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The Indira Style

Achin Vanaik

By Nayantara Sahgal
Vikas, New Delhi, 1977, pp. 215, Rs. 40.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 2 September/October 1978

As another addition to the spate of publications on Indira Gandhi and Emer­gency, this book does not provide any fresh insights into either the personality of the former Prime Minister or on the economic/political developments which led to centralization of the state in the form of Emergency. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly the personality of Indira Gandhi overrides all other considerations. As the author puts it, ‘we were moving inexorably towards an authoritarian order .... because of the .... needs of her own nature which had little to do with the reason and rhyme of the Indian situation.’ In the first two chapters, Mrs. Sahgal describes the childhood, education and the family traditions of Indira Gandhi, which according to her, provided every opportunity for training in democratic ideals. However, unfortunately for India and for the Nehru family ties, the tem­perament of Nehru's daughter clashed with this inheritance. As a member of decision-making bodies of the National Congress, such as the Congress Working Committee and the Central Parliamentary Board, Indira Gandhi had during her father's time gained political experience. But she was never exposed to the process leading up to these decision-making posts—she had not faced an electorate until 1967—long after becoming Prime Minister. The division of Bombay State and the imposition of President's rule in Kerala in 1960 revealed that she was 'action-oriented'. The emergence of Indira Gandhi in 1967-69 shows up her political style and behaviour which the author repeatedly contrasts with those of Nehru. But vital points are missed. The emergence (after 1967) of opposition rule based on elec­toral alliances in several states and the erosion of the domination of the Congress took place within the context of a severe recession and growing political instability. The large-scale middle class discontent took the form of communal riots in Bihar, UP, Andhra and Maharashtra. The ideological foundations of the Congress steadily declined in this period. The Party needed a popular man­date and consent to regain its former dominance. President's rule was merely a constitutional device, a form of domina­tion without consent during fluctuations in parliamentary alliances. For the Cong­ress, including the old guard, the question of revival of the Party was supreme. But there was a crisis of leadership. Politically it took the form of the struggle between Indira Gandhi (the 'Left') and the old guard (the 'Syndicate'). As Mrs. Sahgal admits, ‘ideas and issues were fogged ...

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