Historiographic Indian English Fiction - Indira Gandhi's Emergency Rule in Midnight's Children, the Great Indian Novel, and A Fine Balance

By Galler, Matthias | Cross / Cultures, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Historiographic Indian English Fiction - Indira Gandhi's Emergency Rule in Midnight's Children, the Great Indian Novel, and A Fine Balance


Galler, Matthias, Cross / Cultures


Emergency in India is a rosy, reforming, revolutionary experience and an enriching experiment in democracy under the existing circumstances; and its flowering success is full justification of the seed planted by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the lightest moment in history.1

A blanket of repression was cast over India by the emergency. About 110,000 people were arrested and imprisoned without trial. The emergency period was the most substantial assault on the liberal democratic nature of India since independence.2

Diametrically opposed judgments on Indira Gandhi's emergency mle (1975-77) by the two political analysts J.S. Bright and Ramesh Thakur set the frame for a discussion of literary treatments of this phase in Indian history. While the three novels examined in this essay differ considerably in style and creative approach, they agree in their criticism of Gandhi's use of dictatorial powers. As works of fiction, historical novels are subject to the paradox that their non-fictional subject-matter is the very opposite of the literary genre to which they belong. The boundaries between 'documenting' historical facts, forming 'history' into a conclusive narrative, and adding a particular interpretation, political bias or artistic appeal to it have always been blurred; previous centuries have all but disregarded the difference between 'reporting' and 'creating' a literary past. There are, in this respect, striking similarities between medieval English historiography (Arthurian legend) and the ancient Indian epics (the Mahabharata).

Contemporary historiographical fiction, however, openly admits the creative component of its narrative; still, it may cause controversy or even violent reactions, as was the case with Rushdie's Satanic Verses or Mistry's Such a Long Journey.3 The relationship between fiction and reality is far from easy to understand: can literature help us understand history or will novels written on historical subjects nurture half-knowledge and prejudice as they freely mingle fact with fiction? How can a novel reconcile its claim to historical accuracy despite its creative treatment of the subject? Before discussing representations of Indira Gandhi's emergency rule in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, and Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, a brief look at the events in question will be helpful.

Defending Democracy or Descending into Dictatorship?

On 25 June 1975, India's President Fakhrudin Ali Ahmed declared a state of National Emergency on account of the threat to security, which opened the way to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's running the country for two years with die use of dictatorial powers. P.N. Dhar, who wrote a book-length account of Gandhi's premiership, was her principal secretary during the Emergency and therefore himself part of her government.4 Calling the Emergency "a severe setback in the political evolution of India" and a "tragedy,"5 he voices straightforward criticism. But it is wrong, he argues, to explain Indira Gandhi's dictatorial rule simply in terms of her supposed greed for power; Indira Gandhi has been subject to both exaggerated praise in the wake of her successful leadership during the war against Pakistan and criticism during and after her time as Indian PM. The causes of national politics need to be sought in the system of the young republic as it evolved, in the gap between the form and the substance of democracy in India.6 One of the problems with the country's newly created democracy was that the British parliamentary system had been adopted in a single step, whereas in Britain this system had evolved over centuries. Democratic systems, he argues, can be imported, but a political culture, which consists of inherited attitudes and behaviour, needs time to grow. Indian society, deeply rooted in religious traditions, was strained when secularism and a libertarian philosophy were adopted as its state policy.7

Another burden on the democratic institutions was the immediate past, the struggle against the colonial authorities. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Historiographic Indian English Fiction - Indira Gandhi's Emergency Rule in Midnight's Children, the Great Indian Novel, and A Fine Balance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.