Home Minister Charan Singh, who orchestrated Indira Gandhi's arrest two weeks ago and then suffered humiliation when she was released the next day, is determined to arrest her again.
Not only were "the people of India demanding that she be punished for her crimes," Singh said, "but in their heart of hearts, members of her own Congress Party want me to remove this pest."
He was referring to a broadening division in Gandhi's party over whether the former prime minister should be made its president. Although Gandhi has stoutly denied that she has any interest in the job, there are strong indications that she is desperate to have it for the added protection it would offer her against being arrested again.
Singh, generally considered the most powerful figure in the government, rejected the criticism an violence generated by the Oct. 3 arrest of Gandhi as the work of her "paid goodas," or thugs. He said he would not let them stand in the way of bringing her to justice.
"She will not get away with anything. Why should she? Why should anyone be above the law?" he said.
Those Indians who admire Singh for his relentless pursuit of Gandhi considered him dogged and incorruptible. Those who oppose him say he is narro-minded, bigoted and vengeful.
The one charge he responds to and dismisses with heat is that he is staging a vendetta against Gandhi.
"Not for anything that the world can offer would I create a false case," he said during and interview in his spacious office here.
He recalled that while he was campaigning for the elections in which Gandhi and her Congress Party were defeated in March, he told crowds that if he won he would "have that woman flogged" in public.
"But that was in the heat of the campaign and after just getting out of jail," Singh went on. "If this was a matter of vengeance, I could have arrested her on March 27," when the new government took power.
Although he insists that he has no personal animosity for Gandhi, Singh conceded that he and her father, the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, were bitter enemies. A lawyer who has known Singh since they were both young men, said that "like all Jats, he never forgets a fued, or forgives."
Singh, 75, is a Jat, a member of a community of peasants spread across northwestern India who traditionally make good farmers and soldiers, but seldom rise in intellectual or prefessional pursuits.
During an interview, he sat on a low divan in his office, beneath a fan hung from the towering ceiling. He repeatedly passed a white cotton cloth over his lean face and close-cropped white hair as he traced his life-long struggle with India's power elite to his origins.
"They oppose me because I'm committed to the small farmers," he said. "The Communists the capitalists, the Congress Party, they're all opposed to me. And the press is against me because the papers and the editors are owned by the big business houses.
"I come from a backward community, and they hold this against me, too. There is no doctors, no lawyers or journalists from my community. There is not even one-tenth of a per cent of senior civil servants who are Jats. This is my handicap."
To an outsider, it might appear that Singh, now that he has come to power in the key Home Ministry, is getting even with those people he believes have despised him for his background. Indeed, he has arrested not just Gandhi, her younger son, Sanjay, and a number of her closet advisers, but several of the country's most prominent businessmen and industrialists as well. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] totally justified.
He said, however, that he feels he said. "Whateverr I have done is [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
"I have no skeletons in my closets," out in the open. I'm not beholden to the press or to the industrialists. Let her make all the false propaganda she likes. She is an expert at it. But I am not afraid of her. Not at all."
Describing Gandhi as "a performer, a dramatist, a great actress," Singh mockingly said "she calls it repression when she goes to court and is released. What about when we were thrown into jail? Did we have our day in court? That is repression, not what we are doing.
"We're giving her full right to due process of law. She did not do this for mer. She threw me in jail, she threw thousands of us in jail, without process, without a trial. But we will not do this to her."