In This Review

Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
By Katherine Frank
Houghton Micin, 2001, 567 pp

In contrast to Cohen, Frank concentrates on the personal histories of the Nehru family, which shaped post-independence India. Frank's story begins with the glory days of the Nehru family and ends with the pessimistic mess that India had become at the end of the Nehru era, which was concluded by the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and of her son and successor, Rajiv, in 1991. The family's diaries and letters provide Frank with a solid psychological basis to explain the dynasty's actions. She exposes Jawaharlal Nehru's predilections -- a mix of British leftism with aristocratic leanings -- that left him sympathetic to Soviet communism and disdainful of bourgeois America. His daughter Indira's personal development is also complex. On one level, her many years in Europe gave her a rich, cosmopolitan polish. On another, her health problems and long periods of loneliness helped toughen her character, which turned toward authoritarianism during her governance -- most notably when she decreed a state of emergency in 1977 and set aside Indian democracy. The Nehru family gave a great deal to Indian development, but they bet wrongly on the superiority of state planning and the Soviet Union.