Inder Malhotra is a distinguished journalist and his book, Dynasties of India & Beyond published a few years ago still makes relevant and interesting reading. It is said that Malhotra knewfamily very well. It is also said that his assessment of her as a politician is all the more damning: his criticism is the more severe for being calmly voiced. To be honest to Malhotra's commendable work it may have been better titled, Indira Gandhi: A Political Assessment but naming a book is not just a literary matter - market forces play a vital role.
Syed Neaz Ahmad reviews the book and the political background.
India has a lot to be proud of: Taj Mahal, Mughal forts, castles, palaces, places of worship, a thousand languages, teeming millions and a zest for life. All these are on the credit side. For the last several years though it has been a fairly unbalanced democratic ledger. But since All Change at New Delhi we might as well start with a clean slate. When it comes to producing people South Asia is a particularly fertile place. On the Indian sub-continent we are more equal than others - we get a fair number of what I call born leaders.
They say beggars cannot be choosers so in countries where poverty line is usually below the belt we have to be content with our lot.
This lot - or karma - includes not only the crop of grain from your farm but also the crop of leaders that a family (or two) is supposed to raise to lead the nation. India being the largest democracy - in terms of population - proudly leads others in this area too. Born leaders in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka play their roles but they come as poor seconds.
Despite the well-known Persian expression Hunooz Dilli door ast retracing our steps back to New Delhi seems an easy journey now. Thanks to this new combination of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian - the country appears to present a truly secular image. Now that Manmohan Singh has been in power for sometime and his future appears a bit uncertain one can perhaps take a more dispassionate look at the outcome of India-shinning- based election. The fanfare of IPL notwithstanding wat matters for the Indian electorate is not the catches and matches but the roof overhead, two square meals and a couple of dhoti - in other words roti, kapda aur makan!
However, public memory is always short and time is a great healer within less than three years, the same electorate brought her and Sanjay back . . . primarily because her inveterate foes had turned out to be incompetent, vengeful and disastrously vulnerable to their own infighting. When Sanjay died stunt flying, elder son Rajiv was roped into politics. When Indira was assassinated in 1984, Rajiv was sworn in as prime minister. This was perceived as a triumph and resilience of Indian democracy. Democracy? Or was it the triumph of the family?
Some thirty years on time and political forces have gone round the full circle. Giving them full credit the results of the last election in India turned out to be not half bad for Indira Gandhi's party, her grandson and daughter-in-law. Nay, they were even better than most Sonia & Congress supporters had imagined: Rahul made his debut and the Congress won enough seats to call the shots. The dynasty after a long time in the wilderness struck again! Everybody had wished them a long stay at the wickets - a stay that was supposed to bring in peace, prosperity and security for all!
"The success of Nehru-Gandhis in forming a dynasty," they say, "lay not in their appeal to feudal feelings but in their being perceived as ‘all-Indian’."
In January 1966 India, the world s largest democracy, chose Indira Gandhi to fill the office of prime minister that her illustrious father,, had held with distinction for 17 long years since the country's independence in 1947. Her parentage was certainly an important factor in her elevation but not the only one. In any case, at that time hardly anyone had thought that this was the beginning of a dynasty which, besides being intensely controversial, would hold India in its thrall for decades and evoke excited interest in the outside world.
A fine prologue but Malhotra warms up and that's what makes his work honest and entertaining. After a decade or so when Indira had become increasingly unpopular she started the groundwork to see to it that her younger son, Sanjay, would take over from her eventually. While the political blueprint was still on the drawing board, with Sanjay spurring her on, Indira found it expedient to clamp Emergency on the country and suspend Indian democracy. A 19-month nightmare followed. It ended only when, in an election she called belatedly, she was defeated humiliatingly and thrown out of power.
I am a great believer in liberty, freedom of speech, human rights and whatever goes with the ideals of democracy. I believe in equal rights for all. What beats me however is the public fascination for a particular family. It s also interesting that for generations Congress leadership has not shifted from Nehru-Gandhi family. In a nation of astute leaders, articulate parliamentarians and talented technocrats the family continues to spell charm over the masses. The party is fully aware of that and cashes the advantage at the time of elections.
In countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan too the electorate is often wooed in the name of a particular family - often to great dismay. The present situation in Bangladesh and Pakistan owes much to this public fascination for a family or two. In Pakistan it's the Sharifs & the Bhuttos, in Bangladesh it's the Sheikhs & the Zias. Will we ever come out of it?
Mark Tully concludes his book, No Full Stops in India with the following: "For all its great achievments, the Nehru dynasty has stood like a banyan tree overshadowing the people and the institutions of India, and all Indians know that nothing grows under the bunyan tree."
This raises an interesting question: Is there something missing in our democracies? Do we have the infrastructure in place to groom future leaders? Or have we been programmed to simply leave it to the 'banyan tree' and karma - whatever will be, will be?