ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Many Faces of Indira Gandhi

Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister by Sagarika Ghose, Delhi: Juggernaut, 2017; pp xvi + 342, ₹699.

Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature by Jairam Ramesh, Delhi: Simon and Schuster, 2017; pp ix + 437, ₹799.

India’s Indira, A Centennial Tribute Anand Sharma (editor), New Delhi: Academic Foundation for the Indian National Congress, 2017; pp 299, ₹3,500.

Indira Gandhi’s centenary passed in November 2017 with little fuss or ceremony. The absence of any official commemoration and the low-key observance by the party and political dynasty she founded, reflect the parlous state of her twin bequests. Entrenched in every sector within India’s great democracy, dynastic succession is a principle in politics that needs vindication by popular endorsement. This in turn requires a form of popular bonding that goes beyond the mundane, certainly no part of a dynastic bequest. Indira Gandhi was well aware of this compulsion, remarking at one point during her years in political wilderness, as she struggled to redeem an image shattered by a 20-month interlude of authoritarian rule, that few had any idea “how tiring it (was) to be a goddess” (Ghose, p 219).

There was an element of wry self-deprecation there, perhaps reserved for foreign correspondents. Before domestic audiences, there were few instances when Indira Gandhi let the mask of authority slip. She realised at some stage that quite apart from its instrumental use in social change, power is its own justification. Requiting promises made to win popular loyalty then became an effort at pleasing all, often by pandering to elemental political urges. In a milieu of fragmented civic solidarities, where caste and communal loyalties loomed large in every citizen’s public persona, this was often a zero-sum game. Promises made in one quarter were seen potentially to diminish entitlements in another. It was a political strategy predisposed to fail, and in failure lay the seeds of bitter resentments and brutal violence.

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Updated On : 22nd Jan, 2018

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