cover image Rajiv Gandhi and Ramas Kingdom

Rajiv Gandhi and Ramas Kingdom

Ved Mehta. Yale University Press, $42.5 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-300-06038-6

In a quietly devastating, gripping political chronicle based on his frequent trips to India between 1982 and 1994, Indian-born Mehta, a New Yorker staff writer, ruefully portrays a nation mired in corruption and intimidation at every level of society. He relates Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's military assault on Sikh separatists in 1984, and faults her for failure to negotiate; four months later she was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards. Mehta criticizes Indira's son and successor, former airline pilot Rajiv Gandhi, for trickle-down economic policies that focused on the urban middle class but ignored India's 570 million villagers who live in squalid poverty. After his assassination by Tamil secessionists of Sri Lanka in 1991, India plunged deeper into religious, ethnic and political violence. Mehta (Up at Oxford) questions the national priorities of this Third World nuclear power, which recently doubled its military budget while neglecting the basic needs of its citizens. He also reports on the Union Carbide toxic-gas disaster in Bhopal, India's maddening telephone service, divorced Muslim women's legal struggles for rights and the revival of Hindu extremism. (Jan.)