by Sagarika Ghose

Read time: about 4 minutes

There has been much talked and written about Indira Gandhi. A commoner knows her by the regime of emergency and ‘Operation Blue Star’. Winning a decisive military war against Pakistan in 1971 glorified her as the only man in the cabinet of old women.

But how was the Iron Lady as a person? What led to her infamous emergency? What was the cause of her downfall? This book follows the breadcrumbs of her politics regime to trace the silhouette of the woman behind it.

Cover: Indira

Cover page

The copy I received is an uncorrected proof copy. It is a plain black uninteresting cover. Thankfully those who get to read it after the release will be happy to receive a well designed book with Indira herself on the cover. It can be an Interest to a collector.


This book is by and large about Indira Gandhi though it also delves into the lives of those close to her. Jawaharlal Nehru and Feroze Gandhi are spoken about at length since they play a great role in the making of Indira - the politician that we know of.

Indira Gandhi turns out to be a great secularist a powerful leader and a loving mother. But somewhere the love for her children overshadows the love for the country. As a result she faces the most humiliating rejection of her life in 1977 elections. She jumps back on her foot in 1980 showing the steel strength and courage of the woman we now know her to be. The character is portrayed extremely well.

This book talks about both the political and personal life of Indira Gandhi. Her life right from the birth till her assassination in 1984 is described in the book. The author has written a balanced description.


I had high expectations from this book. It hasn’t really disappointed but it hasn’t fulfilled it either. I was very curious about the personality that Indira Gandhi was and this book was an opportunity to know her better. The author clarifies well in advance about the purpose of the book which is to analyse what were the results of her action and what would have happened had she not acted the way she did. She also implores that she is no biographer but a mere journalist so her journalistic approach was quite evident.

Sagarika Ghose writes a letter to Mrs Gandhi towards the beginning and end of the chapters imploring her further on her actions. What scatters in between are the facts and figures weaved into a story-like ease. The structure of the book is commendable. There is a flow and questions are asked at the right moments. It was a pleasure to read it in the beginning. But…

It became a nuisance when the letters were addressed to Mrs Gandhi for a lot more personal than political. It became similar to the nonsensical question of ‘How did this make you feel’ sorts. The descriptions got more into her taste in art and fashion. A constant effort to showcase her as a distinguished personality was quite evident. Every now and then it came to she wasn’t an intellectual but… (a series of plays and events she has attended, her refined taste and secular approach). Towards the end a whole chapter is dedicated to her exquisite tastes and forward opinions which, forgive me for being a critic of classism, comes from being rich and belonging to an aristocratic family in any country. The author does talk about her rule and both her famous and infamous actions during the same.

However it is nothing more than what we already know about Mrs Gandhi.

There is not much scope to complain since the author comes clean right in the beginning, of her approach in the book.

In spite of the apparent less than adequate content I still liked the book since it was my first about Mrs Indira Gandhi. Had it been, maybe, my third book I may not have liked it as much as I did.

The author has taken a very balance approach while writing about Mrs Gandhi. She is critical but not too harsh. She is appreciative but does not overly applaud. She is calculator but not reprimanding. This ‘safe’ approach is displeasing.


I have not read much about Mrs Gandhi but I have been reading some history book off lately. The language here seems less refined, almost colloquial at some stages. Genuine lack of vigour is apparent. The book was appreciated by Mr Shashi Tharoor and that gives you a confidence but somehow it doesn’t fall in line with any of the other good writers who write history.

Good points

The book covers a great deal about Indira Gandhi’s life. All those who influenced her life have been well touched upon.

Bad points

It talks more about Indira Gandhi’s personal life than political. The apparent lack of zeal is evident in the book. The language is not refined.


It is a good book. Just not the best. I would look for more books on the subject.

Whom do I recommend this to

This is for those who are starting from scratch. Those who are reading about the Nehru-Gandhi family for the first time may like it.

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH