Curtains came down on the five-day long Galle Literary Festival on Sunday with discussions on obsessive love, war and Indira Gandhi taking centre stage.
Biographers Nayantara Sahgal and Katherine Frank shed light on the iron lady of South Asia, the iconic Indira Gandhi’s political career and how she exercised power during her rule as India’s Prime Minister following the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966.
“She believed she was following in her father’s footsteps but in fact she was doing the opposite and departing from the democratic path” Nayantara Sahgal, the author of the book Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power said.
Sahgal, the first cousin of Gandhi and winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Eurasia (1986) has written many books on the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The book Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power deals with Gandhi’s rise to power and her flawed and ruthless style of governance.
Biographer Katherine Frank says her “fatal flaw was that she didn’t have faith as her father did in the democratic institutions” even though she had a craving to be a democrat.
Katherine Frank’s book Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi is a more personal portrait of the late Prime Minister of India. Frank discusses Gandhi’s unhappy childhood, her difficult and complex relationship with her father and the fear of disorder.
Sahgal and Frank debated the consequences of Gandhi’s authoritarian administration and populist policies that led to her humiliating defeat in 1977 and India’s overall economic development.
“She was no economic manager and she went for populist policies to gather support for measures like nationalization of banks”.
“India lost more than a decade of development during her populist period” Sahgal said.
Both writers said Indira Gandhi’s 21 month state of emergency during 1975 to 1977 had earned her unpopularity throughout the world.
“When she realized that this was not the path that she should have taken, she withdrew and called for elections”, Sahgal said.
After the defeat, Indira Gandhi in a public statement has said that “we managed to offend everyone” Frank citing Gandhi said.
Sahgal said one of the good things that came out of the emergency rule was that “India rejected authoritarianism for ever. It can never ever happen again”.
Indira Gandhi’s leadership is set amid a backdrop of difficult personal and political legacy.
The session on Gandhi was moderated by former Sri Lankan Diplomat Jayantha Danapala who asked the duo to comment on Gandhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka.
“In the 1980s her policy towards Sri Lanka was very damaging”, Frank referring to the setting up of training bases in India for Sri Lankan Tamil insurgents said.
“It was an extremely unwise, interfering and an undemocratic action” she said.
Aminatta Forna’s novel A Memory of Love is set in Sierra Leon after one of the bloodiest civil wars in Africa’s recent history.
Forna who has had her share of horror and pain with the imprisonment and killing of her father attempts to portray a community’s grief and loss in her novel A Memory of Love
Her first book, a memoir - The Devil that Danced on the Water attempts to unearth the truth of the death of her father who was a political dissident.
“We grew up under a regime that oppressed my family and our class for 30 years” Forna said.
“We grew up whispering knowing that we are being followed and knowing that we couldn’t trust people and that was the situation in the whole of the country”.
“I later came across documents that showing that half of our household staff was in the pay of the secret police” Forna said.
A Literary Lunch marked the Galle Literary festival’s finale at the Light House Hotel giving book lovers a final chance to dine with their favourite author.
Courtesy: Lanka Business Online