Indira Gandhi's 1 historical importance as a woman leader of a postcolonial democratic nation and as an influential third-world political figure has not yet been subjected to extended feminist enquiry. Feminist analyses of women political leaders have been for the most part insufficiently grounded in a feminist theory, chiefly because that theory has itself been deeply divided and ambivalent on questions of political power and authority and women's relation to these. Within such a cognitive structure an adequate gendered perspective on women leaders cannot be realized. Since feminist theory-admittedly by no means a single or homogeneous body of speculation and argument-is primarily and significantly shaped by and contributes to the needs of the women's movement, we might justifiably turn to the latter for a formulation of the issue of women and political power. But women activists too have failed to propose a significant 'mass collective fight for power', remaining content for the most part to bring pressure upon governments from outside, or to back sympathetic candidates, or at best to propose a 'women's party' independent of party affiliations. In the United States, for instance, the strategy followed by women's groups that seek political clout is primarily to form organized 'lobbies' in Congress to press for legislation on women's issues. But no radical rethinking on the issue of political power has emanated from women's movements even in the west in spite of the recognition of the need for such a formulation. 2
My argument broadly views the problem in its two aspects, the conceptualization of subjectivity, and the issue of power. Feminist attitudes to the 'elite' female subject-in-power and to political power are strikingly marked by disagreement and debate, the terms of which I briefly rehearse here.
In the first place feminists' ambivalence towards political power has to do with their opposition to the intrinsic role of the state, and in particular with its repressive and coercive machinery, armed force and the ideology of dominance. Feminist/feminine values are as a consequence located in opposition to authority/command, in (non-authoritarian) caring, maternal and pacifist roles;