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Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi

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An objective, detailed portrait of India's third prime minister, Indira Nehru Gandhi, draws on previously unpublished sources and more than one hundred interviews to chronicle the life and times of one of the world's most influential political leaders, from her youth, through her rise to political power, to her assassination and its aftermath.

567 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2001

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Katherine Frank

9 books29 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 147 reviews
Profile Image for Rithun Regi.
97 reviews5 followers
June 2, 2013
My dad once told me that he hated and loved Indira Gandhi to equal measure. Her life was never her choice. Being born in the illustrious Nehru household with both her father and grandfather Congress Presidents ensured that she would be earmarked for greatness. Her own father never wanted dynasty politics for India, but she could be nothing less than the Empress of India or Mother Indira as she was lovingly referred to by the masses. She won the Bangladesh war and imposed the Emergency on the influence of her infamous son Sanjay Gandhi. People say that children pay for the sins of their parents. In Indira's case she paid the sins for the monster created by her son in Punjab, Bhindranwale and then she had to pay with her life for the military solution devised by her other son Rajiv Gandhi. For all her weaknesses she was a remarkable and inspirational woman. Salute to a strong woman who had her flaws!!! A good book in which the weaknesses and strengths of a great lady was showcased as an autobiography.
Profile Image for Sahil Sood.
Author 2 books72 followers
August 29, 2014
In her letter to Dorothy Norman, a female American photographer, writer and social activist, and also Indira's closest friend and confidante, Indira expressed what it meant to grow up in the Nehru household, in the midst of political turmoil and unrest spreading throughout India, a country on the brink of achieving independence from the bicentennial rule of British Empire:
Since earliest childhood I have been surrounded by exceptional people and have participated in exceptional events...The circumstances in which I passed my girlhood- both domestic and public spheres- were not easy. The world is a cruel place for the best of us and specially so for the sensitive.
Indira Gandhi, or as people fondly called her 'The Empress of India', was India's second longest serving Prime Minister, and inarguably the most controversial and infamous figure of Indian politics.
Katherine Frank's biography is the closest and the most endearing account of her remarkably eventful life. Instead of plainly and chronologically charting events that shaped her life, she tries to bring out Indira as a person- as a sum of both political and personal events.
Diagnosed at an early age, with rare pulmonary tuberculosis in the lungs, Indira, along with her mother, Kamala Nehru, who also suffered from severe ailments, spent most of her time on medical treatments that required her to travel back and forth between India and Europe. Not only she received disrupted formal education, but the political turbulence in the country further kept her from leading a normal, regulated life. This tense, emotional, and often revelatory phase is investigated through her correspondence with her father, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, India's first and longest serving Prime Minister, and also Indira's guiding figure during her childhood. Given the limited (almost no) poetic license, Frank sustains Indira, and keeps her voice alive page after page, so much so that the entire narration reads and sounds like Indira's intimate self.
As a highly observant and perceptive writer, Frank discovers many vantage points to look at Indira's several life and political decisions. Long periods of inactivity, illness, and a relentless urge to be of worth in Indian freedom struggle, in early childhood; frequent bouts of depression and melancholia, triggered by solitude and loss of dear ones; estranged relationship with her philandering husband, Feroze Gandhi; perpetual emotional harassment by her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, on whom she doted blindly; petty domestic squabbles and frequent clashes with her daughter-in-law, Maneka Gandhi; and above all, increasing insecurity of being stripped of power in the political scene inherently dominated by men, all contributed to her taking some erroneous decisions.
Frank's book is by no means a conventional biography, for she richly portrays the complexities and struggles of various other characters who aid Indira's struggle into politics: Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, through his correspondence serves as the perfect father and supreme companion, who with his towering intellect and vast experience guides Indira's every step; Kamala Nehru, keeping her head high in the times of adversary, shows Indira the power of courage and persistence; Mahatama Gandhi, Feroze Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Indira's sons and others, whose life stories are intelligently woven into the narrative framework; and Kashmir, the heaven's abode, a place whose beauty and healing powers become the fuel of sustenance for Indira's spiritual and physical recovery, in times of repair and need.
I have felt like a bird in a very small cage, my wings hitting against the bars whichever way I move. The time has come for me to live my own life. What will it be? I don't know at all. For the moment, I just want to be free...and find my own direction. The experience of being President of the Congress has been exhilarating at times, depressing at times, but certainly worthwhile. But.....I can only be warped & unhappy if I have to continue.
In her late-night heartfelt confession to Dorothy Norman, Indira, shortly before assuming power, predicts how increasingly lonely and depressing she would become if forced to continue. And it proved true. Born into the Nehru family, her life was never her choice, and thus, she was slated for a life of public service.
Indira's tenure was dotted with some remarkable achievements that brought out her assertive, domineering, forthright and often ruthless persona: India's extended support and huge involvement in the creation of Bangladesh (East Pakistan); launching of India's first successful nuclear test; the annexation of Sikkim with India; the successful culmination of The Green Revolution Movement transforming India from a nation heavily reliant on imported grains and prone to famine to being largely able to feed itself, and become successful in achieving its goal of food security; drawing up of Line of Control along the Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan border, to settle the territorial dispute; and improved foreign relations with USSR and other countries. Thus, she transformed a crippled economy into a thriving, full blooded nation. But several of her decisions like centralizing power, imposing the state of emergency, raiding the Golden Temple (the holy place of Sikhs) etc. met with severe criticism, and the latter cost her life.
With each phase Indira became more insecure and reclusive; the loneliness haunted her, increasingly so after the death of her son, Sanjay. Frank's writing achieves in making the reader empathetic with her condition. In her final moments, shortly before her assassination, Indira recounted many efforts that had been made to assassinate her, and asserted that each drop of her blood spilled shall continue to strengthen India. Thus, "India is Indira; Indira is India", became the slogan of the millions. Indira acknowledged that India was much larger than a single family or a single person, and insisted that it would always endure.
Today, Indira Gandhi is no more; debates rage on whether the emergent actions taken were necessary; but her story is one great story of a highly flawed individual; a story born out of great solitude and courage. Frank's book is a compelling character study, and a stunning account of one of the most equally beloved and reviled persons to have lived.
Profile Image for Arun Divakar.
796 reviews380 followers
February 26, 2012
Over stale, machine made coffee in office a colleague asked me Do you think India is a democracy ? Biting back the Yes that close to three decades of being an Indian have instilled in me, I asked Why ? He grins and then replies I am just wondering why in the so-called largest democracy in the world, only one family has the right to rule !! This made perfect sense to me for ever since independence, one member or the other from the Nehru family has been on the center stage of Indian politics. All these sum up why I thought of giving the biography of one of the most influential of this dynasty to hold India at sway a shot : Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi.

