preceding the first Congress split in 1969 and the subsequent general election two years later that was to bring Indira Gandhi to the pinnacle of her power. In a number of states assembly elections had to be held in 1972. In the wake of the glorious victory in the Bangladesh War, this turned into a one-horse race. The Congress won a landslide victory, winning 70 per cent of the assembly seats that had gone to the polls. Orissa was not one of these states, for elections there were not due until 1974. Even so, Indira Gandhi took the opportunity to send Nandini Satpathy there as chief minister. Everyone perceived this as her rise and rise. And so it seemed.