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The Emergency and the Indian English Novel: Memory, Culture and Politics
 9781138312982, 9780429285745

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Dedication
Contents
Acknowledgements
1 Introduction
2 Midnight’s Children: preserving memories for “the amnesiac nation”
3 Safeguarding democracy in The Great Indian Novel
4 Family ties: nepotism and corruption in Rich Like Us
5 The Repressive State Apparatus in Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance
6 Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

THE EMERGENCY AND THE INDIAN ENGLISH NOVEL

Raita Merivirta’s The Emergency and the Indian English Novel is a significant contribution to the study of Indian English fiction. It persuaded me to rethink some of my ideas about a group of novels I thought I knew well. Ralph Crane, Professor of English, University of Tasmania, Australia This book examines the cultural trauma of the Indian Emergency through a reading of five seminal novels. It discusses the Emergency as an event that prompted the writing of several notable novels attempting to preserve the silenced and fading memory of its human rights violations and suspension of democracy. The author reads works by Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor, Nayantara Sahgal and Rohinton Mistry in conjunction with government white papers, political speeches, memoirs, biographies and history. The book explores the betrayal of the Nehruvian idea of India and democracy by Indira Gandhi and analyses the political and cultural amnesia among the general populace in the decades following the Emergency. At a time when debates around freedom of speech and expression have become critical to literary and political discourses, this book will be of great interest to scholars and researchers of English literature, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, media studies, political studies, sociology and history. Raita Merivirta is a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Languages and Translation Studies at the University of Turku, Finland. She is the author of The Gun and Irish Politics: Examining National History in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (2009) and a co-editor of Frontiers of Screen History: Imagining European Borders in Cinema, 1945–2010 (2013).

The Emergency and the Indian English Novel Memory, Culture and Politics

Raita Merivirta

First published 2019 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2019 Raita Merivirta The right of Raita Merivirta to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-31298-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-28574-5 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC

T o t h e mem o ry o f A ngus M cD o nal d ( 1 9 6 2 – 2 0 1 3 )

Contents

viii

Acknowledgements 1 Introduction

1

2 Midnight’s Children: preserving memories for “the amnesiac nation”

37

3 Safeguarding democracy in The Great Indian Novel105 4 Family ties: nepotism and corruption in Rich Like Us149 5 The Repressive State Apparatus in Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance186 6 Conclusion

239

Bibliography Index

247 261

vii

Acknowledgements

This book evolved out of my PhD thesis at La Trobe University, Melbourne. The research for the doctoral thesis was carried out whilst I was supported by a La Trobe University Postgraduate Research Scholarship and a La Trobe University Tuition Fee Remission Scholarship. The writing of the book itself was funded as an Endeavour Research Fellowship, awarded by the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training. I also received funding from the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and the Oskar Öflund Foundation. I finished the book while working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Turku. To all these institutions and funding bodies, I owe many thanks. I particularly want to thank Sue Thomas, who has been a truly important mentor. Her support and encouragement have been instrumental in making this book come to life. Thanks are also due to Abdulrazak Gurnah, Ralph Crane and Neil ten Kortenaar for their comments on the thesis and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on the book manuscript. I thank my friends and family for their love and support. Chapter 2 contains some ideas and a small amount of material that appeared in “‘A Collective Fiction’: The (De)construction of Nehruvian India in Midnight’s Children” in Critical Insights: Midnight’s Children, edited by Joel Kuortti, 136–150 (Ipswich, Massachusetts: Salem Press/Grey House Publishing, 2014), which have been reproduced with the permission of Grey House Publishing.

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1 Introduction

“We have no memory in this country. Just amnesia.” [. . .] “Listen, listen,” he repeated, reading and pacing. “‘Today, the papers are talking about the supposed political rebirth of Mrs Indira Gandhi; but when’ . . .” he paused to smirk at Toby, “‘but when I returned to India, concealed in a wicker basket, “The Madam” was basking in the fullness of her glory. Today, perhaps, we are already forgetting, sinking willingly into the insidious clouds of amnesia; but I remember, and will set down’  .  .  . so on and so forth. But look at that phrase, Toby: ‘the insidious clouds of amnesia.’ That is what gets this place time and again. It never learns from the past; it just keeps forgetting. Look at the Emergency, that’s what Rushdie is referring to. . . . Nine years ago. The year you were married. I remember. And less than a decade later . . . ?” “Forgotten. It is true.” “A lifetime away. The witch is back in power, turning her evil eye to Punjab this time, which is already in flames, and no one says a thing. No one even remembers. It’s maddening. [. . .]” [. . .] “And I’ll tell you something, Toby. There’s nothing benign about this amnesia. It conceals some pretty awful things. I don’t want to make some Santayana-like pronouncement about the price people who refuse to remember the past eventually pay. But, let me say this much to you: there is nothing benign about this amnesiac fog, nothing benign at all.” Aatish Taseer, The Way Things Were (2015)

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) introduced Indian history for the first time to many of the novel’s non-Indian readers and started 1

Introduction

a veritable boom of Indian English writing that was geared towards examining and evaluating the history of twentieth-century India and presenting social and political criticism. For approximately 15 years, from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, Indian English novelists manifested an interest in Indian national politics and history and a return to examining the idea of India in their novels. Harish Trivedi (2000, 217) has called this trend “the Rushdie-Stephanian international Indian novel-as-history,” the shift away from which was marked in 1997 by the publication of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.1 In addition to the “Rushdie-Stephanian” history novels, a number of more traditional realist Indian English novels which focused on historical topics were published. The reasons behind this history trend are most likely manifold, but the social and political developments in India would seem to be a central factor. As Viney Kirpal (1990, xx) points out, historically, politically, the 1970s were one of the most turbulent years in Indian history. The role of the 1970s in shaping the new Indian consciousness has been exceptional. The 1980s novel is the direct result of the events that occurred in the 1970s and the early 1980s. These events include the disillusionment caused by the “State of Emergency” (26 June 1975–21 March 1977), which subsequently featured either directly or indirectly in several Indian English novels of the 1980s and the 1990s. These novels include Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Raj Gill’s The Torch-Bearer (1983), Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1985), O.J. Vijayan’s The Saga of Dharmapuri (in Malayalam in 1985, in English in 1988),2 Manohar Malgonkar’s The Garland Keepers (1986), Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel (1989), Arun Joshi’s The City and the River (1990) and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (1995). Interestingly, the Emergency seems to have featured mainly in Indian novels in English in the 1980s and the 1990s – novels written in other Indian languages did apparently not deal with the topic, with few exceptions in Hindi.3 The (State of) Emergency, declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (or by Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, President of India, at her order) on the grounds that “a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbance,”4 was a period of autocratic rule in India, during which the press was censored,5 judicial procedures and democratic rights, such as freedom of assembly, were suspended and opposition politicians arrested. Tens of thousands of people were 2

Introduction

detained without trial, and many were tortured. Elections were suspended and the constitution amended. It is, however, best remembered for slum clearance campaigns and forced sterilisations overseen by Indira Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay Gandhi, who held an unofficial seat of power next to his mother.6 After the end of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party had a political interest in forgetting it. In social anthropologist Emma Tarlo’s (2003, 19) words, “as a moment of national shame, a blot on India’s democratic record, the Emergency has been built more as a moment for forgetting than as one for remembering.” Significantly, while the public culture was one of forgetting in the 1980s and the 1990s, perhaps even in the 2000s, “many eminent Indian English novelists chose to focus on the Emergency either as the main theme, or as a part of the more comprehensive sweep, of one of their most significant works” (Mathur 2004, 124). I suggest that these novelists, by constructing literary counter-memory of the period in their novels, challenged Indira Gandhi and the Indian state’s official version of the Emergency which, during the Emergency, claimed that the purpose was to safeguard democracy and benefit the poor (by removing poverty), and afterwards, downplayed the atrocities committed and worked to obliterate the memory of the period. Rushdie (1992a, 14) has, in fact, stated: “Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory. And the novel is one way of denying the official, political version of truth.” How Indian English novelists chose to deny the official, political truth about the Emergency and remember it otherwise, constructing an enduring counter-memory, is the topic of this book. I examine how cultural counter-memory of Indira Gandhi, her politics and the Emergency was constructed and mediated in Indian English novels of the 1980s and 1990s for the Indian middle classes as well as for the lucrative Western market and its Euro-American readers. I examine the novels in question as social and political criticism, as efforts at constructing and keeping alive the cultural memory of the Emergency in a time of official “amnesia.” In the time of state-aided forgetting, Indian English Emergency literature functioned as “a medium of remembrance” (Erll and Rigney 2006, 112), or a “medium of cultural memory,” that is, a medium “which create[s] and mold[s] collective images of the past.” These novels produced and preserved cultural memories of the Emergency. I refer here to Marita Sturken (1997, 9), who argues that “cultural memory is produced through objects, images, and representations. These are technologies of memory, not vessels of memory in which 3

Introduction

memory passively resides.” According to Birgit Neumann (2010, 334– 335), novels configure memory representations because they select and edit elements of culturally given discourse: They combine the real and the imaginary, the remembered and the forgotten, and, by means of narrative devices, imaginatively explore the workings of memory, thus offering new perspectives on the past. Such imaginative explorations can influence readers’ understanding of the past and thus refigure culturally prevailing versions of memory. Literature is therefore never a simple reflection of pre-existing cultural discourses; rather, it proactively contributes to the negotiation of cultural memory. The medium of the novel, and the novel in English, which is widely accessible in India as well as globally, is significant here. These literary representations of the Indira Gandhi years shape our understanding of the Emergency and offer a counter-narrative, a counter-memory to the official state one. This book examines these representations of Indira Gandhi and her years as Prime Minister, the cultural memory of the Emergency as constructed in the following major, award-winning Indian English novels: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1985), Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel (1989), and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (1995). Mistry’s first novel, Such a Long Journey (1991), also portrays Indira Gandhi’s India but is set in 1971. However, as Priyamvada Gopal (2009, 119) writes, it “is also a novel of the Emergency as the culmination of an ongoing erosion of the democratic and socialist principles to which Nehru had, rhetorically at least, committed himself.” Therefore, it is included in the same cycle of novels and examined in this book.

Obliterating the memory of the Emergency Emma Tarlo (2003) suggests that there have been three consecutive master narratives about the Emergency. The first was the official and dominant narrative spread by Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay as well as politicians, bureaucrats, officials and journalists in the highly censored environment during the Emergency. Until January 1977, when she unexpectedly announced a general election to be held in March that year, Indira Gandhi, as the head of state, controlled the official, public discourse on the Emergency through government 4

Introduction

propaganda and censorship of the press. The official state narrative was printed in newspapers, government pamphlets, posters, hoardings, stickers, books and seminar proceedings as well as phrased in slogans and broadcast on the radio. According to the official narrative, the Emergency was necessary in the face of the threat made against democracy by the JP movement (see Tarlo 2003, 21–54).7 The Prime Minister explained that “the emergency is the direct consequence of various factors and the opposition front’s announced designs to paralyze the Government and the open and hidden preparations they were making” (Gandhi 1984, 182), stated that “We were not happy to declare emergency, but we had to under the compulsion of circumstances” (Gandhi 1984, 200), and remarked that “what has been done is not an abrogation of democracy but an effort to safeguard it” (Gandhi 1984, 192). Indian historian Bipan Chandra (2003, 2) notes that both JP Narayan and Indira Gandhi “justified their actions by appealing to democracy”: The main justification given by JP for his movement was that it aimed at ending corruption in day-to-day life and politics, whose fountainhead was Mrs Gandhi, and to defend democracy which was threatened by her authoritarian personality, policies and style of politics. Her continuation in office, he said, was “incompatible with the survival of democracy in India.” Mrs Gandhi’s primary defence of the Emergency and her main criticism of the JP movement was that its disruptive character endangered India’s stability, security, integrity and democracy. “In the name of democracy it has been sought to negate the very functioning of democracy,” she said on the morrow of the Emergency. The official narrative remained dominant until early 1977 as the heavy censorship stopped almost all material critical of the Emergency, the government and/or Indira Gandhi from being published in India. A new master narrative of the Emergency appeared soon after the general election of March 1977, in which Indira Gandhi lost her seat and the Congress its majority position. Resentment against the Emergency and Indira Gandhi was expressed in a number of quickly produced books, ranging from political exposés and prison memoirs to public judgements (Tarlo 2003, 33–34). They were concerned with expressing what could not have been expressed during the months of heavy censorship. Indira Gandhi’s biographer Katherine Frank (2002, 418) notes that “Indira Gandhi bashing was now not only safe but 5

Introduction

also intellectually fashionable. These books ran the gamut from barely literate innuendo and gossip to polished intellectual assaults.” This new master narrative, dominant in 1977–1978, presented Indira Gandhi as tyrannical and corrupt, while JP Narayan was portrayed as the people’s hero, leading the masses in non-violent protest. According to Tarlo (2003, 35), all the accounts were of the view that “Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency in order to stamp out opposition voices which she could no longer control by democratic means.” Tarlo (2003, 31) argues that the post-Emergency literature of 1977–1978 was “concerned primarily with remembering the Emergency in such a way that it can not and will not be forgotten.” I argue that Midnight’s Children, written during and after the Emergency, is, like the political exposés, memoirs and public judgements, concerned with remembering the Emergency and challenging Indira Gandhi’s officially sanctioned version of it. Rushdie (1992a, 13–14) has written: I must say first of all that description is itself a political act. The black American writer Richard Wright once wrote that black and white Americans were engaged in a war over the nature of reality. Their descriptions were incompatible. So it is clear that redescribing a world is the necessary first step towards changing it. And particularly at times when the State takes reality into its own hands, and sets about distorting it, altering the past to fit its present needs, then the making of the alternative realities of art, including the novel of memory, becomes politicized. “The struggle of man against power,” Milan Kundera has written, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Rushdie has taken issue with autocratic regimes and their tendency to produce official, singular “truths,” histories and propaganda in his novels on India and Pakistan. In Midnight’s Children, he redescribes the Emergency from a perspective contrary to the official state one. Midnight’s Children is a political novel written to challenge the official narrative, and it is examined from that perspective in this book. After Indira Gandhi’s re-election in 1980, a third Emergency master narrative, in Tarlo’s (2003, 53) view, “took over and ultimately effaced both of the narratives that preceded it,” as Indira Gandhi worked actively to rehabilitate her image in India and abroad, and to sweep the memory of the Emergency under the carpet. Furthermore, Tarlo suggests, Sanjay Gandhi’s death in a plane crash in June 1980 removed the most controversial person and the biggest villain of the 6

Introduction

Emergency from the equation. The rehabilitation was made complete by Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, which, in Tarlo’s (2003, 53) words, “transformed any lingering shadow of dictatorship into a halo of self-sacrifice whilst at the same time establishing Rajiv’s legitimate right to rule.” Indira Gandhi’s endeavour to obliterate the memory of the Emergency included, apparently, a serious effort to suppress and destroy all the official evidence, including the Shah Commission Report, of the Emergency and the excesses and crimes perpetrated by the government as well as Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie. The Shah Commission was a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice J.C. Shah set up by the succeeding Janata Party government in September 1977 to investigate Emergency excesses. It produced three reports; the final one was published in August 1978. Nayantara Sahgal (1983, 202) points out that the report “had been printed in eleven regional languages. Mrs. Gandhi’s government stopped its distribution and sale, endeavouring to insure [sic] that a public record of the Emergency would be obliterated and the consequences of suspected criminality buried.” Tarlo (2003, 53) mentions that “the Congress Party is suspected of having bought up most copies of the Commission’s final report in order to prevent its circulation,” whereas Frank (2002, 429) suggests that “the full tape-recorded proceedings of the Commission have [also] vanished.”8 As Frank (2002, 430) puts it, the report is “a treasure trove of evidence for Sanjay Gandhi’s illicit power in the period leading up to and during the Emergency [.  .  .] it is not surprising that Indira Gandhi had all copies of the Report withdrawn as soon as she regained power in 1980.” The report does not only present the evidence of Sanjay Gandhi’s wielding of power and inflicting of suffering on ordinary people. It also passes judgement on him, as the following (lengthy) extract from the Shah Commission’s Interim Report II (1978, 119) shows: Shri Sanjay Gandhi held no responsible position in the administrative set up of Delhi. It is surprising that he should have wielded such enormous powers without being accountable to any one. [. . .] Here was a young man who literally amused himself with demolishing residential, commercial and industrial buildings, in localities after localities without having the slightest realisation of the miseries that he was heaping on the helpless population who had no recourse by way of any administrative avenue for redress of grievances or even to the courts which were successfully side-tracked by devious 7

Introduction

means. In the view of the Commission the manner in which Shri Sanjay Gandhi functioned in the public affairs of Delhi in particular is the single greatest act of excess committed during the period of emergency for which there is no parallel nor any justification for such assumption of authority or power in the history of independent India. While the other acts of the excesses may have been in the nature of acts committed by functionaries having some shadow of authority acting in excess of their powers, here was a case of an individual wielding unlimited powers in a dictatorial manner without even the slightest right to it. If this country is to be rendered safe for future generations, the people owe it to themselves to ensure that an irresponsible and unconstitutional centre of power like the one which revolved round Shri Sanjay Gandhi during the emergency is not allowed to come up ever again in any form or shape or under any guise. The Shah Commission had no authority to convict but was only a “fact finding” inquiry. Furthermore, Morarji Desai’s government fell before it had time to act on the findings of the commission. The Shah Commission Report seems not to have been widely available in India until 2010, when former Indian MP Era Sezhiyan, in response to the growing interest in the Emergency documents reported in Indian newspapers, reproduced it in 2010, using an original copy he found among his own old records and books (Sezhiyan 2010).9 Furthermore, the Emergency records and documents should have been released after 25 years had passed, according to Public Records Rules (1997), but it took some highly publicised Right to Information (RTI) applications in 2010 before they were finally released.10 In August 2010, The Times of India asked in its report where the public records of the Emergency were after an RTI application concerning the proclamation of the Emergency on 26 June 1975 had been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in February 2010. The PMO transferred the request to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which reported in April that the records “may be available in the National Archives of India,” as they were more than 25 years old and therefore no longer available in the Ministry. The National Archives of India replied that the files could not be located (Menon 2010a). An extensive search ensued, and in early September 2010, The Times of India reported that “some documents and records pertaining to the proclamation of Emergency in 1975, which were earlier said to be missing, 8

Introduction

have suddenly resurfaced” (Menon 2010b). Three months later, in December 2010, The Times of India wrote: The reams of documents given to Devasahayam [who made the original RTI request] betray extraordinary attempts to distance Indira Gandhi from much of the illegal decisions responsible for Emergency and its excesses. Though the signatures of other dramatis personae, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed downwards, are available on the Emergency records, there is none of Indira Gandhi herself in any of them. The omission of Indira Gandhi’s signature is most glaring in the file relating to the manner in which she had bypassed the Cabinet while asking Ahmed to sign the Emergency proclamation late in the night on June 25, 1975. While the original proclamation bearing Ahmed’s signature is available, there is only a typed copy of the PM’s “top secret” letter that had recommended imposition of Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution. According to the file, the copy of Indira Gandhi’s historic letter was obtained by the home ministry from the President’s Secretariat. The original letter signed by Indira Gandhi was probably taken out of the file at some point and kept away in her personal papers, which are in the control of her family. (Mitta 2010) Six months later, in June 2011, the Central Information Commission ordered the President’s Secretariat to make public all the documents on the declaration of Emergency as “there was ‘immense’ public interest in disclosure of the materials and documents” (Indian Express 2011). The Shah Commission of Inquiry records – thousands of documents collected by the Commission in 1977–1978 – were also made available in 2010 and are now held in the National Archives of India. In her book Unsettling Memories: Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi (2003), for which she recorded the live memory and unwritten stories and experiences of the urban poor subjected to slum clearances and forcible sterilisations, Emma Tarlo notes that in 1996, the Emergency had “slipped out of public discourse” and was “remembered, if at all, for the extent to which it has been forgotten” (21). She adds that in Delhi, a city of monuments, the Emergency has been forgotten, “its forgetting [.  .  .] imprinted in the capital’s landscape” (23). She refers to the exhibition at 1 Safdarjang Road, the former residence of Prime 9

Introduction

Minister Indira Gandhi, which has been turned into a popular museum. The exhibition at 1 Safdarjang Road “encourages us to forget the Emergency, which features as little more than an empty hollow” (53). At Dujana House, which used to be a well-known family planning clinic in Delhi where forcible sterilisations took place during the Emergency, Tarlo met men who told their memories of the period. She writes: Their memory is more collective than personal, but it is not public. No official attempt has been made to publicly inscribe the memory of the Emergency at Dujana House. It is a place empty of connotations to those who don’t know. (Tarlo 2003, 55–56) There is no statue to the sterilised or even a simple memorial plaque. Indeed, there have been no institutionalised sites of memory for the Emergency. Furthermore, Tarlo (2003, 2) has argued, “while literary writers have been keen to evoke and, at times, embellish the horror of such atrocities, politicians and dominant political parties have been equally keen to deny their reality and suppress their memory.” This is confirmed by the well-known Indian political psychologist and cultural critic Ashis Nandy (1995b), who noted in an article in The Times of India in 1995 that “enormous political effort has gone into wiping out the Emergency as a live memory.” As discussed previously, as the memory of the Emergency was suppressed in India, several Indian English writers chose to focus on it in their novels in the 1980s and the 1990s, thus, I argue, contributing to keeping the cultural memory of the Emergency alive in these decades.

Remembering the Emergency Paul Ricoeur (1999, 9) has discussed the “ethico-political problem” of whether there is a “duty to remember.” He asserts that a basic reason for cherishing the duty to remember is to keep alive the memory of suffering over against the general tendency of history to celebrate the victors. [. . .] We need, therefore, a kind of parallel history of, let us say, victimization, which would counter the history of success and victory. To memorise the victims of history – the sufferers, the humiliated, the forgotten – should be a task for all of us. (Ricoeur 1999, 10–11)

10

Introduction

I argue that the Emergency novels examined in this study are parallel histories that counter the history presented by Indira Gandhi and her government and remember the part of the history of the Emergency which was suppressed and silenced, so that it would not be forgotten. Ricoeur reminds us that “it is always possible to tell in another way. This exercise of memory is here an exercise in telling otherwise, and also in letting others tell their own history” (9). This telling otherwise is similar to Rushdie’s redescribing the world. It rescues what was silenced and forgotten, and gives voice to the victims rather than to the victors. The novels tell the story of the Emergency in a way that also remembers the sufferers and the humiliated of the Emergency. The fact that they were successful in their effort to preserve the memory of the Emergency depended on their success as novels, on their ability to interest readers and please critics. Birgit Neumann (2010, 339) discusses “the reality-constituting character of media” and suggests that “the appropriation of the past is also limited by conditions of medial dissemination and that the question as to whose memory versions will prevail in the fight for historical definitional power depends on the memory-cultural effectiveness of the specific medium of memory.” Indira Gandhi’s officially disseminated narrative about the Emergency was effective as was her later rehabilitation of her image and the silencing of the Emergency. However, one can argue that the award-winning Emergency novels by Rushdie, Sahgal, Tharoor and Mistry with their global readership have been memoryculturally quite effective in their fight against forgetting the Emergency and/or against presenting it as necessary and beneficial. As Astrid Erll (2008, 395) notes, novels have “a potential for memory-making. This potential has to be realized in the process of reception: Novels and movies must be read and viewed by a community as media of cultural memory.” Unread books do not make memories. She emphasises that the novels’ reception has to be a collective rather than an individual phenomenon: “What is needed is a certain kind of context, in which novels and films are prepared and received as memory-shaping media”. I suggest that in the context of the dearth of other (new) representations of the Emergency in English in the 1980s and the 1990s, the Emergency novels by Indian English writers were prepared and received as memory-shaping. As Tarlo (2003, 44) writes, by 1980, the Emergency had “ceased to be either journalistic coup or scholarly preoccupation.” Indian English novelists kept writing about the Emergency when newspapers and scholars did not. Furthermore, these

11

Introduction

novels have strongly impacted cultural memory, I argue, also because of their artistic medium and literary quality. Erll (2011, 155) notes that “clues to such an ‘effective presence’ of literary texts in memory culture are provided by public debates as well as bestseller lists, forms of institutionalization such as their being added to school or university curricula, and the use of literary quotes in everyday speech.” The four Indian English writers whose work I have chosen to examine in this book – Rushdie, Sahgal, Tharoor and Mistry – all wrote their Emergency novels for a global audience,11 even if they addressed the Indian middle class specifically, and with a political purpose in mind. Midnight’s Children, Rich Like Us, The Great Indian Novel, Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance all appeared in mass-market and were commercially successful; they are all also still in print. They all won prestigious literary awards for their authors and received critical acclaim from critics and scholars: Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981. It was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” Prize in 1993 and the “Best of the Booker” Prize in 2008. Rich Like Us won Sinclair Prize for best novel in 1985 and the Sahitya Akademi Award for best novel in English in India in 1986. The Great Indian Novel won the Federation of Indian Publishers’ Hindustan Times Literary Award for the Best Book of the Year in 1990 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Best Book of the Year in the Eurasian Region in 1991. Such a Long Journey won the Governor General’s Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book and the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award; it was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize and for the Trillium Award. A Fine Balance won the 1995 Giller Prize; it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996. They are staples of university curricula, and numerous scholarly studies have been written on them. I suggest that globally, their representation of the Emergency has had a great impact. The novels’ role as memory-shaping medium is obviously restricted to the English novel-reading audience – in India and elsewhere. Hundreds of millions of Indians do not know English, and its users belong overwhelmingly to the educated, urban and more privileged classes of Indian society. English in India is, as Meenakshi Mukherjee (2004, 168) puts it, still “the language of power and privilege. It is not a language that permeates all social levels or is used in subaltern contexts.” Furthermore, the medium of the novel has been influential mainly among the privileged English-speaking middle class, whereas “the masses” have been more strongly influenced by radio, television and 12

Introduction

Hindi film. What Timothy Brennan (1990, 56) writes about the novel and developing countries in general, applies in India’s case as well: For under conditions of illiteracy and shortages, and given simply the leisure-time necessary for reading one, the novel has been an elitist and minority form in developing countries when compared to poem, song, television, and film. Almost inevitably it has been the form through which a thin, foreigneducated stratum (however sensitive or committed to domestic political interests) has communicated to metropolitan reading publics, often in translation. It is highly unlikely that the Emergency novels have been memoryshaping for the Indian urban poor, who were the targets of the sterilisation and slum clearance campaigns, as they are likely to engage with different forms of remembering the Emergency. Diana Taylor (2003, 19, 20) has discussed memory in terms of the “archive” and the “repertoire.” The “archival” memory comprises “documents, maps, literary texts, letters, archaeological remains, bones, videos, films, CDs, all those items supposedly resistant to change,” whereas the “repertoire” “enacts embodied memory: performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing – in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, nonreproducible knowledge.” The novels are part of the “archival” memory of the Emergency and are most likely memoryshaping for people for whom the “archive” is accessible. Indian writers in English come from the privileged strata of Indian society: their fiction is what Khair (2001, ix) has called “Babu Fiction,” the “Babus” being defined as “middle or upper class, mostly urban (at times cosmopolitan), Brahminized and/or ‘westernized,’ and fluent in English.” However, Khair (2001, ix) notes that the vast and heterogeneous majority of the Indian population are “non-Babus” and “Coolies,” the latter described by Khair as “non-English speaking, not or not significantly ‘westernized,’ not or less Brahminized, economically deprived, culturally marginalized and, often, rural or migrant-urban populations.”12 Trivedi (2006, 163) points out quite emphatically that Rushdie’s “intended reader is clearly a Westerner and not an Indian, for many of his habitual stylistic devices do not work equally well for someone who knows any Hindi or Urdu.” Neil ten Kortenaar (2004a, 8) writes that the implied author of Midnight’s Children is “an Englishspeaker addressing fellow cosmopolitans.” He goes on to note that Saleem’s “English-language audience is aware of and interested in cultural 13

Introduction

difference, and willing to be educated about India. They are familiar with the names Nehru and Gandhi, Ganesh and the Quran, but must have Hindi/Urdu translated for them.” Furthermore, non-Indian readers who may not have any knowledge of Indian history are given sufficient background information (Kortenaar 2004b, 232). Pranav Jani (2010, 6) notes that “the production and consumption of the Indian English novel generate cosmopolitan spaces, in which authors who are linked to both India and the West communicate with other English speakers, whether they are Indian elites or foreign readers.” Sahgal, Rushdie, Tharoor and Mistry are, in their cosmopolitanism, all typical examples of Indian novelists in English. They all come from upper-middle-class homes, attended English-medium schools, finished their higher education abroad and find English to be the language of their choice – or not even a choice at all – in writing.13 The English language has practically taken on the role of their first language. Rushdie spoke English from the age of five at school and at home as his parents made an effort to speak it there as well. He said in an interview in 1983 that he could have written in Urdu only if he “went back [to the subcontinent] and lived there and allowed the language to emerge,” but that he would have needed then also to learn classical Arabic and Persian (Craven, Heyward and Hueston 1985, 124). Sahgal’s mother tongue is Hindi, but she is completely bilingual and considers “English not as a second, but as one of her first languages,” so much so, in fact, that she “never thought about the fact that she writes in English” (Gupta 1990, 157). Furthermore, Sahgal (1997, 26) says she had not consciously chosen English as her medium but it happened that way because I had the reading and reference for it over a large number of years. It was most natural for me to write in English. I thought that some time I would write in Hindi, too, but I had not reckoned then with time or with the urges and pressures of style. Tharoor’s “parents were both born in Kerala of Malayali parents, speakers of Malayalam,” but Tharoor “was born in London, brought up in Bombay, went to high school in Calcutta, attended college in Delhi and received [his] doctorate in the United States.” He visited Kerala only with his parents during their annual trips home and writes: “I could not have written my books in Malayalam because I cannot write my own mother tongue” (Tharoor 1998a, 67, 71–72).

14

Introduction

Mistry speaks Gujarati, Hindi and some Marathi but says: “English is technically my mother tongue” (Singh 1993, 208). The Indian middle-class audience appears to have been important to these Indian English novelists, as much of their political message concerns that class. Rushdie (1992a, 20), for instance, has said that “in the case of Midnight’s Children I certainly felt that if its subcontinental readers had rejected the work, I should have thought it a failure, no matter what the reaction in the West.” Rushdie is asking his Indian readers to remember the Emergency and everything that took place during it, and to think about the role and responsibility of the middle class in Indian society. Tharoor, who lived outside India from 1975 to 2008, has made India exclusively the subject of his books. He has said that he writes “for anyone who will read me, but first of all for Indians like myself” (Tharoor 2003, 247) and explained further: I am often asked why, despite my international career, I have set all my books so far in India. The answer is simple. My formative years, from the ages of three to 19, were spent growing up in India. India shaped my mind, anchored my identity, influenced my beliefs, and made me who I am. India matters immensely to me, and in all my writing, I would like to matter to India. Or, at least, to Indian readers. (Tharoor 2001) It is clear from Tharoor’s fiction and non-fiction alike that he has wanted to participate in and contribute to discussions on Indian history, society and politics even when he was living abroad, and therefore his writing is first and foremost addressed to “Indians like himself.” The Emergency figured prominently especially in his earlier writing, since it was such a significant event for his political consciousness, something which will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 3. Sahgal has always been strongly engaged with Indian politics, and as her novels are political as well, it is only natural that she addresses fellow Indians in them, even if she has always been cosmopolitan and also has an international audience in mind. Mistry chose to write about Dalits in A Fine Balance and has stated: “I don’t think these people have been represented enough in fiction. Most fiction is about the middle class; perhaps because most writers are from the middle class” (Mazzocco 1997). A Fine Balance is written by a middle-class author and it addresses the middle class, but its subject is the oppression of the Dalits – by both the age-old caste system and its

15

Introduction

practitioners, but also by the state machinery, in which the middle class is complicit by allowing, and even making, the state machinery to work the way it does and did, especially during the Emergency. Though Tarlo (2003, 2) has written that the Emergency has been “uncomfortable ground for historical, political or sociological analysis,” and Pranav Jani (2010, 35) that the period has been “relatively understudied and even minimized,” it should be noted that some research had already been conducted on the Emergency by e.g. political scientists (Kothari 1989; Jalal 1995), and some analytical articles appeared in for instance in Economic and Political Weekly in India (e.g. Puri 1985; Kaviraj 1986; Puri 1995) by the time Tarlo was writing her book – and some more has been done and undertaken since then. Bipan Chandra’s In the Name of Democracy: JP Movement and the Emergency (2003) was published in the same year as Tarlo’s book. Mary E. John (2014, 625, 626–627) argues that the Emergency has not been “a suppressed or silenced topic” but that “a number of scholars, political scientists and legal theorists being rather prominent among them, have offered extensive reflections on various aspects related to the Emergency.” As John notes, aspects of the Emergency have been examined by political scientists and legal theorists, in addition to which there have been studies on the family planning policies of the time (e.g. Gwatkin 1979; Vicziany 1982, 1982–1983; Chadney 1988; Connelly 2006); but not much historical work has yet been done on the topic, though, for example, Indira Gandhi’s biographers have also dealt with the Emergency. Indian historian Ramachandra Guha said that one of the most important challenges in documenting contemporary Indian history is “the lack of density of sources,” especially as people in India are “careless and paranoid about record.” Guha sees that “there are major gaps in the historical understanding of post-Independence India, [. . .] in the history of the fifties, sixties and seventies, the decades in which the nation was shaped” (Indian Express 2016). The Emergency has been one of these gaps, since the official files were unavailable for several decades. The situation began to change rapidly after 2010, as the central government’s files have become available and several historical articles and some books have already been published (e.g. Clibbens 2014; Williams 2014; Lockwood 2016; Paul 2017; Rao 2017; Scott 2017). However, even in 2010, a commemorative two-volume history of the Congress Party, Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation,

16

Introduction

published to honour the 125-year history of the party, seemed intent on downplaying the Emergency and merely stating the obvious and well-known “facts.” It certainly does not analyse the period in any significant way or draw on any (new) sources. The Emergency is described as follows in it: The period of the emergency saw the suspension of normal political procedures and fundamental rights, arrests of the leaders of the Grand Alliance, and enforcement of press censorship and strict discipline. Extreme communal and leftist organizations were banned. More than one lakh people were arrested over the 19 months of the Emergency. Powers of the judiciary were reduced drastically. Unlimited state and party power was concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister. Vast sections of the population welcomed it initially since general administration improved. But, civil rights activists took exception to the curbs on freedom of expression and personal liberties. Unfortunately, in certain spheres, overenthusiasm led to compulsion in enforcement of certain programmes like compulsory sterilization and clearance of slums. Sanjay Gandhi had, by then, emerged as a leader of great significance. It was due to his support to family planning that the government decided to pursue it more vigorously. He also promoted slum clearance, anti-dowry measures and promotion of literacy but in an arbitrary and authoritarian manner much to the annoyance of the popular opinion. (Indian National Congress 2010, vol. II, 116–117) The passage does not assign any blame on Indira Gandhi; it does not in fact even mention her. It is written in a passive voice, as if everything had happened on its own, or as sanctioned by a collective will. In contrast to the absence of Indira Gandhi in this passage, Sanjay Gandhi is mentioned, and he is presented as authoritarian. The blame for the compulsory sterilisation programme is put on the “over-enthusiasm” in “certain spheres,” as well as on Sanjay Gandhi in this official party history. The Congress Party led a coalition government at the time of the publication of this history and seems to have had an interest in keeping up this view of the Emergency. However, as Rebecca Jane Williams (2014, 487) has shown in a recent article based on archival research

17

Introduction

on the Shah Commission files, “the central government had explicitly endorsed coercion and compulsion in the N[ational] P[opulation] P[olicy] of 1976.” She points out: the evidence contained within the files suggests that the abuses of the Emergency-era family planning program were not simply a result of ‘excess,’ or the personal influence of Sanjay Gandhi, but a product of the combination of a demographic discourse with a modernizing impulse. (Williams 2014, 477) However, to put matters in perspective, it is important to bear in mind that the victims of the great trauma of the Partition of 1947 – the 1 million people who were killed, the 10–12 million who were displaced and the up to 75,000 women who were abducted and raped – were also not officially commemorated with monuments or public memorials for decades afterwards in India or Pakistan (Saint 2010, 32). The first Partition museum opened in August 2017 in India, fully 70 years after the event. Tarun K. Saint (2010, 7) writes that the question of coming to terms with partition violence in the public domain was generally downplayed, even as the task of nation-building was prioritised in its aftermath. Nationalist historiography in both India and Pakistan displayed a marked silence about the reciprocal violence during the partition. Nadia Butt (2014, 18) notes that in both India and Pakistan, the partition of India in 1947 and the subsequent atrocities [. . .] are treated in state-sponsored school, college and university books as dark memories that need to be either suppressed or forgotten; however, if remembered at all, they should be described in grand terms, which ironically means ignoring the individual loss during these critical moments in South Asian history. Ananya Jahanara Kabir (2002, 246) has interestingly argued that “in the absence of public rituals and spaces of mourning sanctioned by the nation-state, Partition narratives [such as novels and films] present alternative, albeit contested sites for such mourning.” Similarly, Saint (2010, 46–47) points out that “due to the long absence/suppression 18

Introduction

of an archive of first generation survivor testimony, family memory in South Asia became the primary vehicle for the inscription and transmission of memory” and argues that “this submerged archive is often reconstituted and reinterpreted through literary modes of remembrance,” thus emphasising the role of literature as a medium of remembrance in the South Asian context. He calls this “fictive” or “surrogate” testimony and points out that “such fictional representations may serve as an antidote to official narratives about the past” (Saint 2010, 47). In the same vein, Butt (2014, 18) argues that South Asian “novels of transcultural memory, however, show us both sides of the story [of Partition] in order to re-collect, document and preserve what the ‘dominance of a singular history’ seeks to dismiss or erase.” Transcultural literary memory functions here as counter-memory since it not only resurrects silenced as well as forgotten histories, but also challenges the more dominant “national,” state-sponsored histories. It is through transcultural memory in fiction that the reader gets the “other” side of the story or “other” memories; in short, “alternative” memories. (Butt 2014, 18, emphasis in original) Similarly, I argue, the novels on the Emergency resurrect the silenced history of the period and challenge the state-sponsored version of the Emergency era and the silence that followed Indira Gandhi’s re-election in 1980. Whereas Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children during and immediately after the Emergency in an effort to counter the official state narrative about it, the other four novels were written in the 1980s and the 1990s during the period of official forgetting. All the novels were written as social and political criticism, as representations of the past, seeking to bring about transformation in Indian society. As Aleida Assmann and Linda Shortt (2011, 3) emphasise, “it is never the past itself that acts upon a present society, but representations of past events that are created, circulated and received within a specific cultural frame and political constellation.” They argue that as representations of the past are “disseminated by the mass media as interpretations or official definitions of historical events, representations are a powerful element in the construction, contestation and reconstruction of individual and collective memories” (Assman and Shortt 2011, 3–4, emphasis in original). All the novels examined in this book are such influential representations of the past, powerful elements in the construction of the cultural counter-memory of the Emergency. 19

Introduction

The Emergency fictions as novels of trauma and memory The Emergency was a turning point in Indian politics, a drastic departure from Nehruvianism and a time of disillusionment with the postcolonial state. Pranav Jani (2010, 35) notes that “the Emergency period and its aftermath represented India’s break from the early phase of decolonization, in terms of both socioeconomic and ideological trajectories.” For many Indian novelists writing in English who emerged in the 1980s, the Emergency seems to have been a defining experience, or at least a strongly influencing factor. Many of these writers – being Nehruvians themselves – had taken Indian democracy for granted and were now horrified by its erosion. Shocked and appalled, they examined this betrayal of Nehruvianism and democracy in their novels. They wanted to expose the corruption, to let the whole world know and remember, for the memory of the Emergency had started to fade already in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ashish Nandy (1995b) noted in the mid-1990s that “all memories [of the Emergency], however, have not faded. To some like me, those memories constitute simultaneously major trauma, marker of a threshold in Indian politics, and a deep scar on the self-definition of independent India.” The Emergency fiction manifests similar sentiments. The Emergency as described by Nandy, and as expressed in the Emergency novels by Indian English writers, bears a similarity to what Ron Eyerman (2001, 2) calls “cultural trauma,” that is, “a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in social fabric, affecting a group of people that has achieved some degree of cohesion.” For Indians who had become a nation during the independence struggle led by Gandhi and who had then lived in Nehruvian India where there was purportedly “unity in diversity,” and especially for those Indians who belonged to the educated, English-speaking, urban elite and had faith in the Nehruvian idea of India, the Emergency appears to have been a cultural trauma. Jawaharlal Nehru had advocated “unity in diversity,” “a model committed to protecting cultural and religious difference rather than imposing a uniform ‘Indianness’” (Khilnani 2001, 167). In The Discovery of India (1946), which can be seen as one of the founding documents of the Indian political nation, Jawaharlal Nehru describes the unity of India as follows: Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous 20

Introduction

impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune had befallen on us. [. . .] I was also fully aware of the diversities and divisions of Indian life, of classes, castes, religions, races, different degrees of cultural development. Yet I think that a country with a long cultural background and a common outlook on life develops a spirit that is peculiar to it and that is impressed on all its children, however much they differ among themselves. (Nehru 2004, 51–52) Ancient India, like ancient China, was a world in itself, a culture and a civilization which gave shape to all things. Foreign influences poured in and often influenced that culture and were absorbed. Disruptive tendencies gave rise immediately to an attempt to find a synthesis. Some kind of a dream of unity has occupied the mind of India since the dawn of civilization. That unity was not conceived as something imposed from outside, a standardization of externals or even of beliefs. It was something deeper and, within its fold, the widest tolerance of belief and custom was practiced and every variety acknowledged and even encouraged. (Nehru 2004, 55) Tharoor (2008, 130) has noted that his “generation (and Rushdie’s) grew up in an India where our sense of nationhood lay in the slogan ‘unity in diversity.’ We were brought up to take pluralism for granted.” Rushdie (1992a, 16) confirms this when he says: “I am a member of that generation of Indians who were sold the secular ideal. One of the things I liked, and still like, about India is that it is based on a nonsectarian philosophy.” Both Rushdie’s and Tharoor’s non-fictional descriptions of the Indian nation and nationalism reveal a deep commitment to a Nehruvian idea of India. Rushdie (1992d, 44) writes that this “India-idea” is based on the most obvious and apparent fact about the great subcontinent: multitude. For a nation of seven hundred millions to make any kind of sense, it must base itself firmly on the concept of multiplicity, of plurality and tolerance, of devolution and decentralization wherever possible. There can be no one way – religious, cultural, or linguistic – of being an Indian; let difference reign. 21

Introduction

Tharoor (2007, 13–14) praises “the idea of an ever-ever land – emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy. [. . .] The whole point of Indianness is its pluralism: you can be many things and one thing. You can be a good Muslim, a good Keralite, and a good Indian all at once” (Tharoor 2007, 14). Tharoor’s, like Rushdie’s, idea of India – as “a secular pluralist state” – is unabashedly Nehruvian. It is to a great extent the same idea that founded modern India. Their early novels are illustrative examples of the prevalence of Nehruvianism in Indian English novels of the 1980s and 1990s. Both writers do, however, also present criticism of Nehru and his India, even as they largely embrace it. Sahgal is also by and large guided by Nehruvian ideals in her writing. She wrote about the newly independent India in her childhood memoir, her first published book: My country was inextricably bound up with my uncle’s ideal of it. I had sensed this as a child. Now I was convinced of it. His was the India with which I wanted to associate myself and in which I wanted to live. (Sahgal 1954, 212) This is reflected also in Sahgal’s later writing. Her view of Indian history with layers of cultures echoes Nehru’s view as explained in The Discovery of India: Altogether, it would be truer to say that what possesses me is a sense of history, rather than politics. It is that layer-uponlayer of social/religious/cultural composition that has made us what we are, and brought us to where we stand today, that interests me. (Sahgal 1989, 82) Sahgal also subscribes to a secular idea of the Indian nation very close to that of Nehru: [T]here’s no difference between Hindu and Muslim. We are one, from the gut. It’s not that we partake of each other, we are each other. This is what India means. Secularism not only has a chance, secularism has been bred into our bones – through

22

Introduction

the national movement in modern times, and centuries ago through being good neighbours, living side by side, sharing each other’s festivals. (Salgado 2004, 140) Sahgal’s novels draw on these Nehruvian nationalist assumptions and ideals. Of the four novelists whose works are examined in this book, Mistry is no exception in his Nehruvian orientation – he, too, spent his childhood in Nehruvian India and seems to have been sold the secular idea as well. He has said in an interview: What keeps India together, I think, is the idea of India as a secular nation where different languages, different cultures can co-exist peacefully. Or not so peacefully, sometimes. That is the idea. The encouraging thing is that poll after poll, even in villages where illiteracy can be very high, when people are asked, how do you identify yourself? They identify themselves as Indians. (Smith 2002) Rushdie, Sahgal, Tharoor and Mistry share the Nehruvian ideals of pluralistic, secular and democratic India and blame Indira Gandhi not only for undermining her father’s legacy and Indian democracy but also for the rise of communal conflicts in India. This constitutes a cultural trauma expressed in the “Emergency novels.” A cultural trauma is, in Neil Smelser’s definition, a memory accepted and publicly given credence by a relevant membership group and evoking an event or situation which is (a) laden with negative affect, (b) represented as indelible, and (c) regarded as threatening a society’s existence or violating one or more of its fundamental cultural prepositions. (quoted in Eyerman 2001, 2) The relevant membership group here is the one suggested by Priyamvada Gopal (2009, 65), that is, the “many writers and intellectuals [to whom] the Emergency came to signify the final betrayal of the legacy of the freedom struggle, its idea of India and of those like Gandhi who symbolized it.” This betrayal amounts to a cultural trauma

23

Introduction

for many Indian intellectuals and writers. Jenny Edkins (2006, 109) has argued: It seems that trauma is more than a shock encounter with brutality or death; in an important sense, trauma is the betrayal of a promise or an expectation. Trauma can be seen as an encounter that betrays our faith in previously established personal and social worlds. I argue that the Emergency appears as such a trauma in the fiction of these Indian English novelists. The Emergency was a betrayal of the expectation or promise of the Nehruvian idea of India and democracy. Drawing on Edkins’s discussion of “trauma as betrayal,” I examine the Emergency novels as born out of a trauma. Edkins argues that “the form of political authority that the nation represents is intimately tied up with, and made possible by, the way in which it invokes its memories, and with what it remembers and why.” She explains that public remembrance of e.g. wars and famines is “fundamental to the production and reproduction of centralized political power” (Edkins 2006, 101). According to Edkins, trauma disrupts settled stories of the nation: “Centralized, sovereign political authority is particularly threatened by this. After a traumatic event what we call the state moves quickly to close down any openings produced” (107). Edkins may have had very different examples and cases in mind, but I suggest that some of her ideas can be applied to the Emergency in India. Even though the government itself brought about the trauma of the Emergency, once it realised that its measures had brought about the trauma, the government tried to patch things up and produced a narrative to support its political authority in a situation in which authoritarianism was about to be abandoned for democracy again. After calling a general election for March 1977, Indira Gandhi’s government, on recognising the unpopularity of the family planning programme, tried to distance itself from the family planning measures it had sanctioned. Williams has shown that a narrative of “excess” was created in which the abuses of the family planning programme were attributed to “the ‘excessive’ actions of lower-level government officials” and to state governments rather than the central government. Williams (2014, 487) argues that even the Shah Commission “adopted and consolidated the narrative,” even as it condemned the “excessive” actions. This narrative is still alive and well, as seen

24

Introduction

with the Congress history described earlier. Furthermore, as was discussed previously, the Emergency was not publicly remembered by the Indira Gandhi government that began its work in 1980, nor by the subsequent Indian governments of the 1980s and the 1990s. Quite the contrary, it was actively forgotten and its memory suppressed. As Tarlo (2003, 22) writes: Forgetting, like remembering, can be public as well as private. Whilst public memory is triggered off by collective symbols that often take on physical form, public amnesia operates through producing absences or substitutes; absences which serve to discourage the construction and survival of memory, and substitutes which serve to redirect memory along alternative routes. Public forgetting is a subtle process, not least because we tend to forget what it is we have forgotten. The Emergency had proved unpopular and had led to the deseating of Indira Gandhi’s government in 1977. To strengthen her own and her government’s political authority, Indira Gandhi chose to dismiss and even deny the Emergency “excesses” such as forcible sterilisations. Most effectively, the government chose not to remember, so that both Indira Gandhi and the Congress government could continue to draw on their earlier, democratic credentials. However, as I have already argued, Indian English novelists, having been raised in Nehruvian India and having taken its secularism and democratic institutions for granted, experienced the Emergency as a trauma and, in the face of the government’s attempt to close down the opening produced by it, made an effort to preserve the memory of it. In Edkins’s (2006, 108) words, some people want to try to hold on to the openness that trauma produces. They do not want to forget, or to express the trauma in standard narratives that entail a form of forgetting. They see trauma as something that unsettles authority, and that should make settled stories impossible in the future. The Indian English novelists who wrote Emergency fictions did not want to forget, nor did they want the Indian nation to forget. These Emergency novels construct cultural memories of the period. They are designed to keep the memory of the Emergency alive so that especially

25

Introduction

the middle class would not forget. Furthermore, as Edkins (2006, 101) suggests, memory is central not only to the production of these forms of power but also to their contestation: certain types of memory, the memory of catastrophic events, for example, provide specific openings for resistance to centralized political power. Ways of remembrance then are not only a site of political investment but also a site of struggle and contestation. Preserving the memory of the Emergency functions as resistance to Indira Gandhi’s political power, and any centralised political power in India that threatens democracy and civil and even human rights. The Emergency novels therefore become a site of struggle and contestation. They also aim at reminding the readers of the Nehruvian idea of India in the 1980s and 1990s when communalism, and especially Hindu nationalism, was on the rise. The writers address the middle class in India – their peer group, which is also the population group that is most likely to read their writing, but also the group whose action is needed to transform Indian society – to shake them a little, to become engaged in safeguarding democracy and ensuring that India does not slide into authoritarianism ever again, but also to remind their readers of the inequality of Indian society, hoping to inspire commitment to transforming it. These are political novels of memory, written to make an impact on Indian society. Writing about reconciliation and peaceful co-existence after traumatic events, Assman and Shortt (2011, 4) assert that memory is “a powerful agent of change. Accredited with the power of transforming our relationship to the past and the ability to revise former values and attitudes, memory can create new frames of action” (emphasis in original). But the Emergency novels are addressed not only to the Indian middle class but also to the global English-reading audience, especially in the West, and not only because of the lucrative Western market for novels. As Rushdie argued in 1985, “the leaders in the West, too, [. . .] played their part” in covering up (the memory of) the Emergency: This has been particularly noticeable in the period since 1979, when the Janata Party’s disintegration let Mrs Gandhi back into power. Her major aim in the following years was to achieve a personal rehabilitation, to obliterate the memory of the Emergency and its atrocities, to be cleansed of its taint, 26

Introduction

absolved of history. With the help of numerous prime ministers and presidents, that aim was all but achieved by the time of her death. She told the world that the horror stories about the Emergency were all fictions; and the world allowed her to get away with the lie. It was a triumph of image over substance. It’s difficult to resist the conclusion that the West – in particular, Western capital – saw that a rehabilitated Mrs Gandhi would be of great use, and set about inventing her. (Rushdie 1992e, 51) Rushdie points out how Western leaders and Western capital benefitted from turning a blind eye and conveniently forgetting what took place in India during the Emergency months. He has therefore addressed the West with his novel as well as the Indian middle class. Midnight’s Children denies the official version of the Emergency and makes its readers face and contemplate another version of the events – also in the West. This other version came with potential to make Western readers question the received and media truths about such events, especially of events taking place in formerly colonised countries, and to think about how Western leaders and businesses may have an interest and a real share in conveniently forgetting the inconvenient “truth.” This, then, could potentially lead to political change. Astrid Erll (2011, 155) argues that literary works of memory, and their representations of historical events (such as wars and revolutions) and characters (such as kings and explorers), of myths and imagined memories can have an impact on readers and can re-enter, via mimesis3, the world of action, shaping, for example, perception, knowledge and everyday communication, leading to political action (emphasis in the original). I suggest that this is a central purpose of the Emergency novels. This book therefore examines literary representations of the Emergency, and Indira Gandhi’s (imagined) memories of the period, in the five Indian English novels to find out how these novels attempt to shape perception about the Emergency. Midnight’s Children ushered in a new era of Indian English writing and introduced magical realism and postmodern playfulness into the Indian novel in English, which had previously been characterised mainly by the conventions of classic fictive realism. Many other writers, especially novelists who are graduates of Delhi’s highly 27

Introduction

prestigious St Stephen’s College, such as I. Allan Sealy, Shashi Tharoor and Khushwant Singh, took up and developed the Rushdiesque style in their history novels. The Great Indian Novel, for example, is, as Chelva Kanaganayakam (1995, 111) notes, “very much a postRushdie work, one that is noticeably different from the realism of earlier writers.” However, the realist Indian English novel did not disappear with the grand breakthrough of magical realism. Many established Indian English novelists, such as Nayantara Sahgal, continued to employ the realist mode in their fiction, though Sahgal (1988, 100) herself notes that Rich Like Us, her first novel after the Emergency, “came out different in scope, style, and structure from those before it” since “nothing is ever the same again after an experience such as the emergency.” The 1990s actually witnessed a new rise of realist Indian English (historical) fiction: Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (1993) and Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey (1991) and A Fine Balance (1995), for example, were critically highly acclaimed as well as popular novels. A Suitable Boy examines Nehruvian India in the early 1950s when hopes for and expectations of the new state still ran high. Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance are set in the 1970s and chart the decline and betrayal of Nehruvian India and post-Independence ideals and expectations. Mistry’s – and Seth’s – historical novels, like earlier Indian English fiction that tackled Indian history, utilise the fictional conventions of classic realism familiar from an older European tradition. Mistry has in fact been compared to Dickens, George Eliot, Balzac and Victor Hugo, and his writing has been described as akin to nineteenth-century novels. Mistry (in Gokhale 1996, 3) himself has said that he was trying to write like Chekhov, Malamud, Bellow and Turgenev. Suzanne Keen (2000, 31) notes that Mistry “make[s] workable in the contemporary period models of realism Victorians used for writing social fiction, political fiction, novels exposing the Condition of England.” Seth and Mistry have invigorated the mode of realism that Rushdie felt had not left writers much to explore. Sahgal, of course, has consistently been writing realist novels, going on to win prizes for them in the 1980s, after the breakthrough of magical realism, proving thus that the realist novel had not met a dead end. Postcolonial criticism often assumes classic realism’s relation to history to be very different from that of magical realism. While postcolonial magical realist novels, such as Midnight’s Children, are often seen as subversive and resistant, “the critical expectations about the form [of realism] often hold that,” as Laura Moss (2000, 158) writes, “it 28

Introduction

is a reinforcement of conservative, specifically imperialist, ideology.” Mistry’s novel successfully takes issue with the set-up of the political nation and the body politic which relegates the poor and dispossessed to the margins, thus countering the argument that “the realist novel is ill-suited to represent the subaltern experience because of the genre’s roots in the project of Western nation-building” (Kane 1996). As Carter (1992, 297) points out, the latter sort of view can lead to “a massive overstatement in which all realisms become one essential realism.” I agree with Carter as well as with Moss (2000, 159), who argues that realism is capable of “political and social engagement in postcolonial contexts.” Sahgal, for one, is a realist writer whose fiction is socially and politically engaged as well as subversive and resistant. Her novels are informed by feminist concerns and deal with women’s issues, such as Indian women’s striving for more equal and reciprocal marriage in patriarchal society. Furthermore, her fiction presents a critique of Eurocentrism, for her novels contain “the non-message that Europe is not the centre of the world” (Sahgal 1990, 19). Keen suggests (2000, 37) that Seth and Mistry “remind us that the adoption of realistic modes can itself serve oppositional purposes, to the language and literature associated with the Empire, to the modes favored by postcolonial theorists, to the nation-building with which realism is so often associated.” In their novels, Sahgal and Mistry have used a realist mode for oppositional purposes, for political and social engagement and for effectively constructing a cultural counter-memory, as they have dealt with the cultural trauma of the Emergency.

Indian writing in English Midnight’s Children made Indian English fiction known more widely in the world, thus paving the way for the other Indian English writers who started writing in the 1980s and 1990s and made Indian English literature a global phenomenon. As Bishnupriya Ghosh (2004, 50) remarks, such writers as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy “render India ‘communicable’ to a global audience, acting as cultural translators who cater to a global market for world Englishes.” Harish Trivedi (2006, 156), despite his critique of Rushdie in his role as an “authentic” voice and interpreter of India to the West, nevertheless writes that the space India occupies in the Western literary world has been considerably enhanced through his representation of it. 29

Introduction

For many Western readers, in fact, Rushdie speaks for India in a way which seems not only representative but authoritative, and his version of India is often taken to be the “real” India. In the same vein, Katherine Frank (1996, 247) suggests that over the years [. . .] Rushdie has evolved into “Pandit Rushdie,” an authority who can be reliably counted upon to interpret events in the subcontinent for certain constituencies in the West. It could even be argued that in writing Midnight’s Children Rushdie single-handedly brought the history of twentieth-century India to the West.14 As these comments testify, (new) Indian literature in English occupies an interesting position as a literature that is both celebrated and contested – contested because it is sometimes seen as inauthentic compared to Indian literature written in other Indian languages, and celebrated especially in the West, where it is the Indian English literature that is best known and representative of the voice of India. Translations from Indian vernacular languages have as yet not made such a breakthrough or raised as much interest in the West. With India’s various ethnic groups, languages, religions, castes, communities and regional differences, invoking authentic and/or essentialist notions of national identity seems misplaced. What would count as “authentically” Indian or as a “true” representation of India? As Edward W. Said (2003, 272) notes in Orientalism, the real issue is whether indeed there can be a true representation of anything, or whether any and all kinds of representations, because they are representations, are embedded first in the language and then in the culture, institutions, and political ambience of the representer. If the latter alternative is the correct one (as I believe it is), then we must be prepared to accept the fact that a representation is eo ipso implicated, intertwined, embedded, interwoven with a great many other things besides the “truth,” which is itself a representation. Indian English writing is certainly “implicated, intertwined, embedded, interwoven with” a great many things that come with, for example, the educational, economic, social, regional, religious and gender backgrounds of the writers, but that is equally the case with literatures 30

Introduction

in Indian vernaculars. I suggest that Hindi or Tamil literature cannot automatically be seen as more authentically Indian than Indian English literature for these literatures, too, are embedded in the language, culture and politics of their writers. The reader should, however, be aware of the cultural background of the work of fiction in question and of what it is a representation. The status of recent Indian English novels as dominant representations of India has elicited varying reactions from (Indian) critics and scholars, often warning against, in Ghosh’s (2004, 18) words, “the unguarded treatment of privileged cosmopolitan writers as the spokespeople for India” (emphasis in original). This warning may be necessary – as Sumanyu Satpathy (1998, 282) writes, V.S. Naipaul’s three books on India were “touted as indispensable” for anyone with a serious interest in India “and of course everything that Salman Rushdie has had to say on India in fiction or nonfiction is lapped up by the Western media as gospel truth.” Vinay Lal and Ashis Nandy (2007, xiii) point out that “the Indian novel in English has [. . .] become so much a part of global culture that people might be forgiven for thinking that English-speaking Indians set the cultural and political agendas of the nation.” Rushdie (1997, x) himself aggravated many Indian critics and writers when he suggested in a foreword to an anthology of Indian writing from 1947 to 1997 that the prose writing – both fiction and non-fiction – created in this period by Indian writers working in English, is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the 16 “official languages” of India, the so-called “vernacular languages,” during the same time; and, indeed, this new, and still burgeoning, “Indo-Anglian” literature represents perhaps the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books (emphasis in original). Unsurprisingly, Rushdie’s claim has been fiercely disputed in India, where novels written in English are sometimes seen to be problematic, or inauthentic, not just because of their use of the old colonial tongue and an “alien” language, but also in terms of their representations of Indian reality. Tharoor (2003, 245, 247), for example, says that he has often been asked for whom he writes and feels that “there is an unspoken accusation implicit in the question: Am I not guilty of the terrible sin of inauthenticity, of writing about my country for foreigners?” His reply to the question is that “I write for anyone who will read 31

Introduction

me, but first of all for Indians like myself, Indians who have grown up speaking, writing, playing, wooing and quarrelling in English, all over India.” Tharoor (2000, 46) argues that he shares with the new Indian novelists writing in English “an urban upbringing and a pannational outlook on the Indian reality. I do not think this is any less authentically ‘Indian’ than the worldviews of writers in other Indian languages.” Gopal (2009, 2–3) notes that [a] denunciatory tendency, often noticeable in writers and critics who themselves work primarily in English, will insist on the inauthenticity of (other people’s) Anglophone writing, its distance from the ‘real concerns’ of most Indians and its being in thrall to the critical fads and fashions of Western academia. Makarand Paranjape (2000, 96), for instance, argues that recent Indian novels in English “evad[e] a direct and meaningful engagement with contemporary reality. There is a preoccupation with style and narrative technique, not with content and theme.” He adds that these novels “occupy a rather problematic terrain; their dual allegiance renders them susceptible to all sorts of mimetic distortions. They inscribe India, but for the West, hence becoming middlemen between two cultures.” It is, however, noteworthy that Indian English literature nowadays has an increasingly strong position in India among the country’s various literatures. Aijaz Ahmad (2008, 75–76) has pointed out that the cosmopolitan English-speaking intelligentsia in India tends to see only the literary texts written in English as national documents and all else as regional. The reason for this may be partly historical and have its roots more in non-fiction than in fiction. Among India’s multitude of languages, English and Hindi are the two national/official languages. In addition, the Constitution of India recognises 22 official scheduled languages, which are the official languages of one or more Indian states. Most of these languages are rooted in one region of the country, and even the most widely known of them, Hindi, is spoken “only” by about 40 per cent of the population of India. English, on the other hand, is spoken across the country. As Ahmad (2008, 282) remarks, English “has simply become, for better or worse, one of the Indian languages, even the key professional language and certainly the main language of communication between the schooled sections of the different linguistic regions” (emphasis in original). Furthermore, most of independent India’s “founding” texts, such as the Indian Constitution and Jawaharlal 32

Introduction

Nehru’s The Discovery of India, were written in English. Neelam Srivastava (2008, 7) suggests that “the post-Independence political and administrative conceptualizations of the nation-state at a pan-Indian level came to be constructed exclusively in the English language.” In publishing, English is more than an equal to India’s indigenous languages; Aijaz Ahmad (1996, 277) has noted that already in the mid-1990s, as much as 40 per cent of all publishing in India happened in English, and only the United States and the United Kingdom published more English books than India. Indian English novels are one significant part of the English-language publishing in India. It seems undeniable that English occupies a special position in India. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that English is, as Ahmad (2008, 75–76) argues, no longer seen as one of the Indian languages but “as the language of national integration and bourgeois civility” and Indian English writing is then seen to constitute “the central documents of India’s national literature” (emphasis in original).15 Many of the post-Midnight’s Children novels also take a national approach; they are pan-Indian in outlook. They focus on India at the national level, representing India to Indians who read English, as well as to a wider audience outside India’s borders.16 Gopal (2009, 13) suggests that the Indian English novel has, from its inception, been “deeply engaged with the idea of India, perhaps much more so than other literatures of the region.” Mukherjee (2004, 199–200) has noted that Indian novels in English are geared towards constructing and representing “a clearly defined and recognizable India,” whereas novelists writing in Indian languages seem to tackle more local and particular issues. Indian novelists who write in English have “a greater anxiety to appear ‘Indian,’” representing as they do India to international as well as national readership. This makes them an ideal vehicle for preserving and presenting national cultural memories. ***** This book interrogates the construction of cultural memory of the Emergency in Indian English novels of the 1980s and the 1990s, and each chapter examines one novelist’s writing and questions what aspect of the Emergency is being remembered, how it is represented and remembered and what the effect of that remembering is. The novels are read in parallel with other representations of the period: government white papers and Indira Gandhi’s speeches of the Emergency era, examples of the post-Emergency literature, memoirs, biographies and historiography. 33

Introduction

The second chapter examines Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the first Indian English novel about the Emergency, as a political indictment and cultural counter-memory. The novel is read allegorically, with Saleem representing the Nehruvian, democratic state. Saleem finally finds the long-longed-for meaning for his life in pickling and thus preserving his memories for his son Aadam – and the nation of India. I argue that Saleem offers his life story as a testimony, as a counternarrative to the official narrative of Indira Gandhi’s India. With his reminiscing, his testimony, Saleem addresses the “nation of forgetters.” Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel is the subject of the third chapter. The novel, much like Midnight’s Children, describes Indian twentiethcentury history since the beginning of Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign. This chapter focuses on the post-Independence part of the novel and especially on the Indira Gandhi years, arguing that the novel is an examination of the development of Indian democracy and a scathing political critique of Indian leaders and their (ab)use of power, culminating in Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. The fourth chapter looks at Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us and examines it as social and political criticism. Sahgal has been very vocal in her opposition to Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and early 1980s and had published newspaper articles and books – Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power17 and in A Voice for Freedom (1977) – that criticise her. Rich Like Us is Sahgal’s “Emergency novel” and is read in this chapter as such, with the focus on the problem of the committedness of the civil service in Indira Gandhi’s administration as well as on Sanjay Gandhi’s Maruti scandal and related political corruption. The fifth chapter discusses Rohinton Mistry’s two novels, Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance, as explorations of the political scandals of the Indira Gandhi government in the 1970s, the first one of the Nagarwala money scandal and the latter of the Emergency with a special focus on history from below. A Fine Balance zeroes in on the experiences of the urban poor during the Emergency and represents slum clearances and forced sterilisations most memorably. This chapter examines the political context of these novels and argues that the novels indict the Indian middle class for their complicity in the policies that continue to oppress the poor.