First off I must say that I was impressed by the candor and research that would have gone into the creation of this book. The sketch of Gandhi as a shrewd,manipulative old man who knew how to achieve his ends will always be a revelation in a country which always made a god out of him. But the spotlight in the book falls on the Nehrus which I can say in a cliched way : was, is and probably will be India's first family for a long time to come. The author tells of the colossus of man named Jawaharlal Nehru and his larger than life public image and a not-so-cozy private life. What gets laid bare in the pages is about a dysfunctional family of a great man who did not honestly get time for himself, his wife who was slipping away mentally from him and of the daughter who suffered through it all. Indira grows up through all the tumults of the Indian freedom struggle and also through the storms and gales that engulf her personal life. She becomes an adolscent, a teenager and has a stormy marriage. She becomes a wife and a mother. In short she wears all the masks that life gives a woman to wear. It was probably after all these were completed that the metamorphosis began.

Moving out from the shadow of her god-like father, through fits and starts she carves her own niche. Inevitably the reins of this mass of humanity was passed on to her more as a birthright than anything else. It is true that Indira Gandhi was one of the people who moulded India into what it is today. Her tremendous popular appeal made her 'Mother India' to the masses and even had people believing that she was the Goddess incarnate. From then on, if I were to borrow the author's words : From that pinnacle of power,fame and popularity she had nowhere to go but down. Her undoings were many but most notable were the state of emergency imposed on India, her apparent clinging to power believing herself to be a sort of messianic figure who could save India and the sycophancy and nepotism that was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back.Like many a tragic figure she gets caught in a storm of violence of her own making.

I enjoyed the writing style in most of the passages and being closely linked to the history of India, it unurprisingly reminded me of pages from my History textbooks of old. Frank does give way to rumors and allegations at places which the book could have done without.

There was one observation I had of the principal characters : The Nehrus. While preaching austerity, high moral standards and a refinement that bordered on nobility the Nehrus chose to holiday in Europe's finest locations while a subcontinent was in tumult in its clamor for independence ! While Nehru & Indira skied on the mountainslopes of Switzerland, countless thousands lay rotting in British Jails. Something I found bizzare & more or less sinful ! I do not discount the selfless dedications that this family made for India but this at first glance was a tad too much for me.
Profile Image for S.Ach.
502 reviews163 followers
October 7, 2018
Indira is India and India Indira.

What better way to understand the history of post independent India to the modern age than reading the biography of arguably the most controversial yet one of a prominent maker of modern India - Indira Nehru Gandhi!
What a life she led! Great upbringing, romantic affairs, family feuds, political maneuvers, wars, nepotism, corruption, assassinations - her story had every possible ingredient of a riveting life. Surrounded by who's-who of architects of Indian independence, she possible had the best upbringing as a future Prime Minister of India, even if she was not really her father's choice to lead the country after his death. But could she carry on his father's legacy? Too many strategic and ethical failures (the emergency, the multiple splitting of the grand old congress party, the ruthless actions against oppositions, operation bluestar, et al) to her dis-credit compared to the successes ( the independence of Bangladesh, the grand comeback) she achieved during her tenure.

I have always been skeptical of for her leadership and actions, however, I can't deny her immense contribution, whether positive or negative, towards what is modern India.

This book is truly a fitting tribute to the towering figure that Indira was.
Profile Image for Srikar Vantaku.
27 reviews2 followers
December 8, 2017
IG was close to her mother. Kamala Nehru (Wife of Nehru) was always unwell. Her relation with Nehru was primarily through letters, yet there was a strange personal distance between the two . Indira kept unwell most of the time till she became the PM. She was diffident yet strong willed, missed her mother after her death and generally depressed (Beware, she could pass on a little to the reader as well).
There, I had summarised two-thirds of this book.

The book gives a vivid picture of Indira in her childhood and youth, thanks primarily to the numerous letters exchanged between the father and daughter. Yet, it profoundly falters in the last part, and the most important one for an Indian reader - Indira Gandhi as the PM. I have read better works on this. One primarily being India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha. Heck, even Durbar by Tavleen Singh, although written in a tone of disdain towards Emergency and later part of IG's Prime Ministership gave a better account of IG and her politics. The content here seemed repetitive atleast for someone who has reads India After Gandhi.

A biography is far from being an amalgamation of diary entries of the said person. It is the making and the unmaking of the personality, their influences, their internal conflicts which make a biography gripping. I have read Half Lion by Vinay Sitapati and is probably the best work on an Indian PM. I am terribly disappointed with this work in that respect. The author chose to highlight meaningless details of young Indira's bad health, her recuperation abroad, hell, even her menopause (!?) But, when it came to dissect the part of IG as PM, she floundered. Although, admittedly due to the lack of a paper trail, it still cannot explain the apparent 'sanitizing' of the work (especially in matters related to Rajiv and Sonia) so as not to hurt the Congress leadership. May be, we will have to wait it out for 3 more generations when IG's politics would be irrelevant to make way for an honest account of her Prime Ministership.

One of the last few lines of this biography reads "India is larger than a single person or a single family". Alas, the family has now passed on to the 5th generation now and yet, this realization has not dawned on them.

