History is filled with names who are always looked upon with fear. These names rose to fame and had their downfall even more fabled. And even today, whenever referenced, are done with a few eyebrows raising. One such personality in Indian history and politics remains Indira Nehru Gandhi.
I was fascinated with the idea that the evilest people are the least known people. Everyone has a vague idea of the evil but no body cares to dig deep into the reasons of how it turned evil. This holds true in case of a robber, a rapist, a terrorist or even a tainted politician. Indira too was considered one among the leagues of evils which has plagued the Indian community from the time she became the Prime minister of India.
Indian education system is such, that it does not include the post Independence era with much clarity or detail. Hence a common Indian man of 21st century would be bereft of any knowledge on the topic – Indira Gandhi. Yet everyone has heard stories from their parents or grandparents about the atrocities that Mrs. Gandhi did. And so any mention of Indira Gandhi would find you among ghastly stories.
So I decided to read about Indira. I found the best biography on her was written by Katherine Frank. This was 2012. I was in college back then. I could not find a online source besides the book was costly for a person like me, who then thought spending on reading anything apart from textbooks is a waste of a lot of resources at the same time. Foolishness! The idea took me to a find library – Delhi Public Library which is an excellent way to get hold of any book free of cost. Yet I could not get hold of the book due to some reasons. Skip past 4 years, I started to work for an MNC and I got hold of the book. Voila!
Before starting to read a book, I believe there should be a burning desire to read the book. And if the desire is not before you start reading it, the author should have the ability to ignite it. To add to my curiousness, I always had a doubt in my head – Why Indira, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru named Gandhi ? Did Mahatma Gandhi adopt her ? I open the book and it is divided in three halves – Indira Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Prime minister Indira Gandhi. What a wonderful way to segregate a life.
The first part starts with a background about the Nehru family and how things progressed before Indira’s birth. Post her birth, the book tries to establish a chord with the character Indira by making the reader aware of her relationship with her father and mother and then her extended family. Since Nehru had a foreign education so were his thoughts. Yet his father tried to impose politics onto him. The result of it being he had fairly little time for his family. Indira’s mother, Kamla Nehru had tuberculosis due to which her life was miserable throughout. Apparently, Indira too had tuberculosis whose cure was not known back then. So for treatment and education, Indira had to remain abroad. The part tries to emphasize on the point how disturbed her childhood was. The parents are torn among themselves. And none had the time for Induji (JN Nehru used to call her by this name, sometimes Indu boy). I believe time is something that binds people in a relation, yet if none is given, it remains dormant in case of a family. Indira cared about her parents but hated her life as a torn child. The first part sets the mood for the bigger event – Indian Independence.
The second part is an interesting one, where Indira Nehru meets a man Feroze “apparently” Gandhi. One thing I always try to do, while I am receiving any information though any media – movie, tv series, book, FB Post (yes these days they count too), is to double check its legitimacy. So I google Mr. Feroze Gandhi’s background like an FBI agent. I found he was a Parsi, like the book said, but he was Feroze Khan. Mr. Khan , though a Gandhi Bhakt, conveniently converted himself before marrying Indira. While reading Katherine Frank, I really admired how she would point to every shady areas saying that it is inconclusive. It adds to the fun given now we have Internet to rattle every bone of contention. The book informs that Indira comes back to India, her mother dies and she becomes an activist of India’s independence, each happening gradually. As she gained popularity she gained more confidence. People started recognizing her as a youth icon. Yet the relations between Feroze and Indira remained cold. Feroze was too flamboyant besides Indira was too much a puppet of her father. India gained independance and Indira get into a full time role of serving his father – India’s first prime minister. She learns a lot in the coming years about politics, foreign affairs etc. And then comes a great chapter – Three deaths. First her husband dies. Then her father and then the acting prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. This opens the stage for Indira to Prime minister’s seat.
The greatest asset Indira had was her connect with people was flawless. The third part commences with crowds going crazy at Indira contesting Lok Sabha elections. Indira even though was involved with all the politicians yet there were enough contenders for the top position. The book carefully shows how people get greedy and fight to snatch power. Indira becomes the Prime minister but tanks miserably in the early days. She had the experience of a laborer while serving Nehru but never did she thought as a Head. She was ridiculed and bullied, which I believe made her stronger. Luckily to her rescue was a solid team of henchmen including P N Haskar who was J N Nehru’s PA. Reading a little about Hasker I felt that a team is as good as the henchmen’s are and not as good as the leaders. Yet Indira never got the support a Head should get. Partly because nobody believed that she would take on everyone and still win the people’s confidence.
Meanwhile, her two sons Rajiv and Sajiv (later changed to Sanjay since he was caught in England so had to change his passport) were all grown up. Rajiv married Sonia and led a sincere life becoming a pilot. Sanjay (who is allegedly not Feroze’s son. Hints of which have been given throughout the book) had an astonishingly notorious mind. He failed in an attempt to create an automobile company. He then took to politics to make his dream come true. Indira was known to keep politics away from relations. This she had learned from her own childhood. Yet Sanjay penetrated. Sanjay was Indira’s weak point which he exploited exceptionally well. He had opened illegal businesses. He removed P N Haskar since Haskar knew of Sanjay’s actions. He installed his own people in Indira’s diameter. This is where I felt was when the nail in the coffin was driven. Indira even though was known a strong women, sub consciously played the puppet’s role better. And Sanjay was in control of Indira now. When her opposition in the cabinet started to join hands, an emergency was induced by Sanjay into Indira’s head. Started as a nation building activity, emergency was exploited to the worst extends.
Indira reigned 11 years in India with 2 years of emergency. She was ousted in the general elections of 1977 yet she returned back in 1980. By this time, a lot of regional violence took light. Team Indira (on more research found that Indira gave Sanjay this task) devised a plan to attack violence with religion. This backfired. And this backfire took a community’s sheen and Indira’s life.
The book very delicately describes both the aspects of the violence and Indira’s stance. It never provides you a myopic view so that you draw any misconceptions. That is what is the beauty of the book. The book opened a lot of secrets of Mrs. Gandhi’s life too. The book also briefly addresses the post Indira violence which worth knowing.
Today marks the 32nd death anniversary of Indira Gandhi. After reading through the book, I have a quite different conception on many celebrated lives. Yet I think, that the evil is always concentrated to one, even though there was an army of evil that was disarrayed. Indira had strengths but had weakness too, some deadly ones. I hope she rests in peace.