Notes 1 The so-called Stephanian novels are novels written by graduates of Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College. These novelists include Vikram Seth, I. Allan Sealy,

34

Introduction

Shashi Tharoor, Amitav Ghosh, and Rukun Advani, among others. Maya Jaggi noted in 1997: “Roy, a 37-year-old woman, was muscling in on what was, until now, largely a fraternity of younger, internationally-known and prize-winning Indian authors writing in English: Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh, Upamanyu Chatterjee, I Allan Sealy, Shashi Tharoor. Yet The God of Small Things is distinguished not only by its author’s sex, but by its rural, southern backdrop and only oblique engagement with history or with India as a theme” (Jaggi 1997). 2 O.J. Vijayan’s The Saga of Dharmapuri is a political allegory of India in the early 1970s. Vijayan began writing his hard-hitting political satire in Malayalam in 1972, and it was to be serialised in a magazine in 1975; it was, however, pushed to March 1977 due to the Emergency. The novel appeared in book form in 1985 and was translated into English by the author himself in 1988. 3 I am relying on O.P. Mathur (2004, preface) and Chandran (2017, 138–143) for this information. O.P. Mathur, former Professor of English from Banaras Hindu University who contacted professors of other Indian languages to find out if there were any Emergency novels in languages other than English, concludes: “it seems to be true that it was primarily the Indian English writers who voiced in fiction the strong resentment of the nation against the Emergency” (Ibid. 118). Furthermore, many of the Indian English writers of the Emergency novels were living abroad, in Britain, Canada or the United States, at the time of the Emergency, and in most cases also at the time of writing these novels. The exceptions in Hindi include Katraa Bu Arzoo by Rahi Masoom Raza (1978, not translated into English) and Dark Dispatches by Nirmal Verma (original Raat Ka Reporter, translated into English by Alok Bhalla, 1993). The situation has changed in the twenty-first century with new Emergency novels published in at least English, Malayalam and Tamil. There have also been some Indian films on the topic. 4 Text of the proclamation of the Emergency by the President on 25 June 1975 (printed in Government of India 1975b, 7). 5 On the censorship of the press during the Emergency, see Sorabjee (1977). 6 Slum clearance and family planning campaigns were not new or unprecedented but were accelerated during the Emergency. Furthermore, as the Interim Report II of Shah Commission of Inquiry (1978, 85–86) states, “It appears that in their hurry to implement the demolition programme, neither the DDA nor the MCD took the precaution in a number of cases of following even the basic minimum procedures laid down in the Delhi Development Act, Delhi Municipal Corporation Act and other relevant laws.” E.g. “it was necessary that in every case of demolition, proper notice was required by law to be issued. But it was found that in practice no notices were issued before the buildings were demolished.” “The demolition operations were carried out like a blitzkrieg in utter disregard of the human problems involved. Alternative accommodation sometimes was provided, but more often only open plots of land were allotted. These plots were so small that no construction suitable for residential purposes could be made.” “The Commission visited some of

35

Introduction

the areas of rehabilitation and found that even the basic amenities were wanting.” 7 Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP Narayan (1902–1979), was a Gandhian independence activist and a Socialist leader. He led the opposition to Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, advocating a programme of social transformation which he called “total revolution.” The movement started in Bihar but soon spread in North India, developing into a movement for the dismissal of Prime Minister Gandhi. 8 Sahgal (1983, 202) noted already in 1982 that 300 tapes of the hearing had vanished from the Home Ministry. 9 See also Hewitt (2008, 165). Sezhiyan cites in his introduction rumours on the Internet that there were no extant copies of the report in India. Rebecca Jane Williams (2014) has reported that she had found copies of the report in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. 10 The RTI Act was passed in 2005. Indian citizens can request the release of government information through written application. When I visited the Indian National Archives in January 2009, none of the Emergency records were available. 11 Sahgal, too, though she is perhaps the most “Indian” of the writers whose novels are examined in this book – the others have either left India permanently and are often considered as British/American and Canadian writers, or, in the case of Tharoor, lived abroad when he wrote his novels – writes also for a global audience. Sahgal does some public speaking in Hindi, but she writes only in English, because this means that she can “be read all over the Commonwealth and North America” (Gupta 1990, 157). Mistry has said that “the world is my audience. At least, I wish it” (Hancock 1989, 146). 12 Khair (2001, 10, 12, 33) points out that this is of course only a rough socio-economic and discursive division. Between “Babu” and “Coolie” classes there is the growing class of upstart-Babus/cultural Coolies who are middle-class and literate in one or more Indian languages other than English. 13 Tharoor (2003, 247) has argued that “no writer really chooses a language: the circumstances of his upbringing ensure that the language chooses him.” 14 See also Kortenaar (2004b, 232). 15 To make a comparison, the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe (1994, 429) has noted: “A national literature is one that takes the whole nation for its province and has a realized or potential audience throughout its territory. In other words a literature that is written in the national language. An ethnic literature is one which is available only to one ethnic group within the nation. If you take Nigeria as an example, the national literature, as I see it, is the literature written in English; and the ethnic literatures are in Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, Efik, Edo, Ijaw, etc., etc.” 16 Even critic and writer Pankaj Mishra (2000), who is otherwise critical of Indian English fiction, notes that Indian English novelists have produced “the only pan-Indian literature we have, writing in English.” 17 Partly published in a different form in India as Indira Gandhi’s Emergence and Style (1978).

36

2 Midnight’s Children Preserving Memories for “the Amnesiac Nation”

The official version of the Emergency in India was well expressed by Mrs Gandhi in a recent BBC interview. She said that there were some people around who claimed that bad things had happened during the Emergency, forced sterilizations, things like that; but, she stated, this was all false. Nothing of this type had ever occurred. The interviewer, Mr Robert Kee, did not probe this statement at all. Instead, he told Mrs Gandhi and the Panorama audience that she had proved, many times over, her right to be called a democrat. So literature can, and perhaps must, give the lie to official facts.1 Rushdie, “Imaginary Homelands” (1983)

Midnight’s Children as political indictment Salman Rushdie was born to an affluent Muslim2 family on 19 June 1947 in Bombay, two months before India gained independence. His father was a barrister-turned-businessman, his mother a teacher from the North Indian city of Aligarh. He has three sisters. Salman Rushdie was educated in a mission school in Bombay, where the family lived until 1964. He was sent to Rugby School in England in 1961, and was studying there when his family moved to Karachi. After finishing school, Rushdie spent six months in Pakistan with his family but went back to England in 1965 to study history, including history of Islam, at King’s College, Cambridge. He tried working for television and as an actor in the fringe theatre after his graduation in 1968 but soon moved on to working as a copywriter in an advertising agency. Rushdie had written his first short story at the age of ten. In 1971 he finished his first novel The Book of Pir, which remains unpublished. He continued to work as a copywriter while writing Grimus, his first 37

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published novel (1975). Rushdie used the advance he received for Grimus to travel in India in 1975, his first visit there in several years. The idea for his second published novel, which was Midnight’s Children,3 was born on this five-month trip to India and Pakistan, though Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children in England (Durix et al. 1982, 17). In his new introduction to the novel in 2006, Rushdie writes: Just after my return from India, Mrs Indira Gandhi was convicted of election fraud, and one week after my twenty-eighth birthday she declared a State of Emergency and assumed tyrannical powers. It was the beginning of a long period of darkness which would not end until 1977. I understood almost at once that Mrs G. had somehow become central to my still-tentative literary plans. (Rushdie 2006, ix) The main character of Rushdie’s first effort at a novel since his trip to India, titled Madame Rama, resembled Indira Gandhi, though the novel was set in the world of films. The first draft – dedicated to “Indira Gandhi without whom none of it would have been probable”4 – was finished in August 1975, the second, a more substantial version, in February 1976. Liz Calder, Rushdie’s friend and editor at Gollancz, rejected Madame Rama, but it was subsequently plundered for Midnight’s Children (Goonetilleke 1998, 17). Rushdie has said that he wrote the first draft of Midnight’s Children in two and a half years. The first draft was finished in early September 1978. According to Rushdie, the second draft took about a year and was “reasonably close to the final version” (Durix et al. 1982, 18–19). The second draft of the novel was finished in June 1979.5 Rushdie explains that he “just added little layers to it for quite a long time after that” (Durix et al. 1982, 18–19). The novel’s writing process thus spanned the Emergency and the period of Janata government that followed the March 1977 elections. Rushdie sent the finished novel to Calder, who was now working at Jonathan Cape (Rushdie 2006, xiii). Midnight’s Children was published in April 1981, more than a year after Indira Gandhi resumed power. In 1984, when Indira Gandhi was still the Prime Minister of India, she sued Rushdie for libel, bringing an action against the novel for a single sentence she said had defamed her (see Frank 1996, 247; Rushdie 2006, xv). The sentence in question, which was subsequently removed from future editions of the novel, reads: 38

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It has often been said that Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything. (MC 502) Suing for this sentence is perhaps not too surprising given that Indira Gandhi had consistently been very protective of her marital and family life. Vinod Mehta (1978, 14) wrote, three years before the publication of Midnight’s Children, of the literature on Indira Gandhi written during her premiership: “Writers knew, and if they didn’t know they were promptly told, that the one area of her life which was taboo was her marital life. [.  .  .] Mrs. Gandhi obviously preferred reading about her political triumphs and vicissitudes rather than household gossip.” Rushdie takes the fact that this was Indira Gandhi’s only complaint about the book as “an extraordinary validation of the novel’s portrait of those Emergency years” (Rushdie 2006, xvi). However, as Indira Gandhi is referred to as the Widow through much of the novel – and mainly referred to as Mrs. Gandhi or Indira Gandhi in these passages of “history” rather than “fiction,” it would have been much more difficult to sue over the portrayal of the Widow. As Henrik Skov Nielsen, James Phelan and Richard Walsh (2015, 69) point out, a speaker’s use of fictionality will tend to make her point irrefutable. Since the deployment of fictionality takes one’s discourse into the realm of the nonfactual, its assertions cannot be directly contradicted. [. . .] You can fight fiction with counter-fiction, of course, but that is something different altogether. The employment of fictionality in political discourse will tend to contribute – again for better or worse – to a logos-immunization of the discourse whereby arguments and counter-arguments have to take place on other levels and with other forms of appeal than those based in facts and documented evidence. Saying that the portrayal of the Widow defamed her would have meant acknowledging an equivalence between herself and the character in the novel, which would in turn have validated the historical “truth” or reference to “the factual world” of Rushdie’s novel in a way that suing 39

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for a sentence in which Indira Gandhi and her son are mentioned by name did not. As Rushdie writes in the 2006 introduction, Indira Gandhi has a central role in the finished novel, a tale of twentieth-century India which begins in 1915 and culminates in the Emergency. Midnight’s Children is set, for the most part, in Nehruvian India, which is then shown to fall apart during Indira Gandhi first premiership (1966–1977). It was the first Indian English novel to tackle the Emergency. Rushdie has explained: If Midnight’s Children had any purpose [. . .] it was an attempt to say that the thirty-two years between independence and the end of the book didn’t add up to very much, that a kind of betrayal had taken place, and that the book was dealing with the nature of that betrayal. (Haffenden 1985, 249) This chapter examines the betrayal described in Midnight’s Children. Though most of the criticism is directed at Indira Gandhi, Rushdie’s portrayal of independent India includes some perceived shortcomings and problems of the Nehruvian project, though Nehruvianism, or at the very least the Nehruvian idea of India, is revered in the novel. Rushdie has admitted that the novel has “large amounts of political content,” but added that in the West “there was a tendency to discuss it much more as a fantasy novel, whereas in India it’s discussed as a history book” (Craven, Heyward and Hueston 1985, 112, 113). Rushdie says that he himself sometimes thinks of Midnight’s Children “as a political novel” but not “as a historical novel particularly” (Chaudhuri 1990). Historian and novelist Tariq Ali argues that Rushdie’s novel is in fact “a devastating political indictment of those who rule these countries [India, Pakistan, Bangladesh] and, by implication, of those who placed them in their present positions of power and privilege.” Yet, he, too, points out, “English critics and commentators have tended to downplay the politics of Midnight’s Children” (Ali 1982, 87). Following Ali, Aleid Fokkema (1990, 360–361, 364–367) argues that Western critics avoid politics in their discussion of Indian novels and prefer to focus instead on the literary form and quality of the book and on its perceived exoticism, and that this happened also with Rushdie’s novel. Neluka Silva has made the same observation about “most critical readings” of Midnight’s Children and adds: “In these readings, the Widow’s mediation in Indian politics, particularly during a ‘national’ 40

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crisis like the Emergency, is relegated to the margins” (Silva 2004, 60). In the last decade, some critical readings have focused on the representation of the Emergency and Indira Gandhi in Midnight’s Children (see e.g. Thiara 2009, 43–55; Galler 2013, 285–303; Scott 2015). Despite these recent critical readings, I feel that the examining of the novel’s criticism of the Indira Gandhi era in Indian politics is only beginning, together with the historical analysis of the Emergency records. In this book, Midnight’s Children is read as a historical and political novel delineating the formation and decline of the Nehruvian state, and as an evaluation of the first premiership of Indira Gandhi. First and foremost, Midnight’s Children is examined as a memory novel written to maintain a cultural counter-memory of the Emergency.

Saleem the memoirist Midnight’s Children is written as a memoir of its narrator, Saleem Sinai, who, at the beginning of the novel, spends his time at a pickle factory “at the great work of preserving. Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the corruption of the clocks” (MC 38). Saleem offers an account of his life and times by writing it down as well as narrating it to his companion Padma, who also works at the same factory. While Saleem describes his birth in the first paragraph of the first chapter in the novel, he hints at his looming end already in the second paragraph: “I have no hope of saving my life, nor can I count on having even a thousand nights and a night” (MC 4). Thus, the undoing of Saleem is prefigured from the start, as Saleem the memoirist is already “crumbling” when he begins to narrate. He tells in the same paragraph that he “will soon be thirty-one years old” (MC 4). This raises the interest of the reader: why is a young man of 30 falling apart like this? The answer to that question is hinted at during the course of the novel – first, the green monster appears a third into the narrative to haunt Saleem’s dreams – and then in the third and last book of the novel, the reason for his demise is revealed in full: Indira Gandhi, or the Widow, as she is frequently referred to in the novel, is responsible for the undoing of Saleem in the India of the late 1970s. As Jani (2010, 152) puts it, “forced to read Saleem’s beginnings through his end, the implied audience is trained to read all instances of hope and promise as signs of future defeat.” Saleem narrates his story from this vantage point and through the telling makes sense of his life: what did his life end up meaning? In a sense, his fate in Indira Gandhi’s India defines his whole life, when examined retrospectively. Birgit Neumann (2010, 335) notes that “characteristically, 41

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fictions of memory are represented by a reminiscing narrator or figure who looks back on his or her past, trying to impose meaning on the surfacing memories from a present point of view.” In this way, Saleem is a typical reminiscing narrator in a fiction of memory. Throughout the novel, Saleem is obsessed with meaning. At the end of his life, Saleem follows the magician Picture Singh into an underground night club in Bombay and notes that “Hell is other people’s fantasies: every saga requires at least one descent into Jahannum” (MC 541). While there, in the darkness, he is told by a female attendant: “Here you are in a world without faces or names; here people have no memories, families or past; here is for now, for nothing except right now” (MC 541). This place without memory is Saleem’s hell; while there, he discovers the “chutney of memory” (MC 544) as he tastes the chutney of his childhood. As he finds the pickle factory where it was made, he finds meaning for his life in pickling and thus preserving his memories for his son Aadam – and for the nation of India. The imposed meaning of his too-short life is in the narration, in the preserved memory of his experiences. Saleem offers his life story as a testimony, as a counter-narrative to the official narrative of Indira Gandhi’s India. Saleem points out repeatedly the tendency of Indians to forget, to not be bothered with the past, or as he puts it: “We are a nation of forgetters” (MC 37). At the end of the novel, when Saleem is nearly finished with his narration, he notes that Padma is willing to ignore and forget everything he has told, including what happened during the Emergency. Similarly, Saleem notices, the magicians, whose slum colony had been erased in a city beautification drive, “were losing their memories” after the Emergency: they had mislaid their powers of retention, so that now they had become incapable of judgment, having forgotten everything to which they could compare anything that happened. Even the Emergency was rapidly being consigned to the oblivion of the past, and the magicians concentrated upon the present with the monomania of snails. (MC 531) With his reminiscing, his testimony, Saleem addresses the “nation of forgetters.” He writes down what has happened and preserves it for his son and for generations to come, so that the Emergency and Indira Gandhi’s (mis)deeds during her premiership will not be forgotten, and so that it will not happen again. This echoes, even if Saleem 42

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concentrates on Indira rather than Sanjay Gandhi, the Shah Commission’s (1978, 119) statement that If this country is to be rendered safe for future generations, the people owe it to themselves to ensure that an irresponsible and unconstitutional centre of power like the one which revolved round Shri Sanjay Gandhi during the emergency is not allowed to come up ever again in any form or shape or under any guise. Rushdie is for his part ensuring that Indians do not forget and do not allow this to happen again in India. Yet, as the implied audience, and the success, of Rushdie’s novel is global, the message is universal. Authoritarian governments and leaders are a global phenomenon. Towards the end of his narration, Saleem proclaims that he himself “had come through amnesia and been shown the extent of its immorality” (MC 531), thus emphasising remembering as an ethical act. This is in line with Rushdie’s statements in his non-fiction about the struggle against forgetting the Emergency, cited earlier. Emilie Pine (2011, 13–14) writes that In public terms, one of the central moral elements of the act of memory is that cultural remembrance can act as a catalyst for social openness. [. . .] Memory can thus function as an ethical act, a moral duty that we exercise. Indeed, the concept of memory as an ethical act makes it our duty to remember. The goal of ethical memory is a form of justice that recognises the political nature of remembering and forgetting. It seems that this has been one of the major purposes of Midnight’s Children – the hope that it would act as a catalyst for social openness about the Emergency, that the memory of India’s experiment with autocracy and the violations of civil rights would and could not be suppressed and buried. Saleem argues in Midnight’s Children: “Morality, judgement, character . . . it all starts with memory . . . and I am keeping carbons” (MC 253). Like the other exposés of the immediate postEmergency era, Midnight’s Children wants to bring out the events of the Emergency for the whole world to see, judge and learn from. Rushdie seems to be saying that we have a duty to remember the Emergency. Paul Ricoeur (1999, 9) has argued that “the duty to remember consists not only in having a deep concern for the past, but in transmitting the meaning of past events to the next generation.” This is what Saleem sets 43

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out to do in Midnight’s Children: he mentions that his writing down and preserving his story is for his son Aadam, who represents the next generation, born not in Nehru’s India but after the Emergency. He preserves his memories as he preserves pickles: “Thirty jars stand upon a shelf, waiting to be unleashed upon the amnesiac nation” (MC 549). Furthermore, Saleem’s is no dispassionate narrative of India’s twentieth-century history; he proudly claims that he is “able to include memories, dreams, ideas, so that once they enter mass-production all who consume them will know what pepper-pots achieved in Pakistan, or how it felt to be in the Sundarbans . . . believe don’t believe but it’s true” (MC 549). His history of India is highly personal but also emotionally appealing and empathy-inducing, his readers will be able to experience dreams and ideas, to know how it felt to be in the Sundarbans, for example. Richard Kearney (1999, 30) points out that A key function of narrative memory is empathy. And empathy is not always escapism. It is [.  .  .] a way of identifying with as many fellow-humans as possible – actors and sufferers alike – in order to participate in a common moral sense (sensis communis). In this manner, narrative imagination can assist a certain universalisation of remembrance, where our own memories – personal and communal – can be shared and exchanged with others very different times and places, where the familiar and the foreign can change hands. In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie not only addresses Indian readers but also universalises the memory of the Emergency so that it can be shared by the global audience of his readers. It is noteworthy, however, that even though Midnight’s Children presents a counter-memory of the Emergency and the Indira Gandhi years in Indian national politics, the novel’s version of Indian history is not presented as objective or even totally historically accurate. Rushdie writes that Midnight’s Children became a novel about the past seen through memory, and about what memory did to it. It became a novel about memory, which is why the narrator is so suspect and makes all kinds of mistakes, some of which he perceives and some of which he does not. (Durix et al. 1982, 12) Midnight’s Children thus represents the past not “as it really happened,” not as “truth,” but as its narrator remembers and interprets 44

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it: “Facts, as remembered. To the best of one’s ability,” as Saleem puts it (MC 503). As it is, Saleem’s narrative consists of “scraps of memory:  [.  .  .] I must content myself with shreds and scraps: as I wrote centuries ago, the trick is to fill in the gaps” (MC 509). As Aruna Srivastava (1991, 67) puts it, for Saleem, “the truth of a story lies in its telling and is a reflection of the idiosyncratic process of selecting events from memory.” Saleem says: I told you the truth. [. . .] Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own. (MC 253) Saleem discusses the constructedness of memory and the processes involved in the construction of memory, reminding his readers that memories or testimonies do not convey past events as they happened, but as they are filtered through the mind searching for some meaning for what happened. Saleem’s is an alternative version to the official, authoritative narrative of the Emergency; but while presenting it, he points out his own unreliability and his narrative self-consciousness. Saleem selects, omits, distorts and misremembers – and thereby puts readers in a position where they have to be alert and ready to question the history, or testimony, they are reading. Saleem confesses: “in words and pickles, I have immortalized my memories, although distortions are inevitable in both methods. We must live, I’m afraid, with the shadows of imperfection” (MC 548). He explains: “The art is to change the flavour in degree, but not in kind; and above all (in my thirty jars and a jar) to give it shape and form – that is to say, meaning” (MC 550). Saleem is aware that his attempt at “pickling time” will result in a flavoured version of events, shaped and formed to capture those meanings he intended. Mallot (2012, 21) notes that Rushdie displays a remarkably consistent hesitancy in his own firstperson voices in terms of narrative’s ability to convey the truth about the past. [. . .] If we turn to “silenced” or “forgotten” voices because we believe nationalist, statist, or other politically motivated accounts to be deliberately false, we cannot expect any narrative we champion in its place to contain any 45

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higher degree of “what really happened,” but merely “and this happened too.” Midnight’s Children offers a counter-history to the official state discourse and does not want to commit the same sin as the latter, i.e. to present itself as “the truth.” Rather it offers “a truth,” “memory’s truth” (MC 253). As Fawzia Afzal-Khan (1993, 156–157) points out, according to Rushdie’s theory of narrative, there can be no complete or perfect version of history, because facts are inevitably distorted, mythified, changed in the course of writing; therefore, no narrative can presume to contain, or encapsulate, the whole of reality. Saleem makes it clear that one voice alone cannot be trusted in re-constructing the past – neither the state’s nor his own. Yet, significantly, “the cleverness and artistic mastery with which Saleem deconstructs himself leads to a fundamental paradox,” Jani argues; “Saleem, we find, is utterly compelling, even as he critiques himself” (Jani 2010, 154). Therefore, the counter-memory he offers of the Emergency is very persuasive. Furthermore, what Saint has discovered about memory novels dealing with Partition is relevant to the reading of Midnight’s Children as well. Saint notes that significant Partition writings often self-consciously indicate an awareness of the limits to such ‘fictive’ testimony. A range of strategies of representation, including allegory, symbolisation and the use of irony and black humour can be discerned in such writing. [. . .] The predominance of symbolisation and oblique renderings of traumatic memory [. . .] highlights the difficulties of rendering a counter memory. (Saint 2010, 47) Similar or same strategies of representation are used in Midnight’s Children, and some memories are blank, too painful to remember, such as Saleem’s experiences (of torture) in the Widow’s Hostel.

Saleem the experiencing character Saleem is born at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947 – at exactly the same time as the independent Indian state – and his birth is narrated 46

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in parallel with Nehru’s famous speech (Tryst with destiny),6 highlighting the simultaneity of and connection between these events. This connection is made even clearer, when Saleem receives a letter from the Prime Minister saying: “We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention; it will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own” (MC 143). As Josna E. Rege (1997, 359) argues, “the letter links the unlimited potential of the newborn infant [. . .] with that of the nascent state, with all its future glory lying before it.” Due to his birth at the precise moment of India’s Independence and Nehru’s letter, Saleem identifies himself with the new Nehruvian democratic state to the point of allegory. That is to say, he is a character who can to some extent be read allegorically to represent the Nehruvian, democratic state, as his identification with the same is so dominant – he draws an equation between himself and the state, assuming a central role in India’s twentieth-century history. Saleem Sinai has often been read as an embodiment of the nation and his birth to mark the birth of the Indian nation, his life to mirror the nation’s life (e.g. Brennan 1989; Heffernan 2000; Kortenaar 2004a; Srivastava 2008; Thiara 2009). While I am interested in the problematic of the nation, to the extent that I read the novel allegorically, I read Saleem as the embodiment of the Nehruvian democratic state, not the nation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1972, 348) has pointed out a tendency in modern literary discourse towards allegory, which she defines “as the setting up of a double structure, one component of which is a metasemantic system of significance corresponding to the other component – a system of signs present in the text itself.” Spivak (1972, 338) refers to the strong “tendency within socially didactic literature [. . .] to arrange itself in a double structure.” Midnight’s Children follows this tendency. The novel has a strong socially didactic element to it, and Rushdie makes use of allegory in delineating the story of the Indian democratic state and describing the problems it encountered, especially in the 1970s during the Indira Gandhi years. On an allegorical level, Saleem first embodies the Nehruvian democratic state from his birth in 1947 until the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, during which Saleem’s family is annihilated and after which Nehru’s follower Shastri dies at the peace conference. The end of the Nehruvian era is followed by a period of amnesia, during which Saleem spends time in Pakistan. When Saleem recovers his memory, and with it his true self, in 1971, he faces an India where Indira Gandhi is at her most popular and takes up his allegorical role as an allegory for the Nehruvian idea(l) of democracy. Saleem is duly shocked, one assumes, by the cult of the individual, by the worship of Prime 47

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Minister Gandhi, and decides to save the country. When Saleem’s son Aadam, a new chapter in India’s political history, is born, Saleem notes that “the age of my connection-to-history overlapped with his” (MC 504), as the Nehruvian idea(l) of democracy gives way to a new India. After the Emergency and his mistreatment at the hands of Indira Gandhi, Saleem is “[n]o longer connected to history” and he is “conscious that an age, which had begun on that long-ago midnight, had come to a sort of end” (MC 526). “Knives had disconnected him for ever” from the present (MC 531), the time of Nehruvian democracy is over, and it is time for Aadam/new India to take over, as Saleem will be reduced “to specks of voiceless dust” (MC 552). Though the novel is largely read allegorically in this analysis, it needs to be pointed out that Rushdie’s use of allegory in Midnight’s Children is complex rather than constant or consistent. John Haffenden (1985, 243) argues that “although the book contains those large allegorical notions, it tries to defuse them.” Rushdie himself has explained that Saleem is “a twin, [. . .] he’s a sibling of India, and although what happens to one happens to the other, his life doesn’t actually operate as an allegory of India” (Craven, Heyward and Hueston 1985, 113). On another occasion, he noted that “it seemed to me that I must resist allegory” (Rushdie 1985, 3). But the novel does not fully resist the allegorical tendency. Saleem himself notes that he is “handcuffed to history” and that his destiny is chained to that of his country. What happens to one, happens to the other, and his tragedy is the tragedy of democracy under Indira Gandhi. Fredric Jameson (1986, 74, 78) points out the “‘floating’ or transferable structure of allegorical reference” in his essay on third-world literatures and notes that “the allegorical spirit is profoundly discontinuous, a matter of breaks and heterogeneities, of the multiple polysemia of the dream rather than the homogeneous representation of the symbol.” In the case of Midnight’s Children and Saleem Sinai, an open and floating approach to the allegorical references seems suitable. Saleem’s course through life can be read as an allegory of the Nehruvian democratic state, but this does not mean a clear one-to-one fit or that Saleem can be read allegorically constantly throughout the novel. Even though Saleem, for example, is set as an allegorical character from his birth, his childhood does not work as an allegory but is based on Rushdie’s own childhood memories. Rushdie has explained that he wanted to write about his own childhood in Bombay (e.g. Rushdie 1992a; 2006; 2012, 55), and that he has drawn on his family and friends to create the childhood of Saleem. Consistent with his use of 48

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film metaphors, Rushdie’s approach to allegory in Midnight’s Children bears resemblance to Bollywood films. M.K. Raghavendra (2008, 36) notes that Indian popular cinema apparently narrativizes the dominant concerns of historical periods by allegorizing them through the employment of familial motifs, because its eschewal of universal time prevents it from doing so otherwise. This is not to say that each motif consistently finds correspondence at the social/historical level because the narrative must also stand up independently as fiction. In the spirit of Bollywood films, Rushdie, too, allegorises certain concerns in his novel “through the employment of familial motifs.” Some of the characters of Midnight’s Children are like characters in Hindi cinema: they “stand in for specific classes, groups, and professions, brought together through kinship ties” (Virdi 2003, 41–42). But as in films, Rushdie’s motifs are not consistently allegorical – his first and foremost concern is the smoothness and flow of his fiction. So, in the course of the novel, Saleem operates both as an allegorical figure representing the Nehruvian democratic state and, much of the time, just as a character. The same applies to the other characters: they have at times allegorical roles, at times not. For example, Saleem’s sister Jamila, who is just his sister during childhood – and who as Brass Monkey, bears similarities to Rushdie’s own sister – becomes an allegory for Pakistan only in the 1960s, when the family moves across the border.

Becoming Indian Saleem begins his story from the spring of 1915 when his maternal grandfather Aadam Aziz has a crisis of faith in his native Kashmir. I argue that the reason for beginning with Aadam Aziz rather than any other forefather or foremother is that as Saleem is narrating the biography of the Nehruvian democratic state, the story, for him, begins with Aadam Aziz, who resembles Nehru and has “dreams of secularization and modernization” (Kortenaar 2004a, 37). On an allegorical level, Aziz actually embodies the Nehruvian strand of secular political nationalism. There were many competing forms of nationalism, from anti-imperialists to social reformers to Hindu revivalists and others, but what is narrated here is the dominant strand that eventually saw the birth of the independent state. Rushdie’s novel is not a nation-building 49

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narrative but an exposition of such narratives; he is not writing a mythic or nationalist account of the nation’s origins and development but exploring how the political nation and the state came to be created and narrated by Nehru and other Indian leaders and historians. In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie examines the Indian state and nation and their supporting nation-building narratives, and he prods and pokes them, exposing their problems and fault lines. Saleem’s family history is the history of the development of the democratic (Nehruvian) state, and the relatives that most matter to him are the ones who before, at and after the birth of the Indian nation-state came to have the biggest influence on democratic state formation. Rushdie sees the most influential people to Saleem/the democratic state to have been the Westerneducated or otherwise Westernised, modernised English-speaking Indian elite and middle classes who in the novel shape Saleem’s life, which is why these people/classes take centre stage in his narrative. Yet other origins, strands and influences are traced and suggested, too, as modern India is a mixture of a variety of traditions and origins. The year 1915, with which Saleem commences his story, is when Gandhi returned to India, though neither Gandhi nor his arrival in India is mentioned in the novel at this point. Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) had spent the years from 1893 to 1914 in South Africa practising law and organising campaigns in order to improve the situation of the Indians in the country. During his years in South Africa, he had developed into a strategist of non-violence and non-cooperation campaigns and was already famous in India on his return. Soon after, Gandhi took a leading role in the Indian national movement, launching his first satyagraha campaign in Champaran, Bihar, in 1917 to help Indian peasants to fight the exploitation of British indigo planters. Though not mentioned explicitly in the novel, Gandhi’s return clearly marks the beginning of a new era in India, the rise of national consciousness and the struggle, if not yet for full independence, then for greater freedom. The story of the independent Indian state starts from here, the period from 1915 to 1919 marking the time when the struggle for greater self-rule and finally independence began and when the idea of India as a nation was taking shape. In his famous 1909 text Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi suggested a civilisational concept of the Indian nation. Historian Sekhar Bandhyopadhyay (2004, 289) explains: The Indians constituted a nation or praja, he asserts, since the preIslamic days. The ancient Indian civilisation – ‘unquestionably 50

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the best’ – was the fountainhead of Indian nationality, as it had an immense assimilative power of absorbing foreigners of different creed who made this country their own. Indian cultural nation rests on the ancient civilisation, on a subcontinent of people living in the geographical area bound by the Himalayas and the seas and sharing certain cultural elements, texts and traditions. In The Idea of India, Sunil Khilnani (2001, 155–156) points out that The dissimilar agrarian regions of pre-colonial India did share intelligible, common cultural forms, derived from both Brahminic traditions and non-Brahminic sources. The storehouse of shared narrative structures embodied in epics, myths and folk stories, and the family resemblance in styles of art, architecture and religious motifs – if not ritual practices – testify to a civilizational bond. [. . .] Across the subcontinent, the single trait that overwhelmingly struck all outsiders was the orders of caste, which imposed themselves on incomers (except the British) and absorbed them into the productive relations of the society. Though hardly suggestive of a political unity, these characteristics – mythic narratives, aesthetic and ritual motifs, the typology of caste – did bestow a certain unified coherence on lives in the subcontinent. The political nation had roots in “India’s archive of images of political community, which related culture to polity,” yet “before the nineteenth century, no residents of the subcontinent would have identified themselves as Indian” (Khilnani 2001, 154, 156). The nineteenth century saw the birth of the national movement in India, but it was only in the twentieth century, and largely thanks to Gandhi, that it caught the imagination of the people in general and became a mass movement. The process of becoming Indian starts in Aadam Aziz in 1915 with his crisis of faith after his return from Europe. Nalini Natarajan (1999, 170) notes that when the young Aadam Aziz first meets and treats Naseem, she is shown to him through holes in a sheet. As he treats her in parts he begins to imagine her as a whole. This coincides with his imagining a ‘whole’ Indian identity for himself, instead of his regional Kashmiri one. 51

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Aziz’s process of becoming Indian is sealed in Amritsar in 1919, where the newly wed Aadam and Naseem stop on their way to Agra. In Amritsar, Saleem tells us, Doctor Aziz notices a soldierly young man in the street, and thinks – the Indians have fought for the British; so many of them have seen the world by now, and been tainted by Abroad. They will not easily go back to the old world. The British are wrong to try and turn back the clock. “It was a mistake to pass the Rowlatt Act,” he murmurs. (MC 32) Saleem refers to the expectations Indians had of being rewarded with reforms and changes in the governance of India for participating in World War I alongside the British. The new Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, had promised in the House of Commons in August 1917 a post-war policy of increasing association of Indians in administration and of gradual development of self-governing institutions. In 1919, an attempt was made to implement this promise when the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were introduced in India (the subsequent Government of India Act was inaugurated in 1921), but according to D.P. Singhal, they failed to satisfy even moderate opinion. The reforms showed a distrust of Indians’ ability to run the country by themselves, for the reforms retained complete British authority and a majority of officials in the central legislature. A dyarchic system was adopted, which meant that the British took care of the reserved subjects, such as home, revenue and finance, and thus held the ultimate authority; while the transferred subjects, such as education, health, agriculture and local government, were given to the Indian ministers at the provincial level. The system left no real power to the Indian ministers because many transferred subjects overlapped with the reserved ones and were thus handled by the British. This led Congress to declare the reforms inadequate and disappointing, and the party refused to cooperate with the British government (Singhal 1983, 359–360; Kulke and Rothermund 1986, 273). Furthermore, the repressive Rowlatt Acts, which allowed judges to try political cases without juries and gave the provincial governments the power of internment without trial, were passed in March 1919. The Acts included a tougher Press Act to control the press, as well as the right of the executive to deport individuals. Saleem notes that at that time, though his grandfather apparently sympathises with the people of British India and their plight, 52

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Aziz, with Tai in his head, does not feel Indian. Kashmir, after all, is not strictly speaking a part of the Empire, but an independent princely state. He is not sure if the hartal of pamphlet mosque wall newspaper is his fight, even though he is in occupied territory now. (MC 32) Aziz’s identity is still largely regional: he is a Kashmiri, the idea of India as a political entity is still alien to him (Merivirta 2014, 140), but the carnage he witnesses in Amritsar following the anti-Rowlatt Acts unrest changes his position. Arrests had followed anti-Rowlatt Acts meetings in Amritsar, which caused rioting in the city. As a consequence, mass meetings were prohibited, though this was not commonly known. On 13 April 1919, British Brigadier-General Dyer broke up a meeting by ordering his men to shoot at point-blank range at the unarmed crowd of some 10,000 Indians in the enclosed Jallianwalla Bagh, killing 379 people and injuring another 1,137. During the massacre, Aziz is in the middle of the crowd being fired at, and as he falls, he is branded by the clasp of his doctor’s bag, the word Heidelberg, where he studied medicine, branded on the bottom of it. Aziz explains years later: I started off as a Kashmiri and not much of a Muslim. Then I got a bruise on the chest that turned me into an Indian. I’m still not much of a Muslim, but I’m all for Abdullah. He’s fighting my fight. (MC 40) The latter is a reference to (the fictional) Mian Abdullah, the leader of the Free Islam Convocation, offering an alternative to the Muslim League’s striving for Pakistan, a homeland for Indian Muslims, in the early 1940s. Politicised by a traumatic manifestation of colonial rule and bearing the mark of the modernity (“Heidelberg” for modern medicine) inflicted by imperialism on his chest, Aadam Aziz joins millions of others in the subcontinent in becoming “Indian” (Merivirta 2014, 141). In Saleem’s words: “Stained by the bruise of a Heidelberg bag’s clasp, we throw our lot in with India” (MC 124). Furthermore, as a secularist, Aziz is “all for” not partitioning India but keeping it united and multicultural. The Amritsar Massacre helped to create an Indian identity for the people of the subcontinent who had until then identified themselves 53

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first and foremost as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as well as Bengalis, Punjabis and Kashmiris. The political awakening and the forming of the political Indian nation is facilitated through seeing India as a cultural nation comprising a civilisational unit. By the 1920s, there were three distinct lines of defending the existence of “India” as a unit. Khilnani (2001, 154) explains that nationalist Hindus asserted that Indian unity could be found in its common culture derived from religion; Gandhi, too, settled on religion as a source of interconnection among Indians, but manufactured his own eclectic and pluralist morality from different religious traditions; others, for whom Nehru became the most effective spokesman, turned away from religion and discovered a basis for unity both in a shared historical past of cultural mixing, and a future project of common development. These different concepts of Indian nation continued to compete with each other in the 1930s and early 1940s. Muslim demands for a separate state in the 1930s added a further strand to these nationalist discourses.

The construction of Nehruvian India Aziz’s transformation from a Kashmiri to an Indian follows Nehruvian ideas. Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the main architects of modern India, argued for a pan-national Indian identity and an Indian cultural nation. Nation-building, a feeling of horizontal identity, an Indian identity, was important to him. Nehru believed that the institutional frame of a state best facilitated the emergence of an Indian identity, and he worked towards making the idea of an Indian nation-state an even stronger reality. Furthermore, and in contrast to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru endorsed industrialisation and modernisation. Gandhi spoke for a machineless society with non-industrial villages as its core and a return to traditional Hindu values, while Nehru believed in planned development (Ali 1985, 41–42). Nehru was also a true democrat and laid great emphasis on building democratic institutions in India. He wanted a strong opposition and freedom of the press, and once even criticised himself anonymously in a newspaper. In an essay about Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi, Rushdie argues that the Indian leaders are erroneously portrayed in the film and the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru is misrepresented by the deliberate glossing-over of their differences 54

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of opinion: “One can understand nothing about the nature of India’s independence unless one understands the conflict between these two great men” (Rushdie 1992c, 105). In Midnight’s Children, the conflict between Gandhi and Nehru is not examined, but it is reflected in the choices the narrator makes in his telling of Indian history between the early 1920s and Independence. Gandhi’s campaign is left out since the focus of the novel is on the formation of the Nehruvian secular ideology and the future nation-state. The struggle for independence was aimed at forming a political Indian nation on the basis of the cultural one, derived from the ancient civilisation, the goal being a community of citizens. The characterisation of the Indian nation as a composite culture was used to stress the fusion of Hinduism and Islam as opposed to the privileging of Hindu culture. Oommen (2006, 440) states that “in retrospect it would seem that the very characterization of Indian culture as composite was a political project intended to avert the partition of India.” This was certainly an important goal of the Congress Party and one of its central leaders and visionaries, Jawaharlal Nehru. Khilnani (2001, 166–167) describes Nehru as able to install an intricate, pluralist definition of Indianness that gave, for a time, an illusion of permanence. Nehru’s skill in endowing the contingent with a sense of grand historical necessity, and in making his definition of Indianness seem the only possible one, nurtured this illusion. He relied on a compelling, if imaginary, story of the Indian past, told as a tale of cultural mixing and fusion, a civilizational tendency towards unification that would realize itself within the frame of a modern nation state. [. . .] Nehru’s idea of Indianness emerged through improvised responses to constrained circumstances: its strength was not its ideological intensity, but its ability to steer towards Indianness seen as layered, adjustable, imagined, not as a fixed property. While Nehru was attracted by the political and economic examples of the modern West, he was far less taken by its cultural models. Oommen (2006, 440) sees that the project of projecting India as a composite culture failed when India was partitioned and Pakistan came into existence. Aadam Aziz is a firm supporter of Mian Abdullah and the Free Islam Convocation representing secular Muslim nationalism “sympathetic 55

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to, but not entirely represented by, the mainstream nationalism of the Congress” (Srivastava 2008, 57). In 1942, Aziz, too, is affected by the “optimism epidemic” (MC 40), when the hope for a unified, independent India is still alive. But optimism soon fades away and the birth of Pakistan starts to seem more inevitable when Mian Abdullah is murdered. The Muslim movement for a unified India is subsequently literally swept under the carpet together with Abdullah’s assistant Nadir Khan. Srivastava points out that the more inclusive “nationalism of the Congress party, which emphasized the composite character of Indian society, was soon legitimized, especially after Partition, as the sole possible outcome of a secular political agenda for India.” The expectation was that secular nationalists, Hindu and Muslim alike, would choose “Congress as their representative party” (Srivastava 2008, 57). Aziz’s daughter Mumtaz, who can be read as an allegory for (the forming) political society, that is, an arena of nationalist politics with “the framework of modern political associations such as political parties” (Chatterjee 2001, 176) in colonial India, marries the hiding Nadir Khan. Chatterjee (2001, 176) explains that “the major form of mobilization by which political society (parties, movements, non-party political formations) tries to channel and order popular demands on the developmental state” is democracy. Srivastava (2008, 122), in fact, argues that Mumtaz “can be read as an allegory for the indigenous component of the Indian brand of political democracy.” Political society and the drive in India towards democracy represented by Mumtaz Aziz are significant factors in the birth of the democratic, Nehruvian state – Saleem, but Nadir Khan relinquishes his role as Mumtaz’s husband to Ahmed Sinai, who, in turn, can be read as an allegory for the Indian middle classes. Mumtaz’s marriage with Nadir Khan lasts two years (from late summer 1943 to August 1945) but is never consummated. One is tempted to read also the marriage of Mumtaz and Nadir Khan allegorically, since the exact dates are mentioned in the novel. The non-consummation of their marriage can be seen as pointing to the failure of the Indian political society and the Muslims working towards a unified Indian state to bring about a united Indian nation comprising all the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent. As historians tell us, after the failure of the Simla Conference in summer 1945 on the question of the representation of Muslims in a proposed plan for Indian self-government, the hope for a united, independent India seemed to be extinguished. When the cause of keeping India united seems lost, the marriage of Mumtaz and Nadir Khan dissolves as well. Nadir Khan divorces his wife and vanishes in August 1945. 56

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He re-appears later in the story but it seems to me that his allegorical role ends with his disappearance, just like Mumtaz/Amina’s allegorical role diminishes in the second book of the novel, with the birth of Saleem. In June 1946, when the Cabinet Mission proposes a plan to divide India into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan after the previous month’s plan envisaging a united India has fallen through,7 Mumtaz/Amina marries the merchant Ahmed Sinai, and together they become the parents of Saleem, the democratic Nehruvian state. The marriage takes place in June 1946, which is, in fact, the month when the Cabinet Mission, in India to negotiate the transfer of power to Indians, proposed a plan to divide India into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, as it had become apparent that a united India was no longer a possibility. From then on, Rushdie seems to say, the political society of India was married with the middle class. Amina Sinai then makes a public announcement about the child she is expecting in early 1947, when the plan for the partition of India has been officially accepted. When making the announcement, Amina displays her secular principles and religious tolerance by saving a Hindu man from the attack of an angry mob in the Old Delhi Muslim Quarters (Merivirta 2014, 143). While the Partition later that year will create Pakistan as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims, India will be created as a secular and pluralist country. Subsequently, the Sinais leave this Muslim neighbourhood, “where,” as Srivastava puts it, “the unifying factor is religion and not language or class,” for Bombay’s Methwold Estate, “a monolingual, Indian English-speaking middle-class neighbourhood.” At this point, “the factor of economic class emerges as a more cohesive bond than religion” (Srivastava 2008, 64). The families living on the Methwold Estate may be united in their middle-classness and offer a representative view of that class, but the Indian political nation is divided by differences between economic classes. The take-over of power from the British by the Indian (upper) middle classes is symbolically represented by the middle-class Sinais taking over the house of William Methwold, a British colonialist preparing to leave India (Merivirta 2014, 143). Saleem discloses that Methwold’s estate was sold on two conditions: that the houses be bought complete with every last thing in them, that the entire contents be retained by the new owners; and that the actual transfer should not take place until midnight on August 15th. (MC 109) 57

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Power is handed over “intact” to “suitable persons” (MC 111), such as the Sinais, by the British. Thus British rulers are replaced with “brown Englishmen,” and nothing much changes for the population groups that are not part of the new elite (Merivirta 2014, 144). Ahmed Sinai “goes white” after Independence along with many other Indian businessmen when the “pigmentation disorder [. . .] afflicted large numbers of the nation’s business community” (MC 212). Saleem describes “going white” as “a disease which leaked into history and erupted on an enormous scale shortly after Independence” (MC 46). Amina’s husband represents the middle class who benefitted most from the transfer of power (Merivirta 2014, 144). Srivastava (2008, 7) argues that “the class that came to identify most closely with Nehru’s secular and developmentalist ideology was the English-speaking uppermiddle-class elite that had stood most to gain from state-planned economic development.” The merchant does not cut a sympathetic figure, and the tragedies of his life are portrayed rather disparagingly. The lack of comic elements in the portrayal of Ahmed Sinai in the otherwise comical narrative is in itself telling; the quite negative depiction of Ahmed Sinai amounts to a criticism of the middle classes that took over the political society in independent India. Amina’s marriage to Ahmed Sinai denotes the reality that came to be after Independence and Partition, that is, the Indian (upper) middle class’s considerable clout in Indian political society and democracy. Despite universal adult suffrage, the abolition of the caste system, secular constitution, federal government and a functioning democracy, the Indian state did not come to be a community of national and equal citizens.

The Nehru years The expectations and hopes of Independence find a concrete form in the 1,001 magical midnight’s children who are born within the first hour of Independence. Saleem explains that the children “can be made to represent many things, according to your point of view.” He continues: they can be seen as the last throw of everything antiquated and retrogressive in our myth-ridden nation, whose defeat was entirely desirable in the context of a modernizing, twentiethcentury economy; or as the true hope of freedom, which is now forever extinguished. (MC 240)

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It is evident that for Saleem, as well as for Rushdie, the children were “the true hope of freedom” that was “forever extinguished” during the Emergency. In an interview, Rushdie has described his midnight’s children as “a kind of metaphor of hope and possibility, which, one day, was destroyed. A metaphor of hope betrayed and of possibilities denied” (Rushdie 1985, 6). The hope and possibilities of Independence seem to reside within the pluralist Nehruvian nation in Midnight’s Children, for as Jani (2010, 167) points out, “as these children span the geographical brea[d]th of India and represent a variety of political and philosophical platforms, they literally and symbolically undergo the process of constructing the ‘imagined community’ of the nation.” Midnight’s children can be read to symbolise the new nation itself, with its immense promises and possibilities. The children, “the very essence of multiplicity,” are to Saleem also “a sort of many-headed monster, speaking in the myriad tongues of Babel,” not easy to govern through democratic means, but they are still celebrated by Saleem for “their wondrously discrete and varied gifts” (MC 274). Jani (2010, 142) reads Rushdie’s novel as a postnationalist one, though he also argues that the nation “continues to haunt” it, as Saleem expresses a strong “desire for the nation.” In my reading, Saleem/Rushdie continues to have faith in the concept of the Nehruvian nation as well as in its possibilities – Saleem writes of the midnight’s children and their conference: “But optimism, like a lingering disease, refused to vanish; I continued to believe [even after the crisis that the 1962 Sino-Indian war brought about in India] – I continue now [after the Emergency] – that what-we-had-in-common would finally have outweighed what-drove-us-apart” (MC 358). In my reading, it is not Nehru’s idea of a democratic and secular India, not his pluralist idea of the nation, that is questioned or criticised; it is the incompleteness of the democratic institution-building during the Nehru era and especially the abuse of democracy in Indira Gandhi’s India that are examined and criticised. In Nehruvian India, hope is still very much in evidence, when Saleem forms the Midnight’s Children’s Conference in his head to discuss and debate matters. At the age of nine, Saleem discovers that he can get in touch with his fellow midnight’s children, all of whom have supernatural powers. He is able to act as a sort of national network, so that by opening my transformed mind to all the children I could turn it into a kind

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of forum in which they could talk to one another, through me [. . .] in the lok sabha or parliament of my brain. (MC 271) Here the allegory of Saleem as the democratic Nehruvian state is perhaps most clear as excited debates take place in the parliament he offers for his fellow children (Merivirta 2014, 145–146). As Jean Kane (1996, 100) argues, the parliament of Saleem’s brain “represents the utopian promise of a just, democratic, and unified government.” In addition to hearing the voices of fellow midnight’s children, Saleem is connected to the millions of his fellow countrymen: “Telepathy, then: the inner monologues of all the so-called teeming millions, of masses and classes alike, jostled for space within my head” (MC 200). Democracy is at work here, and various population groups find their place in the pluralistic state. In Nehru’s India, the future seems bright and full of promise, and democratic and just governance seem possible, in the early years at least. Jani (2010, 32) underscores “the enormous sense of possibility that was spawned by the anticolonial struggles” and which carried on to the newly independent state, “as the new India, for all of its problems, expanded the basis on which deeper and more comprehensive versions of democracy and social justice could be enacted.” He asserts that the early postcolonial period was “regarded as genuinely radical and independent.” Jani makes these observations about Indian history, but I argue that they can be made of Saleem’s India as well. The India/Bombay of Saleem’s childhood is by and large a happy place and full of promise, at least for someone in Saleem’s position, that is, belonging to the wealthy middle class, the Englishspeaking elite. It is also noteworthy that Saleem’s childhood in Bombay during Nehru’s premiership is seen through the nostalgic lens of Rushdie’s own childhood memories in the cosmopolitan Bombay – Rushdie is the same age as Saleem. As Alan Robinson (2011, 86) points out, Nehruvian Bombay is “Saleem/Salman’s paradise [. . .] India’s most modern city, whose upper-class cosmopolitan culture reached its zenith during Rushdie’s youth, is represented as symbol and transitory realisation of Nehru’s vision of a tolerant, non-sectarian nation.” This paradise begins to disintegrate in the last years of Nehru’s premiership and is gradually lost during Indira Gandhi’s rule. In the Midnight’s Children’s Conference, Saleem faces Shiva, the only other midnight’s child born at the precise hour of Independence, at the stroke of midnight. The babies Saleem and Shiva were swapped at birth, and Saleem was raised by the Sinais, whereas Shiva was raised in the slums by Wee Willie Winkie. Saleem reveals that his biological 60

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parents are Vanita, a subaltern Indian woman, a representative of the masses, and William Methwold, who stands for the British and from whom independent India inherited its ruling classes, administrative and political systems and its army. The democratic, Nehruvian state is brought up middle-class and ultimately – though Saleem attempts to provide a forum for all the midnight’s children, and through telepathy, for “the masses and the classes” of India – the attempt fails. Rushdie commends Nehruvianism as an idea and a political project, but he also points out some of the flaws in the state- and nation-building. The Nehruvian state did not manage to incorporate the subalterns as true citizens. Partha Chatterjee explains that Most of the inhabitants of India are only tenuously, and even then ambiguously and contextually, rights-bearing citizens in the sense imagined by the constitution. They are not, therefore, proper members of civil society and are not regarded as such by the institutions of the state. But it is not as though they are outside the reach of the state or even excluded from the domain of politics. As populations within the territorial jurisdiction of the state, they have to be both looked after and controlled by various governmental agencies. These activities bring these populations into a certain political relationship with the state. But this relationship does not always conform to what is envisaged in the constitutional depiction of the relation between the state and members of civil society. (Chatterjee 2004, 38) Rushdie’s criticism of the state is in line with this part of Chatterjee’s argument. In the same vein, Arvind Rajagopal (2001, 45) argues that “Nehruvianism, held to represent the consent of the majority, in fact involved only a small minority, comprised of the educated middle and upper classes.” The middle classes, the rich peasants and the capitalists were “the main beneficiaries of the social system and economic development since 1947” (Chandra 2003, 24). The middle classes took the reins of the government and civil service, and the subalterns largely remained subalterns despite universal franchise and the outlawing of untouchability and caste-based discrimination by the Constitution of India in 1950. As Stephen Morton (2008, 35) writes, Rushdie foregrounds how the freedom which the event of India’s national independence seemed to promise was also 61

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founded on the exclusion of socially subordinate, “subaltern” groups and communities who were deemed to be minorities on the grounds of race, class, language or religion. The relation between the “elite citizens” and the rest of the population that inhabits Indian territory becomes a significant theme in the otherwise mainly positively described Nehru years. In Nehru’s India, Shiva, disillusioned by the fact that the new democratic state that left the poor, the subaltern, without a voice despite their formal enfranchisement, challenges Saleem and his illusions of democracy. “Shiva, for whom the world was things, for whom history could only be explained as the continuing struggle of oneself-against-thecrowd” (MC 339), is alienated from middle-class politics and democracy in general, and debates fiercely with Saleem. Shiva wants the two of them to be the uncontested leaders of the group, whereas Saleem, with his striving for democracy but cuddled in his middle-classness and his family’s access to full citizenship and its benefits, is idealistically after a “sort of loose federation of equals, all points of view given free expression,” and he strives for meaning, a purpose for their federation (MC 263). This is his vision for the Indian nation. Shiva retorts: What purpose, man? What thing in the whole sister-sleeping world got reason, yara? For what reason you’re rich and I’m poor? Where’s the reason in starving, man? God knows how many millions of damn fools living in this country, man, and you think there’s purpose! Man, I’ll tell you – you got to get what you can, do what you can with it, and then you got to die. That’s reason, rich boy. Everything else is only mother-sleeping wind. (MC 263–264) Brennan (1989, 102) argues that “the contest between Saleem and Shiva is further portrayed as a debate between parties in a parliament chamber. It takes place in the arena of Midnight’s Children Conference, a microcosm of the Indian government.” In my reading, Saleem and Shiva’s debates bring forth the differences in political, economic and social possibilities between various population groups in Indian society. Saleem “engages in a lifelong struggle for democracy with his dark brother Shiva” (Tyssens 1989, 20), and pleads with his fellow children, “Do not permit the endless duality of masses-and-classes, capital-andlabour, them-and-us to come between us! We [.  .  .] must be a third principle” (MC 306), but to little avail. Shiva replies: “No little rich 62

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boy; there is no third principle; there is only money-and-poverty, and have-and-lack, and right-and-left; there is only me-against-the-world!” (MC 307). Shiva points out that the democratic governance in India does not work equally for the haves and have-nots. Rushdie depicts Shiva as having been left outside Indian democracy. Jani (2010, 168) notes that “Shiva, driven by poverty and the knowledge of inequality, rejects the idea of a rational world and the egalitarian possibilities of the nation, sees a chance at power and control, and is single-minded in getting it.” Shiva is later shut out of the Conference as he and Saleem cannot resolve their differences. This seems to suggest that the subalterns are excluded from the field of politics, or at least parliamentary decision-making processes, in Nehruvian India. However, Rushdie does not follow Shiva into his life in slums or discuss his possible political agency, which leaves a big part of Shiva’s story untold. In Saleem’s version, Shiva’s political agency in parliamentary democracy is decidedly unconstitutional: Saleem reveals that Shiva “played a minor role in the elections” of 1957. Shiva was recruited by – well, perhaps I will not name the party; but only one party had really large sums to spend – and on polling day, he and his gang [. . .] were to be seen standing outside a polling station in the north of the city [. . .] encouraging the electorate to use its vote with wisdom and care. (MC 265) Saleem’s narrative focuses on the destructive powers of Shiva, his capacity for violence and his excellence at warfare, but his ordinary life in the slums remains untold, the reasons for his view on democracy unexplored, and the narrator’s perspective remains an elite one. Partha Chatterjee writes that as they are not regarded as “proper citizens” by the state authorities, specific population groups in India “survive by sidestepping the law” (Chatterjee 2001, 177). Many of these [population] groups, organized into associations, transgress the strict lines of legality in struggling to live and work. They may live in illegal squatter settlements, make illegal use of water or electricity, travel without tickets in public transport. In dealing with them, the authorities cannot treat them on the same footing as other civic associations following more legitimate social pursuits. (Chatterjee 2004, 40–41) 63

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Chatterjee (2004, 40–41) explains that these population groups negotiate their claims on the welfare programmes of the government on a political terrain where, on the one hand, governmental agencies have a public obligation to look after the poor and the underprivileged and, on the other, particular population groups receive attention from those agencies according to calculations of political expediency. Groups in political society have to pick their way through this uncertain terrain by making a large array of connections outside the group – with other groups in similar situations, with more privileged and influential groups, with government functionaries, perhaps with political parties and leaders. They often make instrumental use of the fact that they can vote in elections. [. . .] But the instrumental use of the vote is possible only within a field of strategic politics. This is the stuff of democratic politics as it takes place on the ground in India. Emma Tarlo’s (2003, 11) field work also suggests that the poor “relate to the state principally through the market. Basic amenities such as land, jobs, electricity, water and paving are things, not provided, but purchased in exchange for votes, money, or, in the case of the Emergency, sterilisation certificates.” Rushdie does not discuss these negotiations, nor does he explore these population groups as groups. His biography of the Nehruvian state does not include this other side of democratic politics in India, only the story of the Nehruvian idea(l) of democratic government – with a critique of its exclusions – and its decline and demise in Indira Gandhi’s India. In addition to taking the subaltern position against Saleem’s middleclass one, Shiva, whom Rushdie (1985, 4) describes as Saleem’s “kind of dark side,” represents on another allegorical level the undemocratic tendency haunting the newly independent postcolonial nations. Both born at the stroke of midnight when India became independent, swapped at birth and, as Timothy Brennan (1989, 111) points out, interchangeable in their roles, Saleem and Shiva represent the democratic idea and the undemocratic alternative. Nehru’s democratic idea(l) prevailed, while the undemocratic alternative was relegated to the margins, until Indira Gandhi turned authoritarian, symbolised in the novel by her hiring of Shiva during the Emergency. At Independence, India was steered along the democratic path by Nehru, though the democracy had its limitations as Rushdie points out. The route 64

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taken by some other postcolonial nations was different, but in India, military coups and dictatorships were avoided and the undemocratic alternative pushed, like Shiva, to the side, by democratic institutionbuilding. However, even while democracy prevailed, the undemocratic tendency was still present as Shiva’s role as hired help in poll-fixing manifests. Shiva represents this undemocratic tendency in his use of force and violence throughout the narrative. This reading is not to be taken to mean that an undemocratic tendency resides with the poor, the subaltern, the masses, that they are not capable of democracy. Quite the contrary; the people and their mass mobilisation is where the hope resides in the mid-1970s, when Indira Gandhi acts in an authoritarian manner. Rather, this reading points to another layer of meaning. Besides the allegorical roles that Saleem and Shiva have as the democratic Nehruvian idea(l) that developed into a democratic state and the undemocratic alternative pushed to the side at Independence, the two characters take on class roles in their debate in the parliament of Saleem’s mind. They occupy these positions now, because they were swapped at birth and Saleem has been taken care of by the middle class, just as Nehruvian democracy was taken over by the middle and upper classes, whereas Shiva lived in the slums. In the 1970s, their fortunes have reversed, and it is Saleem who lives in a ghetto, and Shiva who is a wealthy Major in the Indian army and a popular socialite. At that point, Shiva continues to represent the undemocratic alternative, which makes it clear that democracy and autocracy are not linked with class position; yet an individual’s class position makes all the difference with regard to one’s status in civil and political societies in India.

