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Asia's Roaring Tigresses...

RANJANA NARAYAN speaks to Inder Malhotra whose latest take on dynasties in the Indian subcontinent is attracting attention... .

Inder Malhotra reveals it all. Photo:Sandeep Saxena.

WOMEN HAVE played and continue to play a major role in dynastic succession in the subcontinent, avers eminent journalist and columnist Inder Malhotra in his latest book "Dynasties of India and Beyond-Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh."

"Sirimavo Bandarnaike had her baptism by fire on her husband's funeral pyre. She became Sri Lanka's Prime Minister six years before Indira Gandhi donned the mantle in the Indian political scene. Today, Sirimavo's daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga heads the country."

At 73, Inder Malhotra has a razor sharp memory and recounts with clarity the events that led to Mrs. Indira Gandhi being propped up as Prime Minister.

"She was 48 in 1966, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi were schoolboys away in London. Nobody in their wildest dreams was talking of dynasty at that time. She was unsteady and frail. Jawaharlal Nehru had ensured that Lal Bahadur Shastri would be his successor, but Shastri unfortunately died after 18 months in office. That was when the Syndicate propped Indira's name to keep Morarji Desai out. The Syndicate comprising Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh, S. Nijlingappa, Sanjiva Reddy and S.K. Patil thought they had found in Indira Gandhi an inexperienced woman through whom they could control national affairs. This `goongi gudia', as Indira was known then, surprised them totally."

Inder Malhotra's latest offering is, in his own words "a natural continuation " of `Indira Gandhi - A Personal and Political Biography' he penned in 1989. He was busy working on a tome on India's security when a friend proposed that he write on the subject of dynasty. How and why dynastic succession flourishes in a democratic set up, what makes it so durable and will they last, are some of the questions he has dealt with in the book. The book, which began in 2000, has been published by Harper Collins.

Though Indira Gandhi's parentage was an important factor in her succession, it was only after her thumping victory in 1971 that she overcame the Syndicate, Inder Malhotra states. When she took over in 1966,Indira was aware of the value of symbolism. She had pinned a red rose on her shawl, reminiscent of her father's dressing code. The crowds had shouted "Lal Gulab Zindabad", and the overwhelming tone of the time was "Return of the Red Rose". But, Indira Gandhi did away with that symbol and came into her own.

Why is it that women predominate in this dynastic succession?

Inder Malhotra has spoken to several experts on the matter and carried their opinions in his book. "Sociologist Dipankar Gupta states that the projection of women as natural successors is useful. There is a tendency to make comparisons with the father when a son succeeds him. But with a daughter there is no such comparison," he says.

The women at the helm of affairs in the subcontinent have been termed "Asia's Roaring Tigresses", by a Pakistani commentator and have been widows and daughters of men of titantic stature.

"In Bangladesh, there are two dominant dynasties, holding power alternately - one by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, (Mujibur Rehman, the assassinated founding father of Bangladesh's daughter), and the other by General Zia's widow, Khaleda Zia. Both are balancing each other in this two party system. While one comes to power the other goes out."

In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto's coming to power as Prime Minister in 1988 was hailed as "Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's Second Coming". And in India we have had own own Indira Gandhi.

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