Journalist and News anchor, Sagarika Ghose’s book titled ‘Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister’, was published by Juggernaut Books to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi. ‘Insecure daughter, Betrayed wife, National heroine, tough dictator’, reads the blurb for the book. Journalist, Political commentator and documentary filmmaker, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta too began his discussion with Sagarika on the same note.
Sagarika considers Indira as the most powerful prime minister of India because she was the first mass leader of independent India who started a personality cult. Indira wielded absolute power and waged war on institutions. Her father who was more of a statesman than a prime minister believed that there should not be an adoration of the personality cult. However, unlike her father, Indira was a rebel for her own sorts. She made the Congress an instrument to her ruthless pursuit of power. She was the only ‘man’ in the government despite the upheavals in her personal life.
Sagarika says when she was done researching about Indira for the book, she was reminded of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’. She quotes,
“God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”
Indira, she says, was caged in her castle of anxiety and paranoia.
Speaking of Indira’s relationship with her father, Sagarika remarks although they were fond of each other, it wasn’t a warm relationship. Indira always carried hurt when it came to her father and Nehru carried disappointment when it came to Indira. Nehru considered illness as a moral weakness and wanted Indira to be physically fit. She never lived up to his expectations. She was also academically not brilliant. His disappointment was evident in the letter he wrote to Vijayalakshmi Pandit when Indira could not get an Oxford degree.
Being the only child of the first child in the family, Indira’s relationship with gender was ambiguous. Although Nehru never openly stated that he wished she were a boy, Indira was indeed raised as a boy. She even signed some of her letters ‘Induboy’. Indira called herself the Bi-formed human being. That probably is why she preferred adventurous men like Feroz Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, observes Sagarika.
Paranjoy Guha also read out an excerpt from the book where Sagarika writes to Indira those questions that were never answered. Paranjoy says, given the times we live in it becomes inevitable to compare Indira and Modi. Sagarika agrees and adds that Modi is the true political heir to Indira Gandhi in a lot of ways. For instance is his personality cult, waging war against institutions, his one nation-one leader-one tax policies. She says even when the BJP attacks the Congress or the Gandhi family, they do not utter anything against Indira. They might point out about the Emergency, but Indira is one person whom even the RSS likes. Sagarika also reminds Prime Minister Modi that Indira’s dictatorial style was eventually voted out by people.
Sagarika calls Indira a ‘Dabang or ‘Bahubali’ in Khadi. She was not the best prime minister because governance was a disaster during her period. Weaker coalition governments have done better governance than when a majority government with an authoritarian leader is in power. However, Sagarika warns that anyone who reads the life of Indira can’t help being struck by her sheer courage. Even when she was refused help by the international community and President Nixon called her a bitch and a witch, she went on to win a war and liberate Bangladesh in 14 days. She never gave up even during the worst times.Her incredible tenacious spirit fighting spirit is what made Vajpayee call her ‘Abhinav Chandi Durga ‘.