PS - If you have decided to read the book anyway, read wikipedia for the early part of IG's life and head straight to the third part. You'll save a lot of time.
Profile Image for Nita Kohli.
189 reviews47 followers
November 20, 2018
This is a massive book of about 700 pages but I just flew through it. I never felt tired or burdened with the facts and the in depth information laid by this book. I was turning page after page and it is one of those rarest books I have read that I felt depressed when it ended.
Why did I decide to read this? Because I have a keen interest in reading about Indian politics and lives of some of our prominent leaders. Indira Gandhi is one of such leaders, daughter of Nehru and the only Indian woman Prime Minister.
My source of reading materials on Indian politics and leaders for years have been the ones found on the internet. But in today’s time when the credibility of such online materials is threatened by the fake news and information being widely shared on social media and whatsapp messages I decided to trust books.
In my search to find what book should I read, I found this book in my local library.
This book gives a detailed account of Indira’s life - her family, her political and her personal life.
It is divided into three parts with each part taking the reader into the different phases of Indira Gandhi’s life.
What I liked most about this book is that it provides an unbiased account of Indira Gandhi’s life. The author does not try to create a hero or a martyr out of Indira but instead she lays down the facts and true events of her life leaving the readers to decide if they want to rever Indira or abhor her. The author doesn’t shy away in pointing out when people including Indira could not be considered a reliable source of information and when they changed their narration of events. The author not only talks about Indira Gandhi’s strengths but also her weakness and her wrong doings.

I am not a supporter of any leader or any party but I do believe that if one wants to read about Indian politics then some leaders cannot be missed and Indira Gandhi is one of such leaders.

This book gives the readers a look into the life of Indira Gandhi not only as a leader but also as a daughter, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. An incredible book that must be read.

This book is now one of the best books I have ever read.
Profile Image for نورة محمد.
56 reviews19 followers
May 20, 2015
(الوطن هو المكان الذي ننطلق منه
و كلما كبر صار العالم أغرب
و النماذج أعقد..
إنني أری في نهايتي بدايتي ..)
في طفولة إنديرا كتب نهرو في كتاب لمحات من تاريخ العالم عن قدرة الهند علی الصمود و شدد أنها ستحيا دوما رحلت إنديرا و رحل من سبقها لكن الهند لا تقف عند شخص واحد ؛ الهند باقية ..

ينقسم الكتاب إلي ثلاثة أجزاء:
"أنديرا نهرو" قصة عائلة نهرو
"أنديرا غاندي" طفولتها و ذكرياتها تعليمها زواجها من فيروز غاندي
و"رئيسة الوزراء أنديرا غاندي" وفي هذا الجزء الأخير تطرقت لواقعة اغتيالها ولأجواء الفوضى، التي سادت في الهند بعدها.

وقصة نضال غاندى الوطنية، مع الاستعمار البريطانى عام 1919، وكيف دعا للاحتجاج على البريطانيين، عندما فرضوا قانونا يسمح بمد السلطة الممنوحة أثناء الحرب، وهو القانون الذى اعتبره غاندى قمعى، مما دعاه لتنظيم إضراب عام على مستوى الدولة، مصحوب بالصوم، والصلوات الجماعية، وتتناول المؤلفة قصة انضمام جد إنديرا إلى المقاومة السلمية التى نظمها غاندى، والتى حملت اسم "الساتياجراها"، وهى المقاومة التى قابلها البريطانيون بمذبحة شهيرة فى التاريخ الهندى تسمى "أمريتسار".

هذا الكتاب الضخم يعتبر اهم سيرة تصدر عن انديرا غاندي وقد علقت عليه الصحافة الانجليزية قائلة: من يرد التعرف على هذه المرأة الاستثنائية التي حكمت الهند يتوجب عليه ان يطلع على هذا الكتاب. ففي صحيفة "الصاندي تايمز" إنها سيرة مذهلة لم يتح لأحد ان يكتبها من قبل. انها سيرة امرأة انتخبت على اساس انها اهم امرأة ظهرت في القرن العشرين. انها امرأة دفعت دفعاً الى ساحة المعترك السياسي من قبل الرجال ثم أفسدت من قبل السلطة، ثم قتلت من قبل اولئك الذين ينبغي ان تثق بهم اكثر من غيرهم: حرسها الشخصي بالذات!

آخر خطبة ألقتها إنديرا تقول :
"لقد عشت حياة طويلة ؛ افخر بأنني عشتها بالكامل في خدمة شعبي ذلك وحده هو منبع فخري ؛لاشي سوی ذلك ولئن مت كل قطرة من دمائي ستبعث الحياة في الهند و تقويها"
30 أكتوبر 1984م إنديرا غاندي
Profile Image for Ujjyaini Bose.
142 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2021
A biography can either make or break someone's image and its important that its written from a neutral perspective. But hardly anything is ever neutral or its our human mind that subconsciously is never neutral. I'll say this book even with all the controversies and "the world could have had its first ever female dictator", is more of a positive light on Indira Nehru Gandhi. With everything that happens, it still stood deeply rooted to the fact that Gandhi deep down truly wanted what was best for India.
Also the third part, her term as PM was definitely more interesting and can be read as a standalone.
Profile Image for Himanshu Khurana.
50 reviews7 followers
November 1, 2016
A brilliantly researched book by Katherine Frank on the life of one of the most controversial and powerful Prime Ministers of India- Indira Gandhi. It systematically begins by tracing the origins of the Nehru clan right from their migration from the valley of Kashmir to the great plains of north India. In the initial chapters, the author investigates the politically surcharged and exposed atmosphere in which Indira was brought up. Her father was continually absent from their household due to his active political involvement and his sense of duty to the nation. In the event, she developed a much closer relationship with her father over letters and in fact, she always was more forthright and true to her words in the written word than the spoken. Further, the book also shows the troubled relationship with her husband Feroze and how it affected her political position before she became a national leader in her own right.

Though the book is largely sympathetic to Indira, it brings out some crucial and important facts. The first one is that Nehru was not the one who started the so-called dynasty. In fact, on the question of Indira becoming the Congress President, he categorically stated that he ‘would not like to appear to encourage some sort of dynastic arrangement. That would be totally undemocratic and an undesirable thing’ and he insisted that he was ‘not grooming her for anything.’ Instead, the birth of dynasty began from Indira Gandhi with the rise of her son Sanjay Gandhi as the anointed heir to the throne. Initially she didn’t want her sons to take part in active politics however later she did not attempt to block Sanjay Gandhi’s attempts to hold power either. But she was astute enough to realize that India was still a democratic country and she could not continue Emergency indefinitely and become a dictator. ‘She was guilty of hubris but not megalomania.’