The end of an age Towards the end of the Nehru era, Saleem brings up problems the Nehruvian democratic state faced. Crucially, the Midnight’s Children’s Conference suffers from divisions of class, caste, region, religion and culture, all of which are pulling the conference apart: Children, however magical, are not immune to their parents; and as the prejudices and world-views of adults began to take over their minds, I found children from Maharashtra loathing Gujaratis, and fair-skinned northerners reviling Dravidian “blackies”; there were religious rivalries; and class entered our councils. The rich children turned up their noses at being in such lowly company; Brahmins began to feel uneasy at permitting 65

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even their thoughts to touch the thoughts of untouchables; while, among the low-born, the pressures of poverty and Communism were becoming evident. [. . .] In this way the Midnight Children’s Conference fulfilled the prophecy of the Prime Minister and became, in truth, a mirror of the nation. (MC 306) These division and rivalries signify the beginning of the end of the Nehruvian concept of “unity in diversity,” which was severely challenged during Indira Gandhi’s rule and after. At the same time, in 1958, Saleem shows the reader through newspaper headlines some of the problems, flaws and failures of the Nehruvian democratic government at the time: Bandung principles spurned by Chinese border activities; Sheikh Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir, was arrested when he “was campaigning for a plebiscite in his state to determine its future”; riots and mass arrests in Communist-run Kerala; Nehru considered resignation; after Nehru, who? (MC 311–312). These events signal the end of “the period that historians have described as being one of ‘hope and achievement’” (Jani 2010, 32).8 The world of Saleem’s childhood comes to an end in September 1958, when, after a neighbourhood tragedy, almost all of Methwold’s “heirs” have to sell their houses and Saleem’s uncle Hanif commits suicide. During the Sinai family’s 40-day mourning period, Mary Pereira confesses her crime of swapping the babies, which prompts the worried Saleem to bar Shiva from the Midnight’s Children Conference before he claims his birth right. Barring Shiva appears as a critical mistake in the novel, an act of the democratic state diminishing itself in India, especially since the date it takes place seems highly meaningful. Shiva goes his own way in September 1958 and is not heard of before he re-emerges as a hero of the Bangladesh War in 1971. By then, Shiva has become a Major in the Indian army. Though not mentioned in Midnight’s Children, the exclusion of Shiva from the Midnight’s Children Conference, or the parliamentary decision-making, in September 1958, and his later re-emergence as an army officer, can be read to point to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), enacted in September 1958 to bring under control what the government of India considered “disturbed” areas by deploying armed forces if necessary. Dabas (2016) explains in India Times that in the case of AFSPA (Manipur and Assam) 1958, the government of India used article 355 of the Constitution to confer 66

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power in the hands of governors. “Keeping in view the duty of the Union under Article 355 of the Constitution, inter alia, to protect every State against internal disturbance, it is considered desirable that the Central government should also have power to declare areas as ‘disturbed,’ to enable its armed forces to exercise the special powers.” The AFSPA (Manipur and Assam), following the Naga movement, gave the armed forces certain special powers in the “disturbed” areas. An army officer, Shiva is employed by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, declared in her view to protect the state against internal disturbance. Rushdie seems to point out through Shiva, who has undemocratic tendencies, that the AFSPA paved the way for Indira Gandhi’s measures in the 1970s. Saleem convenes the Midnight’s Children Conference once more in October 1962, but the Conference disintegrates as China humiliates India in a short demonstration war in the North, signalling the end of the Nehru era. Nehru aimed at Asian unity and desired peaceful relations with China. The Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962 was a shocking wake-up call for Nehru and for India. The war crushed Nehru’s hopes of great Asian unity and peaceful relations with China: his idealism was drastically shaken. Saleem explains that as the midnight children lost faith in me, they also lost their belief in the thing I had made for them. Between October 20th and November 20th, I continued to convene – to attempt to convene – our nightly sessions; but they fled from me, not one by one, but in tens and twenties; each night, less of them were willing to tune in; each week, over a hundred of them retreated into private life. In the high Himalayas, Gurkhas and Rajputs fled in disarray from the Chinese army; and in the upper reaches of my mind, another army was also destroyed by things – bickerings, prejudices, boredom, selfishness – which I had believed too small, too petty to have touched them. (MC 357–358) Saleem describes how the war with China disillusioned India about its own powers and capabilities; optimism faded and the range of possibilities of democracy, the new state and government seemed narrower than 15 years earlier. The nation also lost faith in itself as a unity. After the war, Nehru’s health deteriorated rapidly. He suffered a stroke in January 67

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1964 and passed away four months later. Srivastava (2008, 64) argues that “after Nehru’s death, Indian secularism gradually loses its momentum, together with the promise of a democratic and multicultural society, culminating with the dark years of the Emergency.” For Saleem, this process started in late 1962 after the disillusionment brought about by the Sino-Indian conflict and the effect it had on Nehru, whose health deteriorated rapidly after the war. The day when the Chinese defeated Indian troops, 20 November 1962, is the last day of Saleem’s Nehruvian childhood. The following day, the day of the ceasefire, Saleem has a nose operation that severs his connection with the other midnight’s children for good. The Nehruvian, democratic state loses its magic. Saleem moves to Pakistan with his family in February 1963, where he arrives at “adolescence – understanding, of course, that the subcontinent’s new nations and I had all left childhood behind” (MC 370), in another reference to the loss of the “golden age” of the young nation. Saleem connects the death of his grandfather Aadam Aziz, in January 1964, with the death of Nehru: “after the death of my grandfather, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru fell ill and never recovered his health. This fatal sickness finally killed him on May 27th, 1964” (MC 334). The deaths of these two founding fathers are closely connected and mark the end of the Nehruvian era (Merivirta 2014, 148): “My grandfather was the founder of my family, and my fate was linked by my birthday to that of the nation, and the father of the nation was Nehru” (MC 334). A clean break with Saleem’s past comes with the annihilation of his family in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war. The annihilation of Saleem’s family signals the end of the democratic, pluralist, Nehruvian India with the demise of Nehru’s follower Shastri. When Pakistan’s operation “Grand Slam” to capture Kashmir was defeated by India in three weeks in 1965, India’s Prime Minister Shastri became a hero. The joy brought on by the victory did not last long, however; Shastri died on 10 January 1966 during the peace conference in Tashkent, hours after signing the treaty. Subsequently, Indira Gandhi was chosen by the Congress “Syndicate”9 to be the next Prime Minister of India, for they thought that she could be controlled by the older and more experienced politicians. After the death of his family, Saleem continues to live in Pakistan but suffers from amnesia for the next six years, a time during which Indira Gandhi strengthens her hold on power and a new chapter in the life of India begins. As Saleem does not remember the events of these six years, they are not narrated either. Saleem’s story in fact jumps five years forward in time from the 1965 war to “a date late in 1970, before the election which split the country in two” (MC 415). Saleem 68

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refers to himself during these years as “not I. He. He, the buddha. Who, until the snake, would remain not-Saleem; who [. . .] was still separated from his past” (MC 431–432). He becomes his true self – his memory returns and he is reconnected with his past – only in 1971, when a venomous snake bites him in the Sundarbans. Saleem notes that when “emptied of history, the buddha learned the arts of submission and did only what was required of him. To sum up: I became a citizen of Pakistan” (MC 419). Saleem points out the importance of remembering here: without history, without remembering the past, he is submissive and can be told what to do and how to behave, even to swallow the idea of Pakistan that he has criticised before. Without his memories, he, a citizen of Pakistan and a soldier of the West Pakistani army, takes part in the war in East Pakistan in 1971. With his memory returned to him by the snake-bite, Saleem deserts the Pakistani army and returns to India with the victorious Indian troops in December 1971 after the Bangladesh War. Saleem notes that “In the aftermath of the Sundarbans, my old life was waiting to reclaim me. I should have known: no escape from past acquaintance. What you were is forever who you are” (MC 440). In Saleem’s case, that is someone who identified with the Nehruvian vision of India so fully that he cannot accept the India of Indira Gandhi. Saleem “remembers the state as it promised to be and calls it back to its better self,” as Neil ten Kortenaar (2004a, 139) puts it. “He abandons his identification with the state, now usurped by the Widow, and [.  .  .] identifies instead with the poor and dispossessed, [. . .] in short, with the nation rather than the state” (Kortenaar 2004a, 138). Ten Kortenaar (2004a, 138) does not see Saleem only as an allegory of Nehruvian democracy as such, but also sees him as identifying with “the state that Nehru and the Congress Party wrested from the British.” In my reading, Saleem is still an allegory for the idea(l) of (Nehruvian) democracy in Indira Gandhi’s India though the Nehruvian state is gone (with Nehru, Shastri and the Indo-Pakistani War). As the state is in the hands of Indira Gandhi, who is centralising all power to herself, Saleem – still identifying with and committed to the Nehruvian idea(l) of democracy – takes as his mission to “save the country.” He acts as an allegory for this democratic idea(l) in the third part of the novel.

Saving the country from the dynasty The third book of Midnight’s Children focuses on the years from 1971 to 1977 and on Indira Gandhi’s India. This India is presented 69

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as very different from the Nehruvian one, the one with which Saleem had identified. In this third book, Saleem describes his weapon of choice for fighting Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism, the suppression of democracy and forgetting: remembering and pickling of memories. Saleem says: Today, the papers are talking about the supposed political rebirth of Mrs. Indira Gandhi; [. . .] Today, perhaps, we are already forgetting, sinking willingly into the insidious clouds of amnesia; but I remember, and will set down, how I – how she – how it happened. (MC 460) He acts as a witness, offering testimony of what he has seen and experienced in Indira Gandhi’s India. As was mentioned earlier, Saleem does not, due to his amnesia, depict or discuss what was going on in India while he resided in Pakistan; there is a gap in the telling of events in India till the landslide victory of Indira Gandhi in 1971. There is only one reference to what took place in India after Nehru: My grandmother Naseem Aziz arrived in Pakistan in mid1964, leaving behind an India in which Nehru’s death had precipitated a bitter power struggle. Morarji Desai, the Finance Minister, and Jagjivan Ram, most powerful of the untouchables, united in their determination to prevent the establishment of a Nehru dynasty; so Indira Gandhi was denied the leadership. (MC 391) Saleem hints that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was already in the making here, possibly even that Nehru himself had groomed his daughter for power and endorsed the dynasty. But though Indira Gandhi had served as her father’s official hostess and travelled with him on international business, she held no cabinet post in Nehru’s time. She was not even a member of the parliament. Nehru was in fact reluctant to promote his daughter. Nehru himself “stated that he ‘would not like to appear to encourage some sort of dynastic arrangement. That would be wholly undemocratic and an undesirable thing,’ and he insisted that he was ‘not grooming her for anything’” (Frank 2002, 250–251). Indira Gandhi had become a member of the Congress Working Committee, 70

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the highest policy-making body of the Congress Party, in 1955; she had been elected to the Congress Central Election Committee in 1957, and had served as Congress President in 1959, but all at the request of the party leaders, not her father. After Nehru’s death, the real succession conflict did not involve Indira Gandhi but was fought between Morarji Desai and Lal Bahadur Shastri. The latter became the choice of the party and was duly nominated. It was Prime Minister Shastri who offered Indira Gandhi her first cabinet post in 1964 as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Though Saleem clearly respects Nehru, contempt towards Nehru’s daughter and the nepotism she practiced is apparent right from the beginning of her entrance into politics. Saleem makes it sound like Indira Gandhi was determined to follow her father and thus establish a dynasty already in the early 1960s, while it actually seems that Indira Gandhi in fact desired “privacy and anonymity” at the time and wanted to leave India and politics altogether (Frank 2002, 267).10 Sudipta Kaviraj (1986, 1697) emphasises that Indira Gandhi’s “coming to power was not dynastic, though subsequently it came misleadingly to appear that way.” On the other hand, Indira Gandhi did constantly refer to her position as Nehru’s daughter, even a “daughter of Independence,” and made political capital out of it. In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie inverts this use of blood ties and criticises the dynastic tendencies it implies. Furthermore, once comfortably settled in her position as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi did work on concentrating power. By the spring of 1972, she had centralised and concentrated all power into her own hands. Bipan Chandra (2003, 13) writes: The political command at both the centre and the states was now unified. Indira Gandhi had now virtually complete control over the party, her cabinet and the chief ministers. The dominance she now enjoyed across the political system surpassed even that of Nehru in his time. She also attempted to undermine the power of the judiciary and to have her own loyal nominees chosen as President to make her position “virtually unassailable” (Frank 2002, 361). Nandy notes that one of the most remarkable features of the second half of Indira Gandhi’s rule was the way she nearly destroyed the institutional and organizational interfaces between the highest seats of power in the country and the ordinary citizen. [. . .] 71

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Gradually all the important new institutions which stood between the rulers and the ruled – the judiciary, the trade unions, the press, the political parties including her own party, and parliament – were one by one weakened or wrecked. (Nandy 1980, 121) Saleem mentions most of these details at least in passing, and he paints a portrait of Indira Gandhi as a power-hungry and powerful individual. When Saleem arrives in Delhi in fellow midnight’s child Parvati’s magical basket on 16 December 1971, he notices that “‘The Madam’ was basking in the fullness of her glory. [.  .  .] Mrs. Gandhi’s New Congress Party held a more-than-two thirds majority in the National Assembly” (MC 460–461). Readers familiar with Indian politics will know that the “New” before the Congress Party refers to Indira Gandhi’s splitting of the party in 1969, but the reasons for and consequences of this split are never discussed or explained to those unfamiliar with this historical turn. Nothing is told – due to Saleem’s amnesia – about Indira Gandhi’s rise to power and her rather drastic subsequent measures, such as splitting the Congress Party, nationalising India’s banks, abolishing the privy purses of the princes or disrupting the Congress Party hierarchy and local power bases in favour of a strong central government. Saleem’s only reference to Indira Gandhi in those years is about her electoral victory in the spring of 1971, but even that remark is made in retrospect about things he did not know and see at the time, as he describes himself as “Indira-ignorant, unable to see her campaign slogan, GARIBI HATAO, Get Rid of Poverty, blazoned on walls and banners” (MC 424) on his way to Pakistan’s eastern wing in the spring of 1971. It is interesting that Saleem explains neither how Indira Gandhi came to be Prime Minister nor the reasons for her popularity in the early 1970s, save for mentioning her populist campaign slogan “get rid of poverty.” Thus, the reader is left with the impression that a Nehru dynasty was in the making right after Nehru’s death and had only been delayed by “Morarji Desai, the Finance Minister and Jagjivan Ram, most powerful of the untouchables” in 1964 (MC 391) and that Indira Gandhi had achieved her popularity through being Nehru’s daughter and a populist politician. Tumbling out of the basket, the reality hits Saleem in the face. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is at the height of her power: immensely popular after the Bangladesh War and in personal control of her party and the cabinet as well as the National Assembly with her party holding more than a two-thirds majority. As Akbar S. Ahmed (1992, 295–296) 72

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argues, the 1971 war with Pakistan “was a turning point in South Asian history. The gentle, idealistic, liberal amorphism that was the Nehru philosophy now gave way to the hard pragmatism of Nehru’s daughter, Indira. She herself dismissed his philosophy.” Rushdie seems to agree with this view, for Saleem, armed now with his memories of Nehruvian India returned to him by the snake-bite, soon decides on a mission: he has “to save the country” (MC 461). The reason for this decision is “now that I had given myself the right to choose a better future, I was resolved that the nation should share it, too” (MC 461). As the decision closely follows Saleem’s mention of the Indira Gandhiruled India, it seems clear that he is determined to save the country from Prime Minister Gandhi who had, as Ahmed (1992, 297) writes, “set the tone and pace for the new era: successful and ruthlessly conducted elections in 1971, a swift, crushing military victory over Pakistan in 1971, successful provincial elections in 1972, the controversial imposition of Emergency in 1975.” It is the last event that proves crucial in the relationship between Prime Minister Gandhi and Saleem. The theme of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty surfaces again when Saleem, having spent a few days in the magicians’ ghetto, moves in to live with his uncle Mustapha Aziz, a senior civil servant: “under his auspices, I would seek preferment in the Administration, and, as I studied the realities of government, would certainly find the keys of national salvation” (MC 464). Uncle Mustapha reassures him that Our country is in safe hands. Already Indiraji is making radical reforms – land reforms, tax structures, education, birth control – you can leave it to her and her Sarkar. [.  .  .] My uncle’s rejection of my pleas for preferment had one grave effect: the more he praised his Indira, the more deeply I detested her. (MC 471) Then someone very much like Sanjay Gandhi pays a visit to his uncle’s house. Saleem notes that certain high-ups in that extraordinary government (and also certain unelected sons of prime ministers) had acquired the power of replicating themselves . . . a few years later, there would be gangs of Sanjays all over India! No wonder that incredible dynasty wanted to impose birth control on the rest of us. (MC 471–472) 73

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This is Saleem’s first mention of Sanjay Gandhi, who features rather prominently in the novel from now on. Saleem’s satire takes issue with the dynastic tendencies of Indira Gandhi and with Sanjay Gandhi’s unearned powerful position in the government. Sanjay Gandhi neither had contested an election nor had been nominated for any office, and therefore he held no official position; yet by the mid-1970s, he was second to his mother in power and the person she trusted the most. Weiner (1978, 36) notes that “as the Emergency progressed, Sanjay’s influence soon extended outside of Delhi, and senior government officials, cabinet ministers, and the prime minister herself urged visiting chief ministers to consult Sanjay on a variety of state concerns.” Saleem also makes bitter fun of Sanjay Gandhi’s notoriety as a “youth” leader and the organising force behind the sterilisation campaign. Sanjay Gandhi was in charge of Congress youth camps, where “youths”, or as Saleem calls them, “gangs of Sanjays”, did his bidding, as well as of the forcible sterilisations during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi herself had acquired her first experiences of political power as Nehru’s daughter, a member of a dynasty, rather than as a politician who had built her own power base. But she did build it in the late 1960s and early 1970s, since she became Prime Minister in early 1966 and stood for parliament for the first time in 1967. Interestingly, however, Indira Gandhi actually did not involve her sons in politics before the 1970s but instead wielded power with the help of her “kitchen cabinet.”11 Frank (2002, 320) notes that in the late 1960s, Indira Gandhi did not yet envisage a family dynasty. Indira, in fact, repeatedly stated in interviews that her sons had no interest in politics and that she would do everything in her power to see that they remained outside of the political world. She had no wish to pass the family “burden” on to them. Frank (2002, 321) observes that Indira Gandhi’s separation of family and country started to falter in November 1968 when an announcement was made in the Lok Sabha of her son Sanjay Gandhi’s application for “a licence to produce a small, efficient, indigenous Indian car.” Sanjay Gandhi rose to political prominence in the early 1970s after he was granted the licence to manufacture the “people’s car” in November 1970. Frank (2002, 322) argues that Indira Gandhi “continued to insist that she did not want either of her sons to become involved in politics, but the Maruti contract opened a door into that world for 74

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Sanjay.” By mid-1975, Sanjay Gandhi was wielding considerable unofficial power and had tremendous influence over his mother. Saleem does not discuss the “people’s car” and the abuse of power connected with it, but the Maruti business is a central theme in Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us War). As the state is, which will be discussed in Chapter 4. Saleem suspects that Sanjay Gandhi is also examining the case of midnight’s children. Saleem’s suspicions are confirmed when soon after the mysterious visit, his alarmed uncle Mustapha is only too happy to pack him off back to the magicians’ ghetto. Uncle Mustapha, a senior civil servant, represents here the “committedness”12 of the bureaucracy that Indira Gandhi demanded. Mustapha demonstrates a blind lap-dog devotion to every one of the Prime Minister’s acts. If Indira Gandhi had asked him to commit suicide, Mustapha Aziz would have ascribed it to anti-Muslim bigotry but also defended the statesmanship of the request, and, naturally, performed the task without daring (or even wishing) to demur. (MC 467) Mustapha Aziz thwarts Saleem’s “ambitious project of nation-saving” (MC 464) through institutional channels, with the help of the Civil Service (Thiara 2009, 45). When the institutional way of working through Civil Service, of re-instituting democracy that way to save the country, turns out to be impossible because of the “committed” Civil Service represented by Uncle Mustapha, Saleem returns to the magicians’ slum and works with the Left. For a while, the magicians’ ghetto, where Saleem returns with Parvati on 23 February 1973, becomes central in Saleem’s effort to save the country. As Tariq Ali (1982, 92) points out, Rushdie sees the Left as a magicians’ ghetto. Saleem, in fact, likens the ghetto to “the Communist movement in India; within the confines of the colony could be found, in miniature, the many divisions and dissensions which racked the Party in the country” (MC 476). Saleem acknowledges that some magicians of the community “aligned themselves firmly behind Mr. Dange’s Moscow-line official C.P.I., which supported Mrs. Gandhi throughout the Emergency” (MC 476),13 yet he states that though he was raised in “Businessism,” he now “felt instantly and comfortingly at home,” turning “red and then redder” (MC 474). He describes himself as “full of thoughts of direct-communication-with-the-masses” as he settles in the magicians’ colony (MC 474). Saleem is immersed in leftist politics in 1973–1974, as the Left, and especially the Communists, 75

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represent the possibility of national salvation for him at this point. While with the magicians, Saleem is “preoccupied with politics”: in May 1974, for example, he is “at an emergency conference of the city’s many cells, discussing the ins and outs of the national railway strike” and “busily denouncing the government’s arrests of union leaders” (MC 490). However, as Alan Robinson (2011, 91) writes, the Communist movement is also ridiculed for being ineffectual, and Saleem notes that “having been expelled from my uncle’s house I could never fully enter the world-according-to-Picture-Sing [the magician]; [.  .  .] my dream of saving the country was a thing of mirrors and smoke; insubstantial, the maunderings of a fool” (MC 493). It appears that he is not able to save the country, or even himself, from Indira Gandhi. Towards the end of the novel, Indira Gandhi and her younger son are never far away; they, or at least copies of Sanjay, frequently cross Saleem’s path. During Saleem’s stay, the ghetto is visited by “another copy” of Sanjay Gandhi who resorts to populist and leftist rhetoric, declaring in the name of the Congress Party that “all men are created equal!” He unfurls a banner which reads: “Abolish Poverty” (MC 474–475). The poor are being courted by the government, but when Picture Singh and Saleem make a public speech about unequal wealth distribution, “police harassment, hunger disease illiteracy” and “red revolution” in September 1974, the police come to break up the meeting: “[T]he tear-gas came and we had to flee, coughing spluttering blind, from riot police, like criminals, crying falsely as we ran. (Just as once, in Jallianwalabagh – but at least there were no bullets on this occasion)” (MC 493). In Saleem’s eyes, Indira Gandhi’s government was already in September 1974, almost a year before the Emergency, as undesirable and prone to similar brutal excesses as the British Raj. Also, Indira Gandhi’s radical rhetoric is revealed to be mere rhetoric in the novel. Indira Gandhi claimed to communicate with “the people” and to be in the service of the poor, but in fact she operated in a very authoritarian manner in her centralisation of power.

“Indira is India, India is Indira” Rushdie criticises what he sees as the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty quite harshly, but Indira Gandhi’s career in politics was not based (solely, at least) on her position as Nehru’s daughter. Indira Gandhi was charismatic and had already won the hearts of the majority of the Indian people during her first election campaign in 1967. She spoke at hundreds of public meetings and travelled thousands of kilometres. She 76

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claimed to speak for the dispossessed and oppressed and to be committed to changing the existent power structure. Indira Gandhi “appealed to the poor, the landless, the scheduled castes and tribes, women and the unemployed youth, promising them elimination of mass poverty, economic betterment and abolition of glaring disparities in income and opportunity and social status” (Chandra 2003, 12). Earlier, she emphasised her heritage as a member of the Nehru family and “one of us,” speaking to village people in homely metaphors and in terms of family relationships. Her approach and her language were populist; she spoke in the regional language; she wore her sari as the local women did and ate their food with her fingers. (Frank 2002, 302, emphasis in original) She also intensified her leftist image, especially in the field of economics, to survive politically. It has often been argued that she had a pragmatic stance towards ideology which she used as her weapon to safeguard her position, rather than being fiercely committed to it (Frank 2002, 311). In early 1971, she travelled tens of thousands of miles, addressed over 400 election meetings that were attended by 20 million people. Her face adorned huge billboards and badges worn by her supporters on their clothing. By now she had stopped invoking her Congress and Nehru heritage when she campaigned “against the forces of reaction” and declared a “war on poverty and social injustice.” The prosperous middle classes were, however, promised economic growth and stability at the same time (Frank 2002, 326–327). This was a move well-played, for as Ashis Nandy (1980, 115) has noted, “the politically articulate Indian middle-classes have always had a deepseated fear of chaos and disorder.” And when Sanjay Gandhi made promises to the businessmen, most sections of the Indian society felt spoken for by Indira Gandhi and her government, at least for a while. Frank (2002, 328) notes that in 1971, “Indira’s government did embark on a reform programme after the elections, but it was only radical in parts – such as in the nationalization of the general insurance and coal industries.” Even the anti-poverty programmes did not have much impact on the majority of the poor (Chandra 2003, 15). Many other reforms, such as the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), which allowed for the arrest and imprisonment of individuals without trial for up to a year, were repressive. Indira Gandhi had taken the Home portfolio to herself on 26 June 1970, which gave her control of the intelligence 77

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network and the police. Government allocations for the police doubled in the first five years of the 1970s. The rise was mainly due to “the steady expansion of three paramilitary services under the Union government’s control: the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police and the Central Industrial Security Force” (Sahgal 1983, 121–122). The involvement of the police in civic affairs increased towards the mid-1970s. Civil disobedience in Gujarat in January 1974 was dealt with physical force, and the Students’ Action Committee’s demonstration at the Bihar state assembly in Patna was dispersed with lathis14 and tear gas (Sahgal 1983, 113, 120). Nandy argues that Indira Gandhi saw herself as a true radical trying to extend democracy to the peripheries of the society while temporarily limiting the freedom of the privileged. She imagined she was a true democrat in touch with the common people unlike her enemies who opposed her because they resisted progress, accepted imported Western or Marxist ideas too readily, and lacked the special relationship she had with her country. To her, they were by definition undemocratic, anti-national, dishonest and unpopular. Put simply, Indira Gandhi pursued democracy equipped with her cognitive and motivational components of authoritarianism. Her values were democratic, her instincts authoritarian. (Nandy 1980, 128) Katherine Frank (2002, 253) notes Indira Gandhi’s “fear of disorder and loss of control.” She was not convinced that “democratic institutions would survive unstable circumstances. In the face of conflict and instability, her instinct was to choose order above democracy.” Despite the authoritarian measures, the failure of the anti-poverty programmes and the deteriorating economic situation, the poor remained loyal to Indira Gandhi (Chandra 2003, 24).15 The myth of “Mother Indira,” Indira Gandhi as the caring parent of the Indian people, especially the poor, was born in 1967. Silva (2004, 54) notes that “the Indian press referred to Indira Gandhi as mataji (translated as ‘revered mother’), a nomenclature that extended her biological motherhood to encompass the role of mother of the entire Indian populace.” Indira Gandhi cultivated this image and sought to identify with and represent the Indian nation. After her victory in the Bangladesh war, the personality cult around her grew, and she was called the “Empress of India” by the foreign press, as well as “praised in Parliament as a new Durga, the Hindu Goddess of war, and likened to Shakti, who represents 78

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female energy and power” (Frank 2002, 342).16 The personality cult and identification with the nation culminated in the famous phrase “Indira is India, India is Indira,” coined by the Congress President Dev Kanta Barooah in 1974. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (1993, 109) notes that in identifications like that of Indira Gandhi with the nation, the female subject is no longer perceived in metonymic relationship to the nation, as its leader, but as an actual metaphor for it, its equal and its visible embodiment. This transposes a familiar equation of the nation with the mother, already a trope of nineteenth-century nationalist discourse (“Bharatmata”). Indira Gandhi evolved from the mother of the nation, “Mother Indira,” to being characterised as an actual embodiment of the nation – “Indira is India” – with a goddess’s power (Indira as Durga/Kali).17 Therein lay also the problem, as Saleem interprets it: those who would be gods fear no one so much as other potential deities; and that, that and that only, is why we, the magical children of midnight, were hated feared destroyed by the Widow, who was not only Prime Minister of India but also aspired to be Devi, the Mother-goddess in her most terrible aspect, possessor of the shakti of the gods, a multilimbed divinity with a center-parting and schizophrenic hair. (MC 522) In Hindu mythology, the (benevolent) goddess Parvati is Shakti, divine, feminine creative power, and Kali and Durga her wrathful incarnations. In Midnight’s Children, Parvati, another powerful child of midnight, retains the qualities of benevolence and shakti, the feminine creative energy, and even gives birth to Aadam, a new chapter in the life of the Indian state. Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, is described as aspiring to be the possessor of shakti but failing in that. Indira Gandhi wants to possess the creative power of Shakti like Parvati but, despite her best efforts, succeeds only in acquiring the darker, violent aspects of the goddess. She is more successful as the wrathful incarnation of Parvati/Shakti, as Durga or even Kali – as David W. Price (1994, 98) notes, the Widow as the green-and-black monster “resembles the goddess Kali the black,” represented here as dark and violent. In this narrative, Indira Gandhi wanted all power concentrated in her hands 79

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and aspired to a mythical status as a powerful and fearsome protector of the nation. She is also afraid of any potential rivals and desires an unquestioned place for herself at the centre and helm of the nation and state. Saleem wonders: [D]id Saleem’s dream of saving the nation leak, through the osmotic tissues of history, into the thoughts of the Prime Minister herself? Was my lifelong belief in the equation between the State and myself transmuted, in “the Madam’s” mind, into that in-those-days-famous phrase: India is Indira and Indira is India? Were we competitors for centrality [. . .]? (MC 501) Here, Saleem himself puts into words the equation between himself and the state: in Nehru’s India, Saleem embodied the democratic state; in Indira Gandhi’s India, he embodies the idea(l) of democracy, the idea(l) that should be equated with the state. Saleem suggests that Indira Gandhi was in the process of replacing the state with herself at the centre; she is presented as not being far from adopting the idea “I am the State.” She becomes the enemy of Saleem, an allegory for the idea(l) of democratic state. She seeks to overthrow the democratic process of the state and act autocratically. She, in fact, threatens the very existence of democracy during the Emergency, when, as Saleem mentions, “the Constitution was altered to give the Prime Minister well-nigh-absolute powers” (MC 506), referring to the amendments to the Constitution during the Emergency to make the Prime Minister immune to the rule of law. The Thirty-Eighth Amendment barred judicial review of the Emergency. The Thirty-Ninth Amendment stated that the Supreme Court could not challenge the election of the Prime Minister; only a body constituted by Parliament could do that. The latter amendment exonerated the Prime Minister from any pending or future charges of criminal actions while she was in high office (see e.g. Guha 2008, 497). This act is followed by the emasculation of Saleem/ democracy. Saleem portrays an Indira Gandhi who seeks to substitute a personality cult for the role of the nation, and autocracy for democracy, with herself at the helm.

The JP movement From January 1974 to June 1975, India was rocked by a series of agitations – “bandhs and gheraos,18 strikes and shutdowns, closures of 80

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colleges and universities, two massive popular movements in Gujarat and Bihar” (Chandra 2003, 1). Behind the political unrest of the years 1973–1975 were various factors. Two successive crops failed in 1972 and 1973 as the rains had failed; subsequently, there were shortages of foodstuffs and other essential goods, as well as increasing unemployment. As a consequence of the 1973–1974 global oil crisis and the rise of oil prices, the prices of food and fertilisers rose, causing serious inflation – 23 per cent in 1973 and 30 per cent by the summer of 1974 (e.g. Dhar 2000, 233; Chandra 2003, 16–18). Saleem refers to these circumstances as he mentions that in February 1973, “coal-mines and the wheat market were being nationalized, the price of oil had begun to spiral up up up, would quadruple in a year” (MC 473). Historian Bipan Chandra (2003, 20) explains that the resultant economic crisis “was compounded by the government’s inability to effectively meet the major economic and administrative challenges.” Different parts of the country witnessed large-scale industrial unrest, strikes and sit-ins during 1972–1974 as workers felt the impact of economic recession, unemployment and price rise. However, Chandra argues, the working class was not politically active in 1973–1975 and did not take part to a significant extent in any of the popular movements of the time. According to Chandra (2003, 24–25), the same is true of the rural poor: the small peasants and agricultural labourers were not too seriously affected by the shortages or the price rise but had in fact benefitted from antipoverty measures and therefore did not instigate or join protests in any significant measure. On the other hand, as Chandra notes, the urban lower-middle and middle classes – teachers, lawyers and other professionals, government servants and other salaried employees, officers in the armed forces, shopkeepers and shop assistants, small and petty traders – whose living standards were being rapidly eroded because of soaring prices and shortage of goods, virtual freeze of salaries in July 1974 in a period of rampant inflation, and growing unemployment among the educated youth, were getting alienated from the ruling party. They were now skeptical about Mrs Gandhi’s radical or even democratic credentials. (Chandra 2003, 26) Prime Minister Gandhi’s popularity had started to erode quickly and Midnight’s Children’s Saleem was not alone in his attempts to “save the country” from her. 81

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During 1973 and 1974, the urban areas saw a growing number of demonstrations, student protests, anti-government rallies, strikes, gheraos and bandhs as the discontented and frustrated people took to the streets. The state and central governments often handled the protests by sending in the police and paramilitary forces, sometimes even the army, to maintain law and order. Violent clashes between the demonstrators and the police took place in many parts of the country. The driving forces behind these movements were disillusioned youth and students together with conservative and right-wing political parties. Also the middle classes, North Indian rich peasantry and a large section of the capitalist class, who were increasingly detached from the Congress, took recourse to extra-constitutional means (Chandra 2003, 30–31). Corruption had become a massive problem. Saleem notes that “the country’s corrupt, ‘black’ economy had grown as large as the official, ‘white’ variety” and that “Mishra, the railway minister, was also the officially appointed minister for bribery, through whom the biggest deals in the black economy were cleared, and who arranged for pay-offs to appropriate ministers and officials” (MC 477). The massive popular movements in Gujarat and Bihar demanded that the state governments resign and new elections for the state assemblies be called. JP Narayan led the broad-based popular movement against inflation and Congress corruption in Bihar – he had agreed to take on the leadership of the Bihar movement in April 1974 at the request of the students. In Gujarat, Morarji Desai undertook a fast unto death to bring down the corrupt Congress ministry. Gujarat had suffered from drought in two successive years, and 30 per cent inflation had made matters worse. Both Bihar and Gujarat erupted in violence in 1974 (see e.g. Guha 2008, 476–482; Singhal 1983, 450– 451). Indira Gandhi, who had been extremely popular only two years earlier, was now criticised heavily. The JP movement aimed not only at the dismissal of the Congress government(s) but also at Total Revolution which would change not only the political system but also bring about social transformation. Chandra (2003, 44–45) notes that the main objectives of the JP movement related at this time [mid-1974] to all-round changes in the pattern of education, elimination of corruption in the government, checking the moral decline in public life, arousing public opinion against corrupt ministers and legislators, saving democracy from authoritarian trends, ushering in of basic electoral reforms to ensure fair, free and inexpensive elections and the 82

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elected legislators reflected the will of the people, and in general, building up of “people’s power.” Of course, the ultimate objective of the movement was to bring in Total Revolution.19 After September 1974, the JP movement “attracted wide support from students, the middle classes, traders, and a section of the intelligentsia” (Chandra 2003, 50–51). It spread through India and grew into a popular people’s movement by the beginning of 1975. Narayan and Desai now led a broad alliance called Janata Morcha, or the People’s Front, formed to oppose Indira Gandhi and the Congress (R) – only in October 1974 had Narayan first called on Indira Gandhi to resign. Saleem brings up the JP movement and links it with the pregnancy of Parvati: in Bihar, where corruption inflation hunger illiteracy landlessness ruled the roost, Jaya-Prakash Narayan led a coalition of students and workers against the governing Indira Congress; in Gujarat, there were riots, railway trains were burned, and Morarji Desai went on a fast-unto-death to bring down the corrupt government of the Congress (under Chimanbhai Patel) in that drought-ridden state . . . it goes without saying that he succeeded without being obliged to die; in short, while anger seethed in Shiva’s mind, the country was getting angry, too; and what was being born while something grew in Parvati’s belly? You know the answer: in late 1974, J. P. Narayan and Morarji Desai formed the opposition party known as the Janata Morcha: the people’s front. (MC 491–492) By 1975 the alliance included both right-wing and left-wing political parties and groups, from the conservative Swatantra Party, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Rashtriya Loktantrik Dal, the right-wing Anand Marg and the RSS20 to the Congress (O), Samyukta Socialist Party, and such radical leftist groups as the Maoist Communists and Left-Socialists, as Saleem, too, records (MC 497). Parvati’s belly grows in tandem with “public discontent with the Indira Congress”: “While the people’s front expanded in this grotesque manner, I, Saleem, wondered incessantly about what might be growing behind the expanding frontage of my wife” Parvati (MC 497). The biological father of Parvati’s child is Shiva, whom Parvati summoned in 1974, when Saleem felt incapable of having a physical relationship with Parvati – he made up the lie that he is impotent, a lie that Indira Gandhi turns into reality during the 83

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Emergency. Saleem, Nehruvian democracy, lacks potency in the mid1970s India, whereas Shiva, in his allegorical role for undemocratic or authoritarian tendencies, possesses sexual potency and is instrumental in giving birth to Aadam, new India. Shiva, now a Major in the Indian Army, had become “India’s most decorated war hero” after the Bangladesh War (MC 486). Shiva’s proneness to violence had found an outlet in “the legitimized violence of war.” In peacetime, however, he needs to find another way to channel the violence. During the Emergency, Shiva finds work as Indira Gandhi’s/the Widow’s henchman. To put it another way, using another complex layer of meaning and signifiers, the Widow had emerged from the Bangladesh war as a goddess of war, Durga/Kali, with Shiva as her consort. But despite his “awful exploits” (MC 487) in the Bangladesh war, as well as his violent acts before and after, Shiva is not just Shiva the Destroyer but also Shiva the Procreator. And as in Hindu mythology, Shiva is the consort of Parvati/Kali. As the Widow’s/Indira Gandhi’s henchman, he is also Shiva the Destroyer and consort of Kali, and together they are capable of terrible things. As Parvati’s consort, he becomes Shiva the Procreator and the biological father of Parvati’s child. The most powerful of midnight’s children – Saleem, Shiva and Parvati – are all parents to the new India. Significantly, however, though the child, Aadam, is biologically fathered by the undemocratic Shiva, he will be raised by Saleem, the democratic idea(l), through his early years.

The Emergency imposed The countdown for the births of Aadam Sinai and the Emergency begin on 12 June 1975: History books newspapers radio-programmes tell us that at two p.m. on June 12th, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was found guilty, by Judge Jag Mohan Lah [sic] Sinha of the Allahabad High Court, of two counts of campaign malpractice during the election campaign of 1971; what has never previously been revealed is that it was at precisely two p.m. that Parvati-thewitch (now Laylah Sinai) became sure she had entered labour. The labour of Parvati-Laylah lasted for thirteen days. (MC 497) Saleem describes these 13 days from the Allahabad High Court judgement on Indira Gandhi’s campaign malpractice21 to the declaration 84

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of the Emergency and the birth of Aadam. Saleem alternates this factual information about the events that led to the declaration of the Emergency with descriptions of Parvati’s labour in the ghetto. Saleem thus pits official history from history books to radio against the unofficial “people’s” history. The official history tells of the decisions and actions of the ruling elite and constructs a grand narrative of state history. Rushdie, on the other hand, brings here to the fore the experiences of the formerly excluded, the subalterns, and makes a point of the official history forgetting them and their stories. Recounting the “official” history, Saleem notes that “the Prime Minister was refusing to resign, although her convictions carried with them a mandatory penalty barring her from public office for six years” (MC 497) and that “in Gujarat Mrs. Gandhi’s electoral candidates were routed by Janata Morcha” (MC 498). He points out “the Janata Morcha demonstrations outside Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President’s house” (MC 498) and mentions that Morarji Desai called on “President Ahmad to sack the disgraced Prime Minister” (MC 498). He thus reproduces the usual account of what led to the declaration of the Emergency, but mixes it with description of the long and painful labour of Parvati, thus emphasising the painfulness of the process that led to the end of the phase of Indian history which began with independence and to the birth of new India. Saleem also acknowledges the fact that “the Supreme Court was informing Mrs. Gandhi that she need not resign until her appeal, but must neither vote in the Lok Sabha nor draw a salary” (MC 498). Indira Gandhi’s appeal was to be heard by the Supreme Court on 14 July 1975, but in the meantime, on 24 June, the vacation judge of the Supreme Court, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, gave her a conditional stay of the High Court order. According to the ruling, Indira Gandhi could continue as Prime Minister and participate in the Parliament’s proceedings until the full bench of the Supreme Court heard her appeal, but she could not vote or draw salary as an MP (see e.g. Chandra 2003, 68–69). Saleem adds that “the Prime Minister in her exultation at this partial victory began to abuse her opponents” (MC 498). The Congress saw the decision by the Supreme Court as a victory; the Government of India White Paper issued a month later and entitled Why Emergency? declared that “the stay order given by the High Court, and the subsequent order of the Supreme Court, [. . .] categorically upheld Shrimati Indira Gandhi’s right to continue as the Prime Minister” (Government of India 1975a, 53, my emphasis). However, the opposition, too, saw the ruling as a victory and held a rally in Delhi 85

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on 25 June demanding that Indira Gandhi resign. It is argued in the White Paper that the political parties opposed to the Prime Minister had a “grand design to dislodge Shrimati Indira Gandhi and her Government from the position they occupied by virtue of the overwhelming mandate given to them by the electorate” (Government of India 1975a, 53). Consequently, the White Paper states, Shri Jayprakash Narayan, Shri Morarji Desai and other Opposition leaders now lost no time in mounting a campaign – both open and concealed – to force Shrimati Indira Gandhi to resign from the office of Prime Minister. The stay order given by the High Court, and the subsequent order of the Supreme Court [. . .] were of no consequence in their view. While they hailed one verdict of the Allahabad High Court Judge, they had no regard for the order of the same Judge staying his own judgement and order. (Government of India 1975a, 53) The opposition leaders declared at the rally in Delhi that Prime Minister Gandhi had “no moral, legal or constitutional right to govern” and that they would force her to resign. To bring this about, they planned a nation-wide campaign of mass mobilisation, demonstrations and civil disobedience that was to last a week. After that, the campaign would be intensified and the work of courts, government offices and railways hindered or stopped. JP Narayan called upon the army, the police and government servants not to take orders from “a disqualified head of a discredited government” and to disobey the government’s orders that they thought were wrong or “illegal” or that were “repugnant to their conscience” (Chandra 2003, 70). Morarji Desai, in an interview on the evening of 25 June with an Italian journalist, explained the opposition’s plan as follows: We intend to overthrow her, to force her to resign. For good. The lady won’t survive this movement of ours. She won’t be able to because it is on a national scale and includes all possible political trends, and even some members of her own party.  [.  .  .] We are strong, at last, and we’ve proclaimed a Satyagra [sic]. Satyagra means civil disobedience. It consists in ignoring every prohibition, every law, every arrest, every police attack. [. . .] Thousands of us will surround her house

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to prevent her going out or receiving visitors. We’ll camp there night and day shouting to her to resign. (Fallaci 1975, 17–18) Saleem does take into account the manoeuvres of JP Narayan and Morarji Desai and acknowledges their role in bringing about Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. He notes that the two senior leaders were “goading Indira Gandhi” and that “the leaders of the Janata Morcha urged the police and Army to disobey the illegal orders of the disqualified Prime Minister, so in a sense they were forcing Mrs. Gandhi to push” (MC 499), and to give birth to the Emergency. Prime Minister Gandhi took the agitation and the further plan of the opposition seriously, and on 26 June 1975, she declared a state of Internal Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution. A large number of opposition leaders, including JP Narayan and Morarji Desai, were arrested, as well as “anyone with the slightest connection to the Jana Sangh, the Congress (O), the socialists, or other groups opposed to the ruling party” (Guha 2008, 492), the press was placed under strict censorship and fundamental rights were suspended. Saleem’s countdown culminates at the stroke of midnight on 25 June 1975, when baby Aadam is born and “the word Emergency was being heard for the first time, and suspension-of-civil rights and censorship-of-the-press, and armouredunits-on-special-alert and arrest-of-subversive-elements” (MC 499). The significance of the events of that night is underlined by Saleem when he says that “the birth of Saleem Sinai – and also of the baby’s father – found a mirror in the events of the night of the 25th of June” (MC 496). The declaration of the Emergency is as significant an event in modern Indian history as gaining Independence. Saleem narrates the birth of Aadam almost identically to his own birth, remarking: something was ending, something was being born, and at the precise instant of the birth of the new India and the beginning of a continuous midnight which would not end for two long years, my son, the child of the renewed ticktock, came out into the world. (MC 499–500) Saleem describes the Emergency as a “continuous midnight” and sees it as signifying the end of the India that was born with independence, and the dawn of a new era. The newborn Aadam Sinai is, as his first

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name suggests, the beginner of a new era and state, just like Aadam Aziz once was the first man of the long line of the Nehruvian idea(l) of democracy. The son of Parvati and Shiva, who has the elephant-headed Ganesh’s big ears, takes the place of the former Ganesh – the big-nosed Saleem. The old idea(l) of Nehruvian democratic state, based on high ideals, makes way for the new order, or state, born of more cynical parents. The cynicism is contagious, and Saleem, too, is infected, for after the Emergency, Saleem states that the tattered hopes of the nation had been placed in the custody of an ancient dotard who ate pistachios and cashews and daily took a glass of “his own water.” Urine-drinkers had come to power. The Janata Party, with one of its leaders trapped in a kidney-machine, did not seem to me (when I heard about it) to represent a new dawn; but maybe I’d managed to cure myself of the optimism virus at last – maybe others, with the disease still in their blood, felt otherwise. (MC 525) Saleem, who feels the cracks in himself, is facing the end of his own connection to history as the days of the “old” democracy are numbered: “an age, which had begun on that long-ago midnight, had come to a sort of end” (MC 526). Saleem’s time is up; he will be trampled “underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust” (MC 552), and then it will be his son’s turn to take over. Saleem soon begins to prepare his legacy to Aadam, the new India: he writes down his experiences and memories so that the future generations will not forget, and will not allow democracy to falter again. The transition from one age to another does not happen in one night even in this magical realist tale. During the Emergency months, Saleem notes, “the age of my connection-to-history overlapped with” Aadam’s (MC 504) – it ends not with the declaration of the Emergency, but with the measures Indira Gandhi takes during it, culminating with the emasculation of democracy. Saleem recalls that he had realised at the time that “Aadam was a member of a second generation of magical children who would grow up far tougher than the first” (MC 534). The newly postcolonial Indian state had grown out of the idealist hope and belief of the capacity of the independent state to cure the evils that had bothered colonial India. Saleem notes “the excitement of the coming Independence Day, although I can smell other, more tarnished 88

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perfumes: disillusion, venality, cynicism . . . the nearly thirty-one-yearold myth of freedom is no longer what it was” (MC 546). Saleem noted earlier that with Independence, there had been “a new myth to celebrate, because a nation which had never previously existed was about to win its freedom” (MC 130). The “new myth” had been the Nehruvian pluralist nation, coupled with a democratic state of its own, which seemed to be full of promises of freedom, equality and democracy. Now, with the declaration of the Emergency, those promises and hopes seem extinguished. This is made concrete when the children of midnight go through “sperectomy,” the draining of hope, at the Widow’s Hostel. Saleem writes: “New myths are needed; but that’s none of my business” (MC 546). The myth of a pluralist nation and redeeming democracy are no longer valid or believable: therefore, new myths are needed. This task Saleem leaves to his son Aadam Sinai [who] was in many respects the opposite of Saleem. I, at my beginning, grew with vertiginous speed; Aadam, wrestling with the serpents of disease, scarcely grew at all. Saleem wore an ingratiating smile from the start; Aadam had more dignity, and kept grins to himself. Whereas Saleem had subjugated his will to the joint tyrannies of family and fate, Aadam fought ferociously, refusing to yield. [.  .  .] We, the children of Independence, rushed wildly and too fast into our future; he, Emergency-born, will be is already more cautious, biding his time; but when he acts, he will be impossible to resist. Already, he is stronger, harder, more resolute than I. (MC 507, my emphasis) One can interpret the tyranny of family in many ways, but I interpret it here to mean the Nehru-Gandhi family and to be a criticism of the “dynasty.” Saleem thinks that the new India will be tougher and less idealistic; but in the beginning, right after his birth, Aadam suffers from tuberculosis which Saleem interprets as “something darkly metaphorical,” declaring that “while the Emergency lasts, he will never become well” (MC 504). As Aadam’s tuberculosis, incurable during the Emergency, suggests, the Emergency is a thoroughly negative experience in Saleem’s narrative. To him, the Emergency is about the suspension of civil rights, mass arrests – in Saleem’s words, “there is considerable disagreement about the number of ‘political’ prisoners taken during the Emergency, either thirty thousand or a quarter of a million persons certainly lost 89

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their freedom” (MC 517) – and censorship of the press. These are compounded by the infamous excesses of the Emergency such as the “civicbeautification and vasectomy programmes,” which, arranged by the Widow’s son with the help of Sanjay Youth Central Committee (MC 514), touch the lives and destroy the ghetto of the magicians in Delhi. Richard Kearney (1999, 30) suggests that “sometimes an ethic of memory is obliged to resort to an aesthetic of representation. Viewers need not be made only intellectually aware [. . .] of the horrors of history; they need to experience the horror of that suffering as if they were actually there.” Saleem’s description of these programmes is heartrending: The vans and bulldozers came first, rumbling along the main road; they stopped opposite the ghetto of magicians. A loudspeaker began to blare: “Civic beautification programme . . . authorized operation of Sanjay Youth Central Committee . . . prepare instantly for evacuation to new site . . . this slum is a public eyesore, can no longer be tolerated . . . all persons will follow orders without dissent.” And while a loudspeaker blared, there were figures descending from vans: a brightly coloured tent was being hastily erected, and there were camp beds and surgical equipment [. . .] people were being dragged towards the vans, and now a rumor spread through the colony of magicians: “They are doing nasbandi – sterilization is being performed!” – And a second cry: “Save your women and children!” – And a riot is beginning. (MC 511–512)22 [N]ow the machines of destruction were in their element, and the little hovels of the shanty-town were slipping sliding crazily beneath the force of the irresistible creatures, huts snapping like twigs, the little paper parcels of the puppeteers and the magic baskets of the illusionists were being crushed into a pulp; the city was being beautified, and if there were a few deaths, [. . .] well, what of it, an eyesore was being removed from the face of the ancient capital. (MC 513–514) The bulldozing of the magicians’ ghetto near the Friday Mosques in Old Delhi in April 1976 bears great resemblance to the infamous Turkman Gate incident that took place on 19 April 1976 in Old Delhi.23 What exactly happened at Turkman Gate is not fully known/agreed upon by the chroniclers, but as Tarlo (2003, 38) notes, “the overall 90

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theme is clear: local resistance to family planning and demolitions precipitated a brutal massacre of innocent citizens.” The achievements reached during the 21 months Saleem mentions only in passing: All sorts of things happen during an Emergency: trains run on time, black-money hoarders are frightened into paying taxes, even the weather is brought to heel, and bumper harvests are reaped; there is, I repeat, a white part as well as a black. (MC 517) These are, of course, only minor achievements (except the weather and the consequent good crops, which are naturally not the Prime Minister’s achievement); the greater ones are left unmentioned. Omitted is also the fact that early on, most people were not decidedly against the Emergency; in fact many people, including the politically significant middle classes, were happy that things seemed to work in society – prices fell, there were no more strikes and fewer shortages of essential commodities, trains ran on time and civil servants came to work on time (e.g. Frank 2002, 382–383). The Government White Paper was not counterfactual when it declared in July 1975 that “the declaration of Emergency and the various actions taken by the Government to restore discipline, order and stability in the country have been welcomed by people from various strata of Indian society” (Government of India 1975a, preface). The Emergency was mainly criticised by intellectuals at first, but this changed as the months went on. But, as Saleem himself says, the Emergency “had a white part – public, visible, documented, a matter for historians – and a black part which, being secret macabre untold, must be a matter for us” (MC 501). This view echoes that of Uma Vasudev, who has authored two books on Indira Gandhi and wrote the following in the latter book entitled Two Faces of Indira Gandhi (1977), which concentrated on the years from 1972 to 1977: It was as if the emergency too was double-faced. The discipline, stability, higher production, punctuality, hard work, bigger foreign exchange reserves, and twenty-five point programme were like a satin cloak, all shimmering gloss and soft smoothness, but hiding a body full of sores and gaping wounds. A bridegroom sterilized, a teacher driven to suicide, a family made homeless, a prisoner without redress, a business 91

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gone bankrupt, the income tax raids that became political, the torture of party colleagues and old associates, the filthy tortuous intrigues, and the conspiracies to destroy, to demean, humiliate, and ultimately deaden the nerve centres of society. (Vasudev 1977, 161–162) As Saleem puts it, he must concentrate on the “secret” part of the Emergency, on the personal stories of the “victims” of the Emergency, recounting tales of slum clearances and forcible vasectomies, as was seen earlier.

The widow and the emasculation of democracy Despite the long list of excesses and atrocities she is guilty of, the Widow’s greatest crime is the undoing of Saleem/democracy and the other midnight’s children/the promise of the Nehruvian state and the consequent extirpation of hope. Saleem explains that the midnight’s children were detained and brought to the Widow’s Hostel in Benares between April and December 1976 after Saleem has betrayed their whereabouts – he knew their names and addresses because of his earlier connection with the children – to the Widow’s employees. In Indira Gandhi’s India, Saleem/democracy is so powerless that he betrays midnight’s children, betrays the hope of Nehruvian India. In January 1977, the children were rendered harmless by sterilisation and “sperectomy: the drainingout of hope” (MC 521). Saleem describes the cruelty of the procedure at the Widow’s Hostel: They were good doctors: they left nothing to chance. Not for us the simple vas- and tubectomies performed on the teeming masses: because there was a chance, just a chance that such operations could be reversed .  .  . ectomies were performed, but irreversibly. [.  .  .] Test- and hysterectomized, the children of midnight were denied the possibility of reproducing themselves. (MC 523) With the operation, the children were also drained from their magical qualities. Indira Gandhi thus also drained the hope the freedom of independence had promised. She emasculated Indian democracy like she emasculated Saleem. The Prime Minister’s Emergency measures finally make Saleem’s lie about his impotence and sterility a reality. 92

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The last “ectomies”24 were performed on 18 January 1977, the same day the Prime Minister called a general election, and the children of midnight were released in March when the elections were held, but the damage was already done and irreversible and cynicism the prevailing mood. Saleem lays the ground for the description of Indira Gandhi’s biggest crime by including a “factual” summary of her life: Mrs. Indira Gandhi was born in November 1917 to Kamala and Jawaharlal Nehru. Her middle name was Priyadarshini. She was not related to “Mahatma” M.K. Gandhi; her surname was the legacy of her marriage, in 1952 [sic], to one Feroze Gandhi, who became known as “the nation’s son-inlaw.” They had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, but in 1949 she moved back into her father’s home and became his “official hostess.” Feroze made one attempt to live there, too, but it was not a success. He became a ferocious critic of the Nehru Government, exposing the Mundhra scandal and forcing the resignation of the then Finance Minister, T.T. Krishnamachari – “T.T.K.” himself. Mr. Feroze Gandhi died of a heart seizure in 1960, aged forty-seven. It has often been said that Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything. Sanjay Gandhi, and his ex-model wife Menaka, were prominent during the Emergency. The Sanjay Youth Movement was particularly effective in the sterilization campaign. I have included this somewhat elementary summary just in case you had failed to realize that the Prime Minister of India was, in 1975, fifteen years a widow. Or (because the capital letter may be of use): a Widow. Yes, Padma: Mother Indira really had it in for me. (MC 501–502) This summary is interesting for a number of reasons. It is a personal history of Indira Gandhi, a narrative of the formation of the “dynasty.” Indira Gandhi’s politics or ideology are not examined or explained here – or in fact anywhere in the novel – and the implication seems to be that the Nehru-Gandhis thought that a dynastic transfer of power is natural for the family, even if they rule the world’s largest democracy. Ideology and politics are depicted as less important than power, 93

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to Indira Gandhi at least. In stark contrast, Saleem mentions some of the political achievements of Indira Gandhi’s spouse Feroze Gandhi, who is not otherwise even mentioned in the novel. Clearly, gender makes a difference in Saleem’s narrative, for Sanjay Gandhi’s questionable achievements in the public sphere are also mentioned here. Indira Gandhi’s gender is made significant in the narrative. It is emphasised that it was the gendered, feminine (but somehow perverted) Mother Indira, not gender-neutral, head-of-the-state, political Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who really had it in for Saleem. This is Rushdie’s counter-strike to Indira Gandhi’s use of feminine epithets in her campaigning and leadership. Silva (2004, 53) has pointed out Indira Gandhi’s enactment of a cluster of key gendered images – daughter, wife, mother, widow – which secured her unprecedented public appeal. [. . .] she developed a powerful personal style by weaving together key signifiers that would have an impact on the popular consciousness and exploited the emotional responses to a mother-figure, the vast and ambivalent Hindu tradition of the mother-goddess and the concept of female energy and power (shakti). Indira Gandhi continued to use gendered subject positions throughout her years in the office, including during the Emergency. Ben-Yishai and Bar-Yosef (2015, 166) point out that Indira Gandhi’s “own selffashioning as Mother of India, reluctantly administering the ‘bitter pills’ of harsh Emergency measures to her ailing child” was central to this discourse.25 Rushdie has elsewhere argued that Indira Gandhi’s “use of the cult of the mother – of Hindu mother goddess symbols and allusions – and the idea of shakti, of the fact that the dynamic element of the Hindu pantheon is represented as female – was calculated and shrewd” (Rushdie 1992e, 50). Therefore, Rushdie presents a counterversion of the period and Indira Gandhi’s leadership using the same terms and symbols against her. In Midnight’s Children, her achievements as a wife and mother are questioned, and the positive power of shakti located firmly in the cultural nation rather than Indira Gandhi, who is depicted in possession of only the darker aspects of that power. It is also noteworthy that Indira Gandhi is depicted as a woman who has failed as a wife and mother, which seems to make her a suspect person altogether. The fact that Indira Gandhi was “fifteen years a widow” in 1975 is underlined. Indira Gandhi projected herself not only 94

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as a mother but as a widowed mother in public. Consequently, Rushdie stages his attack on Indira Gandhi also on this terrain. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (1993, 113) notes that in Midnight’s Children, widowhood is made a significant aspect of gendered identity, an indication of power-over-the-male and of female autonomy. This, however, is undercut by the role of another male figure, the son-as-agent, whose uncontrolled depravations are those of a Frankenstein’s monster. Thus reproduction as an aspect of female sexuality is here not “natural” motherhood but a bizarre perversion. The particular manifestation of despotism in forcible sterilization programmes made it possible to link it with the perversion of sexuality (castration, rape) as well as the preservation and promotion of dynasty (the power of the son). Rather than indicting Sanjay Gandhi for the atrocities he perpetrated, Rushdie indicts Indira Gandhi for putting him in an unofficial position of power and allowing him to do what he did. She is depicted as a failed mother who could not control her son but actually created a Frankenstein’s monster. Interestingly, also Indira Gandhi’s biographer Katherine Frank (2002, 278, see also 399) argues that Indira Gandhi’s relationship with her sons was “disturbed after Feroze’s death. According to several people close to Indira, including Pupul Jayakar [who also wrote a biography of Indira Gandhi], after Feroze died, Sanjay accused his mother of neglecting Feroze, implying that she was responsible for his premature death.”26 Frank’s words are very similar to Rushdie’s words, which hardly is a coincidence. The sentence about Sanjay Gandhi accusing his mother for the death of his father is also the one for which Indira Gandhi sued Rushdie in 1981, saying it defamed her. Gemma Scott (2015, 28) suggests that Gandhi’s reaction indicates the importance of “the identities of mother, wife and widow to Gandhi; it shows them to have been essential to her public image and political power.” Personal is also highly political here. O.P. Mathur argues (2004, 22) that in India the widow is “an appellation that often signifies the drying up of emotions, harshness, cruelty and, above all, supreme uncontrolled power over the household.” Silva notes that the appellation is “most derogatory,” “only used to denigrate a woman” and that “Rushdie capitalises on the ambivalence towards widowhood in the Hindu context to illustrate the most inimical aspects of this character” (Silva 2004, 62, 63). The Widow is also described as a green-and-black monster of Saleem’s nightmares – tearing the 95

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children in two and rolling them into little balls “and hand and scream and mmff and splashing stains of black” (MC 249–250) – responsible for the final destruction of Saleem and other midnight’s children. Silva (2004, 65) points out that “in this guise, the Widow’s most patent incarnation is of Kali, the goddess of death and destruction and throughout Midnight’s Children the correspondence with the goddess is maintained.” Indira Gandhi’s widowhood is exploited to its full effect in the narration of the forced sterilisations of the Emergency. Sunder Rajan (1993, 112) points out that the powerful negative connotations of Hindu widowhood, viewed in the popular imagination not merely as the misfortune of women but as their destruction of the male, are associated with a (widowed) Prime Minister whose defining act is the massive sterilization programme of the Emergency. I argue that Indira Gandhi goes further than the sterilisation programmes for the masses in Midnight’s Children – she emasculates the institution of democracy. The widowed Prime Minister castrates Saleem/democracy in the widows’ (or Widow’s) hostel. Furthermore, it is notable that at this point, the description of the (mis)deeds of the Widow and Indira Gandhi are conflated. Until now, Saleem has described the Widow’s doings in a sort of fantasy format, through dreams and peeks into what’s-coming-next. When recounting “official facts” of history, Saleem has talked of Indira Gandhi. But after the declaration of the Emergency, Saleem conflates these two characters, and their names become interchangeable. Saleem’s testimony on the Emergency is a highly personalised attack on Indira Gandhi, and the attack is staged in gendered terms, just as Indira Gandhi staged her leadership role through gendered subject positions. I agree with Gemma Scott (2015, 31) when she argues that “Midnight’s Children directly speaks back to Gandhi’s use of these gendered identities, inverting them and resisting the Emergency through this inversion.” After the Emergency, Saleem, who is no longer connected to history, has limited time left – perhaps just enough to write his memoirs. He writes: I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of acceleration. I ask you only to accept (as I have accepted) that I shall eventually crumble into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, 96

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and necessarily oblivious dust. This is why I have resolved to confide in paper, before I forget. (MC 37) Saleem the democratic Nehruvian idea(l) is disintegrating and will crumble into approximately 630 million particles, which was approximately the population of India in 1977. What will happen after the end of Saleem is a matter left to his son Aadam, the new India. But before crumbling into his constituent parts, Saleem records his story for the nation to learn from.

