Sagarika Ghose, eminent journalist and author penned a detailed biography on the country’s first woman Prime Minister who was a powerful leader. Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister contains interesting anecdotes about Indira Gandhi and includes letters that Ghose has written to her ghost.
We met with the author at the Pune International Literary Festival where she spoke about her perception of Indira Gandhi, Indian journalism today and being trolled on social media.
While researching the book, you spoke to several journalists as well. Did journalists at the time face similar challenges as compared to what they face today?
No, not at all. The press has always been an important part of the Indian democracy and today Indian journalism is facing a crisis. The freedom of the press is in serious jeopardy. Media outlets literally prostrate at the feet of politicians. I believe that media is a little doomed right now. The journalists I spoke to like Inder Malhotra and many others were operating in a completely different scenario. They knew Mrs Gandhi personally but that didn’t mean that they weren’t openly critical of her policies or of herself. Malhotra was very critical about her politics even though his book is a sympathetic account.
What was your perception of Indira Gandhi before you wrote the book and did it change when you researched for it?
Before I wrote the book, she was a cardboard cut-out figure. I always did have an admiration for her. For my generation, her assassination was a kind of a baptism by fire. It was growing up into adulthood. I didn’t have that much of an idea about her but, as I began to research the book, I found a fascinating individual, someone who is multi-layered and very paradoxical.
Do you think that Narendra Modi has been able to capture the masses the way Indira Gandhi did, or has he done a better job of it?
No, I don’t think he’s done a better job of it. She had a North, South, West and East presence. I mean, Indira Gandhi in South India was a phenomenon of its own. She was a heroine in South India even after the elections where Congress was wiped out. In terms of oration, capturing people and creating a direct bond, She had a very pan-India appeal which he still doesn’t have. But maybe he will get it. Mrs Gandhi was Prime Minister for 20 years and he has just spent three years in office.
How was her image demonised further through misogyny?
I think a lot of misogyny goes into how we perceive Indira Gandhi. The fact that she’s called a ‘dragon lady’ or ‘iron lady’ and caricatured in many ways. She was a woman who took on very powerful male politicians. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, she did not have everything handed to her on a platter. She had to fight her way up and she became supreme. She was a very capable politician and a very ruthless leader. She knew power, understood it and knew how to wield it.
You get trolled endlessly on social media and recently filed an FIR against someone who has given you as well as other women a death threat. Male journalists get trolled too but are women journalists easier targets?
Male journalists get trolled but women journalists get trolled in a very vicious way. I don’t think trolls use words for male journalists like ‘whore’ or ‘slut’ where our characters are assassinated. At best, male journalists are called ‘corrupt’. More specifically, women journalists who publicly voice their opinion are targeted. All the names in this troll’s list are women. It’s this deep-seeded patriarchy and misogyny where these people feel that they need to teach us a lesson.
Do you think it’s fair for a journalist to be heckled out of the Press Club of Delhi just because he or she is a reporter for a specific channel?
No, of course not. I don’t think that person should have been told to get out. Who has the right to tell a journalist to get out?
What advice would you give to young journalists?
Journalism is about bravery. Without bravery, there is no journalism. And without journalism, there is no democracy. You have to be brave and get out there. You’ve to tell the truth and sometimes telling the truth means risking your life. You should make sure that whatever stories you do are grounded in facts and research. You shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. Today journalists are very vulnerable but the English-language journalists less so. I believe that if Gauri Lankesh were working in the English press, she might have been safer. She was working in the regional media and had a very huge, powerful following. She was just doing her job. It’s really tough. All I can say is that you should be as brave as a soldier.
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