There are several issues with the book as well. First of all, I think there should have been a chapter on her legacy as well because the book seems a bit low on analysis about how deeply the kind of politics she engendered has affected Indian democracy, say in the primacy of the ‘party high command’ and lack of internal party democracy. Also, one thing the book lacks is a better analysis of the transformation of Indira from a reluctant political worker and Nehru’s hostess into a national leader who was not just loved and admired but worshipped by the large masses. Was it because of the legacy of Nehru or something intrinsic in her way of politics which made her the object of all popular adulation and helped undermined the party?

Finally, what could be defined as the legacy of Indira Gandhi? There are many particular things which can be taken account for such as breaking up of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, first nuclear tests in Pokhran; Green Revolution and so on. However others point out that there are things which are a permanent blot on Indian democracy, such as imposition of the Emergency being one of the darkest periods of Indian democracy, giving fuel to the fire of Khalistan separatism, undermining free democratic expression, developing the constitutionally abhorrent ideas of a ‘committed judiciary’ and a ‘committed bureaucracy’. When asked by an interviewer ‘what one thing’ Indira wanted most wanted to be remembered for? She retorted that she did not want to be remembered for anything. As Frank remarks, ‘’It was a prophetically accurate retort. For history was not going to remember Indira Gandhi for any one thing- for a coherent strategy, ideology, policy or vision….she had for a long time- from the beginning of her political career in fact- reacted rather than acted.”
Profile Image for Sreelekha.
42 reviews82 followers
January 18, 2011
A brilliant biography.A must read for all Indians.Katherine Frank portrays an era when India was Indira and Indira was India.Through tumultous times of Indian independence struggle and the ensuing partition to the reign of Indira and to her untimely death,the biography not only tells us the life of Indira Nehru Gandhi ,it chronicles the events and people in that era.

One more thing about the book.She has not portrayed Mrs Gandhi as a messiah or a villain.She speaks facts as presented to her.Nothing more and nothing less.
Profile Image for Jack Fontane.
18 reviews
September 18, 2012
definitely one good book..... after the initial warmup of 50 pages... found it tough to put it down..... so many events, people, incidents which i have just heard as rumours as a kid .....all coming back substantiated w/ evidence.... afterall she was the Greatest Leader India ever had..... her outisde & inside.... especially the 200-last page were just flying......
Profile Image for Sajith Kumar.
587 reviews97 followers
August 20, 2017
Title: Indira – The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
Author: Katherine Frank
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2001 (First)
ISBN: 9780002556460
Pages: 567

Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister of India is remarkable for many firsts. It was the first time that a woman could achieve the country’s topmost political spot. It was then that the country had won a major war in more than a millennium of history. It was also the first time that a democratically elected politician imposed an autocratic regime on the people in the form of Emergency, which the people endured with surprisingly little demur. Katherine Frank was born and educated in the US, is the author of three acclaimed biographies and has taught at universities in West Africa and the Middle East as well as Britain. During six years of researching and writing this book, she spent extended periods in India. Frank presents a comprehensive, but slightly adulatory account of Indira Gandhi, first as the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru and then as the undisputed leader of India for a decade.

Nehru’s family had the stature of a dynasty. Frank notes that the ancestors themselves were very particular in associating with the powers that be. Raj Kaul who migrated from Kashmir to Delhi was a member of the court of Mughal king Farrukhsiyar in 1716. His great grandson Lakshmi Narayan was a lawyer of the English East India Company. Another forefather Gangadhar was a police officer in Delhi when the mutiny broke out in 1857. However, the family’s takeoff to the stratosphere of power took place with Jawaharlal Nehru, based on the wealth generated by Motilal Nehru’s legal practice at Allahabad. The family’s knack of managing finance was lost with Jawaharlal while that of managing politics was missing two generations later in the time of Rajiv Gandhi. Nehru maintained good personal rapport with the British even while opposing them on principles. The Cripps Mission of 1942 which examined constitutional reforms of India was opposed by Congress, but its leader Sir Stafford Cripps was a friend of Nehru. The book mentions a nice anecdote when Cripps visited Nehru’s private residence at Anand Bhawan. He stayed for a few days there and was a strict vegetarian. Not many in Anand Bhawan were vegetarian and very little fruits and vegetables were available in the Allahabad market. Nehru ordered melons from Kabul and grapes from Quetta for the visitor!

Nehru is thought to be a great statesman who moulded India with his ideological principles. Ever since Congress was expelled from power for the first time in 1977, more and more memoirs had started coming out, detailing the political acumen of him. Needless to say, most of the tales are disappointing for patriotic Indians. Some shocking observations can be seen in the book, One Life is not Enough by K Natwar Singh, reviewed earlier. This book presents a few episodes where the great leader’s true colours can be discerned. And no, I don’t mean to point out anything personal. We may grant him some reprieve on that front on account of the dictum that no man is perfect. But his fumbling on the Kashmir policy has caused great loss of lives and material for the country. Nehru’s Kashmir policy was solely founded on the person of Sheikh Abdulla. When he started showing overbearing and partisan tendencies, Nehru was at a loss to what to do. In the end, he was arrested and put behind bars for nearly a decade that tarnished the country’s credibility in the eyes of the world. In another instance, Frank narrates Nehru’s impulsive reaction to an international incident. When he heard that Chou En Lai’s plane had crashed at Hong Kong, he immediately wanted to send a telegram to the British prime minister, suspecting the incident to be orchestrated by British Intelligence. This message was very rashly worded and it required all the persuasive powers of Indira to detain him from dispatching the message. How much equanimity can we expect from such a person who handled the foreign affairs portfolio till his death? When the pro-American Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sir John L Kotalawala moved a resolution in the 1955 Non-Aligned Summit at Bandung condemning the neo-imperialism of the Communist Bloc, Nehru was so incensed that he wanted to walk out. So much for non-alignment!

