A Divisive Legacy
ThirTy Three years afTer her assassinaTion, indra Gandhi remains a polarisinG fiGure and The subjecT of Sagarika ghoSe’S new book
What was the most surprising thing you learnt about mrs Gandhi?
I didn’t know she was so sporty and so much of an outdoors person! She could ski, ride, swim, trek, loved dogs (always had more than one dog) and headed a bird watchers’ society. She was also very interested in insects and kept plastic butterflies and a life-size cockroach on her table.
do you believe Narendra modi is modelling himself on her?
I don’t know whether he is consciously modeling himself on her, but their styles are very similar. The supremo cult in party and government, reaching out to the people in a direct populist embrace, clashing with institutions like judiciary and media, and yes increasingly isolated and hardly able to trust anyone.
What about her still foxes you?
She was an incredibly paradoxical person—that’s why I wrote those letters to her in the book, because there were so many things about her that I found mystifying. How could someone as astute as her not see what she was doing by encouraging Sanjay the way she did? Or building up a Bhindranwale and then sending the army into a place of worship? Her contradictory personality intrigues me.
Writing about such a polarising figure in such polarised times...
There’s a stereotype about me that I’m a “libtard” “Congi”, so many people assumed that I was writing a particular kind of book. It’s a challenge because I wanted to bring Indira Gandhi alive, warts and all, as a living, breathing flesh and blood woman, not a member of a party. My book is emphatically not a hagiography, nor is it a vilification. I wanted readers to read about Indira the person and the politician, not look for my so-called “biases” or “agendas”, particularly because I really don’t have any.
Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister Published by Juggernaut; 342 pages; `699