Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi

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Item Code: IHL339
Author: Pranay Gupte
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9780143068266
Pages: 607
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.8 Inch X 5.8 Inch
Weight 570 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket

Mother India is the fascinating story of independent India’s most complex political figure: Indira Gandhi, the enigmatic and solitary daughter of the country’s first prime minister, who rose to become prime minister herself. From being the reticent Indu in the Nehru family she became one of the great leaders of the twentieth century. Pranaty Gupte explores the life and times of ‘Mrs G’, who at the height of her career was often compared to Bharat Mata-Mother India. Her ‘Garibi Hatao’ call and her efforts at bringing about a Green Revolution endeared her to the electorate, but controversy and criticism, too, marked her years in and out of office. From the time she engineered a split in the Congress Party to emerge as its undisputed leader in the 1960s, through the triumphal aftermath of the 1971 war, the infamous Emergency, right up to Operation Bluestar which led to h her brutal assassination on 31 October 1984, Mrs Gandhi’s legacy is still being determined.

This comprehensive biography, reissued in a revised edition on Indira Gandhi’s twenty-fifth death anniversary, not only explores her career and contradiction as a consummate politician, but also her relationships as daughter, wife and mother. Packed with lively anecdotes and cogent insights, this book is both a compelling portrait of Indira Gandhi and a trenchant analysis of the politics of twentieth-centuries India.

PRANAY GUPTE is a veteran journalist, author and columnist. He has been a correspondent for the New York Times in Africa, the Middle East and India, as well as an investigative reporter for Forbes and a columnist for Newsweek International. His articles have appeared in major publications globally, including the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, Reader’s Digest, Harvard International Review and the Washington Post Book Review. He is frequently a guest commentatory on TV and radio programmes on CNN, National Public Radio and the BBC and is an elected life member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Mr. Gupte, born in Mumbai, is a US national who lives in New York, Dubai and Delhi.

Author’s Note

THERE’S A MAJOR square in South Mumbai—a busy intersection, really—that mirrors the open, secular and trusting society that India has always been.

In and around the square, there are small haberdasheries run by Hindus and groceries owned by Muslims; there’s a Parsi fire temple; there’s a Catholic church; there’s a theatre that exhibits brash foreign films, and another one that features Bollywood fare. There are tiny eateries that offer everything from samosas to sandwiches. There are cobblers parked on pavements; there are tailors perched on the patios of dilapidated but crowded tenements, and there are bookstores and magazine kiosks.

This square, like many others across this metropolis of nearly 20 million people, is a microcosm of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital and its most cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse city. I like to think that this square is Mumbai’s crossroads; I even like to think that this square is India’s crossroads.

I like to think these things not only because the square—called ‘chowk’ in the Marathi language that’s widely spoken in Mumbai——is named after my late mother, Professor Charusheela Gupte. She was a Marathi and Sanskrit scholar, a writer and a social activist who championed the cause of literacy and economic opportunities for the dispossessed. During her lifetime, she witnessed the transformation of India from a colony of the British Raj to an independent democracy. She spoke up for people who neither had the voice in public discourse, nor even the opportunity to advance beyond subsistence. She spoke from her heart because she herself had risen from poverty to reach the highest levels of intellectual and social attainment.

My mother is long gone now——she died in 1985, almost exactly a year after Indira Gandhi’s assassination—but I like to think that the square named in her honour still resonates with the spirit that animated her life—the spirit of openness, secularism and trust that resides in the hearts of most Indians, regardless of their faith or ethnicity. This belief, however, has been tested severely in recent years.

The square that’s named after Charusheela Gupte is not very far from the parts of Mumbai where Pakistan—trained terrorists killed innocent men and women and shut down the city in November 2008. My mother and my late father, Balkrishna Gupte, would have never anticipated that terrorism would strike the old and hauntingly beautiful city they loved. But the world we live in is more terrifying and more unforgiving than the one my parents inhabited. Since the early 1990s, Mumbai and indeed India have been shaken repeatedly by terrorist attacks.

It is not that communalism, ethnic friction and violence were nonexistent during my parents’ lifetime. But the global clash of civilizations, the politics of hate and the cynicism and venom that are concomitant today simply didn’t exist in the world that they knew. The age of confrontation is here now, perhaps irreversibly so.

