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THE NEW INDIA by Ved Mehta Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1977
Publisher: Viking

Hail and farewell to the ""New India,"" creature of Indira Gandhi's 1975-77 autocratic Emergency rule. In this brief review of that nineteen-month period, Mehta describes how poor, populous India's ""experiment in democracy"" capsized under threat to Congress Party control. Was Indian democracy, admittedly corrupt (Mehta suggests why), entirely a fraud? No, it protected the ""destitute and helpless"" majority from ""unrestricted harassment and exploitation."" In close order, Mehta lists the uses to which Mrs. Gandhi put her arbitrary power, construed as a ""force for good"": opponents jailed, the Constitution rewritten, the press shackled (and soon generating ""Orwellian Newspeak""), traditional freedoms--even the fight to habeas corpus--revoked. ""Indeed, Mrs. Gandhi might have been ushering in an Indian version of Hitler's National Socialist regime."" Critics and supporters have their say, with little comment by the author, who also presents a non-judgmental portrait of Indira and treats son Sanjay delicately: ""It was said"" --typically--""that Sanjay had become rich."" One problem is that Mehta was not in India at the time: he is recording unverified reports without the means to evaluate them. Nonetheless what ""filtered out"" about the sterilization campaign leads directly to the Gandhi electoral defeat: it was ""the first Emergency measure to affect rich and poor alike, and [both] mobilized against it."" Also contributory was the Bangladesh secession (clearly recounted here) which fueled separatist, anti-Gandhi sentiment in economically depressed South India. Though Mehta leaves many issues unresolved, this is a handy guide to a critical and confusing upheaval.