The sudden, perplexing death of Sanjay Gandhi kicked off a spate of controversies, some of which linked his mother and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to it. The M L Commission was set up to enquire into this, but it never submitted its report.
Sanjay due to his autocratic behaviour had become a problem for top bureaucrats, ministers and more for the Muslim population and it earned him powerful enemies. People used to say that it is not the Prime Minister Office but Indira Gandhi's home from where her son Sanjay Gandhi runs the government.
He had such hold over the government that all the important positions in the government required his approval. His autocratic behaviour peaked during Emergency in 1975.
Pupul Jayakar described Sanjay as "a wild wayward youth... rebellious, destructive... altogether unmanageable"; Vijayalakshmi Pandit, his great aunt thought he was "rude and crude" while Khushwant Singh adored him as "a loveable goonda".
Sanjay Gandhi died in a plane crash and all the lost power came back to where it belonged, that is with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Prior to his death in a plane crash on June 23, 1980, three assassination attempts were made on Sanjay Gandhi's life.
"Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay was shot at three times on August 30 or 31 by an unknown assailant," the US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks said. The report also states that Sanjay escaped them.
The report also quotes one of the leaked cables as quoting Indira Gandhi in 1976 as saying, "He is much too small a fry or person because he is not going to be the prime minister or the president. All he can be is a Congress worker. So I think the attack is definitely on me."
The book 'The Nehru Dynasty' states that the second son of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi was not the son of Feroze Khan or Feroze Gandhi. It was said that Sanjay was the son of Mohammad Yunus and it was at Yunus's house that the marriage of Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi took place. Also, it was Mohammad Yunus who cried the most when Sanjay died in the plane crash.
Sanjay was originally named Sanjiv that rhymed with his elder brother's name Rajiv. Sanjiv was arrested for a car theft in the UK and his passport was seized by the British police. Indira Gandhi misusing her power directed the then Indian Ambassador in the UK, Krishna Menon, to procure a new passport for Sanjiv and thus Sanjiv Gandhi became Sanjay Gandhi.
Sanjay exercised a deep control over his mother and misused it to an extent that many senior leaders of the Congress Party used to complain about his doings but Indira Gandhi would ignore it. Sanjay used to constantly blackmail his mother with the secret and mystery surrounding his birth.
Sanjay was the most powerful man in the country. Some believed he wielded more power than then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
During Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi was the most powerful person who operated from Prime Minister's residence.
Sanjay Gandhi became the leader of the youth wing of the Congress Party. Sanjay came out with a five-point programme promoting literacy, birth control, planting trees, the abolition of dowry and caste system. Then, there was his pet project – the Maruti car.
But it was his slum clearance and family planning drive that generated controversy and praise.
There were rumours of a rift between Sanjay and his mother. Sanjay had publicly slapped his mother. Also, relations between Indira Gandhi and Maneka Gandhi were strained and it was the reason of the unceremonious exit of Maneka from their house with her infant son Varun Gandhi shortly after the death of her husband Sanjay Gandhi.
On June 23, 1980, Sanjay Gandhi, a newly elected MP, father of the three-month-old Varun Gandhi and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's favoured son and heir died in a plane crash. He was flying a single-engine plane, did three aerobatic maneuvers over his office, tried the fourth one and lost control. The plane crashed near Safdargunj Airport, barely 500 yards behind his official residence at 12, Willingdon Crescent and both Sanjay Gandhi and the co-pilot Captain Subhash Saxena died instantly.
Sanjay Gandhi's death, unlike his father or grandfather's, was sudden and unexpected. It was actually violent, instant and some say self-indulgent. For three days before the fateful morning of June 23, Sanjay had been obsessed by the new aircraft acquired by the Delhi Flying Club and had been going to see the "red bird" since past three days.
On that fateful day, he was flying dangerously low, low enough to spot his family in his back garden.
The Indian Central Cabinet described Gandhi as "a person of extraordinary dedication and dynamism and a symbol of the young generation". But James Traub of New York Times wrote, "Sanjay Gandhi's death, like that of a tyrant in a classical tragedy, may help release his native land from captivity. Though the initial reaction in India has naturally been one of sympathy...a sense of relief is sure to set in."
These were the first words spoken by Indira Gandhi when she received the news of Sanjay Gandhi's death. Some even suggest that those objects held some buried secrets about the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
After his death, Indira Gandhi returned to the crash site to recover Sanjay's keys and watch from his mangled body. It were his keys and watch that were essential for access to his finances and documents.
The circumstantial evidence of the Sanjay Gandhi plane crash death points to foul play but there are many other theories linked to it. One theory that constantly points to foul play is that the single-member enquiry commission that was headed by Mr M. L. Jain to probe into the matter has never submitted any report to any government in the past three decades.
As Gandhi was being led to his funeral cortege along the 12-km route to Shantivana, the surging crowd invoked the image of an immortal as they shouted slogans like 'Sanjay Gandhi amar rahen' and 'Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Sanjay tera naam rahega'. It was unofficial, but one of the grandest state funeral ever organized in Delhi.
People either worshipped or demonized him, but one thing was for sure he was a potential Prime Minister candidate and India would have been another kind of country.
Sanjay's politics was more harsh, more malevolent. People who had known Sanjay say that India under Sanjay would have been a calibrated dictatorship as he had a strongly authoritarian personality and a disregard for procedures and norms. Sanjay had a penchant for going 'too far' and maybe it was this tendency of his that got him killed.