Readers are more interested in reading about the events after Indira came to power, but a very large portion of the book is devoted to cover life before her ascent as the prime minister. But it then scrutinizes her unsure progress to the peak of glory in 1971, when Bangladesh was carved out after vivisecting Pakistan. Her early years as prime minister were beset with political and economic problems. To score a point over her rivals in the party, she adopted a socialist façade – without any sincere ideological commitment. She nationalized commercial banks, insurance companies, installed a license-quota-permit raj to rein in private enterprise and forfeited the Privy Purse granted to former sovereigns at the time of accession of their states to India. This endeared her to the masses, but caused catastrophic damage to the economy. The author reiterates the ideological bankruptcy of Indira by comparing the earlier and latter parts of her term from 1966 to 1977. After her son Sanjay’s rise to prominence – who was a proponent of free market competition and autocratic ways in dealing with the public – she backtracked on leftist populism. After reaching the summit of popularity in 1971, the author wryly comments that she had nowhere to go but down.

And down she went! Indira’s rule marked India’s unfortunate decline to corruption and muscle power of the rich. Sanjay openly made or marred deals. The book presents some details of corruption at Sanjay’s Maruti factory, which was set up to manufacture small cars. P N Haksar, the principal private secretary of Indira, was a man of integrity but was jettisoned from the post when he opposed some of Sanjay’s intrigues. Not content with that, Sanjay’s cronies in the government raided the business enterprises run by two elderly relatives of Haksar and arrested them. People who argue that Indira was ignorant of the mischief created by Sanjay will be hard-pressed to find a response as to what happened to Haksar. Indira’s politics was more a show than dedication was clear in her response to a question on literacy in India posed by an American journalist in 1978. Her outburst was ‘I don’t know how important literacy is. What has it done for the West? Are people happier or more alive to problems? On the contrary, I think they have become more superficial” (p.433). It has been the bane of India to have politicians like Indira Gandhi who wanted the people to be kept in darkness and feared that they’d be swept out of power when the populace became enlightened.

Indira Gandhi opened an era of terror in the form of Emergency (1975-77) when individual rights were suspended, opposition leaders put in jail and all political activity stopped. She was thrown out of power, but was rehabilitated three years later when the people who ousted her fought bitterly among themselves. If Indira is still remembered with a touch of fondness, the reason for that is her martyrdom, supposedly while trying to safeguard the integrity of the nation. But Katherine Frank describes many events which reveal that Indira dug her own grave. She encouraged and provided support to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a dreaded Sikh militant, in order to engineer a split in Akali Dal, a party that stood up to and threatened the political supremacy of Congress in Punjab. She provoked unrest in other parts of the country by dismissing the state governments at her will, for protecting the petty political interests of her own party. The basis of all these undemocratic and underhanded deals was her desire to cling on to power at any cost.

The book is written with a good amount of research on Indira. However, the author’s grasp of the political landscape of India and other political parties than Congress appears to be amateurish and derived unchanged from other works. A noted feature of the book is its propensity to be a fountainhead of gossip. The suggestion on the parentage of Feroze Gandhi is shocking, as also that on his personal life and rumours in Allahabad. Allusions to M O Mathai’s (Nehru’s private secretary) relations with Indira are simply outrageous. It is suggested that a chapter titled ‘She’ was removed from Mathai’s biography at the behest of Indira because it contained nasty personal references to her. The book contains a few monochrome plates, a commendable section of Notes and a good Index. A chronology would’ve helped it much better.

The book is highly recommended.

Rating: 3 Star

Profile Image for Garima Siwach.
5 reviews13 followers
May 19, 2018
This is an outstanding book, well researched and beautifully written. Attempting to understand Indira Nehru Gandhi is a challenging pursuit, but with each page, I felt that I was uncovering a new layer into her life and her mind. Rightly stated as a life of epic drama, there were moments when I fell in complete awe immediately followed by moments of extreme repulsion. Frank's narration is objective, with pieces of history woven together to form a story that will keep you hooked. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in India's history and the life of probably the most controversial figure in India's modern history.
Profile Image for Gunjan.
200 reviews6 followers
May 23, 2020
Indira is someone who got fascinated with politics, she was someone who was forced into politics. Right from her birth, she was actively or passively active in politics whereabouts of her parents. Her whole family was indulged in the fight for freedom. She was destined to be the one she became. Even when she had the choice to leave all that behind and start anew she chose to serve the country. With this cane power, and popularity, and love and support by citizens of India. But this also made her corrupt to the level that she would remain silent over the issues she herself wouldn’t allow to happen.
The book was well written and honest till depth.
Profile Image for Jackie.
304 reviews6 followers
December 3, 2020
Wonderful biography on someone I didn't know very well at all. The author struck a good balance of explaining the context that the West might not understand (especially since much of the story is from 40-80 years ago) while also probably being detailed enough for people who lived through it and followed the story of Indira to be reminded of information long forgotten. Indira is quite a character, better than something most fiction could come up with (Rushdie was inspired by her to write Midnight's Children, so he impacted novels, too). She is neither a saint nor a villain, but probably more on the right side of history than not.
Profile Image for Aditi.
54 reviews
April 27, 2019
Well-written and (from the looks of it,) well-researched.

Technically unrelated, but I now want to know the rest of the Maruti story; how the Suzuki shares kept on increasing and how it went on to become this giant, successful thing it is today.
And I would like to read through some reliable, worth-reading works on Sanjay Gandhi as well. So feel free to recommend, thanks!
Profile Image for Paridhi Gupta.
6 reviews6 followers
November 4, 2020
Brilliant Book! The story of Indira in itself is captivating and nothing short of historical fiction. However, the layer of objectivity and bias-free writing, gives the text more weight. Worth every minute, hour and day.
Profile Image for Dinakar.
67 reviews3 followers
August 11, 2019
Extremely long and detailed account of Indira's life. Starting with pre independence to her assassination, the events and sources quoted to produce this book are appreciated.
Profile Image for Shruti Jain.
8 reviews5 followers
January 16, 2021
Katherine Frank beautifully captures India’s modern history from the vantage point of the Nehru household and Indira Gandhi’s tryst with Indian politics.
Profile Image for Pradeep Nair.
58 reviews28 followers
December 31, 2015
An 'unputtdownable' biography. It's studded with lots of information, not surprising, considering the in-depth research Katherine Frank has done. The book starts with Motilal Nehru and ends with the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

The books gives a great insight into the person Indira Gandhi was -- as granddaughter of Motilal Nehru, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, husband of Feroze Gandhi, mother of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, mother-in-law of Sonia and Maneka Gandhi, grandmother of Rahul, Priyanka and Varun; as a freedom fighter, unofficial hostess of many world leaders who came calling on India's first PM, as hardcore nationalist, a hard-to-beat politician, a go-getter Prime Minister and, as a teenager and a woman.