Subverting official narratives, creating counter-memories In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie clearly fights official versions of “the truth,” attacking and exposing especially Indira Gandhi and her policies but also nationalist, state-centred history-writing. As a critical historian, Saleem presents “a counter-narrative to the ‘official’ history of Indira Gandhi’s government and the nostalgic histories of apologists for British imperialism” (Price 1994, 93). The fact that “Saleem Sinai is an unreliable narrator, and [.  .  .] Midnight’s Children is far from being an authoritative guide to the history of post-independence India” (Rushdie 1992b, 22–23), is a central part of Rushdie’s strategy in undermining any official accounts of twentieth-century Indian history and the prevailing version of contemporary politics on the national level in India. That Saleem selects, omits, distorts, misremembers while producing his (hi)story of India, points to similar processes in all history-writing; and Saleem’s act of rearranging newspaper clippings “reveals,” as Riemenschneider (1990, 196) puts it, “the absurdity of the historian’s claim to render history as objective truth; rather, history can be bent to serve subjective and individual purposes.” Saleem’s is an alternative version to official, authoritative history, but while presenting it, he points out its own unreliability and his narrative selfconsciousness. So he presents another version of history, of the Nehruvian state; but while doing so, he undermines his own interpretation and points out that this is no more true or authoritative than any other. Price suggests that Rushdie recreates what Nietzsche calls “monumental history” in Midnight’s Children through the character of the Widow/Indira Gandhi, showing in the process the problems involved in this mode, while Saleem himself acts as Nietzsche’s “critical historian.” Price (1994, 97) quotes Nietzsche on the problems of the dominance of the monumental mode: “whole segments of [the past] are forgotten, 97

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despised and flow away in an uninterrupted colourless flood, and only individual embellished facts rise out of it like islands.”27 Price continues that Rushdie indicates in his essay on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that “the island facts that have arisen about the Emergency [. . .] are those that Gandhi herself proclaimed to a Western audience that wanted to believe her. [.  .  .] These island facts ignore the suffering and hardship inflicted on those who endured the Emergency” (Price 1994, 97). Saleem offers his – by the mid-1970s, a ghetto-dweller’s – testimony of the suffering and hardship inflicted on the poor during the Emergency. He constructs a most memorable account of the events and pickles it for posterity, so that the Emergency will not be forgotten. Rushdie admits that the novel, “as it nears contemporary events, quite deliberately loses deep perspective, becomes more ‘partial.’ I wasn’t trying to write about (for instance) the Emergency in the same way as I wrote about events half a century earlier” (Rushdie 1992a, 13). I would argue that even the Nehru years are examined and analysed and the problems in the institutions are pointed out, whereas the third book, which concentrated on the Indira Gandhi years, amounts more to an indictment of her rather than any examination of the society, administrative, governmental or legal systems in India. The partiality and loss of “deep perspective” is evident in Saleem’s highly personalised attack on Indira Gandhi when describing the Emergency. The larger situation and the deeper context remains undiscussed; it is not analysed. Saleem explains this as follows: I refuse absolutely to take the larger view; we are too close to what is happening, perspective is impossible, later perhaps analysts will say why and wherefore, will adduce underlying economic trends and political developments, but right now we’re too close to the cinema-screen, the picture is breaking up into dots, only subjective judgments are possible. (MC 518) The blame for the Emergency is put on Prime Minister Gandhi personally in Midnight’s Children. Economist and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, P.N. Dhar (2000, 224), argues that Indira Gandhi’s personality certainly played a part in the Emergency, but the basic changes that took place at this time could not have been brought about by a single temperamental individual, however 98

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powerful. This is not to justify or whitewash her role in bringing about the tragedy that was the Emergency, nor to minimize its adverse consequences – which continue to bedevil our political life – but to insist that the Emergency had deeper causes than the villainy of one person or even one family. [. . .] My argument is that the Emergency was a systemic failure and its causes must be sought in the political system as it had evolved, and in its response to adverse economic situations. Dhar notes that “we need to explore the widening gap between the form and substance of democracy as it has operated in India.” He identifies as one of the problems of Indian democracy the fact that the British parliamentary system had been adopted in a single step, whereas in Britain this system of governance had evolved over centuries and the polity’s “electoral base was extended by gradual enlargement of the suffrage through successive reform bills.” He asserts that democratic systems can be imported, but a political culture needs to “evolve internally” to reflect their true spirit and function smoothly. Furthermore, India’s freedom movement under Gandhi and Nehru was “based on defiance of law and rejection of governmental authority. To switch over from the defiance of law to its acceptance has not proved as easy a task as was believed in the early days of independence.” This can be seen in the great number of strikes, bandhs and gheraos and the like in independent India. Dhar argues that “protests and disagreements are now conducted as if the government is not elected but imposed” (Dhar 2000, 226–229). Dhar is not by any means the first or only one to suggest that “Mrs Gandhi does not explain everything” (Sinha 1977, vii). After the end of the Emergency, Romesh Thapar demanded in the Economic and Political Weekly that the Emergency crimes needed to be investigated in totality. He felt that the personalised approach, centring on Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and Bansilal, was “non-serious”: The suspension of democratic functioning did not occur on a fateful day in June 1975. It was the culmination of a process of manipulative politics set in motion many years earlier, and very often the handiwork of supposedly democratic men. A Commission should record this sorry tale so that each sector is made aware of its guilt. There must be no easy escapes through slogans like “the gang of four,” and what have you. [. . .] Those who misused their power, who violated the procedures and the codes of conduct laid down, who acted without written orders, 99

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who pretended not to see the brutalities or who rationalised them, must be appropriately punished. (Thapar 1977, 587) Despite the need to investigate the Emergency in totality and the complicity in it of various sectors, politicians, administrators and other people, the Emergency is often ascribed to one person: Indira Gandhi. In the preface of his Emergency in Perspective: Reprieve and Challenge (1977), Sachchidanand Sinha argues that placing blame on Mrs. Gandhi’s shoulders is an easy solution, relieving her critics and others from examining their possible complicity in the development of events. Therefore, his book aims to “analyse the developments since independence to discover the sources of the weaknesses of our democratic framework” (Sinha 1977, vii–viii). Midnight’s Children, as Rushdie himself admits, does not do that, even if it does point out some problems of the Indian democratic state under Nehru (e.g. the status of the subalterns, communalism, regionalism) and mentions the agitation by the JP movement as one reason for the declaration of the Emergency. In the novel, the Emergency is explained mainly by Indira Gandhi, her autocratic tendencies, nepotism and illusions of grandeur. Saleem chooses to focus on the people at the receiving end of Indira Gandhi’s policies. He notes down the stories, memories and experiences of the common people, recording the “black part” of the Emergency, so that it would not be forgotten or wiped out. It was a necessary exercise, for soon after, the situation changed drastically again. When Rushdie finished the manuscript in mid-1979, the factions of the Janata Front had become all too apparent; Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister in July 1979 and was succeeded by Charan Singh. The general election of January 1980 brought Indira Gandhi back to power. Rushdie has written that Indira Gandhi’s “major aim in the following years” after her re-election in 1980 was to achieve a personal rehabilitation, to obliterate the memory of the Emergency and its atrocities, to be cleansed of its taint, absolved of history. With the help of numerous prime ministers and presidents, that aim was all but achieved by the time of her death. She told the world that the horror stories about the Emergency were all fictions; and the world allowed her to get away with the lie. It was a triumph of image over substance. (Rushdie 1992e, 51)

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Midnight’s Children, with its memory of the “black part” of the Emergency, poses a challenge to that triumph. The novel also describes the beginning of the rehabilitation process. Saleem mentions that “when everything was finished, a fallen lady and her labia-lipped son spent two days behind locked doors, burning files” (MC 473) and that “evidence went up in smoke: [. . .] on March 20th, files were burned by a mother with particolored hair and her beloved son” (MC 524). Saleem does not tell where he gets his information, but rumours of papers being destroyed and/or hidden circulated widely at the time. Even right after Indira Gandhi’s defeat at the election, the “committed” bureaucracy was reluctant to act against the former Prime Minister and her son. This is well-illustrated by an article in Indian Express, written by Arun Shourie and published in June 1979. Shourie gives an account of how valuables were hidden in Indira Gandhi’s farm near Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi in the last week of March 1977, but the bureaucracy failed to act on the information provided for them by a village headman, to whom a female labourer working on the farm had given “an account of the sort of things that have been buried and the places at which they have been buried.” The Central Bureau of Investigation did nothing, and the village headman “runs from pillar to post with the information.” It took 14 months before the matter reached Prime Minister Morarji Desai in June 1978. When the Intelligence Bureau started to investigate at his request, they found out that the man who had assembled the labourers to build the farm house, as well as the two labourers who were from the neighbourhood, were dead. Subsequently, the bureaucracy first stalled and then postponed a raid on the premises for so long that the Gandhi family had time to remove in December 1978 and January 1979 (during a two-week break in surveillance that had begun in the summer of 1978) everything that had been buried there, including a large steel box, and take them to 12 Willingdon Crescent, the residence of Indira Gandhi, who had by now (on 8 November 1978) won a by-election in Chikmagalur (Shourie 1979).28 This case is not an isolated one but falls into a larger pattern of the bureaucracy helping Indira Gandhi to destroy all evidence. Furthermore, Nayantara Sahgal (1983, 205) writes, Indira Gandhi’s “campaign to rehabilitate herself was assisted by ample funds and support. Leading business houses had maintained their links with her, and these were strengthened as the Janata government’s future became doubtful.” Indira Gandhi completed the project of clearing her image when she returned to power in 1980. There was a deliberate political attempt to

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forget the period of autocratic rule. Midnight’s Children brought the Emergency to the limelight again in 1981 and was followed by other Indian English novels, which kept the memory of the Emergency alive in an official culture of amnesia.

Notes 1 Rushdie (1992a, 14). 2 Rushdie has said of himself soon after the publication of Midnight’s Children: “I am a lapsed Muslim, which is to say you still define yourself by the thing you’ve lapsed from. I am not a believer in any formal sense but I am shaped by that thing, and I am interested in Islam and its history, which I’ve studied. In that sense, yes, I’m a Muslim” (Craven, Heyward and Hueston 1985, 125). 3 All subsequent references (henceforth abbreviated as MC) are to the following edition of the novel: Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (New York: Penguin Books, 1991). 4 Madame Rama, “Duplicate Copy,” August 1975, Salman Rushdie papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. 5 The revision of the second draft is dated 27 November 1979 and the whole draft is catalogued under this date. Midnight’s Children, Typescript, 27 November 1979, [4 of 4], Salman Rushdie papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. The library also holds a Revised photocopy of typescript, dated 20 January 1980. 6 Prime Minister Nehru’s memorable speech, delivered from Delhi’s Red Fort at the stroke of midnight when India became independent, began: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed finds utterance” (quoted in Tharoor 2008, 15). 7 The Cabinet Mission visited India between March and June 1946 to negotiate the transfer of power to Indians. Discussions were held with the leaders of the Congress Party and All-India Muslim League about framing a new constitution for India and forming an interim government. The negotiations fell through in July 1946 and the popular agitation for Pakistan began with a ‘Direct Action Day’ on 16 August 1946. 8 Jani refers to Chandra, Mukherjee and Mukherjee (1999). 9 The Congress Party’s senior right-wing state and regional leaders, including and perhaps most importantly the Congress President K. Kamaraj (President of Indian National Congress 1963–1967, and President of Indian National Congress (O) 1967–1971), were collectively known as the “Syndicate.” 10 See Frank (2002, 267). The quote is from Indira Gandhi’s letter in Dorothy Norman, ed., Indira Gandhi: Letters to an American Friend 1950–1984 (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1985), 96–97.

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11 The “kitchen cabinet” consisted of a core group of people, mainly left-wing intellectuals, close to Indira Gandhi. They discussed policies before they were presented to the cabinet and guided many of her political decisions. 12 During Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, judges as well as civil servants were expected to “be ‘committed’ to the policies and philosophy of the government in power” and especially to the Prime Minister herself (Guha 2008, 497). 13 Unlike the rest of the Left, the Communist Party of India (CPI) supported Indira Gandhi and the Emergency. On the relationship between the CPI and the Emergency, see Lockwood (2016). 14 Lathi is a stick that is commonly used by the police in South Asia to control crowds. 15 Bipan Chandra (2003, 24) writes: “The poor, constituting the major political base of the Congress, especially since 1971, having been further politicized during 1969–1972, remained steadfast in their support to the Congress and Indira Gandhi. They felt that the right-wing opposition parties did not offer any real alternative solutions to their existential problems. Despite the incompleteness of the 1950s land reforms in many states, the failure to enforce land ceiling legislation, the continued social discrimination against and oppression of the Harijans and other lower castes, the inadequacy of the poverty alleviation schemes, and the failure to check shortages of essential commodities and the spiralling rise in prices, the rural poor still accepted Indira Gandhi as their champion and continued to support her, though more passively than before. The same was true of women and the minorities.” 16 Indira Gandhi was “hailed by Atal Behari Vajpayee as the incarnation of the goddess Durga” after the successful Bangladesh war in 1971 (Dhar 2000, 223). 17 M.F. Husain, the famous Indian artist, actually painted a triptych of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency depicting her as Durga or Kali. 18 Bandh is a Hindi word which means “closed.” Bandh is a form of protest in South Asia, a general strike declared by a community or a political party. Gherao, a Hindi word meaning “encirclement,” is a protest in which workers prevent employers leaving a place of work until demands are met. 19 Narayan first spoke of Total Revolution in a public speech on 5 June 1974. 20 Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (“National Volunteer Association”), commonly known as RSS, is a Hindu nationalist, paramilitary-style group. It was founded “to defend Hindus against ‘threatening Others’” (Jaffrelot 1999, 50). 21 Allahabad High Court Judge Jag Mohan Lal Sinha found Indira Gandhi guilty of two counts of campaign malpractice out of 52 charges brought against her on the petition filed by Raj Narain, the candidate she had defeated in the 1971 election, and barred her from running for or holding any elective office for a period of six years. The more serious charges, such as bribery, illegal soliciting of votes and use of religious symbols, were dismissed. The charges she was convicted on were minor technical offences: “the illegal use, during the election campaign, of the services of Yashpal Kapoor, a gazetted government servant, who had resigned from

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the government service but his resignation had not yet been accepted by the President and gazetted, and the erection of a dais (platform) by police officials from which Mrs Gandhi spoke, and the supply of electricity for the relay of her elections speeches. The latter two were long-standing practices for the sake of the prime minister’s security” (Chandra 2003, 64). 22 Rushdie’s short story “The Free Radio” deals with the sterilisation campaign of the Emergency. The story was originally published in Atlantic Monthly but is also included in East, West (1994), a collection of short stories by Rushdie. 23 See for example Dayal and Bose (1977, 36–65); Ved Mehta (1978, 117– 119); Shah Commission of Inquiry (1978, 96–101, 120–139). The Shah Commission report (1978, 96) states: “On April 13–14, the DDA commenced the demolition operations clearing the Dujana House transit camp and shifting the 80 families living there. [. . .] As the area of demolition speedily increased there was considerable panic and resentment amongst the residents and this culminated in the riot in the Turkman Gate area resulting in the death of at least six persons due to Police firing.” 24 Saleem’s term: “Ectomy (from, I suppose, Greek): a cutting out. To which medical science adds a number of prefixes: appendectomy tonsillectomy mastectomy tubectomy vasectomy testectomy hysterectomy” (MC 521). 25 For Indira Gandhi’s “bitter pills” speech, see Gandhi (1984, 228). 26 Frank draws on her interviews with Indira Gandhi’s Principal Private Secretary P.N. Haksar, Gandhi’s cousin Nayantara Sahgal and Indira Gandhi’s closest Indian friend, Pupul Jayakar. 27 Price quotes Friedrich Nietzsche’s, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” in Untimely Meditations, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 59–123. 28 Sahgal (1983, 249) notes that the article is based on “departmental records of the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation], the IB [Intelligence Bureau] and the Finance Ministry.”

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3 Safeguarding Democracy in The Great Indian Novel

Most of the real victims of the Emergency were among the poorest classes of Indians – the ones who, I came to realize, most needed the protections of democracy. For all its chaos and confusion, our parliamentary system and its inefficient trappings were all that stood between them and the absolute power of the state – a state that could seize them in the bazaars or in the fields and cart them off to have their vas deferens cut off in a sterilization camp.1 Shashi Tharoor, India: From Midnight to the Millennium (1997)

Political consciousness shaped by the Emergency Born in London in 1956, Shashi Tharoor grew up in India. He went to school in Bombay and Calcutta, where his father was working for a leading newspaper, but he spent school vacations in his ancestral village in Kerala.2 After graduating in 1975 with a BA degree in history from St Stephen’s College in Delhi, Tharoor moved to the United States to continue his studies soon after the State of Emergency was declared in India. He did an MA and an MALD (Master’s in Law and Diplomacy) at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Even though the State of Emergency ended with a fair and free election which Indira Gandhi lost and democracy was restored, the 21-month period was enough to turn Tharoor against the idea of government service, which in those days was, in Tharoor’s own words, “a classic career line for people with my sort of background – no great money in the family, an education, an interest in the world, and a skill at taking exams” (Kreisler 1999). So, instead of taking the Indian Civil Service Examinations, Tharoor pursued his studies further and delved into Indian 105

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government policies and Indira Gandhi’s administration in his doctoral thesis “on the workings of the way in which Indian foreign policy was made during Indira Gandhi’s first administration,” 1966–1977. He explains that he did his “field research just after the government fell, and everybody – from the former prime minister, Mrs. Gandhi herself, to all her foreign ministers who all happened to be alive – was willing to talk” (Kreisler 1999). He finished the thesis in 1978, and a revised version of it was published in 1982. In 1978, at the age of 22, he began his three-decade-long career in the service of the United Nations. At the UN, Tharoor first worked with the High Commissioner for Refugees in Singapore and Geneva. Between 1989 and 2007, he was a senior official at UN headquarters in New York, his last post being UN UnderSecretary-General for Communications and Public Information. Tharoor resigned from the UN in February 2007, having come second behind Ban Ki-moon in the election for the post of UN Secretary-General. In October 2008, he relocated to Kerala, where he contested the Indian general elections in March 2009 as a Congress Party candidate from Thiruvananthapuram constituency and won a seat in the Lok Sabha. Tharoor served as Minister of State for External Affairs for a year during 2009–2010 and as Minister of State for Human Resource Development in 2012–2014 in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Council of Ministers. He is currently a second-term Lok Sabha MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. Alongside his career first as a UN diplomat and then a politician, Tharoor has exercised his talents as a writer. He started writing at the age of six, and some of his stories were published in Indian mass circulation journals when he was still a teenager. Some of these early stories were published in a collection entitled The Five-Dollar Smile: Fourteen Early Stories and a Farce in Two Acts in 1990. Tharoor is the author of three novels, The Great Indian Novel (1989), Show Business (1991) and Riot (2001); but, as John Skinner (2003, 7–8) has pointed out, he “is not only to be classified in literary terms, but must be read for his personal position or agenda which is often revealed with considerable candour” even in his novels, though especially in his non-fiction. The latter include his published doctoral thesis, Reasons of State: Political Development and India’s Foreign Policy under Indira Gandhi 1966–1977 (1982); India: From Midnight to the Millennium (1997), which is a personal overview of India’s first 50 years of independence and a kind of manifesto for his fictional writing; Nehru: The Invention of India (2003), a biography of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru; The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone: Reflections on 106

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India the Emerging 21st-century Power (2007), a collection of essays on contemporary India; Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century (2012), on Indian diplomacy; India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time (2015); An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India3 (2016) and the most recent, Why I Am a Hindu (2018). Tharoor was a 19-year-old student starting his graduate studies at Tufts University when Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency. The 21-month period left a lasting impression on him. In his own words, Tharoor moved to the United States for graduate studies just [at] the time that Mrs. Indira Gandhi had declared a state of emergency and suspended the democratic freedoms that I had grown up taking for granted in India. In fact, one of the first things that happened to me when the emergency was declared was that a silly short story I had written called A Political Murder was banned by the censors because the notion of a murder taking place for political reasons was an anathema in the new dispensation. [. . .] [W]hile sitting in the U.S. as a graduate student, I found myself coming to terms with my own notion of what I valued about being Indian. (Kreisler 1999) In the United States, Tharoor felt “instantly thrust into the position of having to explain and defend his own country [. . .] that meant having to explain to people why what Mrs. Gandhi had done wasn’t really all that bad because its only victims were people like me” (Kreisler 1999). By this Tharoor means that he was precisely the sort of Indian who was least entitled to object to the Emergency: I belonged to the tiny minority that could write and publish and be banned, whereas the Emergency – however cynical Mrs. Gandhi’s reasons for imposing it – was working for the betterment of the vast, toiling multitudes for whom such rights meant little. Their bread was more important than my freedom. I nearly convinced myself with this argument for a while, but I soon came to realize how hollow it was. My roommate at Fletcher was a journalist, and he brought me daily the wire service copy about the latest atrocities – the slum demolitions, the bulldozings of homes and livelihoods, the compulsory sterilization schemes and the arbitrary quotas assigned to them, the arrests and beatings, 107

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the torture in jail of young student activists. Travelers from India brought me copies of underground newsletters, cyclostyled or badly printed on cheap paper, their ink smudged but their message clear, eloquent testimony both to the people’s despair and their defiance. (Tharoor 1998a, 35) The experiences of this “profoundly disillusioning period” (Tharoor in Kreisler 1999) are reflected in his later writings: what Tharoor values about being Indian is one of the constant themes in his nonfiction. And while the banned short story A Political Murder had nothing to do with the Emergency, Tharoor searched for “a creative way of responding to the formative political experience of [his] life,” the Emergency. He reveals that [his] first attempt at a novel (subsequently shelved) was on that theme; but it became apparent with each passing year that any serious treatment of the topic risked falling foul of the bathetic indifference of most Indians today to what had at the time been a national trauma. (Tharoor 1998b, 160) Tharoor thus also references the fading social memory of the Emergency in India soon after it ended. He decided that “the only valid way of portraying the Emergency without seeming either tiresome or excessively formalistic [. . .] was through the medium of low comedy” (Tharoor 1998b, 160), which he utilised in his play set during the period of autocratic rule, Twenty-Two Months in the Life of a Dog, and included in his collection of stories The Five-Dollar Smile: Fourteen Early Stories and a Farce in Two Acts. The Emergency features as a significant event also in The Great Indian Novel and is used, in an allegorical form, in one of the film plots in Show Business. In addition, Tharoor discusses the Emergency and the debate on bread versus freedom at length in his non-fictional India: From Midnight to the Millennium (see Tharoor 1998a, 199–274). As he himself has noted, “the Emergency became the defining experience of [his] political consciousness” (Tharoor 1998a, 36). Tharoor examined the Emergency in a variety of writings and genres in the 1980s and the 1990s, contributing to the cultural memory of the authoritarian period so that it would not be forgotten. Tharoor’s first novel

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is central in this, as it culminates in the Emergency and the subsequent free general election of 1977.

The epic memoir The Great Indian Novel4 is a political satire which offers a fictionalised history of India from 1915 to the early 1980s following the form and content of the epic the Mahabharata. It covers approximately the same years as Midnight’s Children and, like Rushdie’s novel, is also written as a memoir. The memoirist in The Great Indian Novel is Ved Vyas, or V.V., who “was born with the century” (TGIN 19) and is now 88 years old, so he – and therefore, we readers – are looking at the events from a 1980s perspective, the same as Tharoor’s. To some extent, V.V. resembles C. Rajagopalachari, the Indian politician and statesman, but acts mainly as a chronicler and narrator in the novel. V.V. has been personally involved in India’s history and politics during most of the twentieth century and has thus known many of the leading Indian politicians, in addition to which he had “spies” and informers all around, who have kept him informed. In his old days, he feels he has a lot to say and wants to tell his (hi)story, which is India’s (hi)story as well, to a wider audience. Like the narrator of his mythic model, the Mahabharata, V.V. dictates his story to a scribe. Whereas Midnight’s Children is written by a Ganesha-like figure, V.V.’s scribe/audience is resonantly called Ganapathi, otherwise known as Ganesha, the elephantheaded god, to whom Bhagavan Vyasa, the supposed composer of the Mahabharata, dictated the epic.5 Ganapati comes recommended by V.V.’s “old friend Brahm” (another nod to the epic model in which Brahma, the Creator, suggests Ganapati to Vyasa). In the beginning of the novel, V.V. explains: what I am about to dictate is the definitive memoir of my life and times, and you know what a life and times mine have been. Brahm, in my epic I shall tell of past, present and future, of existence and passing, of efflorescence and decay, of death and rebirth; of what is, of what was, of what should have been. (TGIN 18) Like Midnight’s Children, The Great Indian Novel presents a fictive first-hand account of the events, mediated through memory. But unlike

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Saleem, V.V. does not examine the process of recalling or problematise memory or remembering as such. He does, however, ponder on history-writing, on recording the past, as is befitting, for Tharoor has a degree in history and has, in fact, said of his writing: “I am a student of history and I am [. . .] concerned with the recording of history. [. . .] My work is [. . .] conscious about the various ways that history can be told and recorded” (Tharoor in Kanaganayakam 1995, 121). V.V. also openly admits the subjectivity of his account and at the same time implies that all accounts of history are subjective: It is my truth, Ganapathi, just as the crusade to drive out the British reflected Gangaji’s truth, and the fight to be rid of both the British and the Hindu was Karna’s truth. Which philosopher would dare to establish a hierarchy among such verities? Question, Ganapathi. Is it permissible to modify truth with a possessive pronoun? Questions Two and Three. How much may one select, interpret and arrange facts of the living past before truth is jeopardized by inaccuracy? (TGIN 164) And further: For every tale I have told you, every perception I have conveyed, there are a hundred equally valid alternatives I have omitted and of which you are unaware. I make no apologies for this. This is my story of the India I know, with its biases, selections, omissions, distortions, all mine. (TGIN 373) What he says is that there is no one, indubitable Truth; no one true, objective account of any period of history. Matthias Galler (2013, 294) argues that The Great Indian Novel is “a literary game with a kaleidoscope of narrative levels designed to point to the relativity of any concept of ‘truth.’” In this, The Great Indian Novel is like other postmodern novels, which, according to Linda Hutcheon (1987, 290), “imply that there are only truths in the plural, and never one truth; and there is rarely falseness per se, just other truths.” This resembles Saleem’s discussion of memory’s truth in Midnight’s Children. V.V., too, writes a memoir that functions as counter-memory to official state discourse on the Emergency, but like Saleem, V.V. points out that this

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is just one interpretation of the events, albeit an important one as it records the events differently from the “official” version. This point is emphasised when, at the end of the novel, V.V. feels that he has told his story “from a completely mistaken perspective” and therefore needs to start anew (TGIN 418). This is in accordance with the Mahabharata’s narrative tradition: the epic has been passed on for centuries as oral narrative, told and retold thousands and millions of times. There is no authoritative, one version of it. The epic is open to retelling and new interpretations, and by using this form in his tale of twentieth-century history, Tharoor implies that the same is true of history, historical representation, including, of course, the representation of the Emergency: there is no one true or definitive account. It is always possible to tell otherwise. The character of V.V.’s historiographical position is analogous with that of the ideas of scholars like Hayden White on the writing of history: the historical facts contain an “infinite number” of stories, “all different in their details, each unlike every other.” The historian must figure out what kind of stories might be found in the “facts” and what kind of plot-structure ought to be used to make the story coherent; the meaning of the events is derived from the story structure that is imposed on them. White states that the historian must draw upon a fund of culturally provided mythoi in order to constitute the facts as figuring a story of a particular kind, just as he must appeal to that same fund of mythoi in the minds of his readers to endow his account of the past with the odor of meaning or significance. (White 1987, 60) In The Great Indian Novel, Indian history is approached from a different angle from that of Western historiography or realist fiction, for Tharoor draws upon Indian myths, epic and Puranic frameworks and builds on a mythic story-structure to compose a narrative of the chosen facts of twentieth-century Indian history. Uma Parameswaran (1991, 356) argues that The novel uses two narrative strategies standard to Indian literatures. One is “retelling” and the other the epic mode which thrives on digressions. Central to Indian storytelling is the concept of retelling a familiar story over and over again

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without major changes. Thus, Tharoor retells major events of both history and epic without any substantive changes. The changes may not be substantive – Tharoor in fact follows his epic and real-life historical models quite faithfully – but they, as well as the novel’s emphases and omissions, are nonetheless significant in that they combine to create a satirical account of Indian politics and add up to social and political criticism. The novel discusses the Indira Gandhi years and especially the Emergency at length, reflecting the author’s ambivalent and changing views of the Emergency. The novel’s narrator V.V. goes through similar phases as Tharoor did as a student in the United States; but in the end, he, too, makes up his mind about the Emergency and decides that he needs to oppose it. As was discussed previously, The Great Indian Novel borrows its form, events and characters from the Mahabharata for its satirical treatment of twentieth-century Indian history. The Mahabharata, literally “Great India” in Sanskrit, is one of the two great Indian national epics, the other being the Ramayana. The core of the epic is a struggle for power and the control of the western Ganga-Yamuna Doab between the 100 Kauravas and the 5 Pandavas, who are princely cousins. The climax of the Mahabharata is the battle of Kurukshetra, a battle that can also been seen as a struggle between dharma and adharma.6 With the regional northern and southern versions added to the corpus, the Mahabharata consists of more than 100,000 verses, making it probably the world’s longest epic poem. Today, the epic, described also as one of the founding texts of Indian culture, is still very much alive, is known by virtually every Indian and is still passed on in oral narratives, acted out in drama form as theatrical performances and in cinema and has even been transformed into a hugely popular television series. Meenakshi Mukherjee (1974, 131) remarks that the two great “epics and the Puranas are among the few common links that constitute an all-India frame of reference, equally valid to the Tamilian and the Punjabi.” Singh (1996, 175) notes that “The Mahabharata is about power and politics, about national disintegration and schisms: the Indian here confronts the forces of history.” Indeed, the Mahabharata is considered in the Indian tradition as history, itihas, in contrast to the Ramayana, which belongs more clearly in the literary tradition, kavya. Whereas the Ramayana presents ideals, from the ideal king (Rama) and ideal wife (Sita) to an ideal villain (Ravana), the Mahabharata 112

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is a record of a human struggle where the participants are human in their weakness, deceit and petty jealousies. No character in it is without a flaw, no character is totally villainous. It is more ruthlessly faithful to life than the Ramayana. (Mukherjee 1974, 160) This makes the Mahabharata ideally suited for yoking to the service of telling a story of twentieth-century India. In The Great Indian Novel’s retelling of the epic with twentieth-century historical characters, Mohandas K. Gandhi slips easily into the role of Bhishma, or Ganga Datta. Other central characters include Jawaharlal Nehru as the epic’s Dhritarashtra, who “had the blind man’s gift of seeing the world not as it was, but as he wanted it to be. Even better, he was able to convince everyone around him that his vision was superior to theirs” (TGIN 85). The Bengali leader of the Congress left, Subhas Chandra Bose, becomes Pandu, whereas Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the lawyer and politician who became the father of Pakistan, takes the role of Karna. These four men are the central characters of the first, pre-Independence part of the novel. Vidur, Pandu’s and Dhritarashtra’s half-brother in the novel as in the epic, occupies a much smaller role than his brothers in the novel, though exhibiting great skill at developing Indian civil services. However, true to their historical models, three of these characters die around the time of Independence. Pandu/ Subhas Chandra Bose dies in a plane crash during his escape after his Indian National Army fighting against the British Army had surrendered in Rangoon in May 1945. Ganga Datta/Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in January 1948 and Karna/Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who had become the first Governor-General of Pakistan after its Independence, also passed away in 1948. From 1948 to 1950, independent India was ruled largely by Nehru, Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari, but Dhritarashtra/Nehru remains the only politician of that stature in the novel, when Vidur/Sardar Patel dies in 1950. Dhritarashtra/Nehru then dominates the Indian political scene until his death in 1964; as V.V. puts it: “there was no obvious alternative leader the party could find. The critics muted their objections; and Dhritarashtra learned how easy it was to get his own way” (TGIN 261). Other politicians, such as Defence Minister Kanika Menon/Krishna Menon, are minnows compared to Dhritarashtra/Nehru. The novel’s Dhritarashtra does not have the hundred sons the character has in the epic, but instead he has one daughter “equal to a thousand sons” (TGIN 113

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151–152). Dhritarashtra’s daughter is called Priya Duryodhani, after Nehru’s daughter Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi and the eldest of the Kauravas/Dhritarashtra’s sons, Duryodhana, in the epic. Otherwise, the Kauravas become the Kaurava Party, representing the Congress. With the Pandavas, Tharoor employs more direct allegory, though I suggest that Yudhishtir has a dual role as Morarji Desai and the Indian judiciary. With the other Pandava brothers, the allegorical relationship is clearly spelled out in the novel: Bhim is the army, Arjun the free Indian press. Nakul and Sahadev embody “the twin pillars of India’s independent governance: the administrative and diplomatic services” (TGIN 320). The five Pandavas “personif[y] the hopes and the limitations of each of the national institutions they served” (TGIN 319), as V.V. explains. One of the principal characters of the second half of the novel is the baby, Draupadi Mokrasi, or D. Mokrasi, born out of the affair between Georgina Drewpad/Lady Mountbatten and Dhritarashtra/Nehru. The casting of the characters is highly significant as each figure from twentieth-century Indian history is depicted and read through the prism of a character in the Mahabharata. The portrayal of Indira Gandhi as (Priya) Duryodhani indicates Tharoor’s perception of her right from the appearance of her character in the novel; for true to the epic, Tharoor portrays Duryodhani as a power-hungry schemer.7 Indira Gandhi is depicted as the villain of the second half of the narrative – as the British and Jinnah have cleared out of India. The readers of the novel are encouraged to sympathise with the Pandavas, the “good guys” of the epic, while their greatest adversary Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi emerges as the chief villain of the story in post-Independence India, after the departure of the British. Like the Mahabharata’s Duryodhana, Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi plots to exterminate rivals and kill the Pandavas right from her childhood, and eventually her rivalry with the state institutions leads to a battle (of Kurukshetra) over the dignity of D. Mokrasi. The epic provides the guidelines for Tharoor’s construction of his version of Indian history, with Tharoor elaborating, selecting, omitting, digressing and deviating from the earlier narrative when it suits him and employing myth to connect with Indian modes of dealing with the past. The first half of the novel focuses on British colonialism, on the struggle for independence from Gandhi’s return to India until Independence and Partition in 1947, on Gandhi’s campaign, on the rivalry of Nehru and Bose and on the process that led to the formation of Pakistan. The second half of the novel is a history of independent India, with a special focus on Nehru’s and Indira Gandhi’s leadership 114

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and government. Much of the narrative revolves around struggle for power; as Sudhendu Shekhar (2004, 97) notes, “the simple plot of values of collective experience being deserted for individual benefit of tasting the fruits of power and the consequent chaos informs the text of the Mahabharata as well as of The Great Indian Novel.” Draupadi Mokrasi, or democracy, of mixed Indian and British parentage, is after independence the character “whose life gives meaning to the rest of [the] story” (TGIN 246). The Pandava brothers – the judiciary, the army, the press and administrative and diplomatic services – were to protect her, but Priya Duryodhani’s schemes/Indira Gandhi’s politics make the task harder, and the brothers/institutions fail in the 1970s. The novel becomes a story of the rise and fall of Indian democracy, the fall signifying the end of India based on the Nehruvian idea. Dhritarashtra/Nehru clearly dominates the scene after Independence, but his death leaves a power-vacuum, which is filled some years later by his daughter Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi, who is shown to excel in acquiring power, if not wielding it responsibly. Her lust for and need to stay in power are shown to culminate in the Siege (the Emergency), a period of autocratic rule. And while the Janata Front succeeds in bringing her down in the elections following the Emergency, its leaders, too, succumb to the temptations of power, and the Front, loose as it ever was, falls apart in the face of internal quarrels and personal ambitions. However, while much of the critique is directed at the government, politicians and later the workings of the independent state in India, I agree to a certain extent with John McLaren (2001, 117) who argues that “although the action of the novel details political manoeuvres, its theme is the nation rather than its particular manifestation as a state.” The idea of the Indian cultural nation or civilisation (as eternal India) is at the heart of the novel, but its current form, an Indian nation-state, is what is under examination in it. The Indian cultural nation or civilisation is taken for granted – even when it is explained, defended or praised, it is always there – and though a “secular” and democratic state is seen as the best option for her, it is this state and the politicians wielding power in this state that are under examination and critique in The Great Indian Novel. I therefore read Tharoor’s novel as an examination of the formation and maintenance of the democratic Indian state built on the basis of a nation. Tharoor has said of his use of the ancient Indian epic in The Great Indian Novel: “I wanted a vehicle to transmit some of my political and historical interests in the evolution of modern India” (Tharoor cited in Chowdhury 1995, 44). The epic form, the mythic story-structure, 115

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works to reclaim India’s past and histories, presenting Indian history in a form closer to indigenous ways of accessing the past, and the political satire tackles both Indo-British and independent Indian politics and politicians. Furthermore, using ancient Indian texts and textual-narratological models adds another layer to the creation of the cultural memory of the Emergency, as it and other defining events and characters of twentieth-century Indian history are seen in a new light, one cast through the prism of well-known mythic figures. This adds to their personalities and perhaps tells something new about these wellknown historical persons and events, thus challenging the old and conventional ways of looking at them. In this way the Mahabharata functions as a structure that opens up twentieth-century Indian history anew to Indian readers. The election after the Emergency, the battle for democracy, is linked with the very familiar battle of Kurukshetra, and thus the Emergency is given a significant place in Indian cultural memory. As Kanishka Chowdhury (1995, 46–47) notes, the State of Emergency is seen as the greatest post-Independence betrayal in the novel and “the subsequent struggle for democracy then becomes, for Tharoor, the battle of Kurukshetra,” comparable to the climactic battle of the Mahabharata. That “the Mahabharata does not end with the decisive battle of Kurukshetra; it ends with the painful awareness that an age is about to pass” (Nandy 1995b, 57–58), makes the epic a particularly appropriate vehicle for Tharoor’s purposes. The battle of Kurukshetra, which in the novel becomes the general election of 1977 in which Indira Gandhi was defeated, marks the end of Nehruvian India, with its secular nationalism and democratic state- and institution-building. After Kurukshetra, there are no true winners, even though Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi is defeated.

Nehru and the Indian nation The two major themes of the post-Independence part of the novel are the story of the development of Indian democracy and the criticism of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Nehru is portrayed as an idealist visionary in The Great Indian Novel, blind to the realities of India, yet one who had a formidable role in shaping independent India’s future. Nehru is criticised quite heavily; his premiership comes to read as a series of bad decisions and acts of misdirected idealism. In his non-fiction, Tharoor characterises “the Nehru legacy to India” as “a mixed one.” Whereas Tharoor criticises Nehru’s socialist economic policy, he sees Nehru’s democratic institution-building and secularism as “indispensable to 116

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the country’s survival” (Tharoor 1998a, 29). Secularism in The Great Indian Novel is seen as an underlying necessity for the nation and treated almost as a given. Communal issues in post-Independence India are absent in the novel as Tharoor portrays a pluralistic but unified Indian nation after Independence that, despite all its diversity, holds together. He explains: My generation grew up in an India that rejected the very idea that religion should be a determinant of nationhood. That was the basic premise of Indian nationalism. We never fell into the insidious trap of agreeing that, since Partition had established a state for the Muslims, what remained was a state for the Hindus. To accept the idea of India you had to spurn the logic that had divided the country. (Tharoor 2007, 37) It is this idea of India that informs Tharoor’s novel. The Indian nation in The Great Indian Novel is to a great extent an idealised community, a vision of an India “greater than the sum of its parts” (Tharoor 1998a, 78). He propagates in his novel “the idea of an ever-ever land – emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy.” He explains this further: “The whole point of Indianness is its pluralism: you can be many things and one thing. You can be a good Muslim, a good Keralite and a good Indian all at once” (Tharoor 2007, 14). Though Nehru’s premiership includes a number of bad decisions as well as acts of misdirected idealism, Tharoor embraces a very Nehruvian idea of India. Tharoor constantly draws on the underlying millennia-old civilisation in his novel. This civilisation as Tharoor depicts it – following Nehru – is a tolerant and absorbent Hindu one – or more comprehensively, the Indic civilisation which also comprises Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists – which has accommodated influences and people, most notably Islamic traditions and Muslims, from outside, integrating and blending them in so as to form contemporary India. For Tharoor, Islam is “a domesticated element of everyday popular life” that has blended in the originally Hindu civilisation. In his India: From Midnight to the Millennium, Tharoor, while emphasising Hinduism as the basis of Indian culture(s), at the same time defends the Indianness of India’s Muslims: Hinduism provides the basis for a shared sense of common culture within India that has little to do with religion. Hindu 117

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festivals, from Holi [. . .] to Deepavali [. . .] have already gone beyond their religious origins to unite Indians of all faiths as a shared experience. [.  .  .] [S]uch religious myths as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide a common idiom, a shared matrix of reference, to all Indians. [. . .] Hinduism and Islam are intertwined in India; both religions, after all, have shared the same history in the same space, and theirs is a cohabitation of necessity as well as fact. In the Indian context today, it is possible to say that there is no India without Islam, and no Islam without India. The saffron and the green both belong on the Indian flag. (Tharoor 1998a, 131) Tharoor’s reverence for Hindu culture is based on its accommodating and tolerant nature and thus strictly poised against Hindu nationalist assertions of Hindu supremacy. Tharoor’s view, “I do not see Indian history as Hindu history” (Tharoor 2007, 31), is echoed in V.V.’s narration. Whereas secularism seems to come naturally to the nation8 – with Nehru as its facilitator – Nehru is given credit for being the father of Indian democracy. Parliamentary democracy in V.V.’s story is born “on 26 January 1950, as the Constitution of the new Republic of India was solemnly promulgated by its founding fathers” (TGIN 244), out of the affair between Georgina Drewpad/Lady Mountbatten and Dhritarashtra/ Nehru which has a historical basis (e.g. von Tunzelman 2008). The new-born baby, “bearing the indeterminate pink-and-brown colouring of her mixed parentage,” is given for adoption. The infant is called Draupadi and is given the patronymic of her adoptive father, Mokrasi (TGIN 243). The mixed parentage of D. Mokrasi is an appropriate metaphor, since independent India adopted its political system from the British but its ideals came largely from the Congress. Dhritarashtra/ Nehru is commended for nurturing Indian democracy – D. Mokrasi herself notes after the death of her father: “He did so much for me when he was alive” (TGIN 310) – and for contributions to democratic institution-building. V.V.’s acknowledgement of Nehru’s role in fathering Indian democracy becomes especially significant in light of the criticism that follows in other fields, such as political economy and external relations. V.V. says of Dhritarashtra’s faithfulness to democracy: When we won freedom it was almost axiomatic that we had won ourselves a parliamentary democracy too. For all 118

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Dhritarashtra’s sins and limitations that was one conviction he never betrayed. Even though – or perhaps because – he let no one else come near to being Prime Minister, he constantly reaffirmed and encouraged the institution of parliamentary democracy in the country. (TGIN 370–371) This is as far as V.V. goes, however, for he does not discuss India’s adoption of parliamentary democracy and democratic institutions in practice but concentrates instead – and perhaps unsurprisingly, given Tharoor’s own background – on India’s foreign policy, though Nehru’s economic policies are not left out, either. Whereas V.V. explains in detail how Manimir/Kashmir became part of India rather than Pakistan at the time of Partition and the reasons and consequences of the war with China, neither the drafting of the Constitution nor the setting up of various democratic institutions are examined. The fact that parliamentary democracy is almost taken for granted in V.V.’s description of the Nehru era is curious, for Tharoor notes elsewhere that, as Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was “a convinced democrat” who carefully nurtured the forms and institutions of democracy. He was always careful to treat the party as his master rather than the other way around, and to defer to its elders, paying careful deference to the country’s ceremonial presidency, writing regular letters to the chief ministers of India’s states explaining his policies, subjecting himself to cross-examination in Parliament by a fractious opposition. (Tharoor 1998a, 27–28) Tharoor (1998a, 8–9) also points out the extraordinary fact that “at a time when most developing countries opted for authoritarian models of government to promote nation-building and to direct development, India chose to be a multi-party democracy.” The enormity of these decisions is well explained by P.N. Dhar, economist and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, in his memoir: Independent India’s founding fathers laid out a constitutional framework and a set of guiding principles of state policy on which society was to be organized in free India. This set of rules would have been ambitious even for more economically 119

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developed and socially homogeneous countries. Contrary to historical experience, India endeavoured to initiate the process of capital accumulation necessary for its economic transformation on the basis of universal adult suffrage. A country with a low level of development and a meagre rate of savings was promised social justice as well as economic growth. A country with deep-seated religious traditions and mores adopted secularism as its state policy. A country where the individual is submerged in his family and his community adopted a libertarian philosophy which has operational meaning only where the individual is the decision-maker in private and public life. (Dhar 2000, 227) In V.V.’s (hi)story, it is taken for granted that India is, after the promulgation of the constitution, a secular state and the world’s largest democracy. Secularism of the state and democracy are so integral to the idea of India for Tharoor that his narrator does not delve into the question of how these were adopted in practice in India after Independence. In The Great Indian Novel, V.V. remarks that “Dhritarashtra had been like the immense banyan tree under whose shadow no other plant could grow” (TGIN 310). V.V. portrays a Dhritarashtra who, in spite of being an advocate of democracy, turns out to be also a master manipulator. V.V. remarks: It was also over Manimir [Kashmir] that Dhritarashtra first revealed the technique of political self-perpetuation that he was to develop into such fine art in the years to come. When the first criticisms were openly raised within the Kaurava Party, Dhritarashtra silenced them promptly by offering to resign. He knew perfectly well that with Gangaji gone and Pandu dead, Karna across the new frontiers and Rafi sidelined by the fact that much of his community had suddenly become foreigners, there was no obvious alternative leader the party could find. The critics responded by muting their objections; and Dhritarashtra learned how easy it was to get his own way. The consequences of idealism and the imposability of individual will were prime ministerial lessons also learned, and profoundly absorbed, by the dark-eyed young daughter whom the widower Prime Minister had appointed as his official hostess. Yes, Ganapathi, Priya Duryodhani listened, and 120

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watched, and imbibed tone and technique from her paternal model. With Manimir, she learned her first exercise from her father’s political primer. It was an education from which the country was never to recover. (TGIN 261) Thus, even the idealistic Dhritarashtra-Nehru is not above the lure of gaining, staying in and wielding power in modern India. Furthermore, V.V. makes it very clear, Priya Duryodhani is even more prone to respond to this lure and will use her knowledge of “the consequences of idealism and the imposability of individual will” for these purposes, only to a greater extent, in the future – to the detriment of the nation, as V.V. sees it. The novel draws on the fact that Nehru did raise the issue of his retirement several times between 1954 and 1958, which made cynics state that he did that only to receive affirmation that he was still as much loved and as indispensable as ever (Ali 1985, 101). When discussing Nehru’s “mixed” legacy in India: From Midnight to the Millennium, Tharoor speaks highly of Nehru’s democratic institution-building and secularism, describes Nehru’s policy of nonalignment as not benefitting Indians concretely but enhancing India’s international standing, and denounces Nehru’s socialist economics as “disastrous, condemning the Indian people to poverty and stagnation and engendering inefficiency, red-tapism and corruption on a scale rarely rivalled elsewhere” (Tharoor 1998a, 29). This thinking is reflected in The Great Indian Novel. As noted earlier, Nehru is given credit for being the father of Indian democracy and secularism is a given in the novel: it is seen as an underlying necessity for the life of the nation, and there is only a need to discuss it in passing, while condemning communal violence. This is one of the matters in which the Nehruvian influence is strong in The Great Indian Novel. Although Nehru’s policy of non-alignment is almost ridiculed when DhritarashtraNehru turns to the United States for help during the attack of ChakraChina in northern India, the concept is noted with approval and praise elsewhere, together with other Indian policies and ideas with the prefix non- (such as non-violence and non-cooperation). The fourth pillar of the Nehru legacy, his socialist economics, is, however, criticised – as could be expected. Despite Tharoor’s obvious reverence to and admiration for Nehru – excluding his economic policy – which is apparent in his Nehru biography, India’s first Prime Minister is criticised severely in The Great Indian Novel. Acknowledgements of his achievements often come as side remarks, whereas mistakes are dwelt 121

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upon. Nevertheless he is given credit for being fair and democratic, though a captive of his blind idealism, while the picture painted of his daughter is far less generous. V.V. writes that as there was “no one of truly national stature to succeed Dhritarashtra,” the Kaurava Party would be run by collective leadership and “the one was least unacceptable to the others” would serve as Prime Minister (TGIN 310). That role was given to Shishu Pal. After Nehru had shrunk in power and stature following China’s invasion of India and India’s subsequent defeat in the war in 1962, questions began to be asked about his possible successor. A group of Congress leaders known as the “Syndicate” decided in a meeting in October 1963 that “a collective leadership, headed by Lal Bahadur Shastri, should succeed Nehru and that the rigid, doctrinaire and right-wing Morarji Desai must be stymied” (Frank 2002, 270). After the death of Nehru, Morarji Desai and some others made claims for premiership, but Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was least disliked by other Congress Party bosses, was chosen in June 1964 (e.g. Lall 1981, 169; Singhal 1983, 446; Guha 2008, 389–390). Shishu Pal/Lal Bahadur Shastri’s 19 months in office are labelled an “interregnum” and “a good Prime minister[ship]” by V.V. (TGIN 317). The two noteworthy events in the novel during this period are the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, and the more allegorical wedding of D. Mokrasi, following the epic model, to the five Pandava brothers. It is significant that D. Mokrasi is seen to be of age after the death of Nehru, suggesting that Nehru nurtured Indian democracy into maturity. In V.V.’s mind, Arjun, allegory for the Indian press, would have been the ideal husband for Draupadi Mokrasi since such a marriage would have “unite[d] democracy with the voice of the people” (TGIN 311), but in the end, Draupadi marries all five brothers: the judiciary, the army, the press and the administrative and the diplomatic services who then offer her sustenance during the rest of the story. Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, is from the beginning set in a rivalrous position in regard to the five Pandavas/the constituent parts of the Indian state – as well as Yudhishtir in his role as Morarji Desai.

Frankenstein’s monster Whereas Saleem does not depict Indira Gandhi’s ascent to power in Midnight’s Children, V.V. describes Priya Duryodhani’s rise meticulously, framing it from the beginning in terms of a power struggle with Morarji Desai. When Shastri died in early 1966 after only 19 months 122

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in office, the question of appointing a new Prime Minister arose again, sooner than expected. A struggle for power ensued between Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai (e.g. Guha 2008, 405–406). In The Great Indian Novel, Priya Duryodhani is chosen as the new Prime Minister by the Kaurava Working Committee because, as V.V. explains, they wanted a Prime Minister with certain limitations, a Prime Minister who is no more than any other minister, a Prime Minister who will decorate the office, rally the support of the people at large and let us run the country. None of us can play that role as well as Priya Duryodhani can. She is easily recognizable, she is known as her father’s daughter, and she will be more presentable to foreign dignitaries than poor little Shishu Pal ever was. And if we ever decide we have had enough of her – well, she is only a woman. (TGIN 318) Thus, the rise of Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister of India is shown to happen out of no merit of her own but out of internal disagreements and struggle for power in the Congress leadership. Indira Gandhi is presented by V.V. first and foremost as her father’s daughter, sure to appeal to the people, and, as a woman with little political experience, a suitable puppet Prime Minister. V.V.’s satirical version is in line with most historical accounts. Indira Gandhi had not been a member of parliament during her father’s premiership, had only become a member of the cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting as well as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) in Shastri’s time and therefore did not have much administrative experience. When the old guard of Congress chose Indira Gandhi as the next Prime Minister, she was called a “dumb doll” (goongi gudiya) by socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia. Singhal (1983, 448) writes that Indira Gandhi’s “only qualification for the office at that time was that she was Nehru’s daughter and had been close to the seat of power.” To Congress president Kamaraj the inexperienced Indira Gandhi, a woman and a widow, seemed humbler and easier to influence. Kamaraj feared that his power and influence would be greatly diminished if the 69-year-old minister and leader of the Congress right, Morarji Desai, who saw himself best qualified for the job, became Prime Minister (e.g. Kulke and Rothermund 1986, 321; Wolpert 2000, 372, 377; Guha 2008, 405–406). Therefore, he managed the election of Indira Gandhi to the office. 123

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Significantly, Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi stays unmarried in Tharoor’s novel. V.V. notes that “she had never married, sacrificing nuptial pleasure for service to her father as his official hostess” (TGIN 311). As was mentioned in the previous chapter, Indira Gandhi served as her father’s official hostess in Delhi but only after her marriage in 1942 to Feroze Gandhi and the birth of their two sons Rajiv Gandhi (b. 1944) and Sanjay Gandhi (b. 1946). Indira Gandhi separated from her husband in 1948, when she moved with her sons to her father’s residence in Delhi. Feroze Gandhi died of a heart attack in 1960, making Indira Gandhi a widow before her entrance into politics. In contrast to Rushdie, Tharoor chooses to omit Indira Gandhi’s role as a wife/widow and a mother which might have softened her portrayal in the novel – or not, as we have seen in the case of Midnight’s Children. The omission of Indira Gandhi’s wife- and motherhood adds to her portrayal as an evil loner, concentrating all her energy on politics and power. In The Great Indian Novel, Priya Duryodhani’s gender is to a large extent irrelevant, perhaps because the epic model of the novel’s female character was male. The fact that she is not confined to the traditional role of a wife and mother – unlike the novel’s Kunti, who does not have an allegorical role to play but acts merely as the mother of Karna and the three oldest Pandavas – and  does not bear the burden of being labelled a widow, means that she can concentrate all her energy on politics and power and act as a significant player on the national level. However, like Rushdie, Tharoor does at one point mention the gendered personality cult that was built around her especially after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and the liberation of Bangladesh. V.V. notes that after the victory, India accorded Duryodhani its ultimate accolade: she was not just deified, she was maternalized. This woman who had never married, and who looked incapable of producing or sustaining human life, became known as “Ma Durodhani” and “Duryodhani Amma” to a people who saw in her the embodiment of the female principle of Shakti, the power and the strength of a national Mother Goddess. (TGIN 355) Depriving Indira Gandhi, a mother of two sons who she adored and later relied on in her political decisions and who had said that “to a woman, motherhood is the highest fulfilment” (Pouchpadass 1982, 53), of her maternal status and describing her as looking “incapable of producing or sustaining life,” reads as a harsh and personal attack on 124

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her. Furthermore, the omission of Indira Gandhi’s motherhood means that her son Sanjay is left out of the picture, too. In the chapter revealingly titled “The Bungle Book – or, The Reign of Error,” V.V. recounts Priya Duryodhani’s rise to the height of power and the increasing health problems of D. Mokrasi from feeling dizzy and fainting to having asthma. In the general election which took place after the new Prime Minister’s “undistinguished and diffident first year in office – during which Priya Duryodhani seemed far more conscious of what she did not know than of what she could find out” (TGIN 339), the Kaurava Party lost seats and a bitter dispute over leadership ensues between Priya Duryodhani and Yudhishtir. As the party’s elder statesman, V.V. solves the situation by suggesting that Priya Duryodhani, not a member of the defeated Kaurava Old Guard, continue as Prime Minister, thus confirming her power for the next five years, and that a new post of Deputy Prime Minister be created for Yudhishtir (TGIN 339–342). In the 1967 elections, first since the death of Nehru, while the Congress did not do well, Indira Gandhi’s popularity increased throughout the country. Morarji Desai joined Indira Gandhi’s government as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister – he wanted the Home Ministry but was denied – after Indira Gandhi had reluctantly invited him to, at the request of Kamaraj (e.g. Lall 1981, 176; Wolpert 2000, 380; Guha 2008, 435). As is apparent, the self-righteous Yudhishtir resembles Morarji Desai increasingly from now on. Dhar asserts that though the reason that the Congress lost seats was simply the electoral alliances of opposition parties and not a great ideological shift in voters, the leftists interpreted Congress’s electoral defeat as “a verdict against the Syndicate and the policies of retreat from socialism that were associated with them in public perception,” a view which seemed to be proved by the defeat of certain notable Syndicate leaders, including Kamaraj himself. Dhar (2000, 110) adds: “In this situation, Indira Gandhi could retrieve her image as a ‘progressive’ and strive for independent leadership for herself by supporting radical elements in her party.”9 She was also coming into her own as a political leader of her party and country. V.V. describes the years following the 1967 election in terms of Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi’s growing confidence, power and determinedness. He remarks that once Priya Duryodhani realized the strength of her post-election position – there was, after all, only one Prime Minister, and she was it – the change in her style was dramatic. She shook off her uncertainty as 125

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a palm tree casts off its fronds. Her public diffidence turned into assertiveness; her insecurity into arrogance. (TGIN 342) Priya Duryodhani is described as distancing herself from the party elders and their conservatism and ignoring Yudhishtir to the extent that he resigned from the cabinet. After the elections, Indira Gandhi drew increasingly closer to the Congress left, resisting at the same time the more rightist Congress old guard, which attempted to regain control in the party (e.g. Wolpert 2000, 381; Guha 2008, 436). P.N. Dhar (2000, 109–110) says that “perhaps the ideological shift in favour of the Congress Left was inevitable in the situation in which Mrs Gandhi was placed” and discusses the Kamaraj plan, which was designed by K. Kamaraj and Nehru in 1963, and under which cabinet ministers and chief minister were called on to resign and to do grass-roots work for the party. This enabled them to remove undesirable persons and critics from power. Morarji Desai, a critic of Nehru’s economic policy, was among the ministers thus removed from the cabinet, and C.B. Gupta of Uttar Pradesh and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad of Jammu and Kashmir, conservative and allegedly corrupt, were among the chief ministers that were let go. Lal Bahadur Shashtri had, however, brought some of these politicians back into influential positions, including cabinet posts. Many of them were not popular – they were mostly seen by the public as a very rightist bunch and the media labelled them “the Syndicate.” In addition to these reasons, Indira Gandhi favoured the Congress left partly because of personal antagonism – after all, it was members of the old guard, “the Syndicate,” who had tried to manipulate and dominate her in her first year in office. Furthermore, the intellectual atmosphere was leaning to the left at the time as the legacy of Nehru. Dhar (2000, 110) states: “Mrs Gandhi, surely, was not going to deny herself the advantages of this legacy in her struggle for power.” Moving along the same lines, V.V. describes how With her most visible rival out of the way, Duryodhani began openly to promote her own cause within the party. She made speeches about the immense sacrifices made by her father and family for the cause of national independence. She spoke of Dhritarashtra’s socialist ideals, and how they had been betrayed by the “reactionary” elements among the Kauravas. The Kaurava Party, she averred, had to find itself again under her leadership. She appealed to all “progressive” and 126

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“like-minded” people outside the Kaurava Party to join her effort. (TGIN 343) Indira Gandhi’s message of socialism appealed to “the so-called ‘Young Turks’ in the Congress, who had started a socialist faction within the party” (Guha 2008, 437). Among the Young Turks was Chandra Sekhar, whom The Great Indian Novel’s Ashwathaman starts to resemble. Together, Priya Duryodhani and Ashwathaman hatch a series of leftist schemes, the first one of these being the abolition of the privy purses of the ex-maharajas. They succeed in the endeavour, alienating Yudhishtir, the former prince of Hastinapur, in the process to the point that he resigns from the party’s Working Committee, too. Duryodhani’s actions are based on Indira Gandhi’s political measures, only the sequence of events has been changed. Indira Gandhi did not get the support of the upper house of the Parliament for the abolition of privy purses in 1970, but she achieved this by derecognising the princes through a simple presidential order. The order was struck down later that year by the Supreme Court, but she had already shown she was more powerful than her opposition (Kulke and Rothermund 1986, 322; Wolpert 2000, 382, 386). Following her massive electoral victory of 1971, Indira Gandhi introduced a bill to abolish all princely privileges in December 1971. The bill, which amended the constitution, was passed by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament. The novel deviates from the epic as it continues to follow Priya Duryodhani’s independent measures to do as she likes and concentrate power in her own hands. Next, after the abolition of the privy purses, V.V. reminisces, on Duryodhani’s list was the nationalisation of banks. Ashwathaman introduced the bill in Parliament and “Duryodhani – failing this time to carry a majority of the Working Committee with her – gave it her personal support and called for a free vote in the House.” The bank nationalisation bill was passed with the support of the leftist parties. The President’s signature was still needed to make it an Act, but before it could be obtained, the President died (TGIN 346–347). In July 1969, Indira Gandhi proposed nationalisation of India’s banks. She also proposed land reforms and ceilings on personal income and private property as well as on corporate profits. Indira Gandhi grew the distance between the Congress old guard and herself with the measures she undertook. She sided openly with the Young Turks, taking a more socialist approach to politics. She also took personal control of the Finance Ministry, dismissing Finance Minister Morarji Desai, 127

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who opposed bank nationalisation. As a result, Morarji Desai resigned from the office of Deputy Prime Minister as well. With Desai out of the way, Indira Gandhi announced that 14 banks had been taken over by the state. According to Singhal, Indira Gandhi took these measures to assert leadership and gain popularity. From 1969 onward, personalities were more important than policies in the Congress politics, which Indira Gandhi increasingly dominated (Singhal 1983, 449). V.V. explains that “the presidential election that immediately followed now became crucial for India’s political future.” The Kaurava Old Guard felt that Priya Duryodhani was “a Frankenstein’s monster who was suddenly growing out of control” (TGIN 347). They tried to have their own candidate chosen as the official candidate of the Kaurava Party for the presidential elections of India. In this way they tried to obtain some influence over Priya; they tried to impose a president on her who would not let her do whatever she wanted. At first it looked like Duryodhani would accept the official candidate – she had suggested one of her ministers but had lost – but Priya Duryodhani manifests her independence from the old guard by proposing, backing and urging all “modern and progressive forces” in politics to vote for an independent candidate, Ekalavya, of her own choosing (TGIN 350). The Kaurava Party Working Committee asked all the Kaurava members to vote for their official candidate. Ekalavya won the elections by half a percentage point, becoming the first president of independent India that had not been the official candidate of the Kaurava Party. The Kaurava Working Committee evoked party discipline and, in a meeting a day after Priya Duryodhani’s candidate had won the presidential election, they voted to expel her. But at the same time, Priya Duryodhani held a meeting of her own, a meeting of the Real Kaurava Working Committee, expelling all the Kaurava Working Committee members not present at her meeting. The Kaurava Party was thus split into Kaurava (R), “the R standing for Real, or Ruling, or Rewarded by Priya Duryodhani, depending on your degree of cynicism,” and Kaurava (O), “The O standing for Official, or Old Guard, or Obsolete, depending on the same” (TGIN 351). Priya Duryodhani was supported by what V.V. calls the short-sighted ideologues of the Opposition Left . . . thinking this would give them some influence over her. It did – in her rhetoric: the very rhetoric which would then enable her to capture their sets at the next general election. The poor idiots. It was, I declared with feeling, the first time I had seen goats 128

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opting for an early Bakr-Id. When they were no longer useful to Priya Duryodhani, there would be no one to hear their bleats as they were led off to the electoral slaughterhouse. (TGIN 351) V.V. makes it seem that the Kaurava-Congress (O) and the leftist parties in their naivety made it very easy for Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi to have it her way and build her own power structure to support herself. V.V.’s take on Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi is not radical or new, but corroborated by many historians and political writers. It is the singularity of the narrative, the lack of contextualisation, with the focus on Priya Duryodhani’s acquiring of power, which makes it striking. No mitigating circumstances are offered, other paths explored or even other historical events narrated in this (hi)story of India of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The last third of V.V.’s memoirs focus solely on Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi’s power games, her constitutional rise to power, so that we readers would know and not forget. Also, V.V.’s account of the presidential elections and the splitting of the party is for the main part very similar to many historical overviews of India, for example those by Stanley Wolpert (2000, 382–383) and Ramachandra Guha (2008, 438–440). When President Zakir Husain died in 1969, Indira Gandhi, violating party discipline and practice, supported Vice-President V.V. Giri against the official Congress candidate Sanjiva Reddy. When V.V. Giri then won the presidential elections, Indira Gandhi gained popularity and strengthened her position, proving that the days of collective leadership were over. Indira Gandhi was now more popular than the party elders who had put her in power. The Prime Minister was expelled from the Congress for her electoral “indiscipline” in the autumn of 1969. Subsequently, Indira Gandhi managed to persuade a majority of the Congress members of the Parliament to join her “New Congress.” The Working Committee split almost evenly into Morarji Desai’s Organization (O) and Indira Gandhi’s Requisition (R) parties that held separate sessions in Delhi. The former of the parties claimed to uphold the cause of democratic freedom against personal autocracy, the latter to uphold Nehru’s policies of reform and moderate socialism. Indira Gandhi was supported by 220 Lok Sabha members of the Congress, while Morarji Desai had only 65 supporters left in the lower house of the Parliament. Indira Gandhi’s left-wing included both Communist parties and the regional DMK and Akali Dal parties. The nationalisation of India’s major banks, the abolition of privy purses, the splitting of the Congress Party and the presidential 129

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elections had, in P.N. Dhar’s (2000, 124) words, “shifted the balance of political power in favour of Indira Gandhi, even though she was heading a minority government and was dependent on the support of small opposition parties in parliament.” Having described in detail these major events – in Priya Duryodhani’s ruthless rise to and the Kaurava/ Congress old guard’s loss of power, V.V. in a way rests his case. Interestingly, though he otherwise described Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi’s politics of power in much detail, V.V. does not mention that Indira Gandhi seized control of the Home Ministry in 1970 in addition to keeping atomic energy and planning briefs, thus surpassing even her father in the amount of direct responsibility she took on (see e.g. Wolpert 2000, 385). Neither does V.V. discuss how, in addition to the consolidation of central power, the Centre was also assuming powers from the regions, which resulted in intermixing national and regional politics. Sunil Khilnani (2001, 43–44) explains how Indira Gandhi’s splitting of the Congress Party changed the relations between the Centre and the regions. The party’s central leadership in New Delhi had relied on “provincial leaders building and tending their own branches of clients, who controlled the ‘vote banks’ (which delivered the votes of communities as a bloc) and had to be compensated through benefits negotiated from the central leadership.” This system kept local subjects and conflicts local, though it also naturally restricted the power and work of the central leadership. In establishing herself against the “Syndicate” and as a way of bypassing the “regional power brokerages,” Indira Gandhi split the party and went around the regional leaders, “disrupting the filaments of patronage and dissolving the vote banks they commanded.” This strategy was then utilised in the 1971 elections which she had called on a year early, thus creating a “national” electorate for her purposes. This took her opponents by surprise, separated the elections to the national parliament from the elections in the states and “diverted the attention of the electorate away from regional concerns and directly towards New Delhi” (Khilnani 2001, 43–44). Furthermore, while the Centre assumed more power from the regions, it became increasingly difficult to keep local issues local and for the central government to pursue long-term ends (Khilnani 2001, 51).

