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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review -- Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank

Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
An 'unputtdownable' biography. It's studded with lots of information, not surprising, considering the in-depth research Katherine Frank has done. The book starts with Motilal Nehru and ends with the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

The books gives a great insight into the person Indira Gandhi was -- as granddaughter of Motilal Nehru, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, husband of Feroze Gandhi, mother of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, mother-in-law of Sonia and Maneka Gandhi, grandmother of Rahul, Priyanka and Varun; as a freedom fighter, unofficial hostess of many world leaders who came calling on India's first PM, as hardcore nationalist, a hard-to-beat politician, a go-getter Prime Minister and, as a teenager and a woman.

How much ever the members of the Gandhi family try, they are unable to break free of a centripetal force, as it were; and get sucked into the vortex of politics, and that too riding on a family name, ironically seeming to do more harm than good. Indira Gandhi too was a reluctant politician to begin with. She stuttered and was booed during her first time on a stage in England. She wanted to leave India and she had intensely contemplated buying a house in England. Unfortunately, for her, before she could finalize the deal, someone else had bought that house. The way the highly reluctant Rajiv and Sonia were forced to embrace politics is recent history.

Even though Indira Gandhi ruled the country for a long time, ushered in quite a few reformatory changes, and kept India's flag flying high on the global stage, she never had it easy. She wanted India to progress rapidly, and didn't like people putting spokes in her plans, citing one reason or the other. She didn't believe in dragging things over a period of time in search of a consensus. She would rather get things done without wasting much time. That gave the world an impression that she cared little for democracy, didn't consider divergent viewpoints, and didn't carry everyone along. Surrounded by men, it wasn't easy at all, governing the large, diverse, often riotous nation.

There was trouble from the moment she became the Prime Minister in 1966, to her last days in 1984. Even though the opposition parties in those days weren't so strong, many of her decisions were opposed. With the result, she had to adopt strong and often unpopular measures to push her decisions through. She often seemed to exude the oxymoronic image of a "benevolent dictator".

I liked the book for its every interesting narrative style and loads of information. Definitely worth reading, at least to know a person, a woman fighting all odds, who strode over India's political, economic, social and cultural landscape with a telling impact.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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