How much ever the members of the Gandhi family try, they are unable to break free of a centripetal force, as it were; and get sucked into the vortex of politics, and that too riding on a family name, ironically seeming to do more harm than good. Indira Gandhi too was a reluctant politician to begin with. She stuttered and was booed during her first time on a stage in England. She wanted to leave India and she had intensely contemplated buying a house in England. Unfortunately, for her, before she could finalize the deal, someone else had bought that house. The way the highly reluctant Rajiv and Sonia were forced to embrace politics is recent history.

Even though Indira Gandhi ruled the country for a long time, ushered in quite a few reformatory changes, and kept India's flag flying high on the global stage, she never had it easy. She wanted India to progress rapidly, and didn't like people putting spokes in her plans, citing one reason or the other. She didn't believe in dragging things over a period of time in search of a consensus. She would rather get things done without wasting much time. That gave the world an impression that she cared little for democracy, didn't consider divergent viewpoints, and didn't carry everyone along. Surrounded by men, it wasn't easy at all, governing the large, diverse, often riotous nation.

There was trouble from the moment she became the Prime Minister in 1966, to her last days in 1984. Even though the opposition parties in those days weren't so strong, many of her decisions were opposed. With the result, she had to adopt strong and often unpopular measures to push her decisions through. She often seemed to exude the oxymoronic image of a "benevolent dictator".

I liked the book for its every interesting narrative style and loads of information. Definitely worth reading, at least to know a person, a woman fighting all odds, who strode over India's political, economic, social and cultural landscape with a telling impact.
Profile Image for Pramod.
229 reviews
March 18, 2018
a boring book about the first lady prime minister of India. there is way too much random information from her life which gets tiring to read after some time. book abandoned.
Profile Image for Nina ( picturetalk321 ).
508 reviews30 followers
March 22, 2021
I learned a lot from this extremely interesting and important period in Indian political history. It wasn't hard to learn a lot as I knew very little to begin with. So this biography fulfilled the minimum. Biographies are not a genre of choice for me. And the things I didn't like about this biography are no doubt tropes of the genre as a whole -- tropes that annoy me so it's unlikely I'll be a bio-convert anytime soon.

This book is very readable. It's long (412 pages). The text ends at 75%, followed by endnotes and bibliography -- which is extensive, based on research in the published literature and on interviews. If this were history (more in my own line of genre tastes), there would be archival material as well and material in languages other than English. But I can't fault the meticulous amassing of sources. All of this ends in a blow-by-blow account of Indira Gandhi's life which biography fans might like. I myself would have preferred less of the (to me) not so relevant detail, like the lengthy description of Indira Nehru's stay in a Swiss sanatorium when she was ill with tuberculosis in her young years.

Fascinating to me is the dynastic nature of politics within the Nehru-Gandhi family. Indira Gandhi's father was Jawaharlal Nehru, activist for independence from Britain, leader of the Congress Party and India's first prime minister. The Nehrus were intimate friends with Mahatma Gandhi. Indira Nehru married a man called Feroze Gandhi, no relation of Mahatma Gandhi. Feroze Gandhi had no experience of politics but rose to prominence as a politician; indeed, a politician opposing Indira Gandhi. The pattern repeats: Indira Gandhi's two sons went into politics; upon her death, her son Rajiv immediately became prime minister. And Rajiv's Italian-born wife Sonia Gandhi went into politics after Rajiv's death. Jawaharlal Nehru opposed dynasticism as running counter to democracy. It's ironic that his own family legacy turned out to be so dynastic. The author Katherine Frank suggests that power was thrust upon them: Rajiv and Sonia were practically forced into it by party and parliament. I'm sure, though, that historians might have opposing arguments.

Linked to the dynastic nature and sheer nepotism we witness in operation throughout this bio is the role of women. I had not realised how (relatively) many women were involved in politics, especially in regional governments and (before independence) in anti-colonial activism (and many also in dynastic situations). At the time, though, Indira Gandhi was the first and for years the only democratically elected head of state in the world (until joined by Margaret Thatcher).

Through the lens of the bio, I learned some of the details of political events I had known vaguely about, and that is really why I chose to read this, not for Indira Gandhi's life as such. Events include: civil disobedience pre-independence, the boycotting of British-made goods, the Amritsar massacre of 1919, Partition, the Kashmir problem, the annexation of the kingdom of Sikkim, the Punjab problem, the Indo-Pak wars, the founding of Bangladesh, the politics of non-alignment and India's resultant closeness to the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, the storming of the gurudwar at Amritsar and the Emergency.

I first heard about the Emergency when I read Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children in the 1980s. The Emergency was the highlight of this book for me. I had been anticipating it for over 300 pages and read about it with great interest. By the time it was decreed in 1975 (it lasted until 1977), Indira Gandhi was basically an undemocratic autocrat (the author Frank never says so, and Indira Gandhi herself maintained that she always was for the Indian people). The way that democratic processes were subverted and the way in which Indira Gandhi manoeuvred her own people into positions of power, and also the way in which she appealed to the people in a populist move that bypassed parliament -- all of this is breathtaking. The story of the enforced slum clearings and the enforced sterilisation of millions (millions!) of men, mostly from low-caste poor backgrounds, is chilling.

On the personal level of biography: it is interesting to read about a woman who was such a ruthless and in many ways terrible (in the Michelangelesque sense of "terribilitá") politician, and how a young girl grows up in a politically saturated environment. I read this for the Reading Women Challenge 2021, rubric "about a woman in politics", and after considering many worthy candidates like Jacinda Aherne, Julia Gilliard, Joyce Banda, Leymah Gbowee and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (all of whom I admire), I am very glad to have chosen a book about a powerful non-admirable politician. It also makes me think about the legacy of this time and its repercussions for India today -- the world's largest democracy (and that IS admirable; no matter what, Indira Gandhi did not dismantle democracy, as did Pakistan in the 1960s).

The book by Elizabeth Frank has some irritating flaws. Maybe this is a weakness of biographies in general (as I don't much read them, I don't know) but there is a "tell not show" mode that lends itself to glib shorthand characterisation that scream inappropriate ad irrelevant cliché. How does it help to be told that "there was nothing effete about Feroze Gandhi"? Why say that there was an "emasculation" of the Secretariat? Why is every woman who married into the Nehru-Gandhi family or had an affair with one of their men "beautiful"? etc. What are these tired gender normativities?

There can also be an ignorance of historical context: in 1930s Germany, Indira Nehru was told that she was a "true Aryan"; the author hastens to point out that this attitude was "exceptional". Me: no, it wasn't, and no, being called Aryan was not a racial slur, on the contrary. Being truly "Aryan" was, for the Nazis, a racial compliment -- and another interesting aspect to the independence movement in India was the way some of its members cosied up to the Nazis as they were the enemies of the colonising British.

Now on to the publishers, HarperCollins. HC, you did a TERRIBLE job. Like so many traditional publishers, you give, it seems, zero Fs for your e-book readers. The text is full of random apostrophes. These, I realised after a while, mark the end of quotes but there is no way of knowing when a quote starts. As a result, I never knew when I was reading a quote; this is a serious flaw in a biography that relies heavily on quoting others' words. HC, you also did not think to remove hard hyphens so we have randomly hyphenated words dotted throughout. And why an index? Why the notice (loc 11907) "The pagination of this electronic edition does not match the edition from which it was created. To locate a specific passage, please use the search feature of your e-book reader." So, I ask you, why even include this 9%-long index?? I know why: you just couldn't be bothered. Because for you the print-book readers are primary. (In which case: why bother with an e-book at all?) Very disappointing.
7 reviews
November 2, 2022
On its surface, the life of independent India’s most consequential person neatly arranges itself into three sections: Nehru’s daughter, the revolutionary socialist Prime Minister and the Emergency villain. Katherine Frank’s great success is weaving the three together, so that the texture of this seemingly uncommon life seems indistinguishable from any other life, albeit with its unique blend of sadness, jubilation, heartbreak and grief.

The first third of the book touches upon Indira’s childhood in the palatial Anand Bhawan, with its manicured gardens, indoor swimming pool and liveried staff. The narrative around this time has a touch of Jane Austen to it: her aunts are called Nan and Betty (so named by their British governess); they are rude and snobbish with her mother, the sickly Kamala; her grandmother sides with said Nan and Betty; her father doesn’t seem to know or care about any of this; and the tension plays out over trips to Mussoorie and Europe.

The switch from this aristocratic frivolity to the bitter seriousness of the freedom movement is almost disorienting. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh changes Anand Bhawan overnight. The servants are released, the horse carriages are dismantled, and even the cuisine changes. Everyone wears khadi. It must be said that the Nehru women are equal to the moment, and adapt themselves with grace and dignity.

And so does, at least on the surface, little Indira. Yet it seems almost inarguable that the absence of both parents for long periods of time (one always sick, the other always in jail) disfigured her childhood. She is defenceless against her aunt (Vijayalakshmi Pandit) who calls her, a 14 year old, “ugly and stupid”, and she holds on to the hurt all her life. When she complains about being depressed, her father shoots back from prison, “none of us, least of all you, has any business to be depressed”. She has to keep changing schools, to keep up with the nationalistic fads of her father, finally landing up, predictably, in Tagore’s Shantiniketan.

In this unsettled, mendicant life, it is easy to understand why she lunged towards the besotted Feroze Gandhi. Their romance blossomed, rather cinematically, with the backdrop of the Second World War, when they were together in Europe, and the independence struggle in India. This was to be the only time in her life when she was truly happy. The rush of this fleeting high disappeared with marriage and its ceaseless demands. His many affairs and her one (pathetically, with Nehru’s secretary), Nehru coercing him (obviously at her bidding) into remaining in the marriage, and his passive aggressive behaviour with Nehru in Parliament are all illustrations of the lengths to which people can be driven by their unresolved feelings.

One day in 1958, contemplating the breakdown of her marriage, Indira wrote the following verse:

But your thoughts they will not rest. They flutter like bats in ghostly confusion.

Round and round the exhausted brain. They gnaw and nibble their way like rats through your leaden weariness.

Rodent-like confusion with rodent-like relentlessness. A skilful summing up of her life. We would never have had more than a passing interest in it, had history not accelerated with the successive deaths of Feroze, Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Here Frank makes the point that three people had to die prematurely for Indira Gandhi to become India’s most powerful person (which is staggering enough, till one reflects on the fact that for Sonia Gandhi the figure is five).

For the reader, equipped with the knowledge of the letters that show the pain, diffidence and feelings of inferiority of this complex personality, it is a minor shock that she should have even been considered for PM, and it is one of life’s mysteries how she mutated into the consummate political animal she was to eventually become. Here Frank rightly quotes Sudipta Kaviraj, “Nothing was less inevitable in modern Indian politics than Indira Gandhi’s rise to power. Yet, as often happens in history, once it happened nothing was more decisive. It was modern Indian history’s most crucial and indelible accident.”

The newly minted Prime Minister turns out to be oddly allergic to dissent, even, of all places, at an All India Congress Committee meeting. After the meeting, she confides in a friend that her aunt calling her ugly and stupid “shattered something” within her; to the point that when faced with hostility, she becomes tongue-tied and withdraws.

The lonely, awkward teenager never left her.

To think that all those years of bypassing Parliament, brutally assaulting striking railway employees and arresting opposition leaders could have been avoided if someone’s aunt had been kinder…a wearisome and melancholic reflection.

