Rajiv Gandhi and Rama's Kingdom - Mehta, Ved - Yale University Press

Literary Studies

Rajiv Gandhi and Rama's Kingdom

  • Ved Mehta
      REVIEWS             PREVIEW             CONTENTS             EXCERPTS      

This elegantly written book by the renowned author Ved Mehta is a chronicle of a tumultuous dozen years of recent Indian history—from the unsettled conditions that preceded the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the Hindu revival that followed the assassination of her son Rajiv. As Mehta explores the impulses that brought about the political and economic changes between 1982 and 1994, he also reveals what life is like in modern India, giving us a memorable portrait of an enigmatic land.

Mehta begins by describing the politics that swirled around Indira Gandhi during the last two years of her life—in particular, the growing hostility among Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims. He tells of the Sikhs' demand for special status, their uprising against the Hindus in the Punjab, the government's retaliation, the murder of Mrs. Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards, and the anti-Sikh rioting that followed. He goes on to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding Rajiv's election as his mother's successor; the change in atmosphere from optimism to disenchantment as Rajiv's government became mired in a kickback scandal; Rajiv's loss of office to V.P. Singh in the 1989 election; and his murder, by a secessionist Tamil group from Sri Lanka in 1991. Throughout, Mehta provides vivid details of aspects of Indian history and culture, such as the impact of the accident at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, the debate between the judiciary and Muslim clerics over economic support of divorced Muslim women, the peculiarities of the Indian telephone system, and the effect of television and movies on Hindu revivalism. His lucid and incisive book is mandatory reading for those who wish to understand India today.

Ved Mehta, born in India and educated in the United States and England, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1961. In addition to hundreds of articles and stories, he has written twenty books, including biographies, travel journals, volumes of fiction, and an autobiographical series, Continents of Exile, the seventh volume of which, Up at Oxford, was published in 1993. His books have appeared in dozens of editions and translations, and he has received numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur Prize in 1982. Mehta has held the Rosenkranz Chair in Writing at Yale University and is currently the Randolph Distinguished Professor of English and History at Vassar College.