Remove Poverty/Remove Duryodhani As V.V. has now demonstrated Priya Duryodhani’s hunger for power and her skill at attaining it, he sums up, with obvious lament, the factors that raised Priya Duryodhani to the height of her popularity: 130

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the gradual but steady haemorrhage from the Kaurava (O) to the Kaurava (R), the self-serving prime-ministerial attacks on big business and “monopoly capital,” the increasing unproductive frustration of the Old Guard, the brilliant manoeuvre of calling a snap general election that called all of us at our unready worst, the even more brilliant campaign slogan “Remove Poverty” (as if she hadn’t had the power to do anything about poverty so far) to which we were stupid enough to retort “Remove Duryodhani” (as if we cared less about poverty than power). At the end of it all, Priya Duryodhani stood alone amongst the ruins of her old party, having smashed to pieces all the pillars and foundations that had supported her in the past. Alone, but surrounded by the recumbent forms of newly elected supplicants prostrating themselves amidst the rubble, the ciphers whose empty heads collectively gave Duryodhani a bigger parliamentary majority than even Dhritarashtra had ever enjoyed. (TGIN 351) V.V. sees Priya Duryodhani’s actions as highly destructive, reducing her old party and her father’s legacy to ruins. Aiming to maximise her own power and popularity, Priya Duryodhani had forsaken many of the values her father had held so dear. The ultimate populist was born. According to Khilnani (2001, 43–44), Indira Gandhi’s leftist rhetoric and measures – the nationalisation of banks and abolition of privy purses – were designed to appeal to the poor masses of India. Indira Gandhi’s popularity was further boosted in 1968–1971 by the significant growth of agricultural production, achieved with highyield hybrid varieties of rice and wheat, as well as with industrial growth and decreased unemployment. Her popular support encouraged her to call for elections in 1971, 14 months ahead of schedule, taking her opponents by surprise and led her party to a landslide victory. She campaigned under the slogan “Remove Poverty” (“Garibi Hatao”), while the disparate opposition parties rallied under the slogan “Remove Indira” (“Indira Hatao”), with the result that Indira Gandhi’s  Congress  (R) won 352  of  the  518  seats in the Parliament and the Congress opposition was left with 16 seats. After the election victory, the Congress (R) became known as Congress (I), the I standing for Indira, and later even the (I) was left out, marking it as the “real” Congress. At this point, Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi’s ascent is/was complete. She had concentrated more power to herself 131

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than even her father ever did/had, and her parliamentary majority surpassed that of her father. In contrast to Rushdie’s Saleem, Tharoor’s V.V. depicts the measures and means of Indira Gandhi’s rise to power. V.V. may be merciless in his satirical portrayal of Indira Gandhi as Priya Duryodhani, but he does depict her as actively making manoeuvres and taking power in her own hands rather than just landing in a high position due to her family background. As was mentioned earlier, V.V. explains Priya Duryodhani’s gaining the prime ministership in the first place as a product of her family connections and notes the fact that she knew how to use her pedigree to her advantage in campaigns and speeches, but she is nevertheless portrayed as a skilful person in her own right. She may have misused her skills and concentrated on acquiring personal power and popularity, but she is credited with doing this herself, whereas the “Madam” in Midnight’s Children almost seems to have inherited power, and is already “basking in the fullness of her glory” (MC 460–61) in 1971 when Saleem returns to India. In both novels, as in real life, Indira Gandhi’s popularity was further increased by India’s victory in the war to liberate East Pakistan. V.V. explains that he did not know what Priya Duryodhani felt about the carnage taking place in East Karnistan/East Pakistan or “the biggest refugee problem the world has ever known” (TGIN 354), if these atrocities moved her at all. This stated “ignorance” on V.V.’s part functions as a questioning of Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi’s humanity and her capacity for humane emotions. However, V.V. concludes that “Priya Duryodhani was no angel, but she ordered the Indian Army to strike in what was, in my view, one of the only two wars in this century of carnage that can be morally justified” (TGIN 355). V.V. seems very reluctant to admit that Priya Duryodhani did anything worthwhile, anything commendable, at least for humanitarian reasons. He does not describe India’s war efforts, merely states that the war lasted 17 days and made Priya Duryodhani “a national heroine” (TGIN 355). All in all, V.V.’s view of Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi at the height of her power is less than flattering. It is noteworthy that the closer the narrative gets to the Emergency, the more V.V.’s satire turns into tragedy. Priya Duryodhani’s slogan “Remove Poverty” is revealed to have been an empty promise, and her politics as narrated by V.V. seem to be geared towards strengthening her own position rather than actually formulating policies or benefitting the people of India. In V.V.’s mind,

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Duryodhani dissipated her goodwill, her adulation, her position by revealing she did not know what to do with any of it. Nothing changed in the daily lives of ordinary Indians, who still tilled and toiled to scratch an existence from the country’s exhausted soil or sought pitiable betterment in the foetid city slums. The majority of our people remained illiterate; an overlapping majority remained below a poverty-line drawn lower and lower by Duryodhani’s experts; and an overwhelming majority resigned themselves to being overwhelmed – by their fate, by disease and malnourishment and exploitation, and by the heartless ineptness of the one in whom they had placed their trust. (TGIN 356) V.V.’s – and Tharoor’s – top-down approach to history is (again) revealed here. He speaks of “ordinary Indians” and “the majority of our people” from the perspective of a well-to-do, educated, uppermiddle-class, upper caste person. “The majority” of the Indian people, the non-Babus, are not given a voice; instead, they are represented by a Babu assuming that he knows their grievances as well as what is best for them. Subalterns themselves are yet again silent. While portraying Priya Duryodhani as rhetorically capable but unable to deliver the goods and policies needed by Indian people, V.V. fails to mention natural, economic, demographic and other factors over which the Indian government had very little control, such as the failure of the rains and the subsequent poor crops in 1972–1973, the 1973 oil crisis which increased India’s imports bill by a billion dollars (e.g. Dhar 2000, 233), the termination of US aid after the 1971 war with Pakistan or the fact that the country’s population was growing by 12–13 million a year, which did not help in reducing the number of the poor in India. Rather than mention these factors, V.V. goes on to list the sins of Priya Duryodhani: Ah, Ganapathi, the causes the poor let themselves to in her hands! She squeezed the newsprint supplies of the press because they were “out of touch” with the masses [. . .] she fettered the judiciary by demanding they be “committed” to the people (whose true needs she, of course, and she alone, represented), she emasculated her party by appointing its state leaders rather than allowing them to be elected (for she alone

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could judge who best would serve the people). And all this, Ganapathi, while the poor remained as poor as they had ever been, while striking trade unionists were beaten and arrested, while peasant demonstrations were assaulted and broken, all this while more and more laws went on to the statute books empowering Priya Duryodhani to prohibit, proscribe, profane, prolate, prosecute or prostitute all the freedoms the national movement had fought to attain during all those years of my Kaurava life. (TGIN 357) Though V.V.’s account is based on verifiable history, the effect of this accusatory listing is politically motivated and highly condemning. The account amounts to a direct indictment of her, as all the possible contextualising elements are stripped away from the story. Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi starts to resemble an autocrat or a dictator here. V.V. has no intention to understand or sympathise with Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi. Rather, he lists her corrupt and undemocratic policies and actions which serve the construction of her as the chief villain of the story. All the other Indian leaders of the (hi)story are criticised, too, but none so heavily as Indira Gandhi. She is shown to continue building her own power base and ensuring that she is safeguarded against any and all possible attacks on her. Indira Gandhi is presented by V.V. as the antithesis of the national movement, undoing all the achievements of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other freedom fighters. The likeness of Priya Duryodhani’s rule to the British Raj is evoked repeatedly and determinedly by V.V., as the following illustrates: So India had a new Queen-Empress, anointed a hundred years after the last one. And for a year, maybe two, the Empress’s new clothes shone so brightly, so dazzled the eyes of her observers, that it was impossible to tell what they were made of or whether they were made of anything at all. But then, Ganapathi, they began to unravel. (TGIN 352) Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi is likened to Queen Victoria by V.V., who makes comparisons to colonial days and the hereditary monarchs of Britain, critiquing both Indira Gandhi’s centralisation of

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power and also, by implication, the existence of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But the empress’s new clothes start to unravel, the empty promises to be discovered as just what they were and in a kind of repetition of history, a new mass movement for freedom is about to rise with Jayaprakash Drona/Jayaprakash Narayan, who is no Gandhi, but an old Gandhian and a veteran of the national freedom movement nevertheless, as the leader of the people. It is noteworthy that JP Narayan himself spoke of continuing the work of the freedom movement and compared the Congress government to the colonial state (Guha 2008, 478, 484). V.V. describes also the People’s Uprising/JP movement, which made the country ungovernable, in critical terms. V.V. says that he was “no admirer of Priya Duryodhani or what she stood for, but [he] was equally distraught about Drona’s Popular Uprising and where it was leading the government” (TGIN 364). He points out that the Kaurava (R) state governments were led by “inept minions hand-picked by Duryodhani solely for their loyalty” (TGIN 364), which made them easy to attack. V.V. explains that Priya Duryodhani had come to represent in Drona’s eyes all the evils she had failed to eradicate and therefore, in his eyes, had herself come to represent: venality and corruption, police brutality and bureaucratic inefficiency, rising prices and falling stocks in the shops, adulteration and black-marketing, shortages of everything from cereals to jobs, caste discrimination and communal hatred, neglected births and dowry debts – the whole panoply of national evils, including the very ones against which the Prime Minister had campaigned in her elections. (TGIN 363) He reflects that Drona/JP Narayan and Yudhishtir/Morarji Desai should have waited for the next elections that were not far away. Instead, they attacked her, in the streets, not in parliament, and demanded her removal, their campaign intensifying after “an upright if excessively legalistic provincial court found the Prime Minister guilty of ‘corrupt electoral practice’” (TGIN 364–365). V.V. sees it “laughable” that the Prime Minister was convicted “for an offence whose triviality was underscored by the far greater crimes perpetrated and perpetuated all around her and her government” (TGIN

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364–365). The conviction fuelled the protests and encouraged its leaders to demand that the Prime Minister step down. V.V. describes the Janata Front’s coalition of disparate opposition parties and groups as “purely expedient, their programme severely limited and their theatre all the more unreal. For several days now they had been calling on the Prime Minister to resign without the slightest thought of who or what might take her place” (TGIN 367–368). V.V. offers here a balanced critique of the leaders of India: while Priya Duryodhani bears the brunt of the criticism, others, including her opponents, are not spared, either. V.V. labels the opponents’ expectations and accusations as unreasonable, even if the turning of the people against Indira Gandhi can be explained by her own actions and by the personality cult constructed around her: “she was finally paying the price for her party’s complete identification with its Leader” (TGIN 363). As Khilnani (2001, 45) puts it: As the identity of Congress faded, Indira Gandhi’s own profile began to fill its space. She offered herself as an individual object of adulation, identification and trust; it followed that she would also from now on become the object of all frustration and disaffection.

Bread versus freedom To keep her hold on power against the mounting pressure of the mass movement and the demands that she step down after the conviction, Priya Duryodhani resorts to more extreme measures: according to V.V., “if there was one thing Priya Duryodhani had learned from her mother’s wasted sacrifices, it was never to put anything, anything at all, ahead of self-interest” (TGIN 365). Duryodhani’s advisor, the Bengali lawyer Shakuni Shankar Dey/barrister and chief minister of West Bengal Siddhartha Shankar Ray, urges her not to resign after the verdict, but to fight. He suggests declaring “an internal Siege. A grave threat to the stability and security of the nation from internal disruption.” Shakuni explains that the procedures of an internal siege were up to them to define and could include detention of political leaders, censorship of the press, suspension of fundamental rights and curbing the power of the judiciary. Priya Duryodhani is happy to accept the suggestion, for which they still need the signature of the president, who does her bidding (TGIN 366). V.V.’s light and ironic tone here make Priya Duryodhani seem even more callous: she and her lawyer 136

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casually plot the demise of democracy in India, proving that to her, political expediency is everything and principles and idealism can be discarded as needed. Indira Gandhi had summoned the distinguished lawyer and chief minister of West Bengal Siddhartha Shankar Ray to Delhi after the Allahabad judgement “to provide expert legal advice” (Kapoor 2015, 19). Prime Minister Gandhi asked for his advice on how to deal with the situation at hand on 25 June. Although an external Emergency had already prevailed since the 1971 war with Pakistan, Ray proposed a second emergency on the grounds of an internal threat. At the request of the Prime Minister, Ray also studied the question of whether the declaration of Emergency could be recommended to the President without consulting the cabinet: his answer was in the affirmative (Kapoor 2015, 19–21).10 The President of India declared the Emergency after midnight on 26 June. Arrests of opposition leaders took place the same night, some of them even before the Emergency had been declared. The cabinet was called for a meeting early in the morning, and some ministers heard only then of the Emergency. In The Great Indian Novel, the plans Priya Duryodhani and Shakuni had made are put into motion with the detention of political opponents, Drona among them. Arresting her opponents was, however, only a beginning of drastic and autocratic measures. V.V. lists how Priya Duryodhani also “censored the press, stifled public debate, and placed restrictions even on the reporting of the speeches of the few Opposition stalwarts left in the House to criticize the new laws she was bulldozing through Parliament” (TGIN 372). Before the assembly of the Parliament on 21 July, it was announced that there would be censorship of parliamentary proceedings. Many Members of the Parliament were jailed and thus unable to attend the monsoon session of the Parliament. Hewitt (2008, 123) notes that “by September 1975 a whole series of constitutional and statutory enactments had further undermined the independence of the press without any visible outrage.” A record number of bills was passed through the Parliament into laws and the constitution amended to place the president, vice-president, prime minister and speaker of the house above judicial scrutiny (Hewitt 2008, 125; see also Selbourne 1977, 132–133). In The Great Indian Novel, the abrogation of democracy and the censorship of the press are at first the main concerns about the Emergency, following Tharoor’s own thoughts about the Emergency in his youth, as quoted earlier in this chapter. This focus on the principles and functioning of constitutional democracy in India is reflected in V.V.’s thoughts as he is ambivalent about the Siege at first. At this 137

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point he does not “join the chorus of condemnation that was raised in the Western press and in Indian drawing-rooms about what had happened” (TGIN 369). He explains: The critics seemed to think that democracy had been overthrown, without paying much heed to the content of that democracy or the results of its abrogation. I could not, at that stage, think of the issue simply as one of freedom versus tyranny. Yes, Duryodhani’s motives in proclaiming a state of Siege, arresting a number of opponents and imposing a censorship of the press were primarily cynical and self-serving: without these steps she would not have been able to contain the mounting pressures on her to resign. But I still believed that the political chaos in the country, fuelled by Drona’s idealistic but confused Uprising which a variety of political opportunists had joined and exploited, could have led the country nowhere but to anarchy. (TGIN 369) Although by no means defending Priya Duryodhani’s/Indira Gandhi’s actions, V.V. constantly criticises the opposition as well. Drona/JP Narayan appears as well-meaning but with no well-thought-out plans for the future, Yudhishtir/Morarji Desai as proud and power-hungry and many other leaders as opportunistic. Instead of seeing the Siege in terms of freedom versus tyranny, V.V. frames his evaluation of the period in terms of the bread-versusfreedom debate. Tharoor has summarised the central questions of the debate elsewhere as follows: “Can democracy ‘deliver the goods’ to alleviate desperate poverty, or do its inbuilt inefficiencies only impede rapid growth? Is the instability of political contention (and of makeshift coalitions) a luxury that a developing country cannot afford?” (Tharoor 1998a, 3). Khilnani (2001, 80) presents the same as two choices after Nehru: “either democracy had to be curtailed, and the intellectual, directive model of development pursued more vigorously [. . .] or democracy had to be maintained along with all its cumbersome constraints, and the ambition of a long-term development project abandoned.” India was compared to totalitarian China, and in this comparison India’s democratic system was seen to impede development. Tharoor writes that Indira Gandhi and her colleagues in the Indian government saw that

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democracy had disintegrated into an expensive luxury, with effects that were divisive to the nation and detrimental to its development. Events had reached a point where the choice was clear: democracy or social justice – democracy for the elite few, or social justice for the downtrodden many. (Tharoor 1998a, 200; see also Ved Mehta 1978, 75–88) Prime Minister Gandhi said at the time: Here in India, democracy is evolving in a set of unique circumstances. Millions of extremely poor people are hankering after better life, for greater equality of opportunity, for social justice and they are electing Governments and participating in the process of Government in order to realise these aspirations. Therefore, it is a question of striking a balance between the political rights of the individual and social and economic rights of the collective mass of the people. (Gandhi 1984, 189, my emphasis) V.V. ponders on these kinds of issues, finding also positive things to say about the Emergency and the accompanying 20-point socioeconomic programme.11 The programme included land reforms, abolition of bonded labour and lowering of prices and even proved effective: prices came down, bureaucrats worked more effectively and tax evasion and black-marketing were tackled and controlled more efficiently. V.V. makes it clear from the beginning that he was ambivalent about the Emergency only during the first months and came to be against it soon after: he notes that his ambivalence was “to become less and less tenable with time” (TGIN 368). The reason for his initial hesitance was the realisation of his own privileged status. He remarks: if the Siege, however base its basic motive, was going to permit the government to serve the common man far more effectively than before, then people like us, who had lost the freedoms we alone knew how to exercise, had no right to object. The purpose of democratic government was the greatest good of the greatest number, and I had no doubt that more Indians would benefit from the abolition of bonded labour and the implementation of land reforms than would

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suffer from the censorship of articles, however well Arjun could write them. And then, Ganapathi, I had the old politician’s regard for the wishes of the people. The declaration of the Siege, the arrests of the agitators, the silence in the streets, had been accepted by non-political India without a murmur. The only sound that replaced the months of clamour appeared to be the deflating hiss of a long public sigh of relief. (TGIN 369–370) V.V.’s early evaluation of the Siege/the Emergency reflects Tharoor’s own early views – as discussed at the beginning of this chapter – and tries to balance the analysis of the period. V.V. at first seems to share the middle-class view of the Emergency, demonstrating thus that he understands why they did not protest when the Emergency was declared, and delivering his judgement only later. Here, he may also be catering to his Indian readers, for as Tharoor writes elsewhere: “For most Indians of the middle and upper classes, the Emergency was by and large a Good Thing” (Tharoor 1998a, 35). As Dhar (2000, 265) writes, the middle class was “impressed by the immediate gains of the Emergency: no strikes, no bandhs, industrial peace, quiet on the campuses, suppression of smugglers and hoarders, stable prices, spurt in economic activity.” This also explains partly the silence of the streets. The other part may be explained by fear – of falling out of favour and losing opportunities or one’s job, of being arrested and held in jail, perhaps even tortured, of having one’s residence demolished – and the fact the opposition leadership was to a great extent either arrested or hiding. During the Emergency, the bulk of the victims – and resisters – were poor and illiterate. It was, in fact, speculated that Sanjay Gandhi’s slum clearance and sterilisation measures may have been “a systematic plot to obliterate the poor” (Tarlo 2003, 35–36). It has also been argued that without the atrocity of forced sterilisations, the Emergency might have been largely accepted. At the very least, the sterilisation programme is “almost universally perceived as the most significant reason for Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the 1977 elections” (Tarlo 2003, 145). In the same vein, Guha (2008, 521) notes that the 1977 elections were seen particularly in North India as a referendum on the Emergency policies and programmes, especially on forced sterilisation. For Tharoor, too, the Emergency excesses such as slum clearances and

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forced sterilisations are at the top of the list of reasons why the Emergency had to be condemned: The abuses of the Emergency far outweighed what little good it did. [. . .] Most of the atrocities committed at the time had little to do with social justice: the mandatory resettlement of Delhi slum-dwellers in a cruel exercise in heartless cosmetology; forced sterilizations by officials anxious to meet targets for fear of losing their jobs; the lack of accountability of the bureaucracy and the police to the public or the courts; the harsh treatment of labor by businessmen certain that the government valued production more than it did wage demands (strikes were banned under the Emergency, but lockouts were not); the misuse of detention powers by vengeful and corrupt policemen; and the loss of judicial redress for arbitrary imprisonment. (Tharoor 1998a, 232) Tharoor (1998a, 234) concludes: “The fact was that, despite the failings of democracy in India, Indian democracy did ensure that progress was made toward greater social justice.” Tharoor thus announces in no uncertain terms that democracy’s benefits greatly outweigh its possible impediments to development and that Indira Gandhi’s autocratic measures were indefensible. Safeguarding democracy is of utmost importance; Tharoor (1998a, 331) points out that “it is important to stress that any systemic reform must not favour stability at the expense of democracy.” Eventually Tharoor’s narrator V.V. follows the same line of argument in The Great Indian Novel.

The general election of 1977 as the battle of Kurukshetra The importance of safeguarding democracy in India and waging battles mainly through the ballot is emphasised by V.V. in his description of the battle of Kurukshetra as elections. V.V. is jerked out of his “Brahmanical ambivalence” (TGIN 374) by Arjun, who has become convinced that the Emergency cannot be a Good Thing. V.V. also comes to realise that D. Mokrasi is unwell. His ambivalence gone, V.V. starts to dream again of past legends. His dream follows the epic story of the game of dice over the kingdom between Yudhishtira and Sakuni, who played on behalf of Dhritarashtra. In V.V.’s dream

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the struggle becomes one for India, with D. Mokrasi at the centre. In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana’s advisor Sakuni suggests a game of dice with Yudhishtira as a way to win back the Pandavas’ half of the kingdom without bloodshed. Yudhishtira was fond of the said pastime but did not know the tricks of the game; yet, as a kshatriya, he had to accept the invitation. Sakuni plays on behalf of Duryodhana and Yudhishtira keeps losing everything he owns. As a desperate measure, he then stakes his brothers, as well as himself. Having lost everything else, he finally, at Sakuni’s persuasion, stakes Draupadi and loses again. Draupadi, who is to become Duryodhana’s servant, is dragged by her hair to the assembly by Duhsasana, Duryodhana’s brother. When Duhsasana attempts to remove Draupadi’s clothes that have also been lost in the game, a miracle happens. When Duhsasana pulls Draupadi’s clothes, ever new garments appear on her, and a heap of clothes is soon piled on the floor. (See Rajagopalachari 1999, 85–96). In The Great Indian Novel, V.V. dreams of a game of dice in which Yudhishtir wagers – and loses – everything he owns, followed by “the Constitution, the laws, the peace of the people,” his “own freedom, together with that of ten thousand faithful party workers, the support of the press and the prospect of the next elections,” his brothers and finally Draupadi, losing them all one by one (TGIN 377–379). When Duhshasan – here, a faithful retainer – drags Draupadi by the hair to the centre of the room and attempts to remove her sari, yards of cloth unwind and Draupadi keeps rolling but cannot be stripped naked. Krishna remarks: “However hard you try, Priya Duryodhani,  [.  .  .] you and your men will never succeed in stripping Draupadi Mokrasi completely. In our country, she will always have enough to maintain her self-respect” (TGIN 382). The remark reveals the strong belief in Indian democracy that runs through the novel. V.V.’s final verdict on the Emergency appears at this point, when he realises “how Duryodhani and her minions had been stripping the nation of the values and institutions we had been right to cherish” (TGIN 383). He continues: The picture that emerged, Ganapathi, was sickening. The Siege had become a licence for the police to do much as they pleased, settling scores, locking up suspects, enemies and sometimes creditors without due process, and above all, picking up young men at the village tea-shops to have their vasa cut off in fulfilment of the arbitrary sterilization quotas that Shakuni 142

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had persuaded the Prime Minister to decree. As it wore on, it became painfully apparent, even sitting in my room as I was, that the reason for which I had been willing to suspend my criticism was simply not tenable. The poor were not getting a better deal as the result of the suspension of the freedoms of the relatively privileged; if anything, they were worse off than before. They were now subject to random police harassment, to forced displacement from their homes in the interests of slum-clearance and urban renewal, to compulsory vasectomies in pursuance of population-control campaigns on which they had never voted. Even the abolition of bonded labour had simply added to the pool of the floating unemployed. The slave who had toiled for no reward but a roof over his head and two square meals a day found he was free to sleep in the streets and starve. And throughout there was no outlet for the frustration and humiliation of the disinherited. They could not seek to redress for injustice in the courts (which had even declared that habeas corpus was not a fundamental right) and they had no recourse to the polling-booths. Nor could the silenced media reflect their grievances. By the time Arjun and Krishna turned decisively against it, when it had lasted a year, it was clear beyond all doubt that the Siege could no longer be justified in their name. (TGIN 384, my emphasis) V.V. explains why the Emergency could not and cannot be defended, pointing out that the possible benefits the middle class enjoyed came at the expense of the poor, and thus the whole Emergency has to be condemned. His dictation seems to be addressed to the middle class, to persuade its members to see it from this point of view, to condemn it and make sure this kind of experiment with dictatorship does not happen again in India. The “excesses” of the Emergency, including slum clearances and forced sterilisations, are mentioned here as items on the list of what was wrong with the authoritarian rule of the period; they become an extension of the discussion of the bread-versus-freedom debate and atrocities inflicted on the subalterns. Most importantly, however, the “excesses,” the procedures the poor were subjected to, become the decisive reason for condemning the Emergency. It is noteworthy that the perspective is always a “Babu” one, never that of a subaltern. There are no subaltern characters whose life could 143

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be followed, whose perspective could be shared, whose voice could be heard. The novel’s focus is on the use and abuse of constitutional political power in India, and the perspective is that of an upper-caste, upper-class, privileged male – V.V., whose political memoir this is. It follows that the description of the atrocities is surprisingly clinical and detached, rather than empathy-inducing and heartrending. The focus is on the breaching of human rights and crossing the boundaries in what is supposed to be a constitutional democracy rather than on the humane side of things. The message is a clear and important one as V.V. addresses his peers, speaking as a middle-class representative to another; but the boundary between social classes is not crossed on affective level and the poor are treated as the Other, to be spoken for by the elite. Yet V.V.’s turn from satire to tragedy is evident here. Much of the humour and wordplay is absent and the tone is increasingly serious. As Kanishka Chowdhury asserts, for Tharoor and many writers of his generation, “the failure of independence becomes the greatest tragedy of modern India. India, like the majority of colonized nations, overestimated the emancipatory potential of independence” (Chowdhury 1995, 46). As V.V. says in the novel, “when we were fighting for independence we were fighting also for participation in the parliamentary democracy from which we felt excluded.” He adds that “parliamentary democracy can only work if those who run it are constantly responsive to the needs of the people, and if the parliamentarians are qualified to legislate. Neither condition was fulfilled in India for long.” This amounts to a “betray[al of] the challenge of modern democracy” in V.V.’s view (TGIN 370, 371). The idea(l) of independent, pluralist and democratic Indian state is frequently brought up in The Great Indian Novel. V.V.’s commentary reveals all the high hopes of and ideals for the independent Indian state, hopes and ideals for which the national movement for freedom struggled. All these seem to be betrayed by inept and greedy national leaders, who were busy lining their pockets with money and rising to the most powerful position of the nation. The mid-1970s were a culmination of the betrayal of the independent state, a time when development and democracy had been cast aside and power was no longer a means to end but an end in itself. Above all, it is Indira Gandhi who has betrayed independent India. Towards the end of his narrative, V.V. says that “this story, like that of our country, is a story of betrayed expectations” (TGIN 411). As in Midnight’s Children, so in

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The Great Indian Novel, the expectations set for independent India were not fulfilled. The epic battle at the end of the Mahabharata, the battle of Kurukshetra between Duryodhana and the Pandavas over Hastinapura, is retold in The Great Indian Novel as the general election of March 1977 that ended Indira Gandhi’s rule and the Emergency. This battle, fought at the ballot box, becomes an epic struggle “between democracy and dictatorship. Indeed, some even said, between dharma and adharma,” in effect then, “a contemporary Kurukshetra” (TGIN 391). V.V., however, argues to the contrary, saying: This election is not Kurukshetra; life is Kurukshetra. History is Kurukshetra. The struggle between dharma and adharma is a struggle our nation, and each of us in it, engages in on every single day of our existence. That struggle, that battle, took place before this election; it will continue after it. (TGIN 391) V.V. emphasises continuity and the ongoing process of the battle of Kurukshetra. The election may end the Siege/the Emergency and Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi’s rule, but the struggle to safeguard Indian democracy and to keep it healthy and strong, to see that India’s elected leaders are fit to rule, is ongoing. V.V. reminds his readers of Indira Gandhi’s ascent and concentration of power in her own hands as he sees that while there is an India where “freedom and democracy are argued over, won, betrayed and lost,” there is also an India where mediocrity reigns, where the greatest cause is the making of money, where dishonesty is the most prevalent art and bribery the most vital skill, where power is an end in itself rather than a means, where the real political issues of the day involve not principles but parochialism. (TGIN 412, my emphasis) As Kavita Mathai (1996, 438) puts it, “the novel indicts the moral bankruptcy of both those who seize power by any means as well as those who allow this to happen, bargaining over India as a commodity.” Though Indira Gandhi is the main addressee of this critique, other Indian politicians get their share, too. The main absentee here is Sanjay Gandhi who, peculiarly, is not included in the story at all.

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Instead of Sanjay Gandhi who held no official position in the 1970s, Tharoor focuses his critique on the politicians working within the constitutional framework. Morarji Desai and Jayaprakash Narayan are critiqued for resorting to extra-constitutional means before the Emergency to make a legally elected government resign when they should have simply waited for the next elections. Morarji Desai’s post-Emergency government is described as having wasted its chance as, instead of trying to serve the people better than the government it had replaced, its members concentrated its energy on bickering about who gets to wield power. The Front’s coalition government very soon became the vehicle for the personal ambitions of at least three veteran politicians besides the Prime Minister. [. . .] As they stumbled from argument to argument, lawlessness erupted, prices spiralled upwards, government offices sank beneath dusty cobwebs of red tape, and every policy decision was hamstrung by factional disagreement. Their ineptness helped Priya Duryodhani rapidly to recover from the shock of her ouster. (TGIN 405) Subsequently, the coalition government collapsed and Indira Gandhi was re-elected as “seven hundred million people [could not] produce anyone better” (TGIN 412). The roots of the problems of leadership in Indian democracy are located in the novel with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who are blamed for dominating the politics of their times: as Prime Minister Dhritarashtra/Nehru was guilty of a “technique of political self-perpetuation” (TGIN 261) and Ganga/ Gandhi’s domination of the nationalist movement for freedom did not leave room for many other leaders to flourish and grow or contribute to democratic decision-making in the Kaurava/Congress Party. In Sudhendu Shekhar’s (2004, 105) words, “the very fact that Ganga Datta/Gandhi had the last say in the monolithic functioning of the Kaurava Party/Congress alienating many did not let true democracy take roots.” Priya Duryodhani/Indira Gandhi is then depicted taking this domination of party and national politics to new heights, culminating in the Emergency. In his memoir, V.V. had addressed the Indian middle class, and shared with them his critique of Indian leaders,’ especially Indira Gandhi’s, scramble for power. He exposes a potential middle-class view of the Emergency as beneficial or acceptable to be, in fact, untenable and explains why the Emergency has to be condemned. V.V. also reminds 146

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his readers of the ongoing nature of the battle of Kurukshetra, of the need to safeguard democracy. Furthermore, V.V. draws attention to “the American news sources about India that came to me” through the diplomatic services. He notes that “the Western, and specifically the American, media,” having at first condemned the suspension of constitutional rights, arrest of opponents and the censorship of the press, later got used to the Emergency and “began to see virtues in it: industrial discipline, more openings for US business, decisive action on the population front, no more of the stultifying slowness of the ‘soft state’ that developing India had been.” Eventually, “American reporters came to see India as no different from other autocratic non-Communist regimes which they had covered without outrage.” V.V. took this as “a pointed lesson in the limitations of the neutral and objective foreign correspondent” (TGIN 384–385). Though he never directly says so, this seems to be a further reason to write his memoir: to share his reflections and memories of the Emergency and the events leading to it with a wide audience, comprising not only (middle-class) Indians but American and other English-language readers as well. V.V.’s memoir of Indian twentieth-century politics is not “neutral and objective” but highly political and critical.

Notes 1 Tharoor (1998a, 35). 2 Tharoor has “no difficulty in saying openly that [he is] a believing Hindu.” But he is also quick to point out that “it is possible to a great extent to speak of Hinduism as culture rather than as religion (a distinction the votaries of Hindutva reject or blur)” (Tharoor 2007, 20, 25). 3 Published outside India as Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. 4 All subsequent references (henceforth abbreviated as TGIN) are to the following edition of the novel: Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993). 5 Ganapathi is a South Indian version of the name Ganesha; Rushdie notes that “Ganesha’s elephantine nose, and dubious parentage, prefigure [Saleem’s] own” (Rushdie 1992b, 25). 6 To explain this central term of both the Mahabharata and The Great Indian Novel, Tharoor has added “A Note on Dharma” in his novel. Tharoor describes dharma as an untranslatable Sanskrit term that is difficult to explain thoroughly but offers, among other definitions, one by P. Lal: a “code of good conduct, pattern of noble living, religious rules and observance,” taken from the glossary of Lal’s transcreation of the Mahabharata. For a discussion of dharma, see Heimann (1937, 68–70). 7 In Rajagopalachari’s version of the Mahabharata, Kunti describes Dhuryodhana as “wicked and cruel. He seeks to kill Bhima since he wants to rule

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the kingdom.” Vidura agrees but warns Kunti: “if the wicked Duryodhana is accused or blamed, his anger and hatred will only increase” (Rajagopalachari 1999, 41–42). 8 Tharoor writes in India that “Pluralism is a reality that emerges from the very nature of the country; it is a choice made inevitable by India’s geography and reaffirmed by its history” (Tharoor 1998a, 9). 9 Guha, drawing on Haksar papers, confirms this, writing that Indira Gandhi chose to present herself as a socialist and cultivate progressive alliances on the advice of her principal secretary, P.N. Haksar (Guha 2008, 436). 10 See also Hewitt (2008, 120–121). It is noteworthy that Kapoor claims in her book that Ray had, “along with Law Minister H.R. Gokhale, Congress president D.K. Barooah and Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee bagman Rajni Patel, conceived of the idea of an internal Emergency and mass arrests of political opponents back in January that year [1975].” As proof of this, she refers to a letter written by Ray to Indira Gandhi, which has come to her possession. She demonstrates that a plan for arresting the Prime Minister’s political opponents and putting out expressions of dissent had been hatched in early January 1975, almost half a year before JP urged the police and armed forces not to obey “illegal and unconstitutional orders” and declaring a satyagraha to compel Indira Gandhi to resign (Kapoor 2015, 4–6). 11 See Indira Gandhi’s broadcast to the nation, 1 July 1975 (in Gandhi 1984, 357–360).

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4 Family ties Nepotism and Corruption in Rich Like Us

I spoke out against my cousin [Indira Gandhi] because she was my cousin – how could she, of all people, betray the freedom and democratic ideals we had all fought for. . . . I was defending my uncle [Jawaharlal Nehru]’s values, it was inconceivable to me that India could betray her tryst with destiny.1 Nayantara Sahgal (2008)

Born into the “first family” of Indian politics Nayantara Sahgal (née Pandit, b. 1927) is a novelist and political journalist. Sahgal herself has said that she combined novels and journalism “to the extent possible, by using political backgrounds or events, both invented and real for [her] fiction, and projecting our contemporary hopes and fears through it” (Sahgal 1989, 82). She has been immersed in Indian politics since her childhood: she was born into the Nehru family – Jawaharlal Nehru was her maternal uncle – and spent her childhood at the Nehru family home Anand Bhawan in Allahabad. In her first autobiography, Sahgal (1954, 51) writes of her childhood: It was a miraculous accident that she [Nayantara] lived in the house with Jawaharlal [Nehru], accident that he played with her, and that she called him her uncle, for actually she was one small ripple in the sea of humanity which looked trustingly to him for inspiration and guidance. Sahgal’s biographer Ritu Menon (2014, 262) writes that Sahgal thought of Nehru as her third parent and he “loomed large in her emotional, literary and, later, political landscape.” Despite her obvious 149

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love of and admiration for her uncle, Sahgal says of her birth into the Nehru family: This was not my fault. And on the whole, I have emerged fairly unscathed by the experience. But I find that in a society that revolves around family, and is almost mesmerised by a family in power, people believe I am a case of immaculate conception. I keep coming across people who are quite taken aback to learn I had a father. I was, in fact, not born into the Nehru family at all, but into the Pandit family. Let me introduce you to the remarkable man who married my mother. His name was Ranjit Sitaram Pandit and his forbears came from Bambuli village in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra, and later moved to Rajkot, where they produced successful barristers and distinguished Sanskrit scholars, of whom my father was one. (Sahgal 1989, 79) Nayantara Pandit’s father died in January 1944 shortly after he was released from prison. He had been jailed, like Nayantara’s mother Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, older sister Chandralekha, uncle Jawaharlal Nehru and cousin Indira Nehru, for his participation in the nationalist movement for independence. After the death of her husband, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit built a career as a diplomat and politician.2 Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was very close to her older brother Jawaharlal Nehru until his death, but she had at times strained relations with her niece Indira Gandhi. The situation seems to have had its roots in the relationship between Mrs Pandit and her sister-in-law, Indira’s mother, Kamala Kaul Nehru (1899–1936). While Vijaya Lakshmi adored her brother Jawaharlal, with whom she “shared an extremely close relationship” (Menon 2014, 273), she resented Kamala Nehru. Kamala was looked down upon by her sisters-in-law, as she was “relatively unsophisticated, reserved and could not speak fluent English” (Frank 2002, 18). Indira Gandhi’s biographer Katherine Frank (2002, 27) writes that “Indira, of course, gradually became aware of this as she grew older. The jealous atmosphere at Anand Bhawan was only slightly alleviated when [Vijaya Lakshmi] married Ranjit Pandit in 1921.” Sahgal (1983, 26) wrote much later that Indira Gandhi had felt in her teens that “her mother was being wronged by her father’s family and had fought for her. ‘I saw her being hurt and was determined not to be hurt,’” was Indira Gandhi’s statement on the publication of her mother’s biography in May 1973. Sahgal (1983, 27) adds, however, that “Motilal 150

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Nehru’s family was closely and loyally knit. If Indira resented her aunt, there was not much evidence of it during her childhood.” Furthermore, for Mrs Pandit, “Indira was like a fourth daughter” (Menon 2014, 284; Sahgal 1983, 29). Nayantara Pandit first attended a convent school in Allahabad, but after a few years she was sent to Woodstock boarding school run by American missionaries in Mussoorie, a Himalayan hill station, for the sake of her health. In May 1943 she sailed with her sister Chandra­ le­kha to the United States, where she studied the next four years at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, and graduated with a BA degree in history. Sahgal (1997, 23) explains that the reasons for her attending both Woodstock and Wellesley College were based on Indian national politics: she was sent to Woodstock because Mahatma Gandhi had called on parents to boycott British and Government-aided institutions, and the decision to send my elder sister and me to America was taken when my parents, then prisoners in Naini Jail, Allahabad, were told that their daughters would not be permitted entry to an Indian college unless they gave a guarantee not to take part in “political activities.” Nayantara Pandit returned to independent India in October 1947 and lived with her uncle Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi as her own father had passed away and her mother was serving as the Indian ambassador to Moscow. In 1949 she married Gautam Sahgal, a businessman, with whom she had three children. The marriage ended in divorce after 18 years in 1967, after which Sahgal had to start earning a living by “writing on a professional basis, both fiction and for the newspapers” (Sahgal 1989, 82). By that time, she had already written two memoirs about her childhood and young adulthood in the Nehru family amid the Independence struggle: Prison and Chocolate Cake (1954) and From Fear Set Free (1962), as well as two novels. Sahgal moved to Delhi in December 1967, “by a curious circumstance of history,” as her biographer Ritu Menon (2014, 223) puts it, at the same time that her cousin [Indira Gandhi] was embarking on recasting the Congress party in her own mould. And by the same curious circumstance [. . .] Nayantara began writing the political columns that would reconfigure her relationship with Indira Gandhi, unalterably and permanently. 151

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She wrote a regular political column for the Sunday Standard, and from 1974 until the Emergency, a column for JP Narayan’s Everyman’s Weekly. She also contributed to some foreign newspapers. In 1969, when Indira Gandhi’s government executed the bank nationalisation scheme and the Prime Minister split the Congress Party, Sahgal’s “columns on both the party and her cousin’s policies and tactics became,” according to Menon (2014, 225), “increasingly critical and unequivocal.” Sahgal saw the nationalisation of the banks as populist and with little substance, and the mass rallies organised in front of the Prime Minister’s residence reminiscent of fascist and Nazi propaganda (Menon 2014, 225). These sentiments are echoed in Rich Like Us, as reflections of one of the central characters, Sonali, who clearly shares many views with Sahgal herself. She later told her biographer Menon (2014, 226) that As a political writer I was up against the establishment. I was not writing political commentary at a time when all was well in the country. It was a period when the government, the prime minister, was seeking authoritarian powers. This was over a period of time before the Emergency, leading up to it . . . so all of this I was recording, and coming up against authority in a very shattering way. Ayelet Ben-Yishai and Eitan Bar-Yosef (2015, 169) point out that Sahgal has been “proud, even boastful” of her political prescience concerning her cousin’s increasing authoritarianism since the late 1960s which culminated in the Emergency. For instance, in 1977, Sahgal (1978, 19) wrote in A Voice for Freedom that “the ‘situation’ creeping up on us in A Situation in New Delhi – a book I had completed writing in January 1975 – was upon us in June.” Ben-Yishai and Bar-Yosef (2015, 169) argue that the confirmation of her predictions provides additional support for Sahgal’s implicit claim – made in the novel and in her concurrently published nonfiction – as to the illegitimacy of Indira Gandhi as true ideological successor to her father Nehru and to the (Mahatma) Gandhian legacy. Sahgal returned to the United States in the 1970s and worked as writer-in-residence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from the autumn of 1973 until the summer of 1974, with a stint in London in the winter of 1974. She wrote her novel A Situation in New 152

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Delhi during that time. Sahgal returned to India in August 1974, when the protest movement, which later came to be known as the JP movement, was growing in Bihar. She resumed writing her column and, once contacted by JP Narayan asking for her help, she visited Bihar in November 1974 to get acquainted with the JP movement. She returned to Bihar a few times to write for Everyman’s Weekly and to report on the situation for The Indian Express. Between October 1974 and May 1975, she wrote several articles for Everyman’s (Menon 2014, 242–243). Sahgal (1978, 10) has written: “I had been an outcast with the Establishment for several years before I became interested and involved in JP’s experiment in Bihar.” Sahgal (1978, 10) adds that when she became a columnist in JP Narayan’s Everyman’s, “the Establishment looked upon me with grave suspicion, even as something of an aberration as a member of the ‘family’ who did not seek patronage – or make obeisance, and who refused to be squeezed into line.” Unsurprisingly, Sahgal’s open critique of the government caused her professional problems, especially in the mid-1970s. After the declaration of the Emergency, her political commentary was stopped, and Sahgal had to come up with alternative topics to write about. She resolved to write about such subjects as abortion and “the torture of dissidents through the ages.” She had problems publishing and distributing her creative work as well. The contract to publish the political novel A Situation in New Delhi was withdrawn, and the novel did not come out until after the Emergency in 1977. The planned translation of The Day in Shadow into Hindi was scrapped, and a film project for This Time of Morning was abandoned (Sahgal 1978, 16–23; Sahgal 1989, 86). In protest against the Emergency, Sahgal resigned from the Executive Committee of the Authors Guild of India because the Guild did not protest against censorship or imprisonment without trial. A few months later, she resigned for the same reasons from the Sahitya Akademi’s Advisory Board for English to which she had served as an advisor from 1972. In 1975, Sahgal decided to expand into a book a paper on Indira Gandhi’s political style she had given at a conference on leadership in South Asia held at the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University the previous year. Sahgal (1988, 100) notes sarcastically of the event: Now I am an expert on nothing. I was merely relying on observation [. . .] the learned professors present were indulgent towards my meagre footnotes and forgave me my conclusion 153

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[that some form of dictatorship was coming], putting it down to a fiction writer’s fertile imagination, until the axe known as the emergency fell about a year later. Her role, as she seems to see it, has been to report her observations and warn English-reading Indians of the authoritarian development of Indian politics and government under Indira Gandhi. Predictably, the Emergency stalled her plans by closing doors to sources of information and by censorship. She eventually wrote her book on Indira Gandhi in the United States, at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was on a six-month research scholarship starting in June 1976 (Sahgal 1983, xiii–xiv). The book was published in New Delhi as Indira Gandhi’s Emergence and Style in 1978 and again, in a slightly different form as Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power in New York in 1982. The book is highly critical of Indira Gandhi and her leadership and spans Indira Gandhi’s first premiership from the early days until the aftermath of the Emergency, and the latter version also Gandhi’s return to power. In 2012, the book was published yet again, in a third edition with a new post-script, now titled Indira Gandhi: A Tryst with Power. To a great extent, the (original) book is her non-fictional counterpart to her political novels, especially A Situation in New Delhi and Rich Like Us, and its two earlier versions were addressed to Indian and non-Indian readers respectively. The third edition was published amid greater interest in the Emergency in India. Ben-Yishai and Bar-Yosef (2015, 167) suggest that Sahgal’s book on Indira Gandhi takes on a sour-grapes tone, often becoming strident and bitter. [. . .] At other points, the biography is downright disingenuous, especially when Sahgal elides or hides her personal stakes in the family battle over Nehru’s political succession: the sidelining of her mother by her cousin. Vidya Chandra (in an interview of Nayantara Sahgal for India Abroad, reprinted in Sahgal 1978, 106) states, after an interview with Sahgal in the mid-1970s, that both Nayantara and her mother, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, insist that their well-known opposition to the Indian Prime Minister is not, as Government supporters contend, based on 154

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deep-rooted family differences, but rather on their regard for the safekeeping of the freedom for which the country fought so hard. After Nehru’s death in 1964, the family situation had changed and the affection between Mrs Pandit and Indira Gandhi as well as between Mrs Pandit’s daughters, including Nayantara Sahgal, and Indira Gandhi had declined (Menon 2014, 267–268). Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was elected to the Lok Sabha for the third time in 1967 from Phulpur, Jawaharlal Nehru’s former constituency. She held office until 1968, when she resigned due to a strained relationship with Indira Gandhi. Menon writes that Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit thus withdrew from Congress politics “even before the Congress split in 1969 and Mrs Gandhi emerged as its undisputed leader.” With Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit’s withdrawal from politics, “the Nehru family’s political legacy now came into Indira Gandhi’s sole possession” (Menon 2014, 269). Sahgal (1983, 29) herself writes of her cousin: If she had indeed considered her elder aunt an obstacle to her mother’s happiness in the Nehru family, this had not affected the stuff of the relationship in her father’s lifetime, when close family bonds had been maintained. Yet now she was more comfortable once her aunt retired from politics and moved out of the capital to Dehra Dun. The family tie was not encouraged. In 1970 when Anand Bhawan was converted by Mrs. Gandhi into a memorial, Mrs. Pandit was refused permission to stay at the house overnight, as Mrs. Gandhi was doing, for the ceremony next day. Mrs. Pandit attended the ceremony as a guest. It seems that Indira Gandhi’s growing popularity and power in the late 1960s coincided with her estrangement from her aunt and cousins as well as with Sahgal’s new career as a political commentator in the newspapers. Both Indira Gandhi and Nayantara Sahgal invoked the Nehru legacy in their political discourse, though in different ways. While Indira Gandhi presented herself as “freedom’s daughter” and the natural upholder of her father’s democratic idea(l)s, Sahgal resists the idea of hereditary power – “I do not believe in kings, queens, or political dynasties” (Sahgal 1989, 83) – but keeps praising Nehru and his work in her writings, which, as discussed in the Introduction, subscribe to the Nehruvian idea of India. 155

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Sahgal stayed in the United States until August 1977 and, in her own words, tried to “acquaint Americans with events in India” (Sahgal 1978, 23). Her critical newspaper writings and speeches on Indira Gandhi from the Emergency period are collected in A Voice for Freedom (1977). She received Wellesley College’s Alumnae Achievement Award in 2002 for “bravely confronting authority in defense of the world’s largest democracy” and her “critical and courageous examination of gender, class and race (which) reaches far beyond India and resonates throughout the world” (Chew 2006, 24). After the Emergency, she had further stints in the United States. In 1979, Sahgal worked as lecturer at the University of Colorado, and in 1980–1981, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., where she wrote Rich Like Us in six months, “no longer drugged, gagged, or bound by atmosphere” (Sahgal 1988, 100), and at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. Sahgal’s work is, however, as Ralph Crane (1998, vii) notes, “firmly rooted in India (despite her own education abroad, and frequent travel outside India), though Western characters in India frequently play significant roles in her fiction.” Even Rich Like Us, with the Emergency as its central theme, is dedicated “to the Indo-British experience and what its sharers have learned from each other” and has Rose, an English character, to expose much of the empty rhetoric and corruption flourishing in the period. Besides the book on Indira Gandhi, Sahgal’s other works of nonfiction include The Freedom Movement in India (1970), The Story of India’s Freedom Movement (2013), Point of View: A Personal Response to Life, Literature and Politics (1997), The Political Imagination (2014) and Relationship: Extracts from a Correspondence (with E.N. Mangat Rai, 1994). Nayantara Sahgal and the civil servant E.N. Mangat Rai (1915–2003) were married in 1979. In 2000 she published an edited collection of correspondence between her mother and uncle entitled Before Freedom: Nehru’s Letters to His Sister; in Jawaharlal Nehru: Civilizing a Savage World (2010), she drew on these and Nehru’s other letters to Sahgal herself as well as her personal memories. She has also edited and written the introduction for Nehru’s India: Essays on the Maker of a Nation (2015). Nehru and the Nehru family have thus, quite naturally, figured in significant measure in Sahgal’s work. To date, Sahgal has published ten novels – A Time to Be Happy (1958), This Time of Morning (1965), Storm in Chandigarh (1969), The Day in Shadow (1971), A Situation in New Delhi (1977), Rich Like Us (1985), Plans for Departure (1985), Mistaken Identity (1988), 156

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Lesser Breeds (2003) and When the Moon Shines by Day (2017) – and a collection of short stories titled Day of Reckoning (2015). Sahgal has received the Sinclair Prize, awarded to an “unpublished novel of political or social significance” (Menon 2014, 317), for Rich Like Us in 1985, which was then published by Heinemann in the United Kingdom about six months after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This was followed by the Sahitya Akademi Award for English in 1986, also for Rich Like Us. In 1987, she received the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Eurasian region for Plans for Departure. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Leeds in 1997. Sahgal’s novels are infused with “a sense of history,” as she herself puts it (Sahgal 1990, 19). Her novels, often seen as Gandhian (e.g. Joseph 2008; Gopal 2009), span the twentieth century, mainly from the 1930s to the 1970s in their historical scope, with journeys to the nineteenth century. As C. Vijayasree (1993, 21–22) puts it, Sahgal’s novels “trace the nation’s journey from servility through Independence to Emergency, from Mahatma to Madam, and dramatize a variety of conflicts faced by the individual in a transitional society.” The central focus of Sahgal’s novels have been gender and women’s issues, though “since the Emergency,” Anna Guttman (2007, 89) argues, “Sahgal’s fiction has concentrated increasingly on representing national(ist) politics, not at the expense of examining women’s issues but as an extension of that concern.” In Sahgal’s (1989, 82) own words, “politics was, of course my background, and my environment, and it became my natural material.” Shyamala A. Narayan (1998) suggests that of Sahgal’s novels Rich Like Us, her novel on the Emergency, “is the most political.” The novel has two distinct themes: one involving family (and the nation), including women’s issues in India, the other Indian politics, corruption and economic issues during the Emergency – as Gopal (2009, 65) puts it, “the novel is part family story and part political thriller.” My discussion of the novel focuses on the latter part, on politics and corruption before and during the Emergency, but deals with some family issues, such as nepotism, as well.