When it comes to Mrs. G, though, there is a limit to the reader’s sympathy. After all, she did preside over the construction of the extractive licence permit raj, tried to amend the constitution out of existence, allowed her power-drunk son to implement his sadistic policies on helpless villagers, and, worst of all perhaps – suspended democracy in a fit of mindless paranoia.

The fallout of all this chaos, her election loss in 1977, seems like a feeble slap on the wrist, made worse by her soaring popularity shortly after she lost. As expected, she was returned to power with a huge majority in 1980.

The 1980s Indira was a tragic figure. As paranoid as ever, but suddenly unsure of her instincts; shaken to the core by the death of her son, and stumbling from one mistake to the next in violence-struck Punjab (mistakes that would turn out to be her undoing).

But shortly after she ordered the attack on the militants in the Golden Temple, wrecking Sikhism’s holiest shrine in the process, Indira Gandhi could suddenly see clearly again. Her childhood paranoia washed away.

She knew she was going to be killed. Frank wonderfully documents the darkness in the Gandhis’ life after the Golden Temple (Indira even wrote out instructions for her funeral). This time, the bats did not only flutter inside her, but also over her head. That in the end, the assassins were her own Sikh bodyguards, shows the inevitability of her fate once the bullets hit the temple.

The fallout of her death, the disastrous premiership of her inexperienced son, can be blamed directly on her, since it was her decision to restructure Nehru’s Congress into a family enterprise.

I have yet to see scholarship on the phenomenon of persons who succeed spectacularly at a job they do abominably. A good starting point for any interested researcher would be Katherine Frank’s ‘Indira’.
Profile Image for William.
299 reviews88 followers
January 11, 2013
I read this book early last year.

It was extremely interesting and intriguing to get a glimpse at the the birth of the largest democracy in this world. We are able to get a detailed look at Indira's extremely interesting life as the first woman PM in India and an extremely powerful woman leader at a time when the world of politics was dominated by men.

As someone who intends to enter politics later in life, this book was extremely enlightening. We not only investigate Indira but people who influenced her as well including her father and the all famous Mahatma Gandhi.

We can see the struggles of the birth of Indian democracy from the viewpoint of a little girl who has lived in India's elite and in the British inner circles. It shows her struggles in Indian politics and reveals not only her accomplishments but her imperfections as well.

As a result, this novel forms a very rounded story of Indira. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who would like to gain a deeper insight on the idea of democracy itself and one of the key events in decolonization and the dismantling of the British Empire and how that all affects and leads to the world's largest democracy. We can see the effects of her legacy and her family members today in modern India with the current (same) ruling Congress Party that controls Indian politics today.
Profile Image for Shirin Abdel Rahman.
746 reviews49 followers
December 17, 2016
هي انديرا غاندي نهرو سليلة واحده من اعرق العائلات السياسية في العالم تراست واحده من اعرق و اكبر الديمقراطيات في العالم الهند
البعض يسعي الي السلطة و البعض يرثها و في حاله انديرا كان امرا حتميا ان ترث رئاسة الوزارة لكونها الابنة الوحيدة لجواهر لا نهرو,
قصه حياة اسطوريه امتزج فيها ما هو سياسي بما هو اجتماعي أربعة أجيال من ال نهرو تبدا بموتيلال مروا ب جواهر لال و انديرا و أخيرا الابن راجيف الدي خلف امه بعد موتها مباشره ليموت هو الاخر مقتولا في 1991.
انديرا امراءه وحيده مات الاب و الزوج و دفنت الابن ,اجبرتها الظروف السياسية علي اتخاد بعض ��لقرارات الغير موفقه من وجهه نظر البعض كعملية النجمه الزرقاء الا انه حفظ لها الفضل في العديد من القرارات و الإصلاحات
سيرة داتيه اكثر من رائعة تحكي تاريخ الهند مند الاحتلال مرورا بالاستقلال و انفصال باكستان و الحرب الهندية الباكستانيه,الهنديه الصينيه و العديد من الاضطرابات و المذابح!
July 30, 2017
The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi written by Katherine Frank is one of the good book to read.
This is the book which we can read to understand the strength which Indira had, so that many people influence on her thoughts.
This books tells the story of “Indira Gandhi” and author collected good data to maintain integrity of Indira’s life. The way author describes the “Indira’s life is very prominent to engage readers.
Indira is strong girl from her child hood and very close to her “Mamma" Kamal Nehru and her “Bapu” Jawaharlal Nehru. She was the most admirable person in her family.
She is the Idol for me because of following reasons,
• Decision taking ability
• Tackling trouble situation in very systematic way without going to became panic.
• Firm to every decision whether they are right or wrong
• Commanding power and ability to hold people.
• Most important is the speech.
I will suggest this book who is going to search for dominating personality. After reading this book one thing I understand that every person have some ups and downs in their life, but to become successful it is important to understand how they behave. Indira always kept her target in such a way that if she is not able to chase it then she equally give importance to other thing so that target seems to be achieved. It means Indira always work in a win-win situation format.
26 reviews6 followers
October 5, 2011
this is quite a detailed effort of indira gandhis life from birth to death.

it is fascinating to understand her life but also the lives of her grandfather and father in the context of the Indian independence struggle. Nehru, Gandhi, krishna menon, chandra bose, kamala(indiras mother) feroze- all these personalities in the 1920s and 30s were so pivotal to both her growth and the birth of India and it is a great look at those years with a new lens. the strength of this book is that it gives texture to those years, the issues, the atmosphere, the daily lives, the sacrifices. . post nehrus death, it has dragged for me a little but it still fascinating as the family in the form of Sonia are still deeply embedded in Indian politics
Profile Image for K.
144 reviews10 followers
February 26, 2020
Very good read. After reading I got to learn how these famous people come on top. As a child Indira had pathetic childhood. Later on in life she was torn apart between her love for her father and husband. And later due to her son Sanjay Gandhi's wrongs , she suffered the major setback in her life. She knew at times that he was wrong but she was blinded in her son's love and though she wanted to but still couldn't say NO to anything to Sanjay .
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