With her latest biography Indira
, Katherine Frank has chosen to grapple with the original Iron Lady of world politics. The result is a wonderfully convincing and balanced account of the life of Indira Gandhi, the mountain girl of Kashmir who rose to succeed her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, as prime minister of the world's largest democracy. A difficult childhood--her mother died early of tuberculosis and her father was frequently incarcerated by the British--saw her a frail, introverted child. Born in the same month as the Russian Revolution, she felt her life was linked to the trajectory of history, yet it took until her mid-40s, after her father had reached his dotage, for political conviction to grip her life. First sworn in as Prime Minister in 1966, she quickly achieved a revered, mythic status as the mother of the nation. In all, she held the post four times, three consecutively, the last occasion coming in 1980 at the age of 63, four years before she was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguard. The Nehrus believed passionately in a secular state and Indian "oneness": it made Gandhi's factionalist assassination grimly ironic.
This is a book of death and its actions. In addition to Gandhi's parents and husband, her son Sanjay, a disreputable rascal on whom she doted damagingly, was to die in a plane crash, and his brother Rajiv was assassinated in 1991. Even the author lost her husband during the six years it took to research and write the book. A tenacious demagogue rather than an ideologue, Indira personalised Indian politics, her sway coming from the natural authority of a matriarch, yet she was demonised by Salman Rushdie in Midnight's Children for her Emergency which suspended democratic practice in India. Frank, though, in appraising her subject, asserts that she was typically "sincere and deluded", and while being guilty of hubris, was no megalomaniac. Arguably each generation of Nehrus lost something of the family's intellectual rigour, and the death of Rajiv was seen by many as the close of the dynasty. However, Priyanka Gandhi Varda, Indira's granddaughter, is said to harbour political ambition, so perhaps there will be further chapters to write. If so, they will prove addenda to this first-class biography, which deserves to be read for many years. --David Vincent
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘A stunning biography. Indira Gandhi was voted Woman of the Millennium, and yet her story is of a woman pushed into the public eye by men, corrupted by power and assassinated by those she should have trusted best – her own bodyguards.’ Jenni Murray, Sunday Times
‘Well researched, convincing and impressively fair to its subject.’ Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph
‘A fascinating account of how an unpromising, if privileged, girl came to lead the world's largest democracy. Anyone who wants to get to the heart of this extraordinary woman (and the extraordinary country which she mothered, cajoled and eventually came to embody), could not do better than read this accomplished book.’ Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday
‘Moving and revealing.’ Victoria Schofield, Financial Times
‘An important study…compelling and humanly sympathetic.’ Sunil Khilnani, Sunday Telegraph
‘An excellent biography.’ Geoffrey Moorhouse, Guardian
‘A fascinating, rigorous highly readable study.’ Caroline Macdonald, Scotsman