Kith and kin A central theme in Sahgal’s Rich Like Us3 is family, which is explored through the aspects of a fictional family, family as institution as well as the Nehru-Gandhi family. The narrative present of Rich Like Us is the early months of the Emergency in Delhi, though the narrative moves back in time and place several times throughout the story. At the centre 157

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of the novel is an extended family: Ram Surya, now paralysed, having suffered a stroke; his two wives, the Indian Mona, who dies prematurely of cancer, and the Cockney Rose; Ram and Mona’s son Dev and Dev’s wife Nishi. Dev has taken over his paralysed father’s business – and bank accounts – and is helped in his business ventures by the civil servant Ravi Kachru, who is Sonali’s colleague and former boyfriend. The main characters, whose points of view the novel often shares, are the 63-year-old Rose and a 38-year-old civil servant, Sonali, who is a family friend. Rose is an outsider who is not interested in politics but is not afraid to call a spade a spade, either. In fact, her outspokenness and perceptive observations about the Emergency and the corruption and greed that flourish during it, land her in trouble and eventually lead to her being murdered at her stepson Dev’s order. Sahgal discusses and critiques the power the family as an institution has in India, especially the roles women are assigned and the expectations bordering on requirements – marriage, dowry, bearing children, making sacrifices for their husbands – facing them through the lives of Rose, Mona, Nishi, Sonali and others. Sahgal’s criticism of the institution of family ties in with her criticism of the family as she criticises particularly the family that currently holds power over independent India as a dynasty. Sahgal (1983, xiv) has explained: I have been asked how I could be a critic of one so closely related to me, in a country where “family” commands unquestioning allegiance. A family in power is an even more formidable bastion, and in Indian culture the loyalty of those who belong to it is an effortless assumption. It would have been far simpler for me to succumb to this mystique and live on it, but I have rejected it utterly where it conflicted with my own observations and conclusions. Nor have I any worship to spare for “family” as such. My admiration for my uncle, Jawaharlal Nehru, had little to do with the fact that I happened to be of his flesh and blood. Whereas Sahgal claims to have rejected the family mystique, Indira Gandhi kept invoking her father’s legacy, speaking repeatedly about the sacrifices her family had made for India to validate her rule, in addition to which she repeatedly framed her leadership through the tropes of family and family relationships, as was discussed in Chapter 2. This continued during the Emergency. Silva (2004, 45) notes that Indira Gandhi’s use of the epithet Mother India/Indira in her 1967 158

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election campaign “established a microcosmic relationship between the family and the state and consolidated her power by invoking the sacred values attached to the family in India’s religio-cultural discourses.” In addition to the family rhetoric, Indira Gandhi proved the importance of family to her when she relied heavily on her own son Sanjay during the Emergency. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Sahgal’s “Emergency novel” is also framed by the discourse of the family, criticising the dynastic rhetoric and the nepotism practiced by Indira Gandhi. Interestingly, Sahgal does not criticise Indira Gandhi’s use of the gendered and familial images of daughter, wife, mother and widow in her political rhetoric and leadership, which has prompted Harveen Sachdeva Mann (1993, 106) to ask why the novel “fail[s] to investigate the prime minister’s manipulation of her position as a woman to consolidate her political power?” since Rich Like Us has otherwise been read as a feminist text and Sahgal is well-known to be interested in and writing about gender and politics. Yet her focus in Rich Like Us is not on gender in politics, but on the role of family in politics and more generally in Indian culture. Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalisation in 1969 appears as a starting point of the slide towards authoritarian and family rule in the novel. From thereon, when Indira Gandhi, according to Sahgal, manifested her tendency to concentrate all power to herself with the split of the Congress Party and the nationalisation of the banks,4 Ravi Kachru becomes a mouthpiece for Indira Gandhi’s take on politics and power. The nationalisation of 14 banks prompts Kachru to rhetorically ask the interested listeners who were excited about the possibility of low interest rates to their loans what the country was. Replying to his own question, Kachru proclaimed that “It was She, who like the manyarmed goddess would be ever victorious against those who were plotting to dethrone her” (RLU 191). Appalled, Sonali confronts her friend and former lover for the populist symbolism he used as well as for his praise of Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty: “But why did you have to talk such rot about many-armed goddesses?” I said. “Populism means using symbols the people understand. What’s wrong with it?” “And her father, her son, a regular Holy Trinity?” He shrugged impatiently. “Why not? We believe in Family.” “We believed in sati too. We’ve got to stop believing in some things. Bank nationalization is taking us in one direction and 159

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family worship in another. Which way are we going? How can you combine the two? How can you be a socialist and believe in family rule?” (RLU 196) Sonali draws parallels here between the abuse of power in family and the abuse of power in the Nehru-Gandhi family. She equals believing in the dynasty to believing in sati: both are seen as old-fashioned, disturbing practices that need to be terminated in modern India. This exchange is also as close as the novel gets to questioning the use of populist symbols and gendered leadership positions by Indira Gandhi. Rich Like Us also criticises the larger kith and kin issue of Kashmiris in the trusted circle of the Prime Minister. Sonali’s – like Sahgal’s – mother is Kashmiri, her father Maharashtrian but the mother considers the whole family Kashmiris. Her mother is very proud of her ancestry and makes it well-known. Sonali describes her mother’s feelings: “Kashmiris had ruled India since independence so they, I mean we, were entitled to feel smug and special” (RLU 56). This comment reads as a direct swipe at Indira Gandhi and her son. The Nehru family were Kashmiri Brahmins, and as Sahgal writes elsewhere, “Mrs. Gandhi had kept a group of Kashmiri Brahmins close to her. This preference for her community, and kith and kin, was climaxed by the emergence of Sanjay into the political limelight” (Sahgal 1983, 161). The English-language newspapers in fact called Indira Gandhi’s Kashmiri Brahmin advisors “the Kashmiri Mafia” (Ved Mehta 1978, 100). In Rich Like Us, Sonali questions her and Ravi Kachru’s mothers’ pride over and expectation of privileges on account of being Kashmiri. When Ravi gets engaged to the youngest daughter of the second cousin of the Prime Minister’s mother, the two mothers are over the moon with happiness as Bhabiján’s son was now “so close to the heart of power.” Sonali notes that Anyone would have thought that the Supremo’s mother’s second cousin’s youngest daughter was not that close to the heart of power [.  .  .] but that would only have shown how slow and stupid Anyone was. Bhabi-ján obviously saw ahead, oh, far ahead. Or didn’t one need to look ahead or behind, only to the ever-present, all-powerful bond of blood, the mystical kith-and-kinness that held us in thrall and would make us naturals, pushovers, for a dynastic succession? (RLU 194–195)

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This ironic account of the importance of blood relations, kith-andkinness and family in getting access to power ties together the critique of family and the family in the novel. Sonali’s views echo here Sahgal’s own views and criticism from inside the family. Sahgal (1983, 240–241) writes in her book on Indira Gandhi: After seventeen years of Nehru government, and over a decade of Indira’s, it was not surprising that her relatives too spoke, not always jokingly, of belonging to the royal family. These and other beneficiaries of the family cult have been glad to fan the feudal flame and keep it alive. Yet the idea of family succession as a birthright, tragic and retrograde for a republic, will, if it succeeds, provide an ironic ending to a heroic experiment in democracy, unique in Asia. In the novel, Indira Gandhi is criticised, though interestingly not so much personally but as the holder of the office of Prime Minister, for the Emergency and the repression of civil and human rights as well as the dismantling of democracy, including the promoting of her son and setting India up for family rule. Sahgal has recently noted that she has been “opposing dynasty since Indira Gandhi put Sanjay forward. It was a very mistaken, dangerous move. [. . .] With that began a proliferation of dynasty all over India and we now see it in every state” (in Mashi 2014). Her criticism of the dynasty begins with Indira Gandhi and extends nowadays to Rahul Gandhi. Significantly, she has stated in the same interview that “Nehru was not a dynast; he did not even name his successor” (Mashi 2014), thus exempting her uncle from her criticism. As a person, Indira Gandhi stays mostly in the background in Rich Like Us, though her presence in the novel is dominating nevertheless. Silva (2004, 93) notes that “writers like Rushdie, Manohar Malgonkar [in The Garland Keepers] and Sahgal adopt the literary strategy of denying [Indira Gandhi] an identity in their narratives.” In Midnight’s Children, Indira Gandhi is often referred to as Widow and in The Garland Keepers as The Great Leader, and in Rich Like Us she is called variously as Madam, Prime Minister or the Supremo, but not by her name. She is criticised indirectly, through the system she has set up and the policies she has introduced, but she is not personified and personally attacked. Whereas Midnight’s Children amounts to, as we have seen, a highly personalised attack on Indira Gandhi, Rich Like Us takes a more distant view and focuses on the complicity of the middle

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class in the oppression of the poor and the demise of democracy by staying silent and passive, or even collaborating and benefitting from the authoritarian rule of the time. Whereas Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel totally excluded Sanjay Gandhi from the narrative of the Emergency, putting all the blame for the Emergency excesses on Indira Gandhi herself and to a lesser extent on her advisors, one of the central threads of Rich Like Us is the exploits of the novel’s Prime Minister’s son, who is obviously Sanjay Gandhi though he is never named, either, and his mother’s questionable role in allowing his son to rise to such a powerful position. Calling Sanjay Gandhi the Prime Minister’s son throughout the novel emphasises the fact that he had not risen to power on his own account, only as his mother’s son and with his mother’s help. As Frank (2002, 398) puts it, “in and of himself, Sanjay – like his mother before him – could never have made it on his own in politics. Apart from his hereditary connection with Nehru and Indira, he had no assets other than youth, energy and ambition.” Rich Like Us examines the hereditary connection and both family and the family which are seen as sources of corruption and nepotism. Indira Gandhi herself said of Sanjay Gandhi and his Maruti licence at a press conference in September 1970: My son is a delicate young man, and with whatever money and energy he has, he has modelled a car, not a posh one, but one fairly comfortable and suitable to Indian conditions. . . . My son has shown enterprise and I just could not say no to him . . . if he is not encouraged how can I ask other young men to take risks. (Quoted in Joshi et al. 2014) This, not being able to say no to him, seems to have been the way Indira Gandhi dealt with Sanjay also during the Emergency. The novel explores the consequences of this relationship as well as “the complicity of the élite in vindicating the involvement of the son” (Silva 2004, 81). Sonali notes, on the basis of a dinner conversation between two professors, an editor, lawyers and other people “on the winning side”: The dictatorship around us was one of nature’s marvels, not man-made, not “made” at all. It had the naturalness, the mother-and-child-ness of a crop and was as cultivable. Or, in another variation, it had been unearthed, a brilliant archaeological find, evidence of the early blossoms of our culture, 162

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institutions that had endured, proof that family counted. What was wrong with a son succeeding his mother in this particular republic? And which mother anywhere in the world wouldn’t move heaven and earth for her son? (RLU 99–101) The naturalness of a mother-and-son connection is emphasised in the talk of supporters and beneficiaries of the Emergency normalising nepotism. Family counted, and one family counted even more than most. Sanjay Gandhi’s wielding of unofficial political power and amassing of a great personal wealth is told through a parallel story of Dev. Though readers ostensibly follow Dev’s increasing power in the family and his abuse of it and the Prime Minister’s son operates in the background, Dev in fact leads a life similar to that of Sanjay Gandhi, from hijacking cars in their youth to being involved in manufacturing a car during the Emergency (on Sanjay’s car-hijacking antics, see Vinod Mehta 1978, 41–43; Sahgal 1983, 162). Dev, too, is “clearly pro-capitalist, conservative and authoritarian” (Frank 2002, 395) as well as impatient. Indira Gandhi herself is reported to have told a Congress leader that her son “is not a thinker, he’s a doer” (quoted in Frank 2002, 398; see also Dhar 2000, 313), a description that fits Dev as well. I agree with Crane (1992, 162) who suggests that “Dev’s rise to importance during the Emergency in many ways mirrors Sanjay Gandhi’s rise to political power, so much that at times the fictional character of Dev and the historical figure of ‘Madam’s son’ appear to merge.” M.K. Bhatnagar (1991, 49) writes that Sahgal herself “played down some of the parallels” and emphasised “‘the fictional roles these characters play’ in view of the thematic totality of the work they figure in.” The corruption around the Maruti manufacturing business is at the centre of the novel, though some of Sanjay Gandhi’s other exploits are also reflected upon by Sonali after a remark made by the chief editor of an important daily. Sonali points out that “everyone knew the son had made him chief editor after dismissing his annoying predecessor who had reported that The Car had fallen into a ditch during trials and never been heard of since” (RLU 99–101). The dismissed chief editor is clearly modelled on B.G. Verghese, the editor of the Hindustan Times. K.K. Birla, the proprietor of the Hindustan Times, invested large sums in Sanjay Gandhi’s Maruti car factory and fired B.G. Verghese in 1973 after several articles critical of Sanjay Gandhi had appeared in the paper (Frank 2002, 351). In Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power, Sahgal (1983, 96) notes that this happened “on Sanjay 163

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Gandhi’s order and with Mrs. Gandhi’s knowledge and tacit consent. Actual dismissal was held up by the Delhi High Court’s stay order and did not become official until September 22, 1975.” The new editor, a Sanjay sycophant, remarks at a dinner party that the Prime Minister’s son has “shown such organizational talent,” further expounding that “you had to start somewhere” (RLU 100). Sonali then ponders: Madam’s son had, vasectomising the lower classes, blowing up tenements and scattering slum-dwellers to beautify Delhi, setting up youth camps with drop-outs in command, loafers and ruffians who would otherwise have been no more than loafers and ruffians. With his ill-wishers out of the way now, a patriotic, hand-spun, hand-woven car, every nut and bolt of it made in India, would soon be on the road. (RLU 99–101) City beautification, which in practice meant slum clearances and family planning through sterilisation were part of Sanjay Gandhi’s five-point programme, which initially proved more captivating than his mother’s 20-point programme. Sanjay’s five-point programme aimed at (1) tree plantation, (2) abolition of dowry, (3) slum clearance, (4) removal of illiteracy and (5) family planning. As the programmes kicked off properly, slum clearance and sterilisation proved to be the most controversial Emergency measures, since they were executed with little or no regard to the effect these had on the lives and wellbeing of the poor, who were the targets of the programmes. Significantly, these programmes are not really examined in the novel, the slum demolitions hardly at all and the sterilisation programme mainly from the point of view of the elite women, who organise their servants to be sterilised. This emphasises the complicity of the middle class in making this as big a programme as it was, but does not discuss the plight of the people who were actually sterilised, some under pressure, some others even forcibly. A youth camp becomes another parallel between Dev’s and Sanjay Gandhi’s lives, when Dev organises the setting up of one near his home. Rose wonders about the age of the youths, or “toughs with pistols” as she calls them: “Forty if they’re a day,” said Rose. “If they’re youths, I’m Wee Willie Winkie” (RLU 86). Sanjay Gandhi was made a member of the Executive Committee of the Congress Party Youth Wing in late December 1975. Frank (2002, 396) writes that Sanjay Gandhi’s “aim was to resurrect the previously defunct Youth Congress and use it as a platform from which he could ‘influence’ members of the Congress 164

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Party with whom he was in conflict.” He started a massive recruiting campaign and soon the age restriction of 35 years became flexible. But it was not the people who were over 35 that were the problem, it was the thugs and criminals that joined it under Sanjay Gandhi’s leadership (Vinod Mehta 1978, 85). In addition, Youth Congress members harassed Delhi shopkeepers, collecting “donations” from them. They also levied fines on shopkeepers who did not comply with the Emergency regulation of displaying stock lists and attaching price tags to every item (Frank 2002, 396–397). In Rich Like Us, Nishi’s father, a Delhi shopkeeper, is targeted on the basis of missing price tags – the prices are listed on a separate paper on the wall – and later arrested and jailed for supposedly being a member of the RSS, by Haryana policemen brought into Delhi as reinforcements. Through irony, Sahgal launches a powerful critique against the rising son and his controversial and even cruel programmes and initiatives. The picture painted of Sanjay Gandhi is of a ruthless, impatient man, armed with a powerful surname and family inheritance, striving for power and wealth. It is an image very much in keeping with the finding of the Shah Commission. The resemblance between Dev and the Prime Minister’s son grows when Dev becomes a New Entrepreneur and his wife Nishi starts attending meetings of New Entrepreneur wives, with the goal of “getting the wives to pool their energies and ideas to popularize the Emergency more and more. There was so much they could do, take groups to congratulate the Prime Minister, plant trees and prevent their servants from having children” (RLU 93). Congratulating the Prime Minister on the Emergency was something teachers, writers, students, workers, lawyers and trade union representatives were regularly summoned to do (Sahgal 1983, 150–151). The other ideas, of planting trees and endorsing sterilisation, are straight from Sanjay Gandhi’s five-point programme. The most significant initiative the New Entrepreneur Wives take up is the sterilisation programme with which they target their servants. In line with the Prime Minister’s son’s programme, Nishi sends her servants, who understood that “it was either vasectomy or dismissal” (RLU 97), to be sterilised. When an Austrian entrepreneur wife laments the felling of trees near Mussoorie and mentions “a so marvellous movement called Chipko in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha where the people were embracing the trees when the contractors’ men came to axe them,” Nishi becomes alarmed, remembering that the contracts for felling had been given by the Minister for Industry himself, and that satyagraha was 165

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jailable and the hotel room might be bugged. But Mrs Gerda Mathur’s eloquent espousal of the so marvellous Chipko movement took its course. And if it had been recorded on hidden tape for the censor in charge of the electronic media, Ravi would have to help them out, but first of all Mrs. Gerda Mathur could go and congratulate the Prime Minister on the Emergency and sign the congratulations book. (RLU 96) Again, irony and political thriller meet here to form a vivid picture of the Emergency and the atmosphere of fear it created. Mahatma Gandhi and his satyagraha tactics are banned in the era of the new order and personal relations and contacts can make or break a person.

A people’s car As Rich Like Us, with its economic theme, is written for both Indian and non-Indian readers, it aptly has transnational business ventures at the forefront of its plot. The novel inscribes the corrupt business practices of Indira Gandhi’s era, focusing on a business venture based on foreign collaboration and its connection to a “people’s car” manufacture. The Happyola/people’s car business at the centre of the novel is a primary example of corruption compounded by nepotism. As O.P. Mathur (1991, 69) puts it, Rich Like Us reveals “the nexus linking politics, business and crime.” In the beginning of the novel, Dev says to his foreign business partner Neuman: “We’re realizing business is business. The P.M.’s son is in business himself [. . .] and now that you’ve seen the Minister, our project will get started very soon. Your visit to the Ministry tomorrow is just a formality” (RLU 4–5). Neuman had earlier been told by an India expert: “The welcome to foreign firms hasn’t been exactly enthusiastic in the past. [. . .] They’re touchy about their resources and terms for collaboration. Applications take forever to process, even joint-venture proposals. Since the crackdown things are a lot easier” (RLU 3). Sonali, however, who is Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, is unaware of the arrangement made between the Minister of Industry and the businessman and plays by the rules rejecting the proposal that comes to her desk for review. She explains: there was no other decision I could make. It was a preposterous proposal requiring the import of more or less an entire factory.

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Policy did not allow foreign collaboration in industry except under a complicated set of regulations, although essential items the economy needed that we couldn’t produce for ourselves were exempt from the list there were a number of those but a fizzy drink called Happyola wasn’t one of them. When the visiting representative of the company came into my office, I told him so. (RLU 24) The day after the rejected proposal file was sent to the Minister, Sonali is told by Ravi that he will replace her immediately. Though she is at this point still unaware of the deal behind the Happyola case, Sonali decides not to take up a possible new, lower-level posting in her state as she is thoroughly disillusioned by the Emergency and the civil service’s acquiescence. It turns out that the Happyola business venture is not treated as policy requires because of the involvement of the Prime Minister’s son (and the bribes the Minister receives from Dev and Neuman): the plan is to have “Happyola fizzing above car parts” (RLU 51), that is, the Happyola factory that is about to be built will be a cover for the importation of car parts. It is never said in so many words, but the car parts must be for the Prime Minister’s son, for as Dev’s wife Nishi mentions in the beginning, the Prime Minister’s son is “making a people’s car” (RLU 4). In the early and mid-1970s, Sanjay Gandhi was making a small, or people’s car, called Maruti. In the mid-1950s, the subject of the small car had been raised in India. The small car, which was cheaper and consumed less petrol, had been a success in Europe and Japan. The subject was discussed and debated over the years as confusion prevailed over whether the proposed car should be developed by private or public enterprise, whether the car should be of completely indigenous manufacture or made with foreign collaboration and whether it was a low priority or a high priority issue (it being argued that it was wiser to produce bicycles and buses than cars) (Bhargava 1977, 35; Vinod Mehta 1978, 54–55). By July 1968, it had been decided that the car was to be a private sector product. Sanjay Gandhi, who had completed two out of three years of an apprenticeship at Rolls Royce in England in 1964–1966, was interested in manufacturing a small car and worked in a car workshop with a friend from 1967 onwards. In November 1968 Sanjay Gandhi’s proposal for a small car – one among 14 ranging from Renault to Toyota – was announced in the Lok Sabha by the Minister of State for Industrial Development. Sanjay

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Gandhi’s proposal was not received well in the Lok Sabha, and in the following months, politicians and other notable figures accused Prime Minister Gandhi of corruption and nepotism (Vinod Mehta 1978, 56; see also Chandra 2003, 23). Yet in November 1970, Minister of Industries Dinesh Singh gave a first letter of intent to Sanjay Gandhi (Bhargava 1977, 34; Vinod Mehta 1978, 56–57). The Letter of Intent was granted for “50,000 ‘low-priced’ cars per year made entirely of indigenous materials. In short, Maruti was licensed to match the total output of the other three domestic car manufacturers” (Mehta 1978, 57). The problem was that Sanjay Gandhi had no proper training, education or wealth to become a car manufacturer. N.D. Rawla and R.K. Mudgal (1977, 33) write in their post-Emergency indictment that “Sanjay’s experience with cars was limited to stealing them and pottering with spare parts; and the much publicised Rolls-Royce training was only an arrangement [. . .] to keep the ‘enfant terrible’ occupied after he had been expelled from Doon School.” The problem with the money he managed to solve, mostly by dubious methods that will be discussed shortly. The car never materialised. In Rich Like Us the connections and corruption at high level are evident when the Minister for Industry comes to lay the foundation stone for the Happyola factory. Rose, who has overheard a conversation she should not have, tells Sonali about the pay-offs the Minister receives. Dev has already delivered a suitcase full of money, but he has been asked to deposit more in a foreign bank account. Rose continues: “the new lot came from the Happyola Man, Mr Neuman” (RLU 50). Thus Rose inadvertently exposes the whole chain of corruption between the Prime Minister’s son, the Minister for Industry, the civil service and New Entrepreneurs. Sonali sums up the situation: “A factory the rules didn’t allow had been built to make a drink no one needed, and hide car parts that shouldn’t have been arriving” (RLU 281). The Emergency had made Dev “a VIP close to the throne and guarding a royal secret shaped liked foreign car parts” (RLU 253). Rich Like Us describes the corruption of the License Raj during (though not confined to) the Emergency. The Prime Minister’s 20-point programme targeted smugglers, hoarders and tax evasion as well as the misuse of licences: “Import-export regulations are being amended. There will be speedy trials and penalties for breaking rules will include the confiscation of goods.” On the other hand, licencing procedures were simplified (see the 20-point programme in Gandhi 1984, 359). Sahgal’s novel shows how the procedures were simplified for some, especially those “close to the throne,” for money and 168

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favours, and that the Prime Minister’s own son was engaging in practices quite the opposite of the programme without any negative consequences. He, in fact, profited enormously from his violations of the programme. When Sanjay Gandhi was preparing his car for a feasibility test, he turned “to a foreigner, a German engineer called Muller. Muller surreptitiously imported into the country two four-stroke German engines” (Vinod Mehta 1978, 64). Maruti had thus illegally imported engines as well as violated the Letter of Intent stipulating that the car had to be 100 per cent indigenous. The car passed the test, and T.A. Pai announced in the parliament that the car had passed most “rigorous tests” (Bhargava 1977, 35; Vinod Mehta 1978, 65). Rich Like Us’s Neuman stands in for the German Muller. Thinly veiling and fictionalising the events, Sahgal has written a memorable and enduring account of the corruption family rule engenders to remind the generations to come of its dangers. Ravi Kachru is the Indian bureaucrat smoothing the way for Dev and Neuman’s joint venture. He is “part of the conveyor belt that had delivered the cash to the Minister for Industry, relatively minor graft in terms of big investment and the returns expected from it” (RLU 8). Kachru is also initially “the right hand and left leg of the Prime Minister and her household. And only partly because he was a Kashmiri and next door to being her kith and kin” (RLU 23). In Rose’s view, Ravi Kachru had tied up the ends so to speak, getting a lock, stock and barrel Happyola factory for Dev, making him into a New Enterprenner with a wave of his wand when Dev hadn’t enterprennered anything in his life and never would if he lived to be one hundred and one years old. (RLU 250) Since the similarities between Dev and Sanjay Gandhi are noticeable, this comment by Rose can be read as another swipe at Sanjay and at Indira Gandhi who couldn’t say no to him. Sanjay Gandhi was given permission to try his hand at manufacturing a car though he had next to no experience of either business or car manufacturing. The building of the fizzy drink factory also bears similarities to the building of Sanjay Gandhi’s car factory. Ravi explains that the land for the Happyola factory “was a rural belt, requisitioned from the villagers [. . .] with compensation paid, of course” (RLU 8). It is Rose who raises questions about the loss of home the farmers now 169

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experience. The requisition of land for the factory resembles that for Sanjay Gandhi’s Maruti car factory. About 300 acres of very fertile farm land sustaining 1,500 farmers on the Delhi-Gurgaon highway, in the Gurgaon district near Delhi, was requisitioned in July 1971. While the usual market price was three and a half times more, the land was compensated at a nominal rate of 11,000 rupees per acre – adjoining lands had been sold for 35,000 rupees per acre. Usually land could not be requisitioned for car factories and such like, but only for specific public purposes. Chief Minister of Haryana Bansi Lal helped Sanjay Gandhi to acquire the land, ignoring rules, regulations and “writs issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.”5 In the vicinity of the proposed factory there were an air force ammunition dump and an air field. Construction within 1,000 metres of an ammunition dump was prohibited under law. Minister of Defence Production Vidya Charan Shukla overruled the Defence regulations, though part of the ammunition dump was moved elsewhere (e.g. Bhargava 1977, 34; Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 89–90; Vinod Mehta 1978, 58; Chandra 2003, 23). Another sign of corruption with regard to the Happyola factory is the fact that it is coming up fast. Sonali wonders: “It took other businessmen months to get cement released. Nor had I ever seen a rural zone converted with the speed of lighting into an industrial zone, and only for one industry, after the Delhi planners had decided to leave that land free for rural development” (RLU 103). Again, the similarities between Dev’s and Sanjay Gandhi’s factories are evident. The Maruti car factory was “built in record time at a period when building was handicapped by shortages of cement and other materials” (Sahgal 1983, 96). The major difference between the business ventures is that while Dev is merely running a factory built for him from imported parts and providing a cover for a bigger scam, Sanjay Gandhi’s factory and business deals were the bigger scam. In 1975–1976, Sanjay Gandhi managed to collect large sums of money as deposits from distributors of the car, which was to be designed and delivered in six months (Bhargava 1977, 31; Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 34; Vinod Mehta 1978, 60–61). Vinod Mehta (1978, 61) notes: Sanjay instructed his dealers to build show rooms suitable for displaying the small cars. Many dealers borrowed the money from banks and pledged their property. Not only did they never see the small car, they received no interest either. A couple of dealers reckless enough to ask for a refund of their deposits during the Emergency were promptly jailed under M.I.S.A. 170

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Industrialists invested in the company – the Emergency helped in this (Bhargava 1977, 31; Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 33–34). The financing schemes of the Maruti company come up in the novel in a discussion between Nishi and Rose: “[. . .] Daddy-ji might have built the vault for valuables but Dev keeps stacks of money down there, the deposit money collected from dummy companies and dealers who are going to exhibit the car when some models are ready. “If they aren’t ready, wot’s so much money doing down there already, and wot’s Mauritius got to do with it?” “They’ll be ready one of these days. The parts keep arriving and they’re stored down there too. They come straight from the airport without clearing customs.” (RLU 266) Nishi also tries to involve his father in the Prime Minister’s son’s business deal, apparently believing that a car will eventually be produced: “Dev says you should apply for an agency for Madam’s son’s car and throw out all this bathroom equipment. It isn’t dignified.” “I suppose it’s more dignified to be an agent for a nonexistent car. And where am I supposed to get the money to buy an agency? Madam’s son’s agencies don’t come cheap from what I’ve heard.” “Dev will provide the money.” “And who’ll provide the car? Or will Dev pull it out of a hat?” (RLU 92) No car was ever produced: the prototypes tested failed miserably, and by the time of Sanjay Gandhi’s death in 1980, ten years after the launch of Maruti Limited, there was still no car. Yet Sanjay Gandhi and his close relatives made a lot of money with their Maruti companies. In November 1970, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi and some other family members (though notably not including Indira Gandhi) launched a private limited company called Maruti Technical Services (Private) Ltd. (MTS). Its paid-up capital was 215,000 rupees, of which Sanjay Gandhi’s share was 125,000 rupees (Bhargava 1977, 171

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28; Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 34; Vinod Mehta 1978, 66–67). In June 1971, they launched Maruti Limited, a public limited company, whose authorised capital was 25 million rupees, while its managing director Sanjay Gandhi’s share of it was a mere 100 rupees. After the launching of Maruti Limited, MTS became its consultants. Maruti Limited paid an initial sum of 500,000 rupees to MTS, and agreement was made that it would continue to pay MTS an annual sum of 250,000 rupees, or 2 per cent of the sales, whichever was greater. Thus the Gandhi family members recouped the money invested in MTS already in the first few months. Because this was a private limited company, no dividend needed to be distributed to shareholders (Bhargava 1977, 28–29; see also Vinod Mehta 1978, 59–60). By January 1975, MTS had earned more than a million rupees as consulting charges from Maruti Limited. The consultancy agreement was then changed so that no more commission would be due to MTS before Maruti Limited went into commercial production (Bhargava 1977, 29; Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 34–35). By September 1974 Maruti Limited had a paid-up capital of 18,460,700 rupees, and the value of public deposits and unsecured loans obtained by Maruti was 7.73 million rupees by 1975. Bhargava (1977, 32) argues that the Gandhis “abused a popular measure like nationalisation of the banks to line their own pockets.” Sanjay Gandhi received unsecured loans totalling 7.5 million rupees at reduced interest rates from the nationalised Central Bank of India and the Punjab National Bank (Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 34; Vinod Mehta 1978, 62; see also Chandra 2003, 23). The nature of the car project is summarised by Rose as the emperor’s new clothes, when Dev is making conversation to Nishi, saying: how well the debate to amend the Constitution was going with the opposition in jail, and once it was amended Madam’s son could be brought up to front rank leadership and the car he’s trying to make could finally hit the road. “I ‘adn’t heard there’s a car,” said Rose, betraying the gins she had before lunch, “‘ow’s a car that’s not there going to ‘it the road?” Dev continued, ignoring her. “Once a few models are ready Madam should nationalize the project. Then the public sector will be responsible for it. After all, it’s meant to be a people’s car.” “Sounds like the emperor’s new clothes to me,” said Rose. “First of all there’s no car, and then you nationalize the one 172

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there isn’t. And in all these years wot you’re saying is there isn’t even a model.” [. . .] “What do you think, Ravi? Doesn’t the project need to be nationalized? Then the government can get French or Italian or Japanese collaboration and produce the car in no time.” Ravi mumbled something about the licence being one to produce an Indian car of private manufacture and Nishi saw her husband’s head jerk up, scenting a change in the wind. “That’s right,” agreed Rose. “Either you’re an enterprenner or you’re not, and if ‘e is, wot’s all the fuss about? ‘Oo was supposed to be producing this famous car anyway, ‘im or the Japanese?” (RLU 264–265) The emperor’s new clothes is a very befitting metaphor for Maruti. Mehta writes: “By the time the Emergency had been announced, Mr. Gandhi had asked for the fourth extension on his Letter of Intent and the price of his people’s car has escalated from Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 25,000” (Vinod Mehta 1978, 65). No car had been produced, however, and never would be. All the Maruti prototypes had problems, including steering and overheating. Sanjay Gandhi managed to manufacture a total of 20 finished models. Frank (2002, 351) describes Indira Gandhi’s biographer Uma Vasudevan’s visit to the Maruti factory as follows: Engines were cast by hand and there was no sign of an assembly line in operation. Rather than the cheap, mass-produced car the government had contracted Sanjay to develop, Vasudevan realized with horror that the Maruti was actually a custombuilt product. Vinod Mehta (1978, 66) notes that Sanjay Gandhi would probably be loath to admit this, but by the end of ‘74 he had virtually written off his cherished car project – for financial reasons. The money had run out and there was no prospect of more coming in. Banks, dealers, investor, public institutions had been squeezed to the hilt. But related Maruti companies were making profit: from MTS to Maruti Heavy Vehicles which produced road-rollers (by buying Perkins and Ford engines from companies which had import licence, putting 173

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them into scrap rollers, applying some paint and over-pricing them for sale as new); and by the end of 1976, from selling of chemical, selling trucks and building bus bodies, all the while promising the small car would materialise soon (Vinod Mehta 1978, 68, 65). Furthermore, and quite significantly, when Sanjay Gandhi could not manufacture the people’s car he had been so passionate about, he turned his attention to other areas. Sanjay Gandhi had been in favour of declaring the Emergency, and he raised his public profile in the months following the declaration. He introduced his own five-point programme to complement his mother’s 20-point programme and started growing a power base of his own to rival his mother’s. Guha (2008, 506) notes that he was often seen by his mother’s side, “and was even advising her on cabinet appointments.” Sanjay Gandhi’s friend Bansi Lal soon replaced the former defence minister Swaran Singh. A year into the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi wielded considerable unofficial power, and Indira Gandhi had, in her principal secretary P.N. Dhar’s (2000, 329– 330) opinion, “very little control over him.” He adds that he was not sure “whether she was simply unwilling or plainly unable to restrain him.” In Rich Like Us, we witness the growing power of Dev; soon after he has Rose murdered for knowing too much and saying it publicly, he is made a Cabinet Minister. The Maruti affair was a major political scandal that was discussed and debated in newspapers, the Lok Sabha and in bazaars and coffee houses for years (and even recently: see Joshi et al. 2014). As Chandra (2003, 23) writes, The Maruti affair was to become a major political problem for Mrs Gandhi. The Opposition repeatedly raked it up in Parliament; nor did the Press lag behind. She was accused of nepotism and corruption, of having used her position and power as prime minister to persuade the licence-granting authorities to decide in favour of her son even though he had no business experience or technical training. [. . .] Mrs Gandhi refuted the charge of nepotism and said that the licence for the Maruti factory was granted by an independent committee. Rising to her son’s defence, she said that a young man should not be deprived of an opportunity simply because he was the prime minister’s son. This did satisfy many but even those who did not go along with the charge of nepotism against her were unhappy with the position she took on the question and supported the demand for a White Paper on the subject.6 174

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Sahgal fictionalises the Maruti affair in Rich Like Us but follows many of the affair’s details closely. She never directly accuses the Prime Minister or her son of anything, but through the use of subtle irony and making her characters express what was said at the time, she paints a picture of a thoroughly corrupt political setting where one family rules with the help of a combination of sycophancy and force.

A “committed” civil service, complicit middle class Sahgal brings up for discussion the committedness of the civil service through Sonali, who has a mind of her own and refuses to bend her principles. Part of the novel is narrated from Sonali’s point of view, with first-person narration. Sonali is introduced in the second chapter, which begins by describing Delhi one month into the Emergency in Sonali’s eyes. She concludes: “With the unmistakable apparatus of modern authoritarianism all about us, if we could be certain of one fact, it was that everything was not all right” (RLU 21–22). She wonders why she and other civil servants continue to work as if nothing had changed. Sonali believes in the separation between politics and civil service: “Once upon a time we had thought of the civil service as ‘we’ and politicians as ‘they,’ two different sides of the coin. [. . .] Our job was to stay free of the political circus” (RLU 22). This functions as a strong recommendation as well as a condemnation of the current situation whereby both the leaders responsible for this state of affairs as well as the officials going along are blamed. She reflects: The distinction between politics and the service had become so badly blurred over the last few years it had all but disappeared. The two sides were hopelessly mixed, with politicians meddling in administration, and favourites like Kachru, the prime example, playing politics as if his life depended on it. (RLU 23) The novel shows that, if not the life of the civil servants, then certainly their careers depended on their playing of politics. Sonali, who does not play along, is demoted, while Kachru is a rising star. Already in 1969, when the banks were nationalised, Kachru, unexpectedly for a civil servant at the time, took time off “to make political hoop-la from a bonnet of a taxi. [. . .] This was prophetic,” as Sonali retrospectively puts it (RLU 190). In 1969, on the bonnet of a taxi, civil servant Ravi Kachru was proclaiming that “the Government, the Cabinet, the 175

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Ministers, the State, the municipalities [. . .] were there to do Her [the Prime Minister’s] bidding” (RLU 191). In 1975, he is himself doing her bidding and being promoted in the civil service for it. Kachru personifies the “committed” civil service in Rich Like Us. He is clearly committed to the government’s, especially Indira Gandhi’s, policies and philosophy. During Indira Gandhi’s rule the civil service was made to serve her interests, and its independence was taken away. As Sahgal (1978, 30; the article appeared originally in The New Republic on 7 and 14 August 1976, i.e. during the Emergency) has written, a “committed” civil service was part of the Indira Gandhi administration and “understood that it would not be tolerated unless obedience and loyalty to the prime minister were its first concerns.” Ravi displays this quality to the full, defending and praising the Prime Minister both publicly and privately. Sonali goes on to ask if any of the other civil servants were any better, “pretending the emergency was an emergency” when they knew “this was no emergency,” not like “partition, famine, war, refuges on a scale so monumental it made refugees of all disasters till then and many after look like minor migrations” (RLU 23). In his commitment to the powers that be, Ravi contrasts heavily with Sonali, who criticises the loyalty and silence of the civil servants. She notes on a more general level that “the conscientiousness of civil servants knows no bounds. Austerlitz and Dachau, emergencies and genocides are on record to prove it” (RLU 59). Of the Indian civil service during the Emergency, Sonali says: “We were all taking part in a thinly disguised masquerade, preparing the stage for family rule” (RLU 23), and thus exposes “the objectives and functioning of the Emergency” (Mathur 1991, 69). Sonali condemns her and her colleagues’ behaviour: “we were involved in a conspiracy of silence [. . .] so long as it didn’t touch us, we played along, pretending the Empress’s new clothes were beautiful” (RLU 24). Yet she does not resign; she is replaced, and only then she decides not to take up any new position in her state. This is in line with the reality of the time. As historian Ramachandra Guha (2008, 501) points out, hardly any officials resigned in protest against the emergency. In the days of British rule, Gandhi’s call to “non-cooperate” with the rulers led to thousands of resignations of teachers, lawyers, judges, and even ICS officers. Now, the abrogation of democracy was protested by only a few of the people employed by the government.

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Furthermore, Sonali ponders on the complicity of the middle class more generally since the nationalisation of the banks, as the Prime Minister had begun to hold rallies at the roundabout in front of her house in her own support. Sonali notes that Very soon, lawyers and judges, carried away by the popular upsurge hailing bank nationalization, joined the frolic at the roundabout [. . .] before going off to their chambers to make sure that fundamental rights didn’t get in the way of socioeconomic justice. (RLU 192) She thus makes the point that even the judiciary and the legal system bowed down in front of Indira Gandhi from 1969 onwards. Reflecting on oppression and resistance in India, Sonali realises that she herself had been “passive before cruelty and depravity” (RLU 171). As a civil servant she had seen reports about dowry-killings, blinding of criminals by police and sharecroppers murdered for demanding their share, in short, about the systematic and systemic oppression of the subalterns, but had pushed them from her mind and forgotten about them: I had sat at my desk and worked, believing change for the better would come while I sat there, so long as I handled my files properly and made the right recommendations. All would be well because there was a building outside my office called Parliament. (RLU 31–32) She realises that though the symbols of democracy, like the Parliament, still stand, democracy itself no longer worked properly in India under Indira Gandhi’s rule: “everything is controlled by one and a half people. Any other kind of decision-making went to pot ages ago. Long before this ridiculous Emergency” (RLU 33). Sonali had, until the Emergency, been an idealist and a believer in democracy. Her own experience of the arbitrary nature of the Emergency makes her think about and face the true nature of the new order that had started already in the late 1960s. She comes to this realisation only after she is dismissed; she might have continued pushing the files on her table had she not been transferred. The one concrete deed she does for the subalterns she worries about is

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to arrange artificial hands for a disabled beggar after Rose, who had been helping the beggar, has died. Furthermore, the beggar “would be taught a trade” once he had learned to use the new hands (RLU 290). Sonali is shocked to hear that the beggar’s, a former sharecropper’s, hands had been chopped off – it seems by the police at the orders of the landowner – for daring to take home his full share of the harvest. The police had plundered the sharecroppers’ grain, taken their take cows and hens, smashed cooking vessels, set huts on fire and raped the women of the village. The sharecropper’s, now beggar’s, wife had been taken to a “brick-kiln-pig-hole place” (RLU 278–279, 291). Sonali wonders “when the saga of peaceful change I had been serving from behind my desk had become a saga of another kind, with citizens broken on the wheel for remembering their rights” (RLU 291), indicating that in her view there had been a time, presumably when Nehru was Prime Minister, when even the subalterns had enjoyed full and equal citizen’s rights. When Sonali asks if the sharecroppers were able to do anything, the beggar replies that people like him are powerless against landowners and others of the ruling class. Sonali concludes: “They, them, the ruling class on one side, the ruled on the other. Power had changed hands but what else had changed where he lived? If ever there had been an emergency, it was this” (RLU 291–292). She begins to see that Independence had not fundamentally changed the lives of the poor, perhaps not even in Nehruvian times in spite of Nehru’s best efforts and certainly not during Indira Gandhi’s premiership, despite the latter’s rhetoric of working for the benefit of the poor. The novel points out in no uncertain terms that Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency” was just a means for her to stay in power and maintain family and authoritarian rule. The real emergency of the 1970s is the betrayal of the promise and progress of freedom and democracy in India, the inequality between the classes, the everyday violence, sanctioned by the state, the workers and Dalits encounter in their lives. This is also the Emergency Mistry focuses on in his A Fine Balance which is discussed in the next chapter. Sonali reflects how she was shocked when another beggar had stood outside her office building, where they do not usually stand, at a time after Shastri, “when the removal of poverty had been item one on the agenda for some years.” She had realised that India had both new and hereditary poverty staring through the tall glass doors of five-star buildings. But managers, politicians and bureaucrats like me all got into our cars and hurried away to our next engagement unlike the Buddha who took a thornier 178

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path after the sights he saw outside his palace, and after him no one until Gandhi. There was good reason to be disturbed as even I, desk-bound though I was, realized. Something was wrong if the fat of the land had settled high up instead of melting and trickling down, if poverty had grown and multiplied, and there was no use calling out police reserves to fire on processions protesting about the state of affairs. The all too visible police wielding tear gas and truncheons brought imperious rule and empresses to mind, waking me up to the fact that the democracy of Pandit Nehru, who had been dead ten years, was in deep trouble. (RLU 189) In Sonali’s version of Indian history, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and during the Emergency JP Narayan, are the leading lights in the path towards a more equal society. Sonali brings up the legacy of the freedom fighters and the betrayal of that legacy by the current government. Sonali directly associates Indian democracy with Jawaharlal Nehru, even ten years after his death. This is in line with Sahgal’s own identification of Nehru with Indian democracy. Menon (2014, 267) writes that after the death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, and for the next several years till his passing away in 1964, [Nehru] became the embodiment of everything that was unique and noble about the Indian experiment with democracy. Nehru’s political ideology was the barometer by which [Sahgal] gauged the practice of this democracy, post-independence; his idealism and integrity with regard to political principle was the lodestar which guided her own commitment to India and the political developments of the day. In contrast, in Indira Gandhi’s India, despite the agenda of “removing poverty,” “poverty had grown and multiplied,” Sonali notes. Here she dates the trouble to 1969, the beginning of Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian measures, the culmination of which was the Emergency. Rich Like Us argues that whereas Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru advanced progress and equality in India which suffers from such problems as hereditary poverty and Dalit oppression, Indira Gandhi’s rule was not for the benefit of the subalterns, nor for the benefit of democracy, despite her radical rhetoric. As Jani (2010, 174) points out, “the Emergency represented, for Sahgal and a layer of the politically committed 179

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intelligentsia of the 1970s and 1980s, the final betrayal of Nehruvian and Gandhian principles that were at the heart of the Indian national liberation movement.” This betrayal has caused the trauma the Indian English cosmopolitan novelists invoke when writing their (fictional) memoirs of the Emergency. Compounding the trauma of betrayal attributed to Indira Gandhi in these novels is the complicity of the middle class and especially the intelligentsia and the civil service. Writing about Sahgal’s political commentary of the 1970s, Menon (2014, 227) points out that Sahgal “deplored the inability of Indian intelligentsia [.  .  .] to resist the encroachment of the powers that be on their fundamental rights,” maintaining that educated Indians “played no role in influencing the direction India took – in order for this to happen, a more engaged, deliberative and active public was called for.” This is also the message of Rich Like Us, and a main concern in all the novels discussed in this book: the middle classes and especially the intelligentsia have to be active and not allow another Emergency to happen. They must remember what happened during the Emergency so that it will not be repeated. During a time of dictatorial rule, the novel asserts, intense forms of resistance are called for. As the Emergency rule “brought imperious rule and empresses to mind” (RLU 189), it must be resisted like the British rule was through Gandhi’s campaigning: “When the Constitution becomes null and void by the act of a dictator, and the armour of a modern state confronts you, satyagraha is the only way to keep your self-respect” (RLU 198). The novel thus presents Gandhian protest as the way to deal with dictatorial rule. Interestingly, Sonali does not herself practice what she preaches. She does not take up a new post, but she does nothing to protest, either. At the end of the novel she chooses another career, studying Indian history and art, while the Emergency still continues. This can be read as an accurate description of middleclass non-action during the Emergency. Though Sonali clearly condemns the Emergency, she does not act but rather focuses on minding her own business while it lasts. She does not even have to worry about the beggar anymore, as he says that he has to move elsewhere after he has witnessed Rose’s murder. Rich Like Us also shows that the civil service was not alone in accepting the new regime and accommodating Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian measures. A bank manager, to whom Sonali tells that Dev has been forging his father’s name on the cheques and withdrawing money from his father’s and Rose’s bank account illegally, says “I am a small man, 180

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you will forgive me but these are not normal times, I think you should go to someone higher up” and does nothing to stop Dev, though he had “looked deadly serious” until he had been told the forger’s name (RLU 199). A dinner at Sonali’s sister’s house, attended by a lawyer, an editor and two professors, becomes “a demonstration what the Third World’s upper crust talks about when it’s country’s democratic institutions have just been engulfed by a tidal wave” (RLU 103). They all seem to accept the measures and to move on with their own lives. The editor explains the contents of his editorial for the next day, saying that “Madam had in good faith thought it her constitutional duty to override the Constitution, and while he would regret the suspension of liberty and the right to life, he would reluctantly conclude there had been no alternative.” The lawyer, in turn, opines that “the Constitution would have to be drastically amended, if not rewritten, to give Madam powers to fight disruptive forces and crush the vested interests she had been battling against since infancy. Delhi had always been an imperial city, hadn’t it?” (RLU 103) They discuss these almost as the weather and move on with their dinner. The middle and upper classes acquiesced as, by and large, they were not negatively affected by the Emergency. As Tarlo (2003, 135–136) notes, with the exception of government servants who were expected to fill sterilisation quotas, most middle-class citizens did not suffer “particularly during the Emergency and many remember it as the era ‘when trains ran on time,’ when ‘people worked hard,’ when ‘corruption was rooted out and discipline maintained.’” The government servants, even when burdened with filling sterilisation targets, went along with the scheme rather than resigned, which Guha (2008, 501) sees as “conclusive proof of the acquiescence of the middle class.” Ved Mehta (1978, 81) has written that “Mrs. Gandhi’s coup met practically no resistance, in part because democracy had been used to mask what was actually an oligarchy. This oligarchy represented the middle class” which was mostly urban and consisted of 3 to 15 per cent of the population. Sahgal portrays the reactions of this oligarchy to the Emergency. A month after the declaration of the Emergency, Dev tells his foreign businessman guest, Neuman: this Emergency is just what we needed. The troublemakers are in jail. An opposition is something we never needed. The way the country’s being run now, with one person giving the orders, and no one being allowed to make a fuss about it in the Cabinet or in Parliament, means things can go full steam 181

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ahead without delays and weighing pros and cons for ever. Strikes are banned. It’s going to be very good for business. (RLU 2) Guha (2008, 501) notes that “the business community were especially pleased with the Emergency” since there were no more strikes, boycotts or demonstrations. Dev’s wife Nishi comments that she likes the Emergency as it makes the country “comforting”: “The country had been a mess, people screaming for more wages or bonus, or just screaming, too many political parties, so humiliating to explain to foreigners. And then overnight a magical calm had descended like in Taiwan or Singapore” (RLU 87). Nishi and many of the other middle-class characters of the novel are not merely passive in face of the Emergency measures but actively commend and endorse them. When Nishi attends a New Entrepreneur wives’ meeting, she thinks the wives could popularise the Emergency: “plant trees and prevent their servants from having children” (RLU 93). One of the wives, Leila, speaks, as the novel ironically puts it, “from the security of menopause” (RLU 93), asserting that birth control for their servants should be their priority. Leila makes a reference to school teachers who “are being dismissed if they can’t certify that they’ve had five people sterilized. Of course they’ve got to get themselves sterilized first. That’s the kind of businesslike programme we’ve got to start for domestic servants and no nonsense about it” (RLU 94–95). Silva (2004, 78) points out how the wives can discuss sterilisation “in a clinical manner because, as the upper class, they are shielded from having to undergo the practice.” (Forcible) mass sterilisation becomes a “businesslike programme” cold-bloodedly conducted by the middle class, “a question of management and organization” for the wives of entrepreneurs, with little or no regard towards the targets of that programme, the subalterns, who become mere numbers to fill quotas. The discussion of the wives borders on the absurd when Leila says that they can use a van from a biscuit factory for transporting the servants to a vasectomy camp: “the trip needn’t be wasted. It could do a biscuit delivery at the same time” (RLU 96). The women also conclude that religion should not be a determining factor when imposing sterilisation on their servants as “it’s a secular state” (RLU 95), though they feel it is best to start with the Hindus. The servants of the New Entrepreneur wives are rounded up, and the Hindu servants working for Nishi “immediately understood it was either vasectomy or dismissal,” except for the old servant Kumar who is exempted when 182

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Rose points out his age (RLU 97). Kumar himself does not get to argue his case in the novel. Rich Like Us does not share the point of view or the experience of the servants or others subjected to sterilisation. The highly personal and sensitive nature of the procedure, its infringement of basic human rights and its possible psychological effects are never considered by the entrepreneurs’ wives, nor are they discussed in the novel. Sonali, for example, does not reflect on the topic at all; she seems more concerned about the inactivity of the middle class during the Emergency than their actual oppressive activity. What is curiously absent from the novel which has a beggar, who is only referred to as a beggar and never by his name, as its (only) subaltern character, is the policy of anti-beggar drives during the Emergency that Patrick Clibbens (2014, 56) notes were part of “the wider urban beautification policies.” The stigmatisation and rounding up of beggars had a long history in India, but many states intensified the arrests and externing of beggars during the Emergency. In 1976, the central government even “deliberated over whether to bring in new national anti-beggary legislation” (Clibbens 2014, 59). Rich Like Us makes no mention of these drives, nor does it discuss the beggar’s life or the possible and even likely difficulties in the city of Delhi. The novel discusses the questions of democracy and authoritarianism, political corruption and (political) economy, even the money problems of Rose and Nishi’s father, but not the day-to-day life and problems of the character in the weakest position in society. Furthermore, the possible impact of the Emergency on his life – that is, anti-beggar drives – is not brought up at all, though these were written about in major Indian newspapers at the time (Clibbens 2014). The subaltern viewpoint is completely missing here as well, unlike in Mistry’s A Fine Balance, discussed in the next chapter. The novel’s focus is constantly on the elite characters, so that even when Rich Like Us discusses the plight of Indian subalterns during the Emergency, it does so from an elite perspective, emphasising how the decisions affecting the subalterns were dictated from above. As Jani (2010, 176) argues, the novel’s project is “to speak through elite voices in an ironic mode in order to jar its elite audiences (implied and real) into self-reflection.” For example, when Leila is adamant that her servants cannot watch her foreign video films with love scenes as these would be too embarrassing for them, she is ironically countered by Rose, who often serves as a critical voice in the novel: “Wot do you mean embarrassing? Rose enquired. “After all, auntie, they’re used to it.” 183

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Rose reared up in her chair. “They’re used to rape, aren’t they, so a bit of love-making on the screen can’t be very ‘ard for them to get used to. [. . .] If you and I get raped the militia is out looking for the rascal. But their kind nobody bothers about.” (RLU 277) Through Rose’s blunt comments, Sahgal’s novel directs attention to the continuing inequality in Indian society and the patronising attitude of the elite. It also invites its readers to critically examine the official discourse of the Emergency, which the elite was willing to accept. Rich Like Us offers a counter-memory of the Emergency that reveals the emptiness and self-servient nature of the official rhetoric as well as indicts the middle class for their complicity in the authoritarian rule. In the novel, the official rhetoric of the Emergency is proclaimed by the minister who has come to lay the Happyola foundation stone. He declares that the Emergency had ended bonded labour and brought other social evils to an end a new era of opportunity and plenty awaited the weaker sections [. . .] the weak and the poor, the oppressed, the repressed and the suppressed were the first concern of the government. Radical change was the order of the day and a country united under one party and one Leader would help to bring it about. He ended on the warning note that vested interests had not been entirely vanquished. Left adventurists and Right reactionaries waited to seize their next opportunity to create chaos but the Leader who had never failed to vanquish the enemies of the people was alert. (RLU 49) The speech is delivered early in the novel after the Emergency, and the capital the middle and upper classes made of it have been introduced. Sahgal then proceeds to explore the “elite” reality behind the government propaganda. Furthermore, Sonali notes in the novel that since the declaration of the Emergency, history would be “revised and re-written. All dictatorships meddled with history” (RLU 199). After Rose’s murder, Sonali reflects: “Here in this house the revision of history had begun and there would be no end to the lies” (RLU 285). The Emergency produced its own versions of history as well as outright lies. Sahgal’s is an elite point of view, but as such, it works as countermemory of the events and is directed both against the official state 184

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rhetoric of the Emergency as well as against the narrative of the middle class who did not object to the authoritarian rule.

Notes 1 Nayantara Sahgal in a personal interview to Menon in October 2008 (Menon 2014, 230). 2 Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1900–1990) headed the Indian delegation to the United Nations between 1946 and 1968, and became the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953. She served as India’s Ambassador to the USSR in 1947–1949, to the United States in 1949–1951, as high commissioner to Britain in 1955–1961, and as governor of Maharashtra in 1962–1964. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was elected to the Lok Sabha three times, first in 1952, and then in 1964 and 1967 from Phulpur, Jawaharlal Nehru’s former constituency. She held office from 1964 to 1968, when she resigned having had a strained relationship with her niece Indira Gandhi. 3 All subsequent references (henceforth abbreviated as RLU) are to the following edition of the novel: Nayantara Sahgal, Rich Like Us (New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999). 4 Sahgal (1983, xiii) writes: “It became obvious after 1969 that Mrs. Gandhi, who saw herself as a humanist and a democrat, did not in any real sense partake of the democratic faith her father had held and served.” 5 The number of acres of farm land sold to Sanjay Gandhi vary from 291 (Sahgal 1983, 95) and 300 (Guha 2008, 469) to 405.24 (Vinod Mehta 1978, 58) and 445 (Bhargava 1977, 34; Rawla and Mudgal 1977, 89). Bhargava gives 10,000 rupees per acre as the compensation price, Mehta 11,776 rupees per acre. All writers agree on the crookedness of the deal, however. 6 See also Sahgal, Indira Gandhi, 95. P.N. Haksar, the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary from mid-1967 to 1973, was a very influential person in Indira Gandhi’s decision-making process. Frank (2002, 314) writes: “Indira trusted Haksar’s intelligence and judgement implicitly and completely. From 1967 to 1973, he was probably the most influential and powerful person in the government. It was also Haksar rather than the Cabinet Secretary who was the most important civil servant in the country.” Haksar advised Indira Gandhi against favouring her son by granting a lucrative government contract to him and advised that she should send him away from Delhi until the Maruti scandal died down. Indira Gandhi responded by allowing Haksar’s contract to expire in September 1973, whereas previously it had been automatically renewed. P.N. Dhar followed Haksar as the Principal Secretary, serving in the job from 1973 to 1977. Frank (2002, 353) notes that “Haksar was the last of Indira’s coterie prepared to question or stand up to her. No one did now – except Sanjay Gandhi himself.”

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5 The Repressive State Apparatus in Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance Only 3,000 people in New Delhi were given vasectomies against their will. But if you look at the people who suffered from it, it’s not a small number. We have to leave the accounting to one side, sacrifice our fondness for numbers, and look to the human cost.1 Rohinton Mistry (2002)

Memory and imagination Rohinton Mistry was born in Bombay on 3 July 1952 to a Parsi family. He attended the Villa Theresa Primary School and the Jesuit-run St.  Xavier High School, which had an anglicised curriculum, and received a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Economics from St. Xavier’s College, University of Bombay, in 1974. In July 1975, at the age of 23, Mistry migrated to Toronto where Freny Elavia, his future wife, had moved the previous year. In Canada, Mistry first had trouble finding a job but then worked as a clerk in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He started studying English and philosophy part-time at the University of Toronto in 1978, completing his second bachelor’s degree in 1982. Mistry began to write short stories after a few years in Canada and went on to win two Hart House literary prizes for stories which were published in the Hart House Review, as well as Canadian Fiction Magazine’s annual Contributor’s Prize in 1985. In the same year, Mistry quit his job in the bank to start writing full-time. A collection of 11 short stories titled Tales from Firozsha Baag was published in 1987.2 Mistry’s first novel, Such a Long Journey (1991), set in 1971, won the Governor-General’s Award of Canada and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. A Fine Balance (1995), his second novel, set mainly in the mid-1970s, also won the Commonwealth 186

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Writers’ Prize. Mistry may be best known at least in the United States for A Fine Balance, his “Emergency novel,” as it was chosen by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club’s Book of the Month in 2001 and consequently discussed on Oprah’s television programme. Mistry’s agent in Canada, Bruce Westwood, says that “after September 11, Oprah wanted a Book Club choice that would introduce American readers to the east” (Lambert 2002). Why Oprah chose this particular book to introduce the “East” to American readers is intriguing, as the connection between 9/11 and Mistry’s A Fine Balance seems arbitrary, to say the least, but perhaps the reason was to introduce an “East” other than that of the jihadists. Nevertheless, being picked for the Oprah Book Club boosted the novel’s sales by half a million copies. His third novel, Family Matters, which, like the two previous novels, features a Parsi family living in Bombay but is set in the mid-1990s, was published in 2002. All three of his novels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. As with Rushdie, positioning and labelling Mistry as an Indian English writer is complicated as he has lived outside India since 1975 and does not seem to identify with diasporic Indian writers, either. Mistry has said: I’m referred to more often as a Canadian writer than an Indian writer. Or – what is it they say? A Canadian-writer-born-inIndia. And I’m certainly more of a Canadian writer than an Indian writer, because I have no sense of being part of any group or school or generation of Indian writers. But that doesn’t really interest me at all. All I try to do is tell a good story. (Smith 2002) Even if he does not identify with any group of Indian writers, Mistry has, like Shashi Tharoor, so far set all his writing (except a short story in Tales from Firozsha Baag) in India; more specifically, all his novels are set in Bombay. “I prefer to write about that which engages my imagination. At the present time, that is India,” he has explained (Gokhale 1996). His view of Bombay as a non-resident Indian was publicly criticised by the Australian feminist writer and critic Germaine Greer, who called A Fine Balance “a Canadian book about India” in a BBC television panel discussion in 1996, when the novel was announced as a Booker candidate. Greer said that she loathed the book and did not recognise in it the India she had come to know in the four months she had spent teaching at a women’s college in Bombay.3 Mistry himself saw Greer’s comment as “asinine” and retorted: “She 187

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wants to say that those four months teaching the daughters of high society put her in a better position to judge India than I am in, having grown up there and spent 23 years before emigrating?” (Ross 1999, 240). Though Greer’s comment is in a league of its own, other commentators have noted that the fact that Mistry left Bombay in 1975 (and has visited India only infrequently since then) manifests itself in his writing largely about the India/Bombay of his childhood and youth4 – not unlike Rushdie in Midnight’s Children. Mistry himself notes: “I would say my Bombay is rooted in fact, but I’m writing about a city that has disappeared” (Lambert 2002). Memory plays a key role here, or, as Mistry puts it, “in the broad sense, as a processing of everything one hears or witnesses, all fiction is autobiographical – imagination ground through the mill of memory. It’s impossible to separate the two ingredients” (Lambert 2002). His novels are fictions of memory in two senses: based on his own memories of his city and country of childhood and youth, and preserving and maintaining the memory of the misuse of power by Indira Gandhi during the 1970s. Mistry says he does not research his novels “in the formal sense of the word” but relies on newspapers, magazines and conversations with visitors from India and with people on his visits to India (Gokhale 1996). This translates into the novels: newspapers have a visible and significant role in Such a Long Journey. The first two novels also allow plenty of scope for rumours, allegations and speculations about the government and create a suspenseful atmosphere when the government, capable of all sorts of unsavoury things, seems to be ever present in the protagonists’ lives. In all his interviews, Mistry is described as very reserved and a highly private person, and it is often mentioned that he does not give many interviews. Mistry does not discuss politics in his interviews, but it is unclear whether this is because the interviewers do not ask questions about Indian politics and history, or whether he has refused to answer or requested not to be asked about these issues. He does not write political commentaries, columns, newspaper articles or other nonfiction, either, so his political statements are confined to his novels. Early in his writing career, in 1989, he said that “if politics or religion come into my work, they come in a secondary way” (Hancock 1989, 147). Yet Mistry’s novels have a lot of political content that touch not only history (the Indira Gandhi years) but also present-day Mumbai politics. Shiv Sena, the far-right Maharashtrian political party, campaigned for Such a Long Journey to be cut from the University of Mumbai reading list in 2010 – and succeeded (Burke 2010). In his 188

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comment on the ban, Mistry stated: “In this sorry spectacle of bookburning and book-banning, the Shiv Sena has followed its depressingly familiar, tediously predictable script of threats and intimidation that Mumbai has endured since the organisation’s founding in 1966” (Times of India 2010). However, his response was mainly about freedom of speech rather than about Mumbai politics. Though Shiv Sena’s presence in the Bombay of 1971 is notable in Such a Long Journey,5 the novel’s main political content has to do with the war in East Pakistan/Bangladesh which looms even over Bombay, the political atmosphere created by the government of Indira Gandhi and especially the infamous Nagarwala case. On 24 May 1971, the Chief Cashier of the State Bank of India, Ved Prakash Malhotra, received a phone call from someone sounding much like Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and instructing him to deliver six million rupees in cash to a man who would identify himself as Bangladesh ka Babu (“man from Bangladesh”). Malhotra delivered the money as instructed and then hurried to meet the Prime Minister’s principal secretary P.N. Haksar, who denied the call and asked Malhotra to contact the police. The money was recovered and the “man from Bangladesh,” one Captain Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala, arrested. Nagarwala, who had served in the army before Independence, was believed to have been employed as an intelligence officer in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Indian secret service, at the time. He confessed to impersonating the Prime Minister and taking the money, saying that he had wanted the money for support to Bangladesh. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment; the money was returned to the bank and the case was closed. Indira Gandhi’s role in the events remained a mystery and a cause for speculation (Sahgal 1983, 82; see also Rajagopal 2008). Mistry has explained the choice of this topic for his first novel as follows: The central plot incident in Such a Long Journey was taken from something I’d heard my parents and their friends talking about in 1971, at home. A Parsee major had embezzled money from a bank to finance the resistance movement in East Pakistan. Within our community the main question was “How could a Parsee have done this?” (Lambert 2002) That is all he says about the topic. His explanation seems to foreground his interest in the case as a member of the Parsi community but leaves the other side, Indira Gandhi’s possible and even likely role 189

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in the embezzlement, unremarked. Yet this side is explored or at least speculated on in the novel, and, together with A Fine Balance, Such a Long Journey provides a highly critical view of the Indira Gandhi years in the 1970s, the period immediately before and after Mistry left India. History and politics are not just a backdrop to the story in these novels; they are an essential part of them. Kaustav Bakshi (2014, 92) argues that “Such a Long Journey is actually an attempt to rewrite the history of a scam that implicated a Parsi banker, and thereby, recoup the lost honor of the community, generally looked up to for their integrity and honesty.” Mistry presents another explanation to the incident, “a counter-discourse of the official version” (Bakshi 2014, 98), one that absolves the Parsi Major from responsibility and instead exposes (one more case of) corruption in Indira Gandhi’s government. Mistry’s writing has concentrated on the small minority of the Parsis6 and looked at the Indian nation from this perspective in Tales from Firozsha Baag and Such a Long Journey. He says about the writing of A Fine Balance: after writing my first two books I became aware that they were stories about a very particular and special kind of city and even then I had focused only on a very small part – the Parsi community – and I made a conscious decision in this book to include more than this, mainly because in India seventy five per cent of Indians live in villages and I wanted to embrace more of the social reality of India. (McLay 1996, 17) A Fine Balance,7 then, examines India’s social realities in the 1970s, including the oppression of the Dalits. Dukhi Mochi, a Dalit, has befriended Ashraf, a Muslim tailor, in a town close to his own village and decides to send his sons Ishvar and Narayan to him to apprentice as tailors in order to break the centuries-long oppression of the Chamaar caste of tanners and leather-workers by Brahmins and other high castes to which his sons would be subjected if they continued in their father’s line of work. After Ishvar and Narayan have spent years working for Ashraf, their town is engulfed by Partition riots, and Ashraf contemplates leaving the town before his Muslim family is attacked by the Hindu mob. He tells the boys: “We will always be like one family, even if we are apart” (Balance 125). Family is also an oftenused metaphor for the nation, especially in nation-building fiction and

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films. In A Fine Balance, the family serves this function, though the “family” is a fluid concept in the novel and families are constituted on the basis of forming close ties between people rather than through being blood relatives. Mistry has said that family, in this wider meaning, is all in A Fine Balance (Smith 2002). Ishvar and Omprakash, the son of the now-deceased Narayan, form another unlikely family in “the city by the sea,” Bombay – never named in the novel – where they move to earn a living as tailors when factory-made garments reduce their work prospects in the small town. Their new family, formed over time when the relationships between the characters deepen, consists of them and a 42-year-old widowed Parsi woman, Dina, as well as a Parsi student, Maneck. Dina Dalal is originally from a well-to-do Parsi family, but as a woman and a widow living alone, she is also one of the marginalised and dispossessed, fighting for her independence. The novel’s focus on these groups and characters brings up “questions of belonging in relation to the body politic” (Morey 2004, 95), and suggests an alternative to the traditional national(ist) narrative. Dina eventually calls the rent-collector Ibrahim, an elderly Muslim, her father, before vacating her flat. The particular family in the novel represents the subaltern, marginalised part of the nation, and is united in the Nehruvian ideal. The patchwork quilt Dina works on, adding pieces corresponding to the trials, tribulations and little triumphs of her makeshift family, is a metaphor for the construction of an alternative national history. The quilt progresses as the prejudices and boundaries between religions and communities in Dina’s household melt away: Ishvar leaned over to indicate a cambric square. “See this? Our house was destroyed by the government, the day we started on this cloth. Makes me feel very sad whenever I look at it.” “Get me the scissors,” she joked. “I’ll cut it out and throw it away.” “No no, Dinabai, let it be, it looks very nice there.” His fingers stroked the cambric texture, recapturing time. “Calling one piece sad is meaningless. See, it is connected to a happy piece – sleeping on the verandah. And the next square – chapatis. Then that violet tusser, when we made masala wada and started cooking together. And don’t forget this georgette patch, where Beggarmaster saved us from the landlord’s goondas.”

