It is not without reason that the Congress is called a dynastic party and the Nehru-Gandhi family the royal first family of India. Any kind of dissent within or outside the Family was never tolerated, and crushed before it ever took the shape of a rebellion. The lives of politicians are always under public scrutiny. Especially if the politician is from a family which has ruled a country like India for the most part of its independent history, maintaining a private life is impossible. But Nehru-Gandhi family always tried to use force to maintain their privacy.
Whenever independent writers other than Congress loyalists wrote books on the Nehru-Gandhi family, they have disclosed many aspects of their lives that were hidden or less talked about. In 2001, Katherine Frank wrote “Indira: The life of Indira Nehru-Gandhi”. It created a furor for having the mentions of not only the love life of Indira Gandhi but also of the affair of Feroze with Kamala Nehru! Outlook, which had carried a story on Frank’s book, was burnt by Congress workers in Maharashtra.
The immediate reactions emanating from the loyalists as well as the family were that “something ought to be done about the book!” And Congress insiders say it is the loyalists who seem more perturbed than Sonia. As an immediate reaction, Congressmen in Maharashtra burnt copies of Outlook, which was the first to report on Frank’s account of Indira Gandhi’s love life.
Though works of fiction are seldom accused of libel, the Gandhi family broke this unwritten rule too. In 1984, just before her death, Indira Gandhi sued Salman Rushdie for some portions of Midnight’s Children. Rushdie’s novel had mentions of Indira’s political and personal life. Her role during the Emergency was discussed and she was described as a ‘heartless widow’. Indira sued Rushdie only for one sentence in the novel where Rushdie says that Sanjay Gandhi accused Indira of neglecting his father Feroze Gandhi which resulted in his death.
“At the end of a thumbnail sketch of Gandhi’s life, Rushdie’s narrator says that Sanjay Gandhi, who is often referred to as “Labia Lips” in the novel, accused his mother, the Widow, of causing his father’s death by cruelly and selfishly neglecting him (page #406, Cape edition). Among all the things that the Widow perpetrates in the novel, including genocide, several wars, and the castration and destruction of the Children of Midnight, neglecting her husband is scarcely her most serious crime. But it was the one that Indira Gandhi sued Rushdie for.”
Though Rushdie defended his book as a work of fiction; the London court where the suit was filed, refused to accept his defense. As both Sanjay and Feroze were dead, it was only Indira whose word was heard by the court. And the verdict was against Salman Rushdie. Rushdie and his publisher Jonathan Cape had to publicly apologize to Indira and promised to remove the libelous pages.
The most controversial were the book written by M O Mathai in 1978. Mathai, who was the Personal Assistant of Nehru for a decade and a half, wrote Reminiscence Of The Nehru Age. The book written in a blunt and unforgiving style is about his experiences as Nehru’s Personal Assistant. The book became a talking point the moment it was published. He shared anecdotes about his encounter with many leaders and the many controversial incidents involving them. Mahatma Gandhi, Rajaji, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Patel all found a mention in the book. About Patel he wrote:
“He once told a group of Congress MPs that there was only one nationalist Muslim in India. They asked who he was and felt sure that Patel would name Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. To their surprise, Patel answered, “Maulana Nehru.”
The book also talks about Nehru’s affairs with Edwina Mountbatten, Padmaja Naidu, Mridula Sarabhai, etc. Some of these affairs had long lasting effects on the national and international politics of India. One incident about his encounter with Padmaja Naidu speaks a lot about Nehru’s character.
Among other things she told me sadly, “Jawahar is not a one woman’s man”. I said to myself, “She has taken such a long time to discover it.”
Mathai’s book also talks about Feroze Gandhi’s life; how Indira managed to marry him despite her family’s opposition and his various love affairs. But the most explosive detail in the book was a chapter about the intimate relationship between Indira and Mathai himself. A note by the publisher, Narendra Kumar, on Page #153 had said;
“This chapter on an intensely personal experience of the author’s; written without inhibition in the DH Lawrence style; has been withdrawn by the author at the last moment.”
Katherine Frank has also mentioned about the missing chapter in Mathai’s book in which he had recounted a “12-year affair with Indira Gandhi”.
TV Rajeswar, the former Intelligence Bureau director who had also served as Bengal governor; has disclosed that he had received “a chapter” from “Mathai’s book” and had handed it over to Indira Gandhi in 1981. The unverified manuscript of that chapter has been in circulation in the cyberspace for quite some time now. The chapter is quite explosive in nature.
The chapter named ‘She’ though, was removed by the author himself before publication. Yet, the book was banned in India.
Political leaders are public figures and their political and personal lives impact the future of the nation. Gandhi family had a colourful past which could shock the sensibilities of our country. That’s why they always tried to curb the voices which raised the issues. In the age of internet and social media, it now seems impossible.