My parents, like many idealists and leaders of their time, believed that while people may have been born to different cultures, they were joined by the bonds of the soul, and that there was space in our world for everyone. Indira Gandhi belonged to a dynasty that subscribed to such a belief. But, ironically, her own reign as India’s leading political figure was also the time when the old certainties and idealism began to fade. She died before the age of terrorism as we know it now had really bloomed—as though that were the word to use—but there are those who argue that her rule—by—diktat and her political intolerance spawned terrorism in India.

Be that as it may, when I first set out to write a political biography of Indira, roughly two decades ago, the sort of terrorism that afflicts so much of the world was still nascent. I wanted to write an unconventional book about Indira Gandhi—part biography, part personal history of the author and part political assessment of contemporary India as it lurched into the next century.

That new century has arrived, and 31 October 2009 will mark the twenty—fifth anniversary of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In this revised edition that will be released on the occasion, I have introduced dozens of Indians whose lives were directly touched by Indira Gandhi, for better or for worse, people in leadership positions as well as from everyday walks of life. Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother as India’s prime minister in 1984 and who was assassinated on 21 May 1991, appears here, too. Although Rajiv was nowhere near the major figure that Indira was, his death removed from the Indian political scene a genuine national leader who could have sustained the Nehru—Gandhi political dynasty well into the twenty-first century.

That dynasty has dominated India’s national life—and consciousness— for much of an extraordinary century, almost from the start of the twentieth century. Now the standard bearers of the Nehru—Gandhi dynasty are Rajiv’s Italian-born widow, Sonia, and her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka, arguably the most powerful triumvirate in contemporary India. Both Rahul and Priyanka were very young when Indira was killed, but Sonia was close to Indira—far closer than the other daughter-in—law in the family, Maneka Gandhi, who was married to Indira’s younger son Sanjay. Maneka had a falling out with Indira after Sanjay’s death in a flying accident, and she and Sonia are barely on speaking terms. There’s always drama in India, in families and in the polity.

This book is based partly on my reportage for previous works relating to India, where I was born and raised. It owes its provenance to those earlier books, of course, and therefore represents a continuum. Much of the material here, however, draws on fresh reporting and analysis in India, the United States and the West, and the Third World at large. The story of India is one of continuity yet change, and I have tried to record this in the book. I might add that recent developments in the subcontinent—such as the emergence of India as an economic superpower—have been so dramatic that any author attempting to keep abreast of these changes is left dazed, dazzled, and sometimes even depressed.

This book is intended for general readers who wish to learn something of the contemporary history of the Indian subcontinent. It will be obvious to India specialists that a lot of what I have to say on Indira Gandhi and on India is based on the research of others. I have tried to relay the key facts, and to interpret them, often in the light of what others have written. Indira Gandhi’s life covered such a huge span of modern Indian history that any biographer is forced to be highly selective about which events to include and highlight. Beyond the story of Indira Gandhi’s life, I have dealt extensively with topics such as population growth and non-alignment, because Mrs. Gandhi took great interest in them (although her policies were not necessarily successful). And I deal with the political acrobatics of her son and successor, Rajiv. Much popular hope was invested in him following Indira’s death, but he botched an unprecedented opportunity to get India moving again by not following through with sufficient vigour on his pledges of rapid economic development and clean government. And now that he is gone, the victim of a bomb blast during an election rally, we will never know what sort of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi would have made had Indians returned the Congress Party to power under his stewardship.

The Congress, of course, has held on to power during many of the years following Rajiv’s assassination in May 1991. As in Indira’s time, it continues to be an umbrella party, but unlike in Indira’s era, it is a fractured organization. It is often held hostage in the national Parliament— and even in some of India’s states——by vested interests and other political parties desirous of making opportunistic alliances. Sonia may be a strong leader, even an obstinate one, but she isn’t a fearsome figure like her mother-in-law was. Indira Gandhi was sui generis, and we will never again see the like of her. That’s what this book is about.


Prologue; The Funeral Of Indira Gandhi 1
Introduction: Indira’s India
1The Assassination 45
2 The News 54
3 The Aftermath 72
4 The Legacy Of Indira Gandhi 166
5 Daughter Of Privilege 129
6 The Education Of
Indira Priyadarshini Nehru
7The Death Of Kamala Nehru 170
8 Lovers’ Wedding 182
9 Marriage By Fire 198
10 The Apprenticeship223
11 Into Her Own 248
12 Towards The Top 271
13 The Perils Of Power296
14 Party Times325
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