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He stepped back, pleased with himself, as though he had elucidated an intricate theorem. “So that’s the rule to remember, the whole quilt is much more important than any single square.” (Balance 490) This view of the quilt corresponds to Tharoor’s (1998a, 78) point about an India “greater than the sum of its parts.” A sense of Indianness is present in the novel, and the existence of the nation is not questioned; in fact the Nehruvian nationalist idea(l) is upheld, but that does not mean that the novel would not contest the grand national narrative. Unity in diversity was the Nehruvian ideal, but the subalterns were often excluded, even from the narratives of the nation. Here, however, the emphasis is on an alternative national history, that of the Indian subalterns, who so often have been left out of, or marginalised in, history. As Sharmani Gabriel (2003, 87) writes, the power and detail, the intensity of engagement and the historical specificity that realism as a mode of narrative representation entails works along with Mistry’s aesthetic commitment to retrieve the social and political details of those histories glossed over by exclusionary accounts of the nation. The patchwork quilt in A Fine Balance as a metaphor for the history of the subalterns, whose history is pieced together from fragments of the past, bears resemblance to the work of the Subaltern Studies Collective in the early 1990s, when Gyanendra Pandey’s “In Defense of the Fragment” (1992), Partha Chatterjee’s The Nation and Its Fragments (1993) and Shahid Amin’s Events, Memory, Metaphor: Chauri Chaura 1922–1992 (1995) came out. All these works “question, on both archival and epistemological grounds, even the very possibility of constructing a totalizing national history in narrating the politics of subaltern lives” (Chakrabarty 2000, 25). In the same way, the patchwork quilt foregrounds fragments from the lives of the two Dalit tailors; but these offer mere glimpses into their lives, never a totalising history. Furthermore, the quilt in the story remains unfinished and incomplete. As in the patchwork quilt, so in Mistry’s novel, the subaltern histories take the central place, and their little stories are stitched together to form a whole. At the same time, the putting together of disparate pieces with deliberation and care to form a harmonious whole that emphasises not sameness or evening out of differences, but unity in diversity, affirms the ideal of Nehruvian India. 192

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Mistry has said that he set A Fine Balance in the time of the Emergency, because after 1971, the setting of Such a Long Journey, “this was the next watershed in Indian political history and in the future of Indian democracy” (CBC 1996). It seemed to him that “1975, the year of the Emergency, would be the next important year, if one were preparing a list of important dates in Indian history. And so 1975 it was” (Gokhale 1996). Again he is careful not to mention Indira Gandhi or any political reasons he may have had in choosing this theme. However, the novel opens on the day of the declaration of the Emergency and ends with an epilogue set in 1984, in the days of rioting following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her bodyguards. The chosen timeframe emphasises the centrality of Indira Gandhi in the novel, though she is never directly named, only referred to as the Prime Minister. When asked about the possible advantages of the geographical and temporal distance – two decades – from the Emergency, Mistry replied: Distance makes things clearer. It is almost as if time helps the inessential things to whither revealing what is at the centre of things. It would also have been intimidating, even downright dangerous to write about these things in India at the time they were happening. Certainly, for a journalist the consequences would have been quite terrible. (McLay 1996, 18) Even this comment reveals very little of Mistry’s own position which needs to be read in the novel. The two realist writers examined in this book, Sahgal and Mistry, are polar opposites in their open/closedness about the Emergency and Indira Gandhi outside their novels. As was discussed in the last chapter, Sahgal has been a vociferous critic of her cousin and her cousin’s increasingly autocratic politics; while Rohinton Mistry has not commented on Indira Gandhi or her politics outside his fiction, remaining very cautious in his interviews. Therefore, one of the very few statements he has made publicly about Indira Gandhi and her rule during the Emergency is quite interesting, especially in the light of his novels: The system was out of control. And it went out of control because the rule of law was suspended in a bad move by Indira Gandhi, a brilliant person, a good leader, who did a lot of good for the country. But I think when The Emergency was declared, she had become frustrated by the obstacles presented 193

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by this slow and messy and tedious process of democracy. We have to admit that democracy is messy. But it’s the only way, or you see what happens. [.  .  .] The villain is injustice. And that’s the villain anywhere in the world where there is discontent and suffering. (Oprah’s Book Club 2002b) A Fine Balance is certainly about a system out of control, with its focus on a specific section of the nation: Dalits, lower caste Hindus and Muslims – in other words, on the poor, the lower social classes, “the marginalized and dispossessed who find themselves at the mercy of the Brahminical and pseudo-secular elites shaping India in the 1970s” (Morey 2004, 95). But the image of Indira Gandhi, or the Prime Minister, is largely negative in both Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance, with the “good” she did for the country largely unremarked. The portrayal of Indira Gandhi and the system that was out of control in Mistry’s two novels are the topic of this chapter.

History lessons Such a Long Journey begins at the time of the proclamation of the Republic of Bangladesh by the Awami League, that is, in late March 1971. The main protagonist, Gustad Noble, a middle-aged Parsi man living in Bombay with his family – wife Dilnavaz, sons Sohrab and Darius and daughter Roshan – reads about it in a newspaper, the first of the many instances in the novel in which newspapers provide contextualisation, mediated memories and a history lesson for the readers. Gustad explains that he had been sure that the “fanatics and dictators” would not “respect the election results” and that General Yahya would not “allow Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to form the government.” Gustad then goes on to read in the newspaper about the “Reign of Terror in East Pakistan” and about “Bengali refugees streaming over the border with tales of terror” (Journey 12). This atmosphere of war and atrocities across the border sets the mood for the novel. The possibility of war hangs over the Indian nation and impinges also on the everyday life of the people of Bombay. Rather than sympathise with the plight of the refugees from East Pakistan, the Noble family feels the pressure of various measures of collecting money for them: the refugee relief tax, fund-raising contests at the children’s school involving the collecting of old newspapers and a raffle at Roshan’s school, of which half the money will be used for a new school building and the other half 194

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will be used to help the refugees. The Noble family, who needs the old newspapers to pay for the new ones, feels the economic pressure of the situation with shortages and rationing, but also a psychological one, when the newspapers report the horror stories and air-raid siren practices are held. War has never been far away from Gustad’s mind; he seems to be constantly prepared for the worst. The windows of Gustad’s flat are covered with blackout paper – and have been since the 1962 war with China. Dilnavaz had wanted him to remove the paper after the war, but Gustad left it there. He felt his decision vindicated when blackout was again declared during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Six years later, another war is looming over them. Peter Morey (2004, 76) has noted that “the blackout answers a psychological need in Gustad in that it keeps out the frightening historical events he reads about in the newspaper every day, as the nation prepares for war and its propaganda machine grinds into action.” Furthermore, Morey (2004, 71) suggests that the blackout paper symbolises “Gustad’s initial desire to hold the outside world at a safe distance,” to withdraw. While I agree with this reading, I would argue that the blackout paper has a further symbolic meaning. The blackout paper in the windows, which makes “the whole house dark and depressing” (Journey 11), seems to indicate that India has been going through dark times since the defeat of India by China in 1962. As Gustad sees it: everyone knew that the war with China froze Jawaharlal Nehru’s heart, then broke it. He never recovered from what he perceived to be Chou En-lai’s betrayal. The country’s beloved Panditji, everyone’s Chacha Nehru, the unflinching humanist, the great visionary, turned bitter and rancorous. From now on, he would brook no criticism, take no advice. With his appetite for philosophy and dreams lost for ever, he resigned himself to political intrigues and internal squabbles, although signs of his tyrannical ill temper and petulance had emerged even before the China war. His feud with his son-in-law, the thorn in his political side, was well known. Nehru never forgave Feroze Gandhi for exposing scandals in the government; he no longer had any use for defenders of the downtrodden and champions of the poor, roles he had himself played with great gusto and tremendous success. His overwhelming obsession now was, how to ensure that his darling daughter Indira, the only one, he claimed, who loved him truly, who had even 195

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abandoned her worthless husband in order to be with her father – how to ensure that she would become Prime Minister after him. This monomaniacal fixation occupied his days and nights, days and nights which the treachery of Chou Enlai had blighted for ever, darkened permanently, unlike the blacked-out cities, which returned to light after the conflict ended and people uncovered their doors and windows. (Journey 10–11) This passage in the beginning of the novel functions as a revealing interpretation of Indian post-Independence history by Gustad Noble, the main protagonist from whose perspective the novel is told. Nehru is described, perhaps ironically, as an “unflinching humanist,” “the defender of the downtrodden and champion of the poor,” whose heart was broken by the 1962 war with China, an interpretation shared, as was discussed in previous chapters, by Saleem, V.V. and a whole host of historians. Gustad’s remembrance of Nehru gives an idea of an India and its government striving for equality and democracy which was destroyed in the 1960s. This was the beginning of the dark times in India which still prevail in the novel in 1971, in Indira Gandhi’s India. Mistry, much like Rushdie in Midnight’s Children, thus dates the beginning of trouble in 1962, in contrast to Sahgal, who dates it to the nationalisation of the banks in 1969 and blames it on Indira Gandhi. Furthermore, it is argued in Such a Long Journey that Nehru was trying obsessively to promote his daughter. In Mistry’s novel, the nationalisation of the banks by “that Indira” is not looked upon favourably, either. Dinshawji labels the manoeuvre as “vote-getting tactics. Showing the poor she is on their side. Saali always up to some mischief” (Journey 38–39). Gustad, like Saleem in Midnight’s Children, singles out Feroze Gandhi’s attack on “the nexus between insurance companies and the business community” in his maiden speech at the Lok Sabha in 1955, two years after his election as MP. He exposed the shady deals of an insurance company and gained a reputation as an enemy of corruption (Frank 2002, 236). In 1958, Feroze Gandhi moved out altogether from Teen Murti House, the Nehru residence, where he had lived together with his wife and children since 1952 after his election and move from Lucknow to Delhi, and started living full-time in his allocated government bungalow. Indira Gandhi had gone to Delhi already in late 1946 to help her father, who was then the head of the Interim Government, to set up a house and to have her second baby (Sanjay, 196

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b. 1946) there. She had subsequently started spending longer periods of time in Delhi, commuting between Delhi and Lucknow. In early 1949 Indira Gandhi moved permanently to the Prime Minister’s residence. Feroze and Indira Gandhi’s marriage had been troubled for years, and rumours of infidelity – first of his, then of hers – had circulated. Frank (2002, 244–245) writes that Feroze Gandhi struck back at Indira through her father, when he in February 1958 made a speech in Parliament “exposing the fraudulent dealings of officials employed in the government-owned Life Insurance Corporation with a private businessman named Haridas Mundhra. [. . .] Nehru was forced to set up a commission of inquiry into what quickly became known as ‘the Mundhra Scandal.’” The Finance Minister was forced to resign when the commission found him responsible for the fraudulent deal, but Nehru believed he was innocent. Gustad brings these feuds up, pointing out how family and personal matters became highly political in the Nehru family. The personal and the political are intertwined, even inseparable, also in Gustad’s life. He himself gets entangled in a money scam, based on the famous Nagarwala case, that seems to involve the government and politicians of the highest order. In Such a Long Journey, and even more so in A Fine Balance, the state encroaches on the lives of the protagonists. The (lower) middle-class characters feel less of an impact than the subaltern classes which feel the full force of the State Apparatus on all aspects of their lives, especially in A Fine Balance. As Louis Althusser (1971, 136) explains, “in Marxist theory, the State Apparatus (SA) contains: the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc.” These constitute what Althusser calls “the Repressive State Apparatus. Repressive suggests that the State Apparatus in question ‘functions by violence’ – at least ultimately (since repression, e.g. administrative repression, may take non-physical forms).” In this chapter, I examine how Mistry depicts the impact on the lives of his (subaltern) characters of what in his novels is clearly the Repressive State Apparatus. Another history lesson, an account of the succession after Nehru, is provided a hundred pages later with (in-between, there are lessons on international politics involving the United States, the USSR, Pakistan and India): After Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister upon Nehru’s death, it seemed for a while that the stagnant waters of government would at last be freshened and vitalized, despite 197

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the skeptics who said that such a short man would not be able to command respect on the world stage. Then came along the twenty-one day war with Pakistan in which he fared much better than Nehru had in the war with China, and silenced the unbelievers. (Journey 114) When Shastri died on Soviet soil after signing the peace treaty, [s]ome said he had been killed by the Pakistanis, and others suspected a Russian plot. Some even claimed it was the new Prime Minister’s supporters who poisoned Shastri, so that her father’s dynastic-democratic dream could finally come true. Whatever the truth, once again the government was in chaos. (Journey 114) This account of past Indian politics is largely speculative and involves a lot of hearsay, yet the thoughts that linger are that Nehru had wanted to set up a dynasty and that the country was still going downhill: a process that continued ever since 1962, with the brief interlude of India’s victory over Pakistan in 1965 under Shastri’s leadership. Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership is described as a time of corrupt politics. This is put into words by Gustad’s son Sohrab, who initiates a conversation about “about the leaders who do wrong.” As an example, he takes “the car manufacturing licence going to Indira’s son.” Sohrab argues that the son has “already made a fortune from it, without producing a single Maruti” and goes on to describe “how the prototype had crashed in a ditch during its trial, yet was approved because of orders from the very top” (Journey 68). This account, too, is based on hearsay; Sohrab points out that he has learned about this from a college friend whose father works at the testing centre. Later on, Gustad, Dinshawji and Dilnavaz discuss Indira and Sanjay Gandhi, the latter two noting much to the annoyance of Gustad that “everyone says Indira and her son – the motorcar fellow – are involved in all kinds of crooked deals, that they have Swiss bank accounts,” that “there has been talk of worse things. When Shastri died” and that “even today, people say Feroze’s heart attack was not really a heart attack” as it was well-known that “Nehru never liked him” (Journey 197). Unlike in A Fine Balance, in Such a Long Journey the politicians are mentioned by name; however, exposures of their corrupt practices and allegations of worse, possibly political murder, are represented as rumours 198

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and gossip, not as direct statements. It is underlined that people say, it is said, there has been talk – the characters themselves do not make these allegations. They only discuss other people’s comments. And when eventually, Gustad’s dear friend and neighbour Major Jimmy Bilimoria tells about his involvement in the money scam and indicates Indira Gandhi’s complicity, he is heavily drugged and speaks incoherently, thus proving not to be the most reliable of witnesses. Perhaps this is a strategy used by Mistry to avoid threats and lawsuits – even though Indira Gandhi herself had passed away seven years before the publication of Such a Long Journey. Interestingly, this kind of phrasing had not prevented Indira Gandhi from suing Rushdie over a sentence about the relationship between Indira, Feroze and Sanjay Gandhi in Midnight’s Children beginning with “It has often been said that,” as was discussed in Chapter 2. As a continuation of the history lessons in Such a Long Journey, in A Fine Balance Avinash, Maneck’s college friend and President of the Student Union, explains the Emergency to him: Three weeks ago the High Court found the Prime Minister guilty of cheating in the last elections. Which meant she had to step down. But she began stalling. So the opposition parties, student organizations, trade unions – they started mass demonstrations across the country. All calling for her resignation. Then, to hold on to power, she claimed that the country’s security was threatened by internal disturbances, and declared a State of Emergency. [. . .] Under the pretext of Emergency, fundamental rights have been suspended, most of the opposition is under arrest, union leaders are in jail, and even some student leaders. [. . .] [T]he worst thing is, the press is being censored – [.  .  .] And she retroactively changed the election laws, turning her guilt into innocence. (Balance 245) This history lesson in the novel is explained by Maneck’s lack of interest in “political stuff” – he says he only reads comics in the newspaper – but this seems an unlikely explanation. The lesson is for the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with the “facts” of the Emergency, most likely the younger generation as well as many readers outside India. Avinash’s style is rather factual and dispassionate for a person who later becomes an active protestor and is apparently arrested, tortured 199

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and killed for his activities. Avinash’s interpretation leaves out the events preceding the High Court’s ruling, the appeal to the Supreme Court after the ruling, the JP movement and Morarji Desai’s fasts unto death to bring down the state government in Gujarat, the strikes and morchas – the latter will, however, be mentioned in passing by other characters. This account also makes it seem that the protests started only after Indira Gandhi had been found guilty of cheating in the elections and explains the Emergency straight-forwardly as an attempt “to hold on to power,” an interpretation that most other commentators would share but nevertheless one that can be debated. This description of the Emergency, coming from a character the readers are likely to like and trust, seems objective and plausible to readers unfamiliar with the history of India in the early 1970s, and takes it to a personal, rather than structural level. This explanation indicts Indira Gandhi, as the reason behind the Emergency seems simply to be her attempt to stay in a position of power which she had attained only through crooked means and from which, by law, she should have stepped down. It constructs and maintains a memory of a dynasty and a dictatorial personality. This interpretation is further confirmed by a likeable lawyer, Mr Valmik, who states: The Prime Minister cheats in the election, and the relevant law is promptly modified. Ergo, she is not guilty. We poor mortals have to accept that bygone events are beyond our clutch, while the Prime Minister performs juggling acts with time past. (Balance 563) That the whole system of law and order has become crooked, also at the grass-roots level, becomes evident when the police and thugs are all in agreement on the fact that “courts are useless. Arguments and adjournments, testimony and evidence [. . .] are unnecessary under the Emergency” (Balance 567). Furthermore, as a police sergeant explains, MISA, the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, which was “passed in June 1971, giving the government ‘deterrent powers against antisocial elements’ and providing for arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without trial for six months” (Sahgal 1983, 87), is “very convenient. Allows detention without trial, up to two years. Extensions also available on request” (Balance 570). Statements like these make it clear that it is becoming almost impossible to differentiate government from crook, police from thug. India under Indira Gandhi, and especially 200

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during the Emergency, is one where democratic institutions have come to mean very little and where the “ordinary people” are powerless without money and connections.

Rumours and allegations The atmosphere throughout Such a Long Journey is of increasing suspense and paranoia, and the plot incident involving the money scam thickens while rumours of all kinds about the government circulate. A year after Major Bilimoria had disappeared, Gustad had received a letter: The envelope was typewritten. The return address was a post office box in New Delhi, and the sender’s name was absent. It had elicited a mixture of nervousness and curiosity the first time: he did not know anyone in New Delhi. (Journey 54) In the letter Bilimoria explains that he could not divulge any details of his leaving and current work, except that “it is a matter of national security. You know I was doing work for the government after leaving the army” (Journey 54). He asks Gustad to do him a favour and pick up a parcel from the bazaar. In his second letter, which Gustad receives after agreeing to help Jimmy, Bilimoria explains that he is working for RAW. In 1971, the Research and Analysis Wing was relatively new; it was set up in 1968. Guha (2008, 452) notes that “its activities were screened from parliamentary enquiry; and it reported directly to the prime minister’s office. The head of RAW was (perhaps inevitably) a Kashmiri Brahmin, R.N. Kao; its officers came from the police and, on occasion, the army.”8 In Such a Long Journey, Bilimoria is a former officer of the Indian Army and used to tell stories about the war with Pakistan in 1948 and the tribesmen from the North-West Frontier. Sohrab is surprised that Bilimoria has joined RAW, which irritates Gustad and leads to the following exchange between the son and the father, who does not want to hear “rubbish about the Prime Minister” as the real enemy is at the border. Sohrab argues: “Our wonderful Prime Minister uses RAW like a private police force, to do all her dirty work.” “Don’t talk rubbish again! Jimmy is involved in something top-secret about East Pakistan. Just like that, you say dirty 201

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work! God knows what newspaper you have been reading!” [. . .] “But it’s true. She sends men from RAW to spy on opposition parties, create trouble, start violence so the police can then interfere. It’s a well-known fact.” “I read the papers and I know what goes on. Rumours and allegations all the time, and no proof.” Like a malarial fever his irritation started to rise. “What about the chemical election? Only RAW could have done that. She made a real mockery of democracy.” He snatched the letter from Sohrab’s hand. “Another rumour! What do you think, the election was a children’s magic show? All this nonsense about chemically treated ballots, and crosses appearing and disappearing automatically! Mockery of democracy is that people are willing to believe rumours. Without proper evidence.” “Lots of evidence was presented in court. Enough for the judges to send the case to trial. Why do you think she transferred them?” Sohrab appealed to his mother in frustration. (Journey 93) The discussion alludes to a number of suspected ill-doings of the government at the time, and in fact references many major political scandals of 1971, prompting readers to remember and/or find out more. It also conveys the general atmosphere of a suspect government involved in all sorts of malpractice and illegal activities. Sohrab’s quip about the chemically treated ballots refers to a case of suspected election fraud in the mid-term elections to Lok Sabha in early March 1971. The election would have taken place a few weeks or months before the Noble family’s discussion about the chemically treated ballots, and it would probably have been reported and discussed in the newspapers and speculated on in the streets. Jana Sangh candidate Balraj Madhok explains in his book how the opposition parties received information from several informants about plans to rig the election and then describes a curious case. Jana Sangh had organised a public meeting in New Delhi on 2 March 1971, three days before the polling was to begin in the capital, when they received on stage a piece of paper from a senior officer of the Election Commission warning them about foul play “in regard to ballot papers.” The following day, the man who had sent the note met another Jana Sangh candidate and told him: 202

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a certain percentage of ballot papers will be chemically treated and an invisible stamp will be affixed on cow and calf symbol of the Indira Congress. Stamp put by the voters in polling booths on such ballots will disappear because of that chemical and the invisible stamp on cow and calf symbol will become visible after some days. As a result of this double process all the Jana Sangh candidates in Delhi will be defeated.9 (Madhok 1973, 108) The information was not acted upon and the election proceeded. Indira Gandhi’s Congress won a two-thirds majority, a bigger victory than even her own party’s forecasters had predicted. Sahgal (1983, 67) notes that the opposition’s “almost total rout, an abnormally clean sweep,” even in areas “where they existed in strength and enjoyed a good reputation on the basis of their past performance,” was strange and unexpected, “particularly when they were defeated by unknown New Congress candidates who themselves had expected to make a scant or mediocre showing.” Madhok (1973, 109) argues that the first concrete evidence of election rigging was discovered when the votes were counted: A number of opposition candidates and their counting agents in Delhi, Bombay and elsewhere noted that stamp marks on cow and calf symbol on a large number of ballot papers appeared to be uniform, fresher and brighter than the stamps on other symbols. It was also noted that colour of such ballot papers was somewhat different from other ballots. Furthermore, according to Madhok, on the night of 11 March 1971, a senior government officer, to ease the load on his conscience, told two other officials the whole story about rigging the election. This revelation was followed by leaders of the opposition receiving “unsigned letters giving details of the fraud” (Madhok 1973, 109). Madhok appealed first to the President on 18 March but received no reply. He then proceeded to request the Chief Election Commissioner of India “to allow him inspection of the ballot papers of South Delhi Constituency to ascertain the truth about use of chemicalised ballot papers. The Election Commissioner rejected the request.” Following Madhok’s petition in Delhi High Court in April 1971, the judge ordered inspection of the ballot papers. The inspection order was later modified following the Congress Party’s appeal to the Supreme Court: 203

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a sample inspection of a few hundred ballot papers was to precede a general inspection order. Eight hundred ballot papers cast in favour of the Indira Congress candidate and 550 cast in favour of a Jana Sangh candidate – Madhok himself – were inspected by the trial judge, Justice Andley of Delhi High Court, in compliance with the judgement of the Supreme Court. Differences were found between ballot papers: some of them were white, others off-white. The court was requested to allow chemical inspection of the off-white ballot papers. The judge was to give his ruling about the request a few days later, on 12 November 1971, but the court was closed that day due to a sudden death of a Supreme Court judge (Madhok 1973, 110–113). Madhok mentions that Indira Gandhi returned to Delhi from abroad on the same date. When the ruling was given, it surprised all those who had been present in the court [. . .] when visual inspection and arguments had taken place. The learned trial judge not only rejected the request for chemical inspection of ballot papers but also struck off the issue of induction of chemically treated ballot papers from the election petition itself. (Madhok 1973,113) Madhok then appealed to the Supreme Court, but his appeal was rejected and the judgement of the trial court upheld. Introducing the theme of election rigging and chemically treated ballots even if only as a rumour – made more serious by Sohrab’s assertion that there was plenty of evidence and that the case was sent to trial – adds to the atmosphere of mistrust towards the government that readers share with the characters. Suspense is building up as it becomes evident that the government is capable of almost anything. The other rumour, about Indira Gandhi using RAW to spy on members of the opposition, is later confirmed by Bilimoria, who explains that he received an offer from the Prime Minister’s office to join the Research and Analysis Wing and mentions that the Prime Minister was “in direct charge.” He continues: she was using RAW like her own private agency. Spying on opposition parties, ministers . . . anyone. For blackmail. Made me sick. Even spying on her own cabinet. [. . .] RAW kept dossiers. On her friends and enemies. Where they went, who they met, what they said, what they ate, what they drank. [. . .] Her 204

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friends become enemies and her enemies become friends . . . so quickly. So often. Blackmail is the only way she can keep control . . . keep them all in line. Disgusting. I was fed up. Not what I came to Delhi for. I applied for transfer. (Journey 270) Sahgal (1978, 30) wrote in a newspaper in August 1976, when she was residing in America, that Indira Gandhi’s assuming of dictatorial powers was no surprise as the last few years had prepared the ground, providing her with [. . .] a police force built up to match the army in numbers, and in sophisticated weaponry and intelligence devices; a system of surveillance by which she kept her minister and party members in line by the dossiers in her possession.10 Indira Gandhi had taken the Home portfolio to herself in a cabinet reshuffle in June 1970. She had thus gained control of the intelligence and the police as well as supervision of the Election Commission. RAW, which operated in part under Indira Gandhi’s direct command, did not, in Sahgal’s (1983, 61) words, remain an anonymous, behind-the-scenes agency, but became an actor on the political stage, with the press commenting on its activities, including the bugging of telephones of government’s political opponents, censorship of their mail, and the impressive growth within a few years of its five-crore (50 million) rupee budget to 1000 crores (1,000 million). RAW was also reported to provide Mrs. Gandhi with dossiers on Union and state ministers and officers of the rank equivalent to brigadier and above of the armed forces. As Sahgal notes, the Indian press wrote about the activities of RAW at the time, and like Mistry himself, the characters of Such a Long Journey receive much of their information from the newspapers. Throughout the novel, Gustad doubts some of the information printed in the press, but as Bakshi (2014, 98) points out, “in the end, the streak of hope that whatever is published in the newspapers may not be completely true is sort of invalidated.” The newspapers, in fact, prove reliable as even the stories that at first seemed most far-fetched turn out to be true, and the role of the press in at least trying to keep the 205

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government’s power in check is evident, especially when compared to A Fine Balance, in which the press is censored. These newspaper articles and the use of RAW by Indira Gandhi also reported by the press are clearly memories Mistry wants upheld. The atmosphere in Such a Long Journey is one of mistrust and suspicion, even of surveillance and imminent threat from something, and in addition to the refugee crisis and the threat of war with Pakistan, Indira Gandhi and RAW under her are largely responsible for this. Manohar Malgonkar’s Emergency novel, The Garland Keepers (1986), also takes up the preparation and misuse of dossiers on politicians and officials. The Garland Keepers11 is a thriller centring on the case of Rajguru Swami, a corrupt and criminal guru who is close to the Great Leader and her Son in the novel. Though the novel is clearly about the Emergency,12 the Great Leader remains mainly in the background, while the Swami’s dark secrets, amassing of money and power, are examined by a few good policemen. The yoga teacher Swami, who wields a lot of power in Delhi and “mysterious influence over the Great Leader” (Garland 96), is modelled after Swami Brahmachari, Indira Gandhi’s yoga teacher, who was “an important and mysterious figure in her life” (Frank 2002, 245). Frank (2002, 357) writes that in the 1970s, Brahmachari “became close to Sanjay Gandhi and in time he was virtually a member of the household.” Furthermore, the Shah Commission’s (1978, 30) Interim Report II states that Brahmachari “wielded considerable influence on various Ministers and Officers in the Government for various favours.” In The Garland Keepers, the Swami transfers black money to Mauritius and after getting his hands on “the secret dossiers of the men and women prominent in the nation’s life” (Garland 94), containing all their scandals and other sensitive material, he uses them to blackmail politicians, police chiefs and other powerful figures. The dossiers had originally been started at the initiative of a junior minister, who developed the government’s intelligence agency and argued that power in democracies flowed “from your knowledge of your rivals’ secrets” (Garland 95). Both Such a Long Journey and The Garland Keepers also make use of the Nagarwala case.

The case of the Bangladeshi Babu The Nagarwala/Bilimoria case becomes a central example of and metaphor for government corruption and crimes. A parcel Gustad has agreed to pick up from Chor Bazaar contains a pile of money which 206

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Gustad, who works in a bank, is asked to deposit in a bank account in the accompanying letter from Major Bilimoria: “Since you are savings supervisor, it will be easy to avoid all the rules and regulations about large deposits. But don’t worry, this is not black-market money, it is government money I am in charge of” (Journey 120). Bilimoria then goes on to explain that the money is for a guerrilla operation in East Pakistan. A number of questions and suspicions arise at this point. Why is there a need to avoid rules and regulations if this is not black-market money but for a legitimate government operation? Why is Gustad involved if this is government business? When Gustad tries to wriggle out of the situation and return the parcel, he is threatened. First he finds the carcasses of a bandicoot and a cat with a severed head in the compound, left there in the middle of the night. Then he finds a note with a more direct verbal threat, though in a form of a children’s rhyme. He then realises he has no other choice but to deposit, with the help of his colleague and friend Dinshawji, one bundle every day, 10,000 rupees so as not to raise suspicions. Until now, Gustad has been somewhat reluctant to get involved in matters of the larger society. He has lived behind the black wall, with blackoutpaper shielding his windows against light and outside events. He has received news through the radio and newspapers but only now has he been – unwillingly – involved in the matters he has until now only read and heard about. In a situation where the government seems to have eyes and ears everywhere and friends and acquaintances turn out to be in government service, Gustad has no choice but to try to do as he is expected and required by the people threatening him. When the 50th bundle out of a total of 100 has been deposited, Dinshawji and Gustad find out from a newspaper the real nature of the job they have been involved in, when Bilimoria has been arrested in Delhi “on charges of fraud and extortion.” The police report stated that, based on the accused’s confession, the facts were as follows. Some months ago in New Delhi, Mr  Bilimoria, impersonating the Prime Minister’s voice, telephoned the State Bank of India and identified himself as Indira Gandhi. He instructed the Chief Cashier to withdraw sixty lakh rupees from the bank’s reserves for delivery to a man who would identify himself as the Bangladeshi Babu. The next day, Mr Bilimoria, this time in the persona of the Bangladeshi Babu, met the Chief Cashier and took delivery of the sixty lakh rupees. (Journey 195) 207

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Bilimoria had confessed and explained that the money was meant for aiding the Mukti Bahini, the guerrillas, in East Pakistan. He had also claimed to have been working alone. In a footnote, the reporter raises many important questions about the case: assuming that Mr Bilimoria has the talent of voice impersonation, is it routine for our national banks to hand over vast sums of money if the Prime Minister telephones? How high up does one have to be in the government of the Congress Party to be able to make such a call? And was the Chief Cashier so familiar with Mrs Gandhi’s voice that he accepted the instructions without any verification whatsoever? If yes, does that mean that Mrs Gandhi has done this sort of thing frequently? These questions cry out for answers, and till the answers are heard, clearly and completely, the public’s already eroded confidence in our leaders cannot be restored. (Journey 195–196) The newspaper account of the events in Such a Long Journey follows closely the historical events of the Nagarwala case. Interestingly, however, the only people named in the account are the fictional Bilimoria, who has taken on the role of Nagarwala, and Indira Gandhi. The Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary P.N. Haksar is left out of the story altogether, and the Chief Cashier’s name is not given. The fact that the Prime Minister is named throughout the novel indicates a very personalised critique of Indira Gandhi and her government. The questions the reporter asks at the end of the article were widely asked at the time. Gustad wonders why Bilimoria sent the ten lakh to him if the money was for guerrillas and is sure that there is “something crooked. What kind of guerrilla pipeline is that, from Delhi to Chor Bazaar to Khodadad Building?” (Journey 197). Malgonkar has also used the Nagarwala case in The Garland Keepers, though not in all its details. In the beginning of the novel, Deputy Superintendent Om Prakash Agarwal of the Delhi Police dies in a traffic accident hours after he has questioned Manekji Hormusji Dorabji, convicted swindler, in Tihar jail. Dorabji is “undergoing a five-year prison term for having conned a bank into parting with the rupee equivalent of a million dollars in currency notes” (Garland 4). Someone had made a phone call and ordered the manager of the bank to take out the money from the vaults, put it in a car and drive to meet

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a person who was identified with a code signal. That person had been Dorabji, who was supposed to deliver the money to a woman, but their timing had been off, and Dorabji had been caught. He had confessed but then regretted, complaining that he had been coerced to confess and had demanded a new trial. He was now ready to name names but felt “safer in jail than as a free man outside” (Garland 4–5). The woman was supposed to be “the leader of Mukti Bahini” (Garland 51), but was really the chief disciple of Rajguru Swami, to whom the money goes. In The Garland Keepers, the focus is on the (criminal) characters who thrive under the system created by the Great Leader, not on the leader herself, though the leader’s son and his car are also featured. In Such a Long Journey, Gustad proceeds, with the help of Dinshawji, to withdraw in instalments the money he has already deposited, so it can be returned to Ghulam Mohammed, another RAW man, the one who gave him the package in the bazaar in the first place. Ghulam Mohammed tells Gustad that it has been in the newspaper that there have been “three different magistrates in three days, to dispose of Bili Boy’s case. [.  .  .] [P]eople at the very top are involved, believe me” (Journey 215). Bilimoria wants Gustad to visit him so he can explain, but Gustad initially refuses to go. After the judgement of the case, Gustad again reads in a newspaper that Bilimoria’s request for a retrial has been denied: It is now learned that the head of the Special Investigation Team, appointed to determine if a retrial was necessary, had asked for more time to conduct a thorough review of the evidence. Soon after, he was killed in a car accident on Grand Trunk Road. His replacement has brought the investigation to a rapid conclusion. The report finds that a retrial is not necessary. Sentencing is expected to follow shortly. (Journey 233) Nayantara Sahgal notes in her book on Indira Gandhi that “Nagarwala’s case was conducted in a highly unorthodox manner and with record speed” in court. After three days and three different magistrates dealing with the case, Nagarwala was sentenced on 27 May to four years’ imprisonment and a fine of 4,000 rupees. Malhotra was not examined in court, even though Nagarwala’s story of the events

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differed greatly from Malhotra’s earlier one. Sahgal (1983, 82; see also Rajagopal 2008) continues: Malhotra, arrested after Nagarwala had been convicted, clung to his story. He wept, insisting he had only obeyed the prime minister’s instructions. Nagarwala, docile and cooperative enough until his conviction, seemed to have second thoughts in jail, showing signs of disillusion and despair. He appealed for retrial, saying his trial had been rushed through contrary to all principles of justice, and asked that Malhotra’s story be fully investigated first. This request was refused, though a retrial was ordered. In Such a Long Journey, Ghulam Mohammed, who has been working with Bilimoria and then Gustad, exclaims: “the courts are in the pockets of the ones at the top. Those bastards think we are stupid, that we don’t understand what it means when the chief investigator suddenly dies in a car accident.” He is also convinced that Bilimoria will be killed soon (Journey 233–234). Mistry follows the details of the Nagarwala case quite faithfully, changing only a few details and omitting names. The head of the Special Investigation Team who dies in the car accident on Grand Trunk Road in the novel has a real-life precedent: the police officer most closely connected with the investigation, D.K. Kashyap, died in a car accident on the Grand Trunk Road on 20 November 1971. Questions were raised as to whether the crash had been accidental or not. Mistry has given the name S. Kashyap to the person in the prison hospital in Delhi who approves Gustad’s visit to see the now-ill Bilimoria. Bilimoria’s request from prison to see Gustad to explain things is a variation of real-life events: Nagarwala had tried to get an interview with D.F. Karaka, editor of a Bombay weekly, in November. Karaka, a fellow Parsi, was too ill to travel and sent a representative to Delhi, but Nagarwala refused to speak to anyone else. In February 1972, Nagarwala complained of a chest pain and was taken to hospital. He died on 2 March 1972 (Sahgal 1983, 82). Unlike Nagarwala, Bilimoria speaks to Gustad. Bilimoria is seriously ill, “high fever, and a lot of weakness. Must be a jungle sickness” (Journey 266) and gets injections regularly, which makes it difficult for him to speak. When he manages to talk, it is in “slow, disconnected, rambling fragments” (Journey 269). As Amin Malak (1993, 111) notes, “Mistry depicts Bilimoria making those allegations elliptically while in the grips of delirium and imminent death, 210

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thus making the claim twice removed from the reader.” The revelation and accusations remain uncertain, not totally verified, even though the reader is inclined to believe Bilimoria. The major manages to tell Gustad that when the troubles began in East Pakistan, he was put in charge of training and supplying the Mukti Bahini. What the operation needed was money: for supplies, arms, explosives. Bilimoria says that Indira Gandhi told him to go to the bank and ask for 60 lakh rupees but not to mention RAW. Bilimoria was to use the name Bangladesh Babu. She explained that “when aid officially sanctioned, amount will be replaced” (Journey 272). But this had all been a trap. Bilimoria says: “[. . .] She said, I have enemies . . . everywhere. If they find out about this money, they will use the information against me. No difference to them that money is for good cause . . . our country will suffer if government destabilized. Very dangerous border situation . . . CIA, Pakistani agents [. . .] “Very clever woman, Gustad. She said, if my enemies try to make trouble, all you have to say is . . . you imitated my voice. I laughed .  .  . who would believe this? But she said, under the proper conditions, people will believe anything. She promised . . . nothing would happen to me. “Like a fool I agreed . . . trusted her. Then she said, maybe we should make our plan watertight . . . you can write a few lines just now. A confession. That you imitated my voice . . . because you wanted to continue helping Mukti Bahini. This way, she would be prepared in advance . . . if any politician tried to make mischief. Any allegations, and she could stand up in Parliament. With the written confession . . . that she was aware, and government was in control of the situation. (Journey 277) Mistry brings up Indira Gandhi’s well-known paranoia and rhetoric of outside threats, such as the CIA. Unlike The Garland Keepers, which modifies the story and makes the Swami the mastermind behind the scam, Such a Long Journey attributes it directly to Indira Gandhi, as Bilimoria, delirious as he is, seems to confirm what the newspaper report had suggested and what was widely believed at the time. As in the other Emergency novels discussed in the previous chapters, the criticism is highly personal. Bilimoria had done as he was asked but then found out that the money did not go to Mukti Bahini. He and his friend Ghulam 211

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Mohammed investigated the matter but Ghulam was “asking too many questions” and therefore “they tried to finish him off on his Lambretta. Their favourite way, traffic accident.” The men found out that the money Bilimoria was disbursing for supplies was intercepted, rerouted by the Prime Minister’s Office to a private account. Bilimoria suspects the money might have gone “to finance her son’s car factory. Or could be for election fund, or maybe . . .” and laments “I have seen so much . . . bribery double-cross, blackmail. This one . . .” (Journey 278). He adds: “[. . .] Should have exposed the whole thing. Told the press, opposition parties. Started an inquiry. But I thought, everything is controlled by her. RAW, the courts, broadcasting . . . everything is in her pocket, all will be covered up. . . .” (Journey 278) Bilimoria had wanted to use some of the money for himself and his friends, including Gustad’s family, when he found out about the corruption, even though he knew it was wrong: “I know two wrongs don’t make a right. But I was disgusted” (Journey 279) – emphasising his own moral in this counter-memory. He had put 10 lakh (of the 60) aside and sent it to Ghulam Mohammed and Gustad, but he was caught and arrested. A case was made based on his confession. He refused to budge in prison. Once the money was returned, Bilimoria was transferred to a hospital. Rather idealistically, Gustad asks if Jimmy still could not expose the whole thing, “talk to lawyers, or newspapers, tell them the truth.” Bilimoria’s reply gives a bleak realist’s account: “Gustad, it has been tried. Everything is in their control .  .  . courts in their pockets. Only one way . . . quietly do my four years . . . then forget about it [. . .] it is beyond the common man’s imagination, the things being done by those in power. [. . .]” (Journey 280) Later on, Gustad reads in the newspaper that Bilimoria had died of a heart attack in a prison in New Delhi, much like the real-life Nagarwala who died in custody in March 1972, and Dorabji in The Garland Keepers who dies in the prison’s hospital with symptoms of poisoning, though “there was no poison that they could identify” (Garland 81).

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All the talk in the novel of accidents and heart attacks that were not accidental or natural, from Feroze Gandhi to Shastri, suggests that this death was not natural, either. As the Nagarwala case has remained an unresolved mystery, with the official explanation clearing Indira Gandhi of involvement (Nagarwala is said to have impersonated her voice), Such a Long Journey constructs an alternative version of the events, based on the newspaper reports and rumours of the time, and thus maintains a cultural counter-memory of the case.

The government versus ordinary people I should like to assure you that the new Emergency proclamation will in no way affect the rights of law-abiding citizens.13 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi The [20-point] Programme marks the beginning of a renewed and vigorous battle against poverty, for mitigating the sufferings of the deprived, vulnerable and weaker sections of society and for laying foundation of a new social order.14 D.K. Barooah, Congress President

Gustad’s prophetic words in Such a Long Journey – “Nothing is beyond the government. Ordinary people like us are helpless against them” (Journey 338) – are followed through and examined in detail in A Fine Balance, where the central theme is the helplessness of ordinary (poor) people against government tyranny and intimidation/the Repressive State Apparatus during the Emergency. The lives of the two Dalit characters, Ishvar and Omprakash, in particular are a testament to Gustad’s words as they encounter one government-induced trial and trouble after another, though other characters, such as the student leader and activist Avinash, exemplify other instances of government terror. As Laura Moss (2000, 159) argues: “The primary function of the ‘ordinary’ characters in A Fine Balance is not to be synecdochic of the ‘Indian citizen’ in the Emergency but rather to represent possible examples of what might happen in such a state.” The two Dalit tailors personally experience the best remembered of the Emergency measures – city “beautification” and sterilisation – as well as other trespasses on their person, such as deprivation of liberty, first when they are forced to attend the Prime Minister’s mass meeting, later and

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more seriously, when they are picked up by the police and sold to an irrigation project as forced labour. Mistry explains: Perhaps my main intention in writing this novel was to look at history from the bottom up, from the point of view of people like Ishvar and Om. The dispossessed. The hungry. The homeless. [I wanted to] see what it meant to them to live during this time of the Emergency. (Oprah’s Book Club 2001) In a book review of the novel, Tharoor (1996, A20) states: “Every atrocity known to have been committed during the Emergency happens to Mr. Mistry’s characters, so that they become a template for a stark portrait of that period in India.” The Emergency atrocities depicted in the novel range from slum clearances to the disappearance, torture and murder of dissidents, from the subjective interpretation and execution of law to forcible sterilisations. Astrid Erll (2006, 168) has noted in her article on the representations of the 1857 “Mutiny” in British novels that in G.A. Henty’s In Times of Peril (1881), the fictive main characters, the brothers Dick and Ned, take part in every major campaign of the “Indian Mutiny.” [.  .  .] By means of this literary tour de force the novel condenses various widely known topoi of the British “Mutiny” myth into one coherent narrative sequence, thus facilitating its recall and at the same time securing the canon of remembered events. It can be argued that to a certain extent, A Fine Balance does the same with the Emergency: it “condenses various widely known topoi” of the post-Emergency narrative into one coherent story in which the characters go through “every atrocity known to have been committed during the Emergency,” as Tharoor put it. A Fine Balance thus constructs a lasting cultural memory of the period on the basis of the post-Emergency narrative and aims to secure that what is remembered of the authoritarian period is not the official, authoritarian version of events but this cultural counter-memory. Significantly, the Emergency is viewed in the larger context of the oppression of the poor/ Dalits, here in much more detail than in Rich Like Us. While the beggar’s history as a sharecropper who was mutilated for demanding his rightful share is briefly recounted, Ishvar and Om’s family history in 214

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a village forms a big part of the narrative in Mistry’s novel. However, the Emergency atrocities are all based on government programmes and initiatives, though they are then also used for furthering the traditional caste-based oppression in the village as well as for personal profit by various characters benefitting from the exploitative opportunities, such as using or selling forced labour, created by the new regime. Ben-Yishai and Bar-Yosef (2015, 163) point out that A Fine Balance implies that the poor and disenfranchised have always been at the mercy of the powers that rule them; for them it is immaterial whether the violence that oppresses them originates from the local zamindar, as it has from time immemorial, or from the central government in New Delhi, as it does now. The betrayal perpetrated by the government in the form of the Emergency is precisely the betrayal of the promise of freedom and democracy that were supposed to improve the lives of the lower castes and classes and end oppression. Instead of enforcing the rule of law and equality in villages and cities alike and protecting the more vulnerable sections of society, the government passes new laws that seem arbitrary to the common people. As the rent-collector Ibrahim puts it: “these days, with this crazy Emergency, you can never tell what law there is. The government surprises us daily” (Balance 354). It is this process, this betrayal, that A Fine Balance describes. A Fine Balance begins with “Prologue: 1975,” which is set on the day of the declaration of the Emergency, and ends with “Epilogue: 1984,” taking place three days after Indira Gandhi was shot by her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984, amid the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination. The prologue introduces the four central characters – Ishvar, Omprakash, Maneck and Dina – to the readers, but it also introduces the Emergency as a factor that greatly influences the lives of the two tailors. The train carrying the two men to Dina’s flat to seek employment stops between stations because there is a body on the tracks. The journey is thus delayed, and the tailors worry that someone else may get the job before they reach the flat, which would be catastrophic since they desperately need work. The train passengers discuss the body and the consequent delay: “Maybe it has to do with the Emergency,” said someone. “What emergency?” 215

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“Prime Minister made a speech on the radio early this morning. Something about country being threatened from inside.” “Sounds like one more government tamasha.” (Balance 5) The discussion references Indira Gandhi’s address to the nation over All India Radio on 26 June 1975 in which she discussed “the threat to internal stability” and “the deep and widespread conspiracy” which she saw had been “brewing ever since [she] began to introduce certain progressive measures of benefit to the common man and woman of India” (Government of India 1975b, 8–9). At first the “ordinary people” dismiss the talk of the Emergency as “one more government tamasha,”15 and Dina is no different, as she replies to Ishvar’s question of what the Emergency is by saying: “Government problems – games played by people in power. It doesn’t affect ordinary people like us” (Balance 75). Seeing the Emergency initially as government problems or government tamasha is in line with Sachchidanand Sinha’s (1977, 67) appraisal: “In the beginning, the meaning of the Emergency was not sufficiently clear even to the so-called politically educated. To the villagers and the poor in the cities, it was one of those political changes, though somewhat of an unusual kind, which as in the past did not seem to concern them.” In A Fine Balance, in particular, the poorer section of the society soon experiences the effect of the Emergency measures on their lives that appear in direct contrast to Indira Gandhi’s speech on the second day of the Emergency: “We must alleviate the hardships of the poorer sections” (Government of India 1975b, 11). Mistry’s novel shows that the economic programme benefitted mainly the middle (and upper) classes, such as business people, and often at the expense of the poorer sections of society. The poorer section’s hardships are aggravated rather than alleviated in A Fine Balance. In the epilogue the four characters are much worse off than they were in the beginning of the Emergency. In addition, Indira Gandhi’s politics have led to the rise of communalism, evidenced in the antiSikh riots. Initially, the Emergency, as readers first experience it through middleclass eyes, has not appeared to be too problematic. Dina, though she is experiencing financial troubles, in the beginning of the novel still identifies with her original status as a member of a middle-class family, represented by her brother Nusswan and Au Revoir Exports’ Mrs Gupta from whom she gets the tailoring assignments. She remains apolitical, isolated and therefore also acquiescent, much like her lodger Maneck. 216

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Later, when she forms a new family with the tailors and Maneck, she starts to identify with the subaltern classes as she witnesses the harassment and trouble Ishvar and Om experience. At the same time she moves “from a sheltered isolation from her city world to a network of community involvements that transcends religious and class divisions” (Ball 1996, 86). While Dina at first feels that the Emergency does not really affect her life, Mrs Gupta from Au Revoir Exports is positively happy as minor irritants in her life were also being eradicated – the Prime Minister’s declaration yesterday of the Internal Emergency had incarcerated most of the parliamentary opposition, along with thousands of trade unionists, students, and social workers. “Isn’t it good news?” she sparkled with joy. Dina nodded, doubtful. “I thought the court found her guilty of cheating in the election.” “No, no, no!” said Mrs. Gupta. “That is all rubbish, it will be appealed. Now all those troublemakers who accused her falsely have been put in jail. No more strikes and morchas and silly disturbances.” (Balance 73) Mrs Gupta, a representative of Emergency-approving middle class, clearly agrees with the Prime Minister’s view of the events. Mrs Gupta is, in fact, delighted about the new order where there are “no more strikes and morchas and silly disturbances.” Some months into the Emergency, Dina’s brother, businessman Nusswan Shroff, voices the attitude of the sections of society that benefitted from the new measures: “[.  .  .] People sleeping on pavements gives industry a bad name. My friend was saying last week – he’s the director of a multi-national, mind you, not some small, two-paisa business  – he was saying that at least two hundred million people are surplus to requirements, they should be eliminated. [.  .  .] Counting them as unemployment statistics year after year gets us nowhere, just makes the numbers look bad. What kind of lives do they have anyway? They sit in the gutter and look like corpses. Death would be a mercy. [.  .  .] One way would be to feed them a free meal containing arsenic or cyanide, whichever is cost-effective. Lorries could go around to the temples and places where they gather to beg.” 217

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“Do many business people think like this?” asked Dina curiously. “A lot of us think like this, but until now we did not have the courage to say so. With the Emergency, people can freely speak their minds. That’s another good thing about it.” “But the newspapers are censored,” said Maneck. “Ah yes yes,” said Nusswan, at last betraying impatience. “And what’s so terrible about that? It’s only because the government does not want anything published which will alarm the public. It’s temporary – so lies can be suppressed and people can regain confidence. Such steps are necessary to preserve the democratic structure. You cannot sweep clean without making the new broom dirty.” (Balance 372–373) By this time, Ishvar and Om, whom Dina has hired to do piecework tailoring for her, have gone missing, and Dina’s livelihood and independence are at risk. She is gradually educated about the true nature of the Emergency as she witnesses the struggles the tailors go through. Her education is, however, a long process and will be completed only months later. In the middle-class view, the ban on strikes and demonstrations is not the only positive aspect of the Emergency, though such a ban is good for business. Businessman Nusswan Shroff points out other major benefits and advances: The main thing is, now we have pragmatic policies instead of irrelevant theories. For example, poverty is being tackled head-on. All the ugly bustees and filthy jhopadpattis are being erased. Young man, you are not old enough to remember how wonderful this city once was. But thanks to our visionary leader and the Beautification Programme, it will be restored to its former glory. Then you will see and appreciate. (Balance 371) The fact that erasing jhopadpattis causes human suffering and leaves many a poor person without a home is of no concern to Nusswan. Here Nusswan echoes middle-class views which are in fact similar to Sanjay Gandhi’s, who launched the beautification programme. Vinod Mehta (1978, 90–91) argues that 218

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Sanjay abhorred slums. They were ugly, a breeding ground for disease and delinquency, an insult to a sovereign, independent nation. Sanjay’s civilised notions went further. He believed people lived in slums not because of economic impoverishment but because they were lazy – perhaps they even enjoyed living there. Left to their own devices they would continue to live in squalor. What these people needed was a bit of government stick. Coupled with this belief was a middle-class detestion [sic] of degradation not for reasons of humanity but because slums were an eye-sore and they sullied the landscape of an otherwise neat city. Besides, what would tourists say? Sanjay was not concerned with the problems of the slums or even with eradicating them. He was concerned with getting them out of sight – some place where, hopefully, no one could see them. Then he could say he had “beautified” Delhi. Like Nusswan, who prefers pragmatic policies to theories, Sanjay Gandhi was impatient to get things done. Nusswan seems to share many ideas with Sanjay Gandhi and is clearly a mouthpiece for government propaganda in A Fine Balance – many of his statements actually include pieces of politicians’ – especially Indira Gandhi’s – speeches, government slogans and statements of the time. It is this Emergency discourse that Mistry’s novel challenges and against which it creates its counter-memory. The city beautification and family planning programmes are inscribed most memorably by showing them from the perspective of the poor personally subjected to them.

The beautification programme The slum-dwellers are fair game for government plans, programmes and practices, as Ishvar and Om find out. In the crowded city with a shortage of affordable rooms and flats to rent, the tailors have finally found a place to stay in what Nusswan calls a “filthy jhopadpatti.” The tailors pay their rent to a man who is “a little crook working for a big crook. A slum lord [. . .] who controls everything in this area.” The land on which the slum stands is owned by the city: “These fellows bribe the municipality, police, water inspector, electricity officer. And they rent to people like [the tailors]” (Balance 163). The description of how the slum works is similar to the one in Partha Chatterjee’s (2004, 54) The Politics of the Governed, based on his colleagues’ study conducted in Gobindapur Rail Colony Gate Number 1, a shantytown 219

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in Calcutta. In the rail colony, four or five men had taken “the lead in organizing the place” which apparently emerged in the late 1940s. “They invited in new settlers, divided up plots, helped build the huts and shacks. They also charged rents from the new settlers,” becoming landlords of the colony. “Two key men in the colony until the mid1970s [. . .] dealt with the railway authorities, the police, and other government agencies on behalf of the colony.” The landlords in the novel, and probably most readers, see “no harm” in the arrangement: “Empty land sitting useless – if homeless people can live there, what’s wrong?” (Balance 163). What is wrong is that this unofficial system does not give any official rights to the people residing in the shacks; there are no guarantees, no protection under the law. Like Shiva in Midnight’s Children, these slum-dwellers “are not proper citizens but rather population groups who survive by sidestepping the law” (Chatterjee 2001, 177). This situation leaves the slum-dwellers vulnerable to police action: the slum lord’s representatives are nowhere to be seen when the government’s rent-a-crowd operation turns into a force-a-crowd one. A month into the Emergency, double-decker buses appear at the slum where the tailors are living. All slum-dwellers are invited to the Prime Minister’s big meeting. Free tea and a snack as well as a payment of five rupees are promised. When there are not enough interested people, a sergeant in charge of the constables makes a threat: “Two people from each jhopdi must get on the bus! In five minutes – no delay. Otherwise, you will be arrested for trespassing on municipal property! People protested: how could they be trespassing when rent had been paid in full?” (Balance 259). There is nothing they can do to avoid being carted to a vast open field if they do not want to get arrested. Altogether, 25,000 people are brought to hear the Prime Minister’s speech. But her words, though promising to “make things better for ordinary people” (Balance 265), ring empty as the government lets the poor people down even in small matters. The organisers run out of tea and snacks, leaving some of the people forced to attend empty-handed. When the slum-dwellers get on the bus, they are given four instead of five rupees. One is deducted for the bus fare, and for tea and snacks which they did not even receive. The bus then takes them to a place from where they have to walk for an hour to get to their slum. A whole day with its wages has been lost. The slum clearance programme touches the tailors personally when the slum colony where they are residing is bulldozed. When the tailors wonder: “But how can they destroy our homes, just like that?” their 220

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friend and fellow slum-dweller Rajaram replies: “They said it’s a new Emergency law. If shacks are illegal, they can remove them. The new law says the city must be made beautiful” (Balance 295). The discussion is based on hearsay and, as such, might well reflect the impression the tailors as newcomers to the city would have had of the situation. However, city beautification by erasing slums was in fact not a novelty introduced during the Emergency but had been going on for years. The programme was, however, significantly intensified during the Emergency. Tarlo (2003, 140) writes in her anthropological study of one of Delhi’s resettlement colonies: Viewed from the perspective of the person whose home was demolished, there seems little reason why post-Emergency authors should have been so outraged by slum clearance during the Emergency since such activities had been going on for several years. True, the scale of activities was different as was the speed of execution. Whilst there were less than 60,000 families resettled in the 15 years leading up to the Emergency, there were at least 140,000 families resettled in a mere 18 months during the Emergency. But from the point of view of the person whose home was being demolished, such statistical differences have little meaning. Yet the Emergency period is best remembered for the two major programmes of slum clearances and forced family planning. Tarlo (2003, 16) writes that during the Emergency in Delhi, “an estimated 700,000 people (15 per cent of the local population) were dispersed outside the city and over 161,000 were purportedly sterilised.” The Shah Commission’s (1978, 85) Interim Report II states that slum demolition operations in Delhi were carried out “like a blitzkrieg in utter disregard of the human problems involved.” Patrick Clibbens (2014, 53) notes that the Shah Commission investigated demolitions in Delhi in detail but not in the rest of the country; for other areas they relied on questionnaires filled in by state governments, which, as Clibbens points out, had clear incentives to be selective in their reporting. The nation’s capital must have been in a league of its own with regard to city beautification and population control, but the figures in other metropolises besides Delhi, such as Bombay, were also high. The state of Maharashtra in fact appointed a “controller of slums” in 1976 as well as a “task force” aided by police “to protect all vacant lands and summarily demolish any new hutments” (The Hindu quoted in Selbourne 1977, 221

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269). “Unauthorized” colonies of slum housing were erased throughout India. The Shah Commission (1978, 119) put the blame of slum clearances solely on Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie, who were acting to please him, but Clibbens (2014, 56) argues that the “entire concept” of these evictions did not change on 26 June 1975, instead the government had been attempting to evict its de facto tenants for several years. In Bombay, as in Delhi (Tarlo 2003) and across India, there was a basic continuity in urban policy, but that policy was pursued at an accelerated pace. Sanjay Gandhi was neither the instigator nor the “prime mover” of the demolitions, indeed he was not involved at all. Mistry’s novel does not specify anyone in particular as the person responsible for the slum demolitions; it is the government in general that is responsible for mistreatment of the poor. Ishvar is told by Rajaram that the slum was bulldozed by men “[. . .] who said they were safety inspectors. They tricked us. Sent by the government, they said, to check the colony. At first the people were pleased, the authorities were taking some interest. Maybe improvements were coming – water, latrines, lights, like they kept promising at voting time. [. . .]” (Balance 295) When the people complied and left their shacks, the slum was destroyed by bulldozers, with all their belongings, and “people were crushed. Blood everywhere” (Balance 295). The tailors’ landlord, the “slum lord,” has been co-opted by the government: he has been appointed Controller of Slums and the “little crook” as assistant Controller. The tailors and other slum-dwellers whose homes are demolished are not offered an opportunity to relocate, not a plot in a resettlement colony. Not that these colonies would have had much to offer, initially. In most cases, people were allotted only open plots of land, and these “plots were so small that no construction suitable for residential purposes could be made.” In many cases, no compensation was paid for the demolished residence/plot, and people had to pay normal price for the new plot in the resettlement colony. Furthermore, the plots were always 25 square yards in size, “irrespective of the area earlier occupied by the concerned people.” Often even “the basic amenities were 222

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wanting” (The Shah Commission 1978, 85–86). Vinod Mehta (1978, 95) describes his visit to some of Delhi’s resettlement colonies after the Emergency as follows: there I saw the full extent of the misery perpetrated by Sanjay on these poor, defenceless people. Most of the so-called houses, even in May ’77, consisted of a few bricks casually cemented together. Usually no roof existed (an intimate prospect if you had braved one monsoon and were expecting another), mosquitoes abounded, the roads were anything but pucca. Often there were no utilities or water, there were problems with drains and Dayal and Bose (1977, 112) describe how in Delhi’s Khichripur resettlement colony rain water stagnated in the lanes and made pools of stagnant water that were “the nurseries for a million mosquito larvae and the source of a wave of epidemics of diarrhoea, and malaria.” To make matters worse, not enough latrines had been provided. In this particular colony the authorities had provided approximately one latrine for every 200 residents, and even those that were available were not emptied often enough and faeces became a problem in the area. These unhygienic conditions, which also included lack of bathrooms and clean water as well as the stagnant pools of dirty water, caused various stomach and skin diseases, among others. To battle the diseases and the effects of malnutrition, there were not enough clinics. The colony’s three Red Cross Camps proved inadequate in face of the epidemics (Dayal and Bose 1977, 113–115). Dayal and Bose (1977, 116) remark that the residents of Delhi’s resettlement colonies were “all totally dependant on the organisations of the State for even the pettiest detail of their every day life. Eating, drinking, defecating, copulating and even dying – they were at the total mercy of the state.” Clibbens (2014, 56) discusses similar conditions in resettlement colonies where residents of erased Bombay slums were taken in 1976. Furthermore, the resettlement colonies were far from the workplaces of the people whose residences were demolished, some of them low-paid government servants, a large number of them belonging to “the class of masons, milkmen, domestic servants, watchmen etc.” who were “making a living by performing services for the residents living in the nearby areas” of the former slums. The Shah Commission (1978, 85) stated that these people “provided the much needed private service to a large number of middle-class and affluent resident.” As the resettlement colonies were far away from their places 223

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of work, continuing in their jobs became expensive (extra bus fares), time-consuming (long way to work) or impossible (no transportation or money to commute every day). Since the resettlement colonies were situated in “wilderness,” there were also no rich residential colonies or industrial complexes nearby where the resettled people could find work (Dayal and Bose 1977, 115; Murthy 1977, 122–124). The result was further impoverishment, starvation and poor shelters. When the tailors of A Fine Balance lose their slum abode, they are forced to spend their nights on the pavement in front of a pharmacy, from where the police soon pick them up and cart them off to be used as forced labour at an irrigation project. Sergeant Kesar is in charge of clearing the streets and handing the people over to a Facilitator, who pays the police and sells the pavement-dwellers, many of them beggars, as free labour to people like the foreman at the irrigation project. On their first morning at the camp, Om and Ishvar are assigned jobs, the former digging a ditch, the latter carrying gravel. When they asked what they are being punished for, the foreman says that “it’s not a question of crime and punishment – it’s problem and solution”: the government will no longer tolerate laziness (Balance 344). The fact that the tailors already have jobs is irrelevant and of no interest to the machinery carrying out government orders. There is a cruel irony here: the 20-point economic programme banned bonded labour, but the city beautification drives have facilitated the use of forced labour. Before Sergeant Kesar’s superiors formulated “this progressive new strategy for the beggary problem, he had had to dump pavementdwellers in waste land outside the city” (Balance 322). Clibbens (2014, 56, 57) points out that the slum clearances were part of “wider urban beautification policies that were enforced during the Emergency. In many of these policies, it was the bodies of the urban poor – not their buildings – that were the explicit target” as “the Bombay authorities carried out India’s largest anti-beggar drives.” David Selbourne (1977, 266–267) writes in his post-Emergency exposé about the plan of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra “to rid Bombay” of its 75,000 beggars, announced in January 1976. According to the Minister’s plan and in his rhetoric, the beggars were to be “mopped up,” “rooted out” and “rounded up.” The operation began in March, with “the poorest, most hungry and malnourished of Bombay’s homeless poor [being] taken by the truckload from the streets of the city.” The arrested were first taken to what was called a “transit camp,” and from there those who were deemed “able-bodied” were sent to “nation-building projects.” According to Selbourne, they were taken to heavy dam-building work 224

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at the irrigation sites of Kukadi and Jayakwadi. There was news of beggars fleeing these camps and of setting up a “special camp” for forced labour (Selbourne 1977, 268). It seems that Selbourne’s 1977 book is one of Mistry’s sources for A Fine Balance. A Fine Balance depicts a process whereby India is gradually turning into a police state. The police seem to be everywhere, arbitrarily picking up (poor) people. When one such incident occurs, Ashraf, the Muslim tailor, thinks that “the police must be looking for criminals in the crowd,” thus displaying his belief in the system and emphasising the fact that the system used to work according to certain rules. Ashraf is immediately proven wrong: “the police were snatching people at random” (Balance 529). On the other hand, people with money and (thus) power, can buy the police to do their bidding. A Fine Balance abounds with such people: slumlord Thokray has bribed not only the municipality but also the police; Dina’s landlord has paid the police so the thugs he has hired can ask the police to come and break the lock on Dina’s door; the Facilitator buys the pavement-dwellers from the police and sells them to construction sites; and when Thakur Dharamsi from Ishvar and Om’s ancestral village “wants to threaten someone, he doesn’t send his own men, he just tells the police” (Balance 520). Furthermore, the police have to be paid if the pavement-dwellers want to sleep on the platform at the railway station; it is the police who come to take the slum-dwellers to the public meeting and they are present when the slum is erased. It is not, however, just the police that can be bought. The whole system of law and order is compromised. As Ibrahim the rent-collector says of the Emergency times: “Money can buy the necessary order. Justice is sold to the highest bidder” (Balance 432).

