Indira Gandhi

This paean to Indira Gandhi is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it pays tribute to a very real and very enduring dynasty in Indian politics, the Nehru/Gandhi family, scions of the Congress Party, once upon a time a party of statesmen with a platform, but now as much a family firm as any political party in India. 

Dynasty politics is something my home country, the U.S., is no stranger to. Here, nepotism and family name brand politics seemed to have peaked when Clinton and Trump faced off in the 2016 elections, but the family firm’s place in American politics has deep roots, and the periodic reversion from statesmanship to “family & friends” politics is probably an ineradicable tendency in populist democracies. 

The portrait of Indira Gandhi above is from a Time magazine story on the state of emergency Indira used to prolong her stay in power when the high court ruled that she must step down. Indira’s emergency powers eventually gave way to a resurgence of press freedoms, but contemporary India is under a similar cloud of violent oppression and censorship, causing investigative journalists to fear for their lives.

This poem is modeled on Psalm 72, the last of the Davidic Psalms, a poem addressed to the trusted heir to the throne, King Solomon. 

Impetuous child of a tireless statesman,
take up for your country the torch of his name.
Refuse the temptations of office and purse,
safeguard the afflicted, the outcasts, the poor.
From the Vindhaya mountains to Chota Nagpur,
may your dynasty quell years of conflict and strife.
May this daughter of Chacha Nehru bring us joy,
lifting up the oppressed with a steady hand,
just as she steered us through war, without flinching.
Our rivals hang back when we join in her train,
green and gold – a new dawn white – a pure, freshet moon.
Where she turns her embrace of her people, monsoons
cannot slow her advance, and good practice ripens.
Men and women who press for fair wages will thrive –
and civil strife yield to the ballot once more,
from the Bay of Bengal to Maharashtra,
from the mouth of the Indus to Mahanadi.
Before her the Thar desert shimmers and nods,
and the glaciers of Kashmir safeguard Ladakh.
May the princes of Jaipur at last pay their way,
and the island Tamils take up pens and not swords,
may the gurus of Punjab inspire their flock
to build monuments not to divide, but to heal.
And all the Great Powers will line up in turn,
to pay court to our government – neutral, secure.
For the Congress spares the poor from begging,
and comes to the aid of the children of God.
Indira is moved by the laboring poor,
the barefoot rice-planters and girls look to her,
to outwit the absentee landlords and loan sharks,
knowing she came back for love of their cause.
Long may her legacy lead us through peril,
bringing prosperity, banishing famine.
All of our faiths owe her prayers of goodwill,
for her government has been a blessing.
Well has she watered the paddies and fields,
and even the mountains are greener today.
Mango leaves rustle with promises now,
and lotus blooms spring forth like stars in the sky.
Will her name always guide us in times of need?
As constant as moonlight, her family returns,
a blessing to people of all tongues and creeds.

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Filed under Corruption, Poetry

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