A No Holds Barred, Closeup Look At All Things Indira That Is A Must Read [#BookReview]

Sagarika Ghose's book Indira - India's Most Powerful Prime Minister is a no holds barred look at the good, bad, and the ugly of her life.

Sagarika Ghose’s book Indira – India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister is a no holds barred look at the good, bad, and the ugly of her life.

For the Bhakts, Sagarika Ghose is the symbol of so-called ‘sickular’ Lutyens Delhi hypocrisy. For the trolls she is among those from our tribe of journalists on whose pen the tribe-of-trolls feeds and flourishes to an unbelievable might. For me she has been a prolific writer and a fearless one at that.

Be it Twitter or elsewhere, her pen represents a woman who speaks her mind, despite facing brickbats. No wonder she came out with a book she believed in. (I know I too will be trolled for writing this piece, like I was for my Tweet Reviews while reading the book…but then who cares? Aren’t we all journalists facing the same wrath now-a-days? Ahem….a #SarcasticLaugh)

Her latest book Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister somehow not only reflects the persona of the most powerful Prime Minister of the country, but to some extent that of Sagarika as well. One woman of courage I know, writes about another woman of courage the world knows. No wonder, both the subject and biographer had to create a buzz beyond the lovey-dovey rocketing sales of the book, which is a best-seller now.

Indira Gandhi — the symbol of a flamboyant lifestyle yet the icon of a turbulent life. Sagarika Ghose mirrors this very persona of the only Woman Prime Minister of India in each and every chapter of this biography which starts with a letter addressed to ’Dear Mrs Gandhi.’

When Mrs Gandhi took the reins of the country as the PM in 1966, few had expected that she will go on to become the most powerful Prime Minister of the country that had only recently gained freedom from the clutches of the British. In-fact no one had thought that a woman could reign the country which had only recently taken birth as an independent democracy. Three years down the line, she had already overtaken the coterie of senior Congressmen who had once elected her as a no-option-left, filler-in-Nehru’s shoes Prime Minister. She not only showed them her right place through the works, but also marched a shaking Congress to a thumping victory in the General Elections of 1971. She emerged as the face of a rising power in the East.

Sagarika Ghose has made a deft use of Indira Gandhi’s earlier biographies as well as some interviews of eminent people still alive from the bygone Indira Era. It is an engaging read with weave-and-weft of instances and interviews finely woven together as a story fabric. The result is a gripping-whirlwind tour of Indira Gandhi’s life — and this tour throws light on Indira Gandhi’s personal life as well.

At one point, Sagarika writes,”Feroze had first proposed to Indira when she was only sixteen, but Kamala Nehru had insisted that her daughter was too young to marry.” There are many such real-life incidents in Sagarika’s narrative on the life and works of Indira Gandhi that take you beyond what you have already read in comparison (through her other biographies).

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And then, the book talks about the political system Indira had to deal with. It also talks about the global affairs of the ”Indira Era.” Despite the well-known fact about how dismissive Nehru was, Indira rose to not only become the unquestioned high command of the party but the country too.

Whether it was the most decisive military victory ever by any Indian Prime Minister (1971 India-Pakistan war) or the liberation of East Pakistan as an independent Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi emerged as one IRON WOMAN. Indira Gandhi — a personification of courage which we do not see in the modern times despite repeated ceasefire violations across the border. The author questions this fact openly and decisively. Sagarika openly questions the current regime as compared to the strengths of the Indira Era. (A fact that did not go down with the Bhakts? Trolls?)

It is really tough for an author to do justice through words to a complex life and personality such as Indira Gandhi. Yet, I feel this is the point where Sagarika Ghose deserves much credit. She has balanced out her text pretty well, by acknowledging Indira’s first-class achievements as well as unsparingly criticising all those events and decisions that shook the nation.

So, whether it was projecting Sanjay Gandhi as heir-apparent in 1976 or the communal card played during Indira’s final years or for that matter the world-shocker — imposing the Emergency…. Sagarika Ghose rips apart each and every ghastly decision that Indira took. The author pens down her strong words against the Iron Lady with equal might, without fear. Bhakts’ false claim, of the book having been written by a Congress-Bhakt, falls flat once you go through these series of events. It is clearly a very balanced out book that asserts that Indira’s wrong decisions like the ones listed above became the grounds for deep divisions in the secular fabric of modern India. And these divisions are prevalent even now.


In short, Indira – India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister is not a simple and yet another biography. It is in fact a no-holds-barred portrait of Indra Gandhi painted in Black, White and even Red by Sagarika Ghose. The author chooses her words carefully in looking for answers to even-now lingering issues in the political arena: be it Indira revoking the Emergency; her son Sanjay’s curious grip over a very powerful Prime Minister who was torn apart between the country and the love for her son. The book even talks about Indira’s marriage with Feroz Khan aka Gandhi that went off as a bitter chapter. A better life later taken over by her numerous love affairs and later dangerous religious politics. Sagarika questions one and all, fearlessly.

What I did not quite like was each chapter’s start-off as a letter written to the dead Prime Minister, questioning her life and acts.

”Why did you impose the Emergency? Why did you send the army into the Golden Temple?” What purpose does questioning a dead person serve? Also, at times I felt these chapters written as letter to the deceased had a certain tone which hampered the flow of the narrative and somehow made the text less appealing at few places. But then, to each his own. Well, my personal opinion not being imposed at others!

All in all, the book is a compelling read that is carefully balanced with complimentary photographs. Even after putting it down, the narration lingers in my mind and Indira Gandhi remains the enigma that continues to be the muse of writers, even after 100 years of her birth. Yes, the book has come out in the centenary year of Indira Gandhi (she was born on 19th November 1917). So try grab a read, if the review grips your senses!

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If you’d like to pick up Indira – India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister by Sagarika Ghose, use our affiliate links: at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

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Top image via Pixabay and book cover via Amazon

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About the Author

Mahima Sharma

Independent Journalist & Winner of 2 Trophies at the Orange Flower Summit & Awards, 2017 (Ex-News Editor CNN-News18 & ANI- a collaboration with Reuters) read more...

23 Posts | 159,543 Views

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