Forcible family planning The family planning programme is referenced throughout A Fine Balance, and though it is described in terms of increasing forcefulness, it is only in the end that the programme turns truly forcible. At first, right after the Emergency is declared, family planning appears to be just another government programme, designed to persuade and educate people into having smaller families. A mobile Family Planning Clinic appears outside the hutment colony where Ishvar and Om reside before it is erased. It all seems perfectly benevolent: “The staff were handing out free condoms, distributing leaflets on birth-control procedures, explaining incentives being offered in cash and kind” (Balance 193). When Ishvar and Om go to the Rations Officer to get their 225

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ration cards, they are refused on the account of their living in a slum and not in a real house with a real address. The rations officer tells them that they can get a ration card if they let him arrange for their vasectomy. When Ishvar lies that he has already had it done but the certificate was burned in a fire, the officer says that he will send Ishvar to a doctor who “[. . .] will do it again as a special favour, and give you a new certificate. [. . .] Lots of people do it twice. Brings more benefits. Two transistor radios. [. . .] Look, if the harmless little operation frightens you, send this young fellow. All I need is one sterilization certificate.” (Balance 177) Tarlo (2003, 176) concludes in her study of the common people of the Welcome resettlement colony in Delhi subjected to slum clearances and forcible sterilisations: they had submitted their own bodies for sterilisation, not out of choice nor, on the whole, for financial incentives, but rather in order to gain or retain access to basic civic amenities such as work, housing, hospital treatment and education. For many of those at the bottom end of the socio-economic heap, life in Delhi without a sterilisation certificate became untenable, if not impossible. The Officer’s suggestion of undergoing the surgery for a second time highlights the absurdity of the target-based programme: government employers who needed to fill quotas were interested only in the number of sterilisation cases; whether the sterilisations actually furthered family planning and helped to curb population growth was of no interest to them. Thus, it did not matter if the sterilisation cases were elderly, already sterilised or, on the other hand, very young people with no or one child (e.g. Ved Mehta 1978, 118; Murthy 1977, 26). The Rations Officer’s attitude makes clear that filling quotas and pleasing the people in power became much more important than the programme itself. Besides the absurdness the programme was reduced to, the pressuring and even coercive nature of family planning is made visible here. Outside the office the tailors meet a man, who calls himself a Facilitator: he helps people “get what the government people make difficult 226

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to get. [.  .  .] Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licence, any types of permits and clearances” (Balance 178). The Facilitator explains that “since the Emergency started, there’s a new rule in the department – every officer has to encourage people to get sterilized. If he doesn’t fill his quota, no promotion for him” (Balance 178). At this point, early in the Emergency, the government was trying to pressure people into getting sterilised by denying them ration cards, free hospital treatment or promotions unless they either became or presented a sterilisation case. Rawla and Mudgal (1977, 39) write that “in the cities of Uttar Pradesh and in the Capital, middle class employees were harassed – without producing a certificate of sterilisation, no one could obtain ration cards, licences and loans or promotions.” Sahgal (1978, 35–36; see also Williams 2014, 486) confirms this and writes: Earlier the Delhi administration had announced that anyone expecting a third child would not get a ration card; government employed teachers would have to get five people sterilized if they wanted to keep their jobs; no one due a government house allotment would get it till he produced a sterilization certificate; and vans rounded up young and old, married and unmarried for “the operation.” Tarlo (2003, 149) explains that In theory, everyone was under pressure. In practice, that pressure accumulated downwards. [.  .  .] In other words, how that deal presented itself, the choices it offered, depended very largely on where one was placed in the social system. For those near the top, there was always the possibility of deferral – of finding someone else to get sterilised, of trying to obtain a certificate through influential friends. For those at the bottom the options were more limited. Ishvar and Om, as those at the bottom, are the kind of people whose options were more limited and were thus likely candidates for sterilisation. Ishvar, however, is determined to see the 17-year-old Om married and have a family and rejects the idea of sterilisation. When these measures seem inadequate, the government intensifies the programme. The tailors’ friend Rajaram becomes a family planning motivator after the erasure of the slum. His job is to distribute leaflets and explain birth-control procedures. Rajaram is paid for each 227

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person he manages to persuade to have the operation, but as he soon finds out, people are not interested. Subsequently, Rajaram’s supervisor tells him of a policy change. [. . .] [I]t was no longer necessary to sign up individuals for the operation. Instead, they were to be offered a free medical checkup. And it wasn’t to be viewed as lying, just a step towards helping people improve their lives. Once inside the clinic, isolated from the primitive influence of families and friends, they would quickly see the benefits of sterilization (Balance 392). Rajaram was told by the supervisor that “the old way was no longer an option – quotas had fallen behind badly” (Balance 392). Rajaram’s turning into a family planning motivator fits Emma Tarlo’s (2003, 220) findings. She notes that the people of the Welcome resettlement colony “were not outside commentators but reluctant victims and perpetrators of government schemes.” The government got the poor people involved in the scheme: one could avoid sterilisation by motivating others to undergo the procedure. A Fine Balance depicts the next step of the family planning scheme as well. The government announced on 16 April 1976 “a National Population Policy Statement which clearly stated that sterilisation would be the main plank of family planning in India” (Vinod Mehta 1978, 118). The programme had taken off properly by June 1976, before which, Vinod Mehta (1978, 131–132) asserts, “the Emergency was a peripheral phenomenon in rural India.” It was the sterilisation programme “which took the Emergency to the heart of India, to its hamlets and small towns.” Ishvar and Om visit their small home town in the summer of 1976, after the introduction of sterilisation camps in the area. On a market day in their home town, empty trucks and policemen come and occupy the marketplace; the police start grabbing people. Resistance was met with violence as “the police were snatching people at random. Old men, young boys, housewives with children were being dragged into the trucks” (Balance 529). Here, too, Mistry’s depiction of the events is similar to Selbourne’s description in An Eye to India, a description which itself is based on another account in a paper. Selbourne (1977, 271–272) writes about poor local villagers who had come to market at the village of Barsi in the state of Maharashtra in late January 1975 and who were “taken away, regardless of age, in prowling municipal garbage trucks for a quick sterilization” 228

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and “dragged by force to the operating table.” The grabbed included people who had already been sterilised, people without children, young and old, married and widowed. In A Fine Balance, the tailors are randomly picked up and taken to a sterilisation camp outside the town, with a dozen tents. “Four persons were selected from the nearest truck, dragged screaming to the two main tents and forced onto the office desks. ‘Stop resisting,’ said the doctor. ‘If the knife slips it will harm you only.’ The warning frightened them into silent submission” (Balance 531). A senior administrator from the Family Planning Centre comes for an inspection. The autoclaves have not been working and the doctors have been boiling the instruments to sterilise them. The administrator stops this: “Instruments are clean enough. How long do you want to heat the water? Efficiency is paramount at a Nussbandhi Mela, targets have to be achieved within the budget. Who’s going to pay for so many gas cylinders?” He threatened that they would be reported to higher authorities for lack of cooperation, promotions would be denied, salaries frozen. The doctors resumed work with partially sterile equipment. They knew of colleagues whose careers had suffered similarly. (Balance 533) Elderly women, men who have already had the operation, young childless men like Om, are all sterilised. Mistry’s novel follows the post-Emergency narrative, and especially Selbourne’s account, here. Selbourne (1977, 272) mentions a poor peasant sterilised on an office table and others who had developed sepsis.16 Rawla and Mudgal (1977, 39) describe in their post-Emergency book All the Prime Minister’s Men how Hospitals and doctors were made to neglect their regular duties and were employed only with sterilizing the masses gathered under the force of threats and coercion. People were rounded up at random, from the streets, the tea shop, and the bazaars, and taken to the family planning camps to be sterilized. No distinction was made between old men and young boys, between married and unmarried men – the forced sterilisation just went on and on! No heed was paid to any thought of hygiene and many victims died as a result of infection. 229

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Horror stories like this – some probably based on facts, others on rumours – circulated in several books and have clearly served as a model for Mistry’s description of the forced sterilisation of Ishvar and Om. Weiner (1978, 37) notes that during the election campaign in 1977, there were regular reports in newspapers of forced vasectomies. A report on a survey conducted by Professor D. Banerji of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on the family planning programme was issue to the press in March 1977: “according to the survey there was widespread use of police raids and physical force to procure sterilization cases.” The survey reported that Harijans and minorities were usually the targets of the raids. Tarlo (2003, 176), on the other hand, notes that “in general, accounts of how the family planning scheme had operated in Welcome revealed that people had not in fact been rounded up in the streets and forced like cattle into camps.” In any case, there were many problems with the sterilisation camps, both in the psychological and in the physical care people received – or did not receive. People’s fears of, for instance, impotence, were not alleviated with advice or counselling. Panandiker, Bishnoi and Sharma write in their study on Family Planning under the Emergency (1978) that what people were told in sterilisation campaigns and camps was that the procedure is “simple, quick and safe” and that it “stops child birth permanently.” They note that “nobody explained how an operation is performed, in what manner it stops the conception and what its consequences are to the health of a person” (104). Often the campaigners did not know the mechanism of the procedure, nor were they interested in explaining it to people if they knew. Panandiker, Bishnoi and Sharma (1978, 104) point out that since “the programme was generally time and target bound, [the campaigners’] mission was ‘Quick Catch’ rather than to carry conviction.” Aftercare and adequate follow-up were also lacking (Dayal and Bose 1977, 151; Henderson 1977, 69; Panandiker, Bishnoi and Sharma 1978, 115). In the summer of 1976, the number of sterilisation operations grew so rapidly that hygiene was further compromised. In many sterilisation camps there was a shortage of (clean) instruments: A number of forceps were required in tubectomy and vasectomy cases and they had to be sterilized in bulk in the morning because there were no facilities at these outposts for continuous sterilization of a high standard. There were cases where the instruments were cleaned in hot water and used all over again. (Dayal and Bose 1977, 150–151; see also Henderson 1977, 65, 69) 230

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As Ishvar’s and Om’s fates stand as the worst-case scenario of what might happen in circumstances like this where the full might of the Repressive State Apparatus is brought to bear on the subalterns, the forcible sterilisation is not the end of their sufferings. Their ultimate destiny is wrought by their old enemy Thakur Dharamsi in conjunction with the government, whose schemes leave room for local thugs to operate freely. Thakur Dharamsi, the man responsible for the murder of Ishvar and Om’s family two years earlier because Om’s father and Ishvar’s brother Narayan had wanted to cast his own vote in the elections instead of letting the landlord’s men fill in their ballots, is now in charge of family planning in the area (Balance 520). When the tailors wonder how the Thakur makes a lot of money with family planning as “government pays the patients to have the operation,” Ashraf replies: “The rogue puts all that cash in his own pocket. The villagers are helpless. Complaining only brings more suffering upon their heads. When the Thakur’s gang goes looking for volunteers, the poor fellows quietly send their wives, or offer themselves for the operation.” (Balance 520) Sterilisation has thus become a powerful weapon, one more way of requiring submission. Significantly, the Thakur is not just some powerful local thug using government policies to his own advantage; he is “a big man in the Congress” who “will become a minister in the next elections – if the government ever decides to have elections” (Balance 520). Ashraf explains further: “You see, government employees have to produce two or three cases for sterilization. If they don’t fill their quota, their salary is held back for that month by the government. So the Thakur invites all the school-teachers, block development officers, tax collectors, food inspectors to the clinic. Anyone who wants to can bid on the villagers. Whoever offers the most gets the cases registered in his quota.” (Balance 521) Thakur Dharamsi comes to inspect when the tailors are recovering from the operation. He notices Om, who has defiantly spat at him the previous day and whispers instructions to the doctor. Om is taken away and castrated. Ishvar, too, faces a grim fate: the unsterile 231

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equipment used in his operation causes an infection which leads to gangrene and finally to the amputation of his legs. The tailors survive but are forced to earn their living as beggars from now on. The Emergency programmes, designed to “mitigate the sufferings of the deprived,” in actual fact have managed to rob the men of their livelihood and reduce them into dependency on others for their survival. The Repressive State Apparatus shows its most repressive and intimate side in the forced sterilisations of the poor. Yet the government spokesmen denied in April 1976 that people were being forcibly sterilised. However, based on her archival work, Williams (2014, 485) has pointed out that the 16 April 1976 National Population Policy (NPP) Statement stated that “we are of the view that where a State legislature, in the exercise of its own powers, decides that the time is ripe and it is necessary to pass legislation for compulsory sterilization, it may do so,” which means that NPP explicitly authorised compulsory sterilisation in April 1976. It was also reported in the Indian Express on 6 April 1976 that the Prime Minister had said that “the question of compulsion will be left to the states,” whereas the Economic Times reported on 17 April 1976 that the states had been “allowed to launch programmes of compulsory sterilization” (quoted in Selbourne 1977, 277). Selbourne notes that because of the reaction in foreign press and the Turkman Gate incident (19 April 1976) in Delhi, the government evaded the truth later that month. On 30 April, the Prime Minister “stressed the importance of family planning but ruled out coercion” (The Economic Times, May 1, 1976, quoted in Selbourne 1977, 277). Indira Gandhi said on British Television on 24 September 1976, “[t]here is no forcing or compulsion,” and she attributed any coercion to “over-zealous officials” (Henderson 1977, 66). P.N. Dhar (2000, 341), head of Indira Gandhi’s secretariat during the Emergency, has written of Indira Gandhi’s view of the family planning programme: In the beginning, Indira Gandhi had been an enthusiastic supporter of the family planning programme: she would brook no criticism of it. But when the facts about coercive measures began to sink in, she developed reservations. Her blind spot for Sanjay, however, inhibited her from taking a firm stand against it. She defended the programme publicly, though she was feeling uneasy about its human and political implications. Without being more explicit about her concerns, she would

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vent her feelings by blaming officers for what she called their “overzealousness.” In January 1977, when Indira Gandhi called the election and noticed the unpopularity of the family planning programme, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat wrote to all state governments instructing that “there can be and will be no compulsion in the Family Planning movement,” in spite of the fact that this was precisely what the central government had encouraged during the Emergency. (Williams 2014, 286) The blame for the Emergency excesses and the increasing repressiveness of the State Apparatus is largely put on Indira Gandhi in A Fine Balance. In contrast to much of the post-Emergency literature of 1977–1978, which Mistry seems to be familiar with, Sanjay Gandhi plays a very small role in Mistry’s novels. Interestingly, the residents of the Delhi resettlement colony Tarlo (2003, 207) interviewed about the Emergency all spoke of the period “as a time of fear and were highly critical of the way the sterilisation campaign had been carried out. Yet none associated their sufferings with Indira Gandhi, whose image remained above recrimination, beyond the realm of doubt.” Tarlo (2003, 213) adds that “immunity from responsibility did not surround the character of Sanjay Gandhi over whom opinions split decisively along religious and often party lines.” Indira Gandhi seems to have managed to clean up her image also among the poor, whereas Sanjay Gandhi did not. Sanjay Gandhi also died three years after the Emergency, a few months after his mother returned to power. Mistry seems to resist India Gandhi’s rehabilitation of her image and represents Indira Gandhi as the power behind it all. She, in fact, personifies the Apparatus as pictures of her together with Emergency slogans appear around the city, on billboards and even on shop and restaurant windows. An 80-foot-high cardboard cutout of the Prime Minister with her arms outstretched stands next to the stage at the mass rally Ishvar and Om are forced to attend (Balance 262) and topples over the poor at the end of the rally, when a helicopter unsettles the ropes and braces holding the cutout in place, nearly crushing the people running for their lives (Balance 267). She seems to be present everywhere, intruding on the lives of ordinary people, literally crushing them with her

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near absolute power. A Fine Balance thus delivers a harsh critique of the Indira Gandhi years and her use of the Repressive State Apparatus. Though the Emergency ended in 1977, Indira Gandhi returned to power for four more years in 1980. In the time since the Emergency, in the words of a taxi driver: “for ordinary people, nothing has changed. Government still keeps breaking poor people’s homes and jhopadpattis. In villages, they say they will dig wells only if so many sterilisations are done. They tell farmers they will get fertilizer only after nussbandhi is performed. Living each day is to face one emergency or another” (Balance 581).

The rise of communalism In Such a Long Journey, the compound of the apartment complex, the Khodadad building, in which Gustad Noble lives with his family, is protected by a black stone wall. It is “the sole provider of privacy, especially for Jimmy and Gustad when they did their kustis at dawn. Over six feet high, the wall ran the length of the compound, sheltering them from non-Parsi eyes while they prayed” (Journey 82). The Khodadad building is a Parsi apartment complex and behind the wall, they have been able to segregate themselves. The wall has also been a source of trouble as passers-by have used it as a public latrine, making the wall stink and attracting swarms of flies and mosquitoes until Gustad persuades a street artist painting images of gods to paint on the wall. The artist explains that he uses assorted religions and their gods, saints and prophets: Hindu, Sikh, Judaic, Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Jainist. Actually, Hinduism alone can provide enough. But I always like to mix them up, include a variety in my drawings. Makes me feel I am doing something to promote tolerance and understanding in the world. (Journey 182) When the painter is finished, the wall is filled with holy pictures and has “verily become a shrine for all races and religions” (Journey 286). Another character calls the newly decorated wall with a mixture of religious iconography “a perfect example for our secular country” (Journey 214). Malieckal (2000, 221) suggests that the wall initially “signifies Gustad’s despair” but that after the painter is commissioned, the wall “transforms from an icon of depravity to a representation of 234

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India’s secularism.” I argue that the wall operates first as a shield protecting Gustad, his family and the Parsi community from the outside world, but as Gustad learns, during the course of the novel, to embrace and integrate with the larger multicultural society he is living in, the wall grows into a symbol of the multicultural and multi-religious nation at a time when this nation is under attack from the government forces in Indira Gandhi’s India. The families living in the Khodadad building behind the wall receive “an official document from the municipality” announcing a proposal according to which the road passing the compound would be widened and the compound would subsequently “shrink to less than half its present width” (Journey 16). The wall around the building needs to be demolished for that. At first Gustad thinks that it was just a proposal, nothing would come of it. Surely the landlord would not give away half his compound for the “fair market value” that the municipality offered. It was hard to find anything these days more unfair than the government’s fair market value. The landlord would certainly go to court. (Journey 16) But when a neighbour asks if Gustad thinks it will happen, Gustad replies: “Who knows? My feeling is, when government wants something, it gets it, one way or another” (Journey 126). Also, in A Fine Balance, Indira Gandhi is blamed directly for the erosion of secularism in India. When Maneck returns to India from the Gulf in November 1984 after an absence of eight years, the Sikhs are being persecuted in the city in the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s murder by her Sikh bodyguards, and his taxi driver notes: “For votes and power they play with human lives. Today it is Sikhs. Last year it was Muslims; before that, Harijans. One day your sudra and kusti might not be enough to protect you” (Balance 583). The taxi driver thus puts into words one of the central themes of the novel: despite their promises and political rhetoric about “introducing programmes of benefit for the common man and, for votes and power the government does anything.” The taxi driver, a Sikh himself, explains that the problems with the Sikh terrorist started the same way all [Prime Minister Gandhi’s] problems started. With her own mischief-making. Just like in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Assam, Tamil Nadu. In Punjab, she was helping one group 235

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to make trouble for state government. Afterwards the group became so powerful, fighting for separation and Khalistan, they made trouble for her only. She gave her blessing to the guns and bombs, and then these wicked, violent instruments began hitting her own government. The driver goes on to tell Maneck that the Sikh massacre in Delhi is taking place while police do their shameless acting, and the politicians say the people are upset, they are just avenging their leader’s murder, what can we do. [. . .] Aray, it’s the work of criminal gangs paid by her party. Some ministers are even helping the gangs, providing official lists of Sikh homes and businesses. Otherwise, it’s not possible for the killers to work so efficiently, so accurately, in such a big city. (Balance 581–582) Indira Gandhi’s “mischief-making” is offered as explanation for all the problems she faced during her premiership. It all comes down to bad judgement calls, her playing various groups against each other in order to secure her own power and her excessive use of force. The police and politicians are implicated, too, for their part in encouraging communal violence, but the biggest culprit is Indira Gandhi herself, since 1959, as Dinshawji puts it in Such a Long Journey: “[.  .  .] Remember when [Indira Gandhi’s] pappy was Prime Minister and he made her president of Congress Party? At once she began encouraging the demands for a separate Maharashtra. How much bloodshed, how much rioting she caused. And today we have that bloody Shiv Sena, wanting to make the rest of us into second-class citizens. Don’t forget, she started it all by supporting the racist buggers.” (Journey 39) The rise of Hindu nationalism in Bombay is firmly attributed to Indira Gandhi by Dinshawji. The fact that the epilogue is set in 1984, in the days after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, emphasises A Fine Balance’s take of this period as the Indira Gandhi era. The novel portrays her as betraying her father’s legacy, unleashing communal forces and letting democracy 236

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take a severe blow. Regarding the rise of communalism and communalist conflicts in India, the trauma of betrayal is ongoing, while the trauma of Emergency itself is a past experience to be remembered and learned from.

Notes 1 Mistry in the Oprah book club discussion of A Fine Balance (Oprah’s Book Club 2002a). 2 The collection was published in the United States in 1989 titled Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozsha Baag. 3 During her stay, Greer had also worked with a family planning centre and visited slums. 4 See, for example, Piciucco (2001, 156). In a newspaper article on Mistry, Firdaus Gandavia, a Parsee writer and teacher based in Bombay, is quoted on saying that Mistry is out of touch: “He is stuck in the groove of the 70s when he left India and went to Toronto. His concerns seem distant to anyone actually living in Bombay; so much more has happened in the meantime.” Mistry’s Canadian literary agent, Bruce Westwood, says: “his books are still set in the Bombay of his youth, reinvented with perfect recall. At times he seems to have idealised it into a childhood paradise, like Nabokov’s Russia” (Lambert 2002). 5 All subsequent references (henceforth abbreviated as Journey) are to the following edition of the novel: Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey (London: Faber and Faber, 1991). 6 There are about 100,000 Zoroastrians or Parsis worldwide and most of them live in India (Mistry 2006, 257). According to another estimate (Rose 2011, 1), there are 130,000–150,000 Zoroastrians in the world today. 7 All subsequent references (henceforth abbreviated as Balance) are to the following edition of the novel: Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance (London: Faber and Faber, 1997). 8 As was discussed in the previous chapter, many of Indira Gandhi’s most trusted advisors were Kashmiri Brahmins (like the Nehrus): P.N. Haksar, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister; T.N. Kaul, Foreign Secretary, later Indian Ambassador to the United States; P.N. Dhar, Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, later her Principal Private Secretary; D.P. Dhar, Indian Ambassador to the USSR, later chief of the Planning Commission; B.K. Nehru, Ambassador to the United States, High Commissioner to Britain. 9 Sahgal (1983, 67) explains a procedural change was introduced “in the conduct of this election. Up to now each ballot box had been separately counted at the end of polling. This time ballot boxes from several polling stations were mixed, resulting in a lapse of time, sometimes of days, before counting could begin. The reason given was that no one should know how a particular area had voted. This innovation had been considered and rejected by the Election Commission in its report on the fourth general election. The change in procedure, which involved a change in rules, should have been placed before Parliament for scrutiny. It was, however,

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introduced after Parliament had been dissolved and the notification for the election had been made.” The lapse of time between casting and counting the votes would have allowed the initially invisible stamp to emerge on the ballot. 10 The article appeared originally in The New Republic, 7 and 14 August 1976. 11 All references (henceforth abbreviated as Garland) are to Manohar Malgonkar, The Garland Keepers (New Delhi: Rupa Publications, 2013). 12 The author’s note in the novel states that “the Emergency, which forms the background for this story, is not the 1975–1977 Emergency, but a fictional one,” but the “coincidences” are clear. 13 Indira Gandhi in a radio broadcast on 26 June 1975 (printed in Government of India 1975b, 7). 14 Borooah in Government of India (1975b, 66). 15 Fuss or commotion. 16 See also Chandra (2003, 205).

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6 Conclusion

The novels examined in this book represent Indira Gandhi and the Emergency for the English-reading Indian and global middle-class audiences. The India under Indira Gandhi that Rushdie, Sahgal, Tharoor and Mistry portray in their Emergency novels is one where the post-Independence euphoria is long gone and disillusionment with the sovereign Indian state has set in. The great experiment of the world’s largest democracy is in jeopardy, and corruption and communal conflicts are on the rise. The Emergency novels of the 1980s and 1990s lament the break-up of the Nehruvian idea of India and indict Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi for this post-Independence betrayal, while also demonstrating that Nehruvian India was an essentially middleclass project rather than an all-encompassing one. Midnight’s Children depicts the birth and development of the Indian (political) nation and the Indian citizen, highlighting the inclusions and exclusions of the process and of citizenship in general. Saleem’s version of the independent Indian nation and state shows that the poor were marginalised and did not enjoy full citizen’s rights in practice. The Indira Gandhi years and especially the Emergency meant a definite betrayal of the ideals of Nehruvian India and the promises of Independence. The Great Indian Novel follows its epic model the Mahabharata in portraying the twentieth-century history of India as a scramble for power. Indira Gandhi appears as the main villain, and the declaration of the Emergency is represented as a logical culmination of her increasing centralisation of power to herself rather than any abrupt decision to resort to authoritarianism after the Allahabad High Court judgement. Sahgal’s Rich Like Us examines the ideas and processes behind the dynastic rule of Indira Gandhi and the political corruption that erupted during Indira Gandhi’s premiership when personal contacts started to matter even more. Mistry’s Such a Long Journey and 239

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A Fine Balance portray the government’s increasing encroachment on the lives of the citizens and the helplessness of especially the subalterns in the face of these increasingly personal intrusions. The degree to which the criticism is personalised varies as well and in fact seems to correspond to temporal distance from the Emergency. Midnight’s Children is a highly personalised attack on Indira Gandhi. It was written and published while Indira Gandhi was still alive and engaged in discursive battle over the meaning and definition of the Emergency, forming a lasting cultural counter-memory of the period. Rich Like Us was written in the early 1980s, when Indira Gandhi had returned to power, by Sahgal, who had been criticising her cousin for a decade by then and continued to do so for years afterwards. Yet Rich Like Us is less focused on a personalised critique of Indira Gandhi – this critique Sahgal published in her Indira Gandhi’s Emergence and Style (1978) – than on examining the behaviour of the elite during the Emergency. The Great Indian Novel, published five years after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, offers a sweeping account of twentiethcentury Indian history, and though Indira Gandhi emerges as the chief villain in the second part of the novel, its theme is the general scramble for power of politicians and leaders of India. Indira Gandhi receives her fair share of criticism as the authoritarian Prime Minister of India, but others, JP Narayan and Morarji Desai included, are not spared, either. Therefore, it is interesting that Sanjay Gandhi does not play a major role here. The Great Indian Novel examines the institution of democracy and those who wielded “official” power in India, and leaves slum demolitions and forcible sterilisations as well as Sanjay Gandhi to the side. Such a Long Journey mentions the Prime Minister by name, and she is blamed for the rise of communalism as well as for betraying the legacy of her father and the expectations of the poor about social justice and equality. Midnight’s Children and Rich Like Us also depict and examine Sanjay Gandhi’s unofficial power, whereas he does not have a central role in The Great Indian Novel, Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance. What is notable is that the “over-zealous officials” of the official rhetoric are largely absent from the novels, though the senior administrator from the Family Planning Centre in A Fine Balance and Ravi Kachru in Rich Like Us come close. Some characters in the novels support the Emergency, many are acquiescent and others benefit from the Emergency measures – such as family planning motivators, facilitators and the police in A Fine Balance – but the blame for the “excesses” is put on Indira (and Sanjay) Gandhi or remains a more general issue, 240

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created by the authoritarian regime, not on officials trying to impress Sanjay (or Indira) Gandhi. Furthermore, the novels foreground the complicity of the middle class in the oppression of the poor in an authoritarian state. While the criticism is mainly aimed at Indira Gandhi (and at times at Sanjay Gandhi), the abrogation of democracy during the Emergency and the “excesses” in policy, such as slum demolitions and forcible sterilisations, the novels also expose the role the middle class played in allowing this to happen by remaining silent or sometimes even actively contributing to the programmes. Furthermore, the novelists point out the plight of the poor, the targets of many of the drastic Emergency measures. As Rajagopal (2011, 1017) writes, “while family planning was presented as a generally applicable norm, in practice it was directed at the poor, and it invoked the small nuclear family ideal already widely prevalent in urban upper caste families.” Rajagopal (2011, 1018) argues further that violence was treated as necessary and productive during and after the Emergency. It contributed, ultimately, to the formation of a middle class that regarded such violence as legitimate, as law-making and law-preserving, enacted on its behalf, and on behalf of the nation as it ought to be. The Emergency novels of the 1980s and the 1990s brought up the privileged and also powerful position of the middle class in order to bring about the will for change in Indian society. These novels offer social and political criticism and construct and keep alive the cultural memory of the Emergency in a time of official “amnesia.” They deny the official, political truth about the Emergency and remember it otherwise. These literary representations of the Indira Gandhi years have shaped our understanding of the Emergency and constructed a cultural memory of the period while the (ideologically similar) postEmergency literature of 1977–1978 is largely forgotten by the wider reading public. Considering the state of affairs in many countries across the globe, including another large democracy, the United States, novels examining the crisis and demise of democracy in the world’s largest democracy in the 1970s can be seen to have great contemporary relevance. The current crisis of democracy in the United States is not fully without parallels to the situation of India under Indira Gandhi. Time, circumstances and specific issues may be different, but certain modes of acting – clamping down on the press and political opponents, 241

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circulating conspiracy theories – bear some similarities to events in India in the 1970s. Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton, pointed out in June 2018 that President Donald Trump “uses presidential power for personal purposes. That’s the place he uses it more aggressively – to protect himself, to protect his inner circle” (Graham 2018), not unlike Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and early 1980s. The similarities do not end there. In October 2018, US Senator Bernie Sanders noted in a speech that “the President of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy is shattering democratic norms, is viciously attacking an independent media and an independent judiciary, and is scapegoating the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.” Furthermore, Sanders argued that Trump is inspiring “authoritarian leaders around the world” (Landers 2018). Talking about the electoral success of populists globally, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in November 2018 that “a significant part of the problem here is people’s desire for a leader that is going to just push through change without regard to political pressures, you know, that ‘getting things done’ mentality.” In the same interview, former US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that right-wing populists in the west met “a psychological as much as political yearning to be told what to do, and where to go, and how to live and have their press basically stifled and so be given one version of reality.” She added: “I don’t know why at this moment that is so attractive to people, but it’s a serious threat to our freedom and our democratic institutions” (Wintour 2018). Literature can play a big role here, offering readers various alternative interpretations of reality. Rushdie’s statement is worth repeating here: it is clear that redescribing a world is the necessary first step towards changing it. And particularly at times when the State takes reality into its own hands, and sets about distorting it, altering the past to fit its present needs, then the making of the alternative realities of art, including the novel of memory, becomes politicized. “The struggle of man against power,” Milan Kundera has written, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” (Rushdie 1992a, 13–14) The Emergency novels discussed in this book are not just sites of remembrance and mourning, though these may be important aspects of them as well. They are sites of political engagement, social criticism, 242

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alternative interpretations of reality and “truth.” These novels are still read, still in print, not only because of their artistic value, but also because their message continues to be relevant in India as well as globally. The Emergency novels, especially Midnight’s Children, have also strongly influenced Indian English writing. It is possible to argue that after the disillusionment caused by the Emergency, realist conventions were no longer “sufficient” to depict Indian history and to present social and political criticism in novels. Saleem in fact describes in Midnight’s Children the mid-1970s and the Emergency as “a time which damaged reality so badly that nobody ever managed to put it together again” (MC 500), perhaps referring to Rushdie’s own abandoning of the realist mode of writing and introducing of magical realism to the Indian novel in English after the watershed event of Indian post-Independence history, the Emergency. Rushdie himself notes that “Midnight’s Children was partly conceived as an opportunity to break away from the manner in which India had been written about in English, not just by Indian writers but by Western writers as well” (Durix et al. 1982, 19). In the Nehru era, the Indian English novel often constructed and affirmed the Nehruvian idea of the pluralism of the nation. The realist novel’s earlier engagement with nation-building and history-writing seems to have been at odds with the new reality of mid-1970s India. Hence, a change took place, and new ways of writing about the historical experience were introduced by Rushdie. Josna E. Rege (1997, 346) sees Rushdie’s breakthrough novel “as a literary marker of the post-Emergency crisis in the Indian national idea, both expressing and embodying the crisis, both celebrating and mourning the idea.” The Nehruvian nation, constructed and upheld in so many a realist Indian English novel, seemed to be shattered and the situation calling for new modes of representation. State-oriented historiography had also suffered a severe blow. The crisis of the Indian state was not limited only to politics; its effect spilled over to representations of history, where new forms and approaches to examining and representing the past had to be found. Gyan Prakash (1994, 1476) explains that the formation of Subaltern Studies as an intervention in South Asian historiography occurred in the wake of the growing crisis of the Indian state in the 1970s. The dominance of the nation-state, cobbled together through compromises and coercion during the nationalist struggle against British rule, 243

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became precarious as its program of capitalist modernity sharpened social and political inequalities and conflicts. Faced with the outbreak of powerful movements of different ideological hues that challenged its claim to represent the people, the state resorted increasingly to repression to preserve its dominance. [.  .  .] [This] secured the dominance of the state but corroded the authority of its institutions. I suggest that Midnight’s Children, too, the first of the Indian English Emergency novels, was a direct response to this crisis of the state and the declaration of the Emergency. Judith Plotz (1996, 33) has argued that for two decades after the crisis of the mid-1970s, there was “a shift, marked in English-language Indian fiction and in the work of the Subaltern Studies historians, away from works organized around single intelligible representative figures and towards intensely crowded books problematizing the matter of India in elaborate hybrid metaphors.” It is significant that these novels were conceived during and after the Emergency in India. The Emergency has thus had, and continues to have, a profound impact on Indian writing in English as well as Indian history, politics and culture. In the last decade, interest in the period 1975–1977 has increased, and the Emergency seems to be turning from an actively forgotten to a publicly remembered and perhaps even commemorated event. In the reproduction of the Shah Commission Report, Era Sezhiyan (2010, 8) pays homage to, among others, “those 1,10,806 persons arrested, tortured and detained without trial,” “those poor people whose JuggisJonepuris numbering 1,50,105 in Delhi alone bull-dozed without any alternate housing facilities provided,” and “Compulsory Sterilisations under the Five-Point Programme of Sanjay Gandhi done indiscriminately to the extent of 81,32,209 in 1976–77.” Politicians and administrators of the Emergency era have started to publish their memoirs and diaries in the twenty-first century, shedding new light on the decision-making processes of the government at the time. P.N. Dhar, economist and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1970s (he joined the PMO in 1970), published his memoir Indira Gandhi, the “Emergency,” and Indian Democracy in 2000; B.N. Tandon’s PMO Diary-I: Prelude to the Emergency came out in 2003 and PMO Diary-II: The Emergency in 2006. Tandon was Joint Secretary in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s PMO.1 Politician I.K. Gujral, who was Minister of Information and Broadcasting in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet when the Emergency was declared, though he 244

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was fired shortly after, and later became Prime Minister (April 1997– March 1998), published Matters of Discretion: An Autobiography in 2011. Other memoirs include M.G. Devasahayam’s JP Movement  – Emergency & India’s Second Freedom (2011), Pranab Mukherjee’s The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years (2015), Coomi Kapoor’s The Emergency: A Personal History (2015) – Kapoor was a young reporter at the Indian Express in Delhi in 1975 – and T.V. Rajeswar’s India: The Crucial Years (2015). In addition, some of the (better) literature critical of Indira Gandhi published soon after the end of the Emergency has been republished in recent years; e.g. Nayantara Sahgal’s Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power (1982) has come out retitled Indira Gandhi: A Tryst with Power (2012), and Vinod Mehta’s The Sanjay Story (1978) and Kuldip Nayar’s Emergency Retold were reprinted in 2013. Furthermore, addressing the nation in his monthly Mann Ki Baat address on 25 June 2017 – coincidentally the anniversary of the Emergency – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the night 42 years ago “a dark night that no devotee of democracy can forget.” He added that “the present-day students of journalism and the champions of democracy have been endeavouring towards raising awareness about that dark period, by constant reminders and should continue to do so” (The Hindu 2017). Modi represents the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and therefore has a political interest in remembering the Emergency, unlike the Congress Party. However, even Modi spoke only about the dark period of democracy and did not even mention the suffering of the victims of slum clearances, forced sterilisations or those tortured in custody. The 2010s have also seen the publication of several Indian English novels that at least to some extent deal with the Emergency, including Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s graphic novel Delhi Calm (2010), a highly political novel which focuses on the Emergency; Aatish Taseer’s The Way Things Were (2015), which brings up not only the Emergency but also the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 as significant moments of national rupture and worthy of remembering; and Anil Chopra’s Unforeseen Desires (2017), for which the Emergency offers a background. The Emergency has also been depicted in recent films, such as the film version of Midnight’s Children (2012) directed by Deepa Mehta, and Indu Sarkar (2017) directed by Madhur Bhandarkar. What the relation of these new memoirs, novels and films is to the “official” Emergency rhetoric of 1975– 1977, the post-Emergency literature of 1977–1979 and the Emergency 245

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novels of the 1980s and the 1990s is an engrossing question, and a topic for another study.

Note 1 P.N. Dhar (2000, 144) explains that “the prime minister’s office [PMO] assists the prime minister in his capacity as the head of government. The party expresses its policy preference in broad terms at election time, in the form of manifestos, but it is the prime minister’s task to convert them into concrete policies, adjust them to the prevailing circumstances, and implement them through the administration. It is in this field that the PM’s office plays a crucial though intangible role.”

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Note: Page numbers followed by “n” denote endnotes. Abdullah, Mian 53, 55, 56 Abdullah, Sheikh 66 Achebe, Chinua 36n15 Allahabad High Court 84, 86, 103n21, 137, 239 Ahmed, Fakhruddin Ali 2, 9 Althusser, Louis 197 amnesia 1, 3, 25, 37, 43, 44, 47, 68, 70, 72, 102, 241 Amritsar 52–53 Anand Marg 83 anti-Sikh riot (1984) 215, 216, 245 Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) 66–7 Article 352 9, 87 Assmann, Aleida 19, 26 Attenborough, Richard 54 autocratic rule in India 2, 43, 80, 102, 108, 115, 129, 137, 141, 193 Babu 13, 36n12, 133, 144 Babu Fiction 13 bandh 80, 82, 99, 103n18, 140 Bangladesh War 66, 69, 72, 78, 84, 103n16 Bangladeshi Babu 129, 206, 207, 211 bank nationalisation 127–131,152, 159, 172, 175, 177, 196 Barooah, Dev Kanta 79, 148, 213 Bharatiya Jana Sangh 83, 87, 202–204 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 245

Bombay 14, 37, 42, 48, 57, 60, 105, 186–189, 191, 194, 203, 221–224, 236, 237n4 Booker Prize 12, 187 Bose, Subhas Chandra 113, 114 Brahmachari, Swami 206 bread-versus-freedom debate 107, 108, 136, 138, 143 Buddhist 117, 234 bulldozing 90, 107, 137, 220, 222 Butt, Nadia 18, 19 censorship 5, 17, 35n5, 87, 90, 136, 137, 138, 140, 147, 153, 154, 205 The Central Bureau of Investigation 101, 104n28 Central Information Commission 9 centralize/isation 26, 69, 71, 76, 135, 239 Chandra, Bipan 5, 16, 61, 71, 77, 78, 81–83, 85–86, 103n15, 104n21 Chandra, Vikram 29, 35n1 Chatterjee, Partha 56, 61, 63–64, 192, 219, 220 China 21, 67, 119, 121, 122, 138, 195, 196, 198 Chopra, Anil 245 The City and the River (Joshi) 2 civil disobedience 78, 86 civilisation 50, 51, 54–55, 115, 117

261

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civil servant 73, 75, 91, 103n12, 156, 158, 175–7, 185n6 Communist Party of India (CPI) 75, 103n13 Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation (Indian National Congress) 16 Congress (Party) 3, 5, 7, 16, 17, 25, 52, 55, 56, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 74, 76, 77, 79, 82, 83, 85, 87, 102, 103, 106, 113, 114, 118, 122, 123, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 146, 151, 152, 155, 159, 163, 164,165, 203, 204, 208, 213, 231, 236, 245 Constitution of India 3, 9, 32, 80, 87, 102n7, 118–120, 127, 137, 142, 172, 180, 181 “Coolie” 13, 36n12 corruption 5, 30, 34, 82–83, 121, 135, 141, 156, 157, 158, 162, 163, 166, 168–170, 174, 175, 181, 183, 190, 196, 198, 206, 212, 239 cosmopolitan/ism 13, 14, 15, 31, 32, 60, 180 counter-memory 3, 4, 19, 29, 34, 41, 44, 46, 97, 110, 184, 212, 213, 214, 219, 240 cultural memory 3–4, 10–12, 33, 108, 116, 214, 241 cultural trauma 20, 23, 29 Dalit 15, 190, 192, 194, 213; oppression of 15, 178–179, 190, 214 Delhi 7,8, 9, 10, 14, 27, 34n1, 35n6, 36n9, 57, 72, 74, 85, 86, 90, 101, 102n6, 105, 124, 129, 130, 137, 141, 151, 154, 157, 164, 165, 170, 175, 181, 183, 185n6, 186, 196, 197, 201, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 210, 212, 219, 221, 222, 223, 226, 227, 230, 232, 233, 236, 244, 245 democracy 3, 5, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, 34, 48, 56, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 67, 70, 75, 78, 80, 82, 88, 89, 92, 96, 99, 105, 115–122, 137–139, 141, 142, 144–147, 156, 161, 162, 176–179, 181,183, 193–194,196,

202, 215, 237, 239–242, 245; Nehruvian idea of 22, 23, 24, 47, 48, 64, 69, 80, 84, 88, 92, 179 Desai, Morarji 8, 70–71, 72, 82, 83, 85–87, 100, 101, 113, 114, 122–129, 135, 138, 146, 200, 240 Dhar, P.N. 81, 98, 99, 103n16, 119, 120, 125, 126, 130, 133, 140, 163, 174, 185n6, 232, 237n8, 244, 246n1 dharma 112, 145, 147n6 The Discovery of India (Nehru) 20, 22, 33 Dujana House 10, 104n23 Dyer, British Brigadier-General 53 Edkins, Jenny 24–6 Emergency 3, 8; counter-memory of 41, 44; cultural memory of 4; declaration 9, 84–85, 87–89, 91, 96, 100, 137, 140, 153, 174, 181, 184, 215, 239, 244; in Indian politics 20; memory of 4–10, 44; politicians and administrators of 244; proclamation of 35n5; remembrance 10–29; resentment against the 5 English in India 12–14, 32–33 English: Indian writing in 29–3, 244 English-speaking middle class 12, 20, 31, 50, 57, 58 Erll, Astrid 3, 11, 12, 27, 214 Everyman’s Weekly (JP Narayan) 152–153 Eyerman, Ron 20, 23 family planning 10, 16, 17, 18, 24, 35n6, 91, 164, 219, 221, 225, 226–233, 240, 241 The Five-Dollar Smile: Fourteen Early Stories and a Farce in Two Acts (Tharoor) 106, 108 five-point programme 164, 165, 174, 244 forcible sterilisation 9, 10, 25, 74, 92, 95, 182, 214, 225, 226, 231, 240, 241 Frank, Katherine 5, 7, 30, 38, 70, 71, 74, 77, 78, 79, 91, 95, 104n26, 122, 150, 162, 163, 164, 165, 174, 185n6, 196, 197, 206

262

Index

Gandhi, Feroze 93, 94, 95, 124, 196, 197, 198, 199, 213 Gandhi, Indira 1–3, 5, 9–11, 17, 25, 27, 70–2, 79, 99; assassination 7, 157, 193, 215, 236, 240; biographers 5, 16, 95, 150, 173; cultural counter-memory of 3; Emergency and 41, 42; government 7, 24, 25, 76, 97, 125, 152, 190; literary representations of 4, 241; marriage 93, 124, 197; misuse of power by 99, 132, 188; “Mother Indira” 78–79, 93–94; political power 26, 74, 95, 130; re-election in 1980 6, 7, 19, 25, 100, 102, 234; resentment against the 5; speeches 33, 104n21&n25, 216, 219, 220; widow 93, 94, 95, 96, 120, 123, 124, 159 Gandhi, Mahatma see Gandhi, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mohandas K. 34, 50, 54, 93, 113, 134, 146, 151, 152, 157, 165, 166, 179 Gandhi, Rajiv 7, 93, 124, 171 Gandhi, Sanjay 3, 7–8, 17, 18, 39, 73–77, 90, 93–95, 99, 124, 125, 140, 145, 146, 159–174, 185n5&n6, 197, 198, 199, 206, 218–219, 222, 223, 232, 233, 240, 241, 244; death 6, 171, 233; Maruti 34, 74–75, 163, 167–174; Shah Commission report 7–8, 43, 244 Gandhi, Sonia 171 The Garland Keepers (Malgonkar) 2, 161, 206, 208–209, 211, 212 gherao 80, 82, 99, 103n18 Ghosh, Amitav 29, 35n1 Ghosh, Vishwajyoti 245 Gill, Raj 2 global oil crisis (1973–1974) 81, 133 The God of Small Things (Roy) 2, 35n1 Government White Paper 33, 85–86, 91, 174 The Great Indian Novel (Tharoor) 2, 4, 12, 28, 34, 105–148, 162, 239, 240; awards 12; bread versus freedom 136–41; and the Mahabharata 109–16; general

election of 1977 141–7; Nehru and the Indian nation 116–22; political consciousness 105–9; poverty 131–6 Guha, Ramachandra 16, 80, 82, 87, 103n12, 122–123, 125–127, 129, 135, 140, 148n9, 174, 176, 181, 182, 201 Haksar, P.N. 104n26, 148n9, 185n6, 189, 208, 237n8 Hindi 2, 13–15, 31, 32, 35n3, 36n11, 103n18, 153 Hindi cinema 13, 49 Hind Swaraj 50 Hindu 22, 49, 54, 55, 56, 57, 78, 79, 84, 94, 95, 96, 107, 110, 117, 118, 147n2, 182, 190, 194, 234 Hindu nationalism 26, 103n20, 118, 147n2, 236 independence , Indian 16, 20, 28, 55, 58, 58, 59, 60, 61, 64, 65, 85, 87, 89, 92, 97, 99, 100, 106, 113, 114, 115, 117, 120, 126, 144, 150, 151, 157, 160, 178, 179, 189, 196, 239, 243 India: ancient civilisation 50–51, 54, 55, 115, 117; autocratic rule in 2, 115; cultural difference 13–14; English-language publishing in 33, see also English in India; English novel-reading audience 12; independence struggle 47, 50; Nehruvian idea of 21, 24, 26, 40; official scheduled languages 32; and Pakistan 18, see also Pakistan; post-independence 97; war with China 67, 195 see also China Indian democracy 3, 5, 20, 23, 34, 63, 92, 99, 115, 116, 118, 121, 122, 141, 142, 145, 146, 179, 193 Indian English novelists 2, 3, 11, 15, 24, 25, 27, 28, 36n16 Indian English novels 2, 3, 4, 14, 22, 28, 31, 33, 34, 40, 102, 243, 245; of 1980s and 1990s 2, 3, 10, 11, 19, 22, 33, 239, 241; Nehruvianism in 20–23; production and consumption of 13–15

263

Index

Indian languages 2, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35n3, 36n12 Indian middle classes 3, 12, 14, 15, 16, 26, 27, 34, 36n12, 50, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 65, 77, 81, 82, 83, 91, 133, 140, 143, 144, 146, 147, 164, 175, 177, 180–185, 197, 216–219, 223, 227, 239, 241 Indian politics 2, 5, 15, 20, 26, 33, 40, 41, 44, 49–58, 61–65, 71–72, 74, 75–76, 81–83, 86, 92, 97, 99, 109, 112–113, 116, 125, 127, 128–130, 144, 146, 147, 149, 151, 154, 157, 179, 188, 189, 193, 198, 216 Indo-Pakistani war (1965) 47, 68, 69, 122 Indo-Pakistani war (1971) 124 Jameson, Fredric 48 Jana Sangh - see Bharatiya Jana Sangh Janata Morcha/Front 83, 85, 87, 100, 115, 136 Janata Party (government) 7, 26, 38, 88, 101 Jani, Pranav 14, 16, 20, 41, 46, 59, 60, 63, 66, 179, 183 Jayaprakash Narayan, see Narayan, JP Joshi, Arun 2 JP movement 5, 80–4, 100, 135, 153, 200 Kamaraj 102n9, 123, 125–126 Kashmiri Brahmins 160, 169, 201, 237n8 Kearney, Richard 44, 90 Khair, Tabish 13, 36n12 Khilnani, Sunil 20, 51, 54, 55, 130, 131, 136, 138 Kortenaar, Neil ten 13, 14, 47, 49, 69 Lal, Bansi 99, 170, 174 Lok Sabha 60, 74, 85, 106, 129, 155, 167, 168, 174, 185n2, 196, 202 Madame Rama 38, 102n4 Mahabharata 109, 111–116, 118, 142, 145, 147n6&n7, 239

Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) 77, 200 Malak, Amin 210 Malgonkar, Manohar 2, 161, 206, 208 Malhotra, Ved Prakash 189, 209, 210 Mangat Rai, E.N. 156 Maruti companies 34, 74, 75, 162, 163, 167–175, 185n6, 198 Massacre, Amritsar 53 memory-shaping media 11–12 middle class: see Indian middle classes Midnight’s Children (Rushdie) 1, 2, 4, 6, 12, 13, 15, 19, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 37–104, 109, 110, 122, 124, 132, 145, 161, 188, 199, 220, 239, 240, 243; “Best of the Booker” Prize 12; “Booker of Bookers” Prize 12; Booker Prize 12; democracy 92–7; dynasty 69–76; Emergency 6; Emergency imposed 84–92; end of Nehru era 65–9; Gandhi, Indira 76–80; James Tait Black Memorial Prize 12; JP movement 80–4; Nehruvian India 54–8; Nehru years 58–65; official narratives 97–102; as political indictment 37–41; Saleem the experiencing character 46–9; Saleem the memoirist 41–6 Mistry, Rohinton 2, 4, 11, 12, 14, 15, 23, 28, 29, 34, 35n1, 36n11, 178, 186–188, 193, 239; awards 12; early life 186; A Fine Balance 2, 4, 28, 29, 183, 185–187, 190–193, 197, 198–200, 213–234, 236, 240; on politics 189, 193–194; Such a Long Journey 4, 28, 34, 186, 188–189, 190, 193–198, 201–213, 234–235, 239; writing in English 15 Montagu, Edwin 52 Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms 52 Mori, Narendra 245 Mumbai 188–189 Mundhra Scandal 93, 197 Muslim 22, 37, 53–57, 75, 102n2, 117, 190–191, 194, 234, 235

264

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Nagarwala case, the 34, 189, 197, 206, 208, 209–213 Naipaul, V.S. 31 Nandy, Ashis 10, 20, 31, 71, 72, 77, 78, 116 Narayan, JP. 5, 6, 36n7, 82, 83, 86, 87, 103n19, 135, 138, 146, 152, 153, 179, 240 National Archives of India 8, 9, 36n10 national literature 33, 36n15 National Population Policy (NPP) 228, 232 nation-state 18, 33, 50, 54, 55, 115, 243 Nehru, Jawaharlal 4, 14, 20–22, 44, 47, 49, 50, 54, 55, 58–65, 66–68, 70–71, 80, 93, 99, 100, 106, 113, 114, 126, 129, 134, 146, 149–151, 152, 154, 155, 158, 161, 162, 178, 179, 180, 195–198; death 67–68, 72, 122, 125, 155; famous speech (Tryst with destiny) 47, 102n6 Nehruvian (secular) idea(l) 20–23, 25, 26, 28, 34, 40, 41, 47–50, 54–58, 65, 66, 68, 69, 73, 84, 88, 89, 92, 97, 115, 116–122, 180, 191, 192, 239, 243 Nehru, Kamala Kaul 93, 150 Nehru family 77, 89, 93, 149–51, 155–157, 160 Nehru-Gandhi dynasty 70, 72, 73, 98, 135, 159 Orientalism (Said) 30 Pakistan 6, 18, 37, 38, 40, 44, 47, 49, 53, 55–57, 68–70, 72, 73, 102n7, 113, 114, 119, 122, 124, 133, 137, 195, 197, 198, 206, 211; East Pakistan 69, 132, 189, 194, 201, 207–208, 211 Pandey, Gyanendra 192 Pandit, Nayantara 149, 150–1; see also Sahgal, Nayantara Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi 150, 151, 154, 155, 185n2 Parsi 186, 187, 189, 190, 191, 194, 210, 234, 235, 237n6 Partition 18, 19, 46, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 114, 117, 119, 176, 190

postcolonial state 20, 88 post-Independence India 16, 28, 97, 114, 117, 179, 196, 239 Press Act 52 Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) 8, 201, 204, 212, 244, 246n1 Public Records Rules 8 Rajagopalachari, C. 109, 113, 142, 147n7, 148n7 Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder 79, 96 Ram, Jagjivan 70, 72 Rashtriya Loktantrik Dal 83 Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh 83, 103n20, 165 RAW, see Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Repressive State Apparatus 186, 197, 213, 231, 232, 234 Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) 189, 201–202, 204–206, 209, 211–212 Rich Like Us (Sahgal) 2, 4, 12, 28, 34, 75, 149–185, 214, 239, 240; civil service 175–85; complicit middle class 175–85; economic theme 166; Sahitya Akademi Award 12; Sinclair Prize 12 Ricoeur, Paul 10, 11, 43 Right to Information (RTI) 8 Riot (Tharoor) 106 Rowlatt Acts 52, 53 Roy, Arundhati 2, 29 RSS see Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh Rushdie, Salman 1–4, 6, 11, 12–15, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 37, 109, 124, 132, 147n5, 161, 187, 188, 196, 239, 242, 243; early life 37; marital and family life, Indira Gandhi 39; Midnight’s Children 37–104; “Pandit” Rushdie 30–31; sued for libel, Indira Gandhi 38, 199; writing in English 13–14, 31 Rushdiesque style 28 “Rushdie-Stephanian” history novels 2 The Saga of Dharmapuri (Vijayan) 2, 35n2 Sahgal, Nayantara 2, 4, 7, 11, 12, 14, 23, 34, 75, 78, 101, 104n26&n28,

265

Index

189, 193, 196, 200, 203, 205, 209, 210, 227, 237n9, 239, 240, 245; early life 149–51; family 149–151, 155–66; Nehruvian ideals 22–23, 149, 179; realism 28–29; Rich Like Us 149–185; writing in English 14, 36n11 Said, Edward W. 30 Saint, Tarun K. 18, 19, 46 satyagraha 50, 86, 148n10, 165, 166, 180 Sealy, Allan 28, 34n1 secularism 22, 23, 25, 68, 116, 117, 118, 120, 121, 235 Seth, Vikram 28, 29, 34n1 Sezhiyan, Era 8, 36n9, 244 Shah, J.C. 7 Shah Commission 7–9, 18, 24, 35n6, 43, 104n23, 165, 206, 221–223, Shah Commission Report 7, 8, 35n6, 43, 104n23, 206, 221–223, 244 Shastri, Lal Bahadur 47, 68, 69, 71, 122, 123, 178, 197, 198, 213; died on Soviet soil 122, 198 Shiv Sena 188–189, 236 Shortt, Linda 19, 26 Show Business (Tharoor) 106, 108 Sikh 54, 117, 215, 216, 234–236, 245 Singh, Charan 100 Singh, Khushwant 28 Sinha, Jag Mohan Lal 84, 103n21 A Situation in New Delhi (Sahgal) 152–4, 156 slums 43, 60, 63, 65, 75, 90, 133, 164, 219, 220, 221, 222, 225, 237n3 slum clearances 3, 9, 13, 17, 34, 35n6, 92, 107, 140, 141, 143, 164, 214, 220–227, 240, 241, 245 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 47 “State of Emergency” (26 June 1975–21 March 1977) 2 Stephanian novels 2, 34n1 sterilisation 13, 64, 74, 92, 96, 104n22, 164, 165, 181, 182, 213, 226–229, 230, 233; see also forcible sterilisation subaltern/s 12, 29, 61–65, 85, 100, 133, 143, 144, 177–179, 182, 183, 191, 192, 197, 217, 231, 240

Subaltern Studies 243, 244 Such a Long Journey (Mistry) 4, 12, 28, 34, 186–213, 239; awards 12; beautification programme 219–25; case of the Bangladeshi Babu 206–19; communalism 234–7; forcible family planning 225–34; A Suitable Boy (Seth) 28 Taseer, Aatish 1, 245 Tharoor, Shashi 2, 4, 11, 12, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 31, 32, 34, 35n1, 187, 192, 214, 239; early life 14, 105–6; on Nehruvian India 21–22; The Great Indian Novel 105–148, 162; writing about India 15; writing in English 31–32, 36n13 The Torch-Bearer (Gill) 2 Total Revolution (JP Narayan) 36n7, 82–83, 103n19 transcultural literary memory 19 trauma 18, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 46, 53, 108, 180, 237 Turkman Gate incident (April 1976) 90, 104n23, 232 20-point programme 139, 164, 168, 174, 213, 224 Twenty-Two Months in the Life of a Dog (Tharoor) 108 United States 14, 33, 35, 105, 107, 112, 121, 151, 152, 154, 156, 185, 187, 197, 237, 241 Vijayan, O.J. 2, 35n2 A Voice for Freedom (Sahgal) 152, 156 The Way Things Were (Taseer) 1, 245 the West 3, 13, 14, 15, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 40, 50, 55, 78, 98, 111, 138, 147, 156, 243 widow (in Indian culture) 95, 96 Widow (referred Indira Gandhi in Midnight’s Children) 39–41, 46, 69, 79, 84, 89, 90, 92–7, 161 World War I 52 Zoroastrian 234, 237n6

266