AN INDIAN DYNASTY: The Story of the Gandhi-Nehru Family by Tariq Ali
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AN INDIAN DYNASTY: The Story of the Gandhi-Nehru Family

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An Indian journalist and author, based in Britain, has written an astute and sensitive political biography of the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty, framed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the accession of son Rajiv and tellingly introduced (Indian ""obsession"" with the family, their own myth-making) by novelist Salman Rushdie. The individual portraits are distinct, modulated, involving--and historically resonant. Here is austere young Jawaharlal Nehru, forced into a loveless marriage and deadly lawyering, escaping/plunging into full-time work for Indian independence (1919) and coming into conflict with foxy, pragmatic Mahatma Gandhi over control of the Congress Party and ""the future of the subcontinent"": betterment for the masses (socialism) vs. smooth passage on capitalist terms; all-Indian secularism vs. mysticism and (religious/linguistic) communalism. Accepting a unified movement as an end in itself, and Gandhi as the indispensable cement, Nehru capitulated: in Ali's view, inevitably but tragically. The Muslim League gained adherents, and partition ensued (as well as periodic riots and massacres, the eventual murder of both Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi by religious extremists). In independent India, under Nehru and the Congress Party, land reform was limited by the political dominance of the rural rich; while state control of private industry (far from erasing inequality or constituting a ""middle path"") opened the way to massive corruption, ""even during Jawaharlal's lifetime."" For all his domestic prestige, Nehru's success was in foreign affairs--in fathering non-alignment. At home, worse was to come--foreshadowed by the heavy-handed obstruction of local communist-government reforms (""Nehru favored a soft approach"") by Congress President Indira Gandhi. . . whom her father, in Ali's view, did not groom as a successor. Indira doesn't get villain-treatment, however--though Ali does tend to heroicize husband Feroze Gandhi, a political idealist in the original Nehru mold but neither couth like the Nehrus, nor a trimmer. (Of this pair, Indira is the Mahatma Gandhi counterpart--with a fatal authoritarian streak.) Indira's regime then shapes up as a drama of self-destruction: she would win elections ""as the champion of the underprivileged,"" but succumb to disappointed popular hopes, and her own penchant for overreacting to any opposition. All finds little good to say of younger son Sanjay (or vengeful widow Maneka); he depicts Rajiv as a decent, intelligent, secularized unknown quantity. As regards The Raj Quartet/The Jewel in the Crown (to which Ali makes interesting reference) or public affairs: the right book at the right time.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1985
Publisher: Putnam