Hard to believe now that it’s been 25 years since Indira Gandhi was assassinated in the garden of her New Delhi home by her own security guards. Hard to believe that an entire generation of Indians has grown up without Indira in power.
I have lived abroad during much of this time, although journalistic assignments brought me to India several times each year. I have seen for myself the transformation of a largely backward country into one that can be termed an authentic economic world power, with a GDP exceeding one-trillion dollars, and a middle class that is larger than that of the entire population of the United States. That isn’t to say that poverty has been eradicated, of course, but there is certainly greater prosperity since Indira’s time.
During these 25 years, India’s population has also doubled: the demography of nations changes every 30 years or so; so it could be said that perhaps a majority of Indians alive today have, at the most, dim memories of the Indira Raj. But Raj it certainly was, and it’s unlikely that in an age of globalisation where every policy and act of political leaders is subject of intense scrutiny and transparency through the Web, any ruler especially of a country as large as India can rule through diktat, as Indira Gandhi did while she was alive.
The 25 years since her death have largely been good years for India, economically speaking, at least, notwithstanding the ups and downs. For me personally, they have not been necessarily kind. I was divorced after a 30-year marriage, I am estranged from my only son, and I lost both my parents and a very dear uncle who raised me as much as my father and mother did. So I sometimes ask myself, where did these years go?
But in the final analysis, I am an optimist, a sunny character who believes in redemption and rehabilitation, who believes that nations, like individuals, deserve a second chance in life. I am at that age where there aren’t too many opportunities for a second chance, and I know that the years behind me are longer than the ones ahead. But India is forever, India is timeless, and India will endure.
And so, as I slip through middle age, I think of how fortunate I am to be able to say that I was born and raised in India, how very lucky I was to witness many of the great events some of them tragic, to be sure almost since India’s Independence, and how even more fortunate the Indians whose lifetimes are likely to be longer than mine will be to experience the enormous change that lies ahead.
In their own way, Indira Gandhi and her family paved the way for the India of today and tomorrow. All my reservations and criticisms and caviling apart, you cannot take that away from them. The Nehrus and the Gandhis were patriots, for them India did matter and that is what counts. They are the stuff of which history is made.
I probably won’t be around 25 years from now. But this much I can predict: Like India, the names and legacy of the Nehrus and the Gandhis will endure.
( Pranay Gupte’s new book, a completely new version of his 1992 Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi , is being published this month by Viking/Penguin, to mark the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Mr. Gupte covered the assassination while he was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times .)