Nehru Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917 and would be the only child
of Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru. Being influenced and inspired by her
parents, Indira Gandhi rose to power in India and eventually became
prime minister. She dedicated her life to progress in her country despite
the overwhelming problems and challenges she encountered.
Her road to power
and politics started when she turned twelve years of age. During the
time of British imperialism, many Indian National Congress workers from
Allahabad did not know when or if the British would arrest them or search
their homes. In order to find out when this would occur, the Monkey
Brigade was formed. Although Indira claimed to have thought of the idea,
some asserted that the Monkey Brigade was the idea of the Congress.
In any event, Indira became the leader of this children's group whose
purpose was to help end British control in India. Being its leader,
she delivered speeches while other children actually warned the people
who were going to be arrested. The Congress figured that the British
would not suspect children of participating in such involvement. Although
some deemed it a joke, Indira took her job very seriously. One of the
most significant actions of the Monkey Brigade involved Indira. The
Congress party's top officials were organizing a civil disobedience
movement. After the meeting, the documents containing the plans of the
movement were placed in the trunk of a car with Indira in the back seat.
Before the car was ready to leave the area, a police inspector stopped
the car in order to search it. However, Indira pleaded with him not
to inspect the car because the delay would cause her to arrive late
at school. Fortunately, the inspector believed her and the car was not
In 1938, Indira
finally joined the Indian National Congress Party, something she always
longed to do. Soon afterwards in 1942, she married journalist Feroze
Gandhi to whom she eventually bore two sons. Soon after the couple was
married, they were sent to prison on charges of subversion by the British.
Her first and only imprisonment lasted from September 11, 1942 until
May 13, 1943 at the Naini Central Jail in Allahabad.
won its independence from Britain in 1947. In that same year, Indira's
father Jawaharlal Nehru became prime minister and served until his death
in 1964. Since her mother had died in 1936, Indira acted as hostess
and confidante and traveled with Nehru to meet famous political figures.
Later in 1959, Gandhi became the fourth woman elected president of the
Indian National Congress. After her father's death, the new Prime Minister
Lal Bahadur Shastri appointed Indira Gandhi as minister of information
and broadcasting. This position was the fourth highest ranking position
in the Cabinet. Many Indians were illiterate. Therefore, radio and television
played a major part in informing them. As minister, she most importantly
encouraged the making of inexpensive radios and started a family planning
death in 1966, Indira Gandhi served as prime minister until India held
the next election. She won that election, and in 1967, became one of
the first women ever elected to lead a democracy. In 1971, Gandhi was
re-elected by campaigning with the slogan "Abolish Poverty."
However in 1975, Gandhi was found guilty of violating election laws.
Later, the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of India.
Also, to control population growth, Gandhi implemented a voluntary sterilization
program. As a result, adversaries criticized her and her administration
in general. To secure her power and because of escalating riots, on
June 26, 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency which limited
the personal freedom of Indians. Also, she ordered the arrests of the
main opposition leaders. In her opinion, her dictatorship was for the
good of India. But she allowed free elections in 1977, and the Indian
people voted her out of office.
She regained her
position as prime minister in 1980. Unfortunately on October 31, 1984,
Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her. They did so to avenge
the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Gandhi had ordered the
storming in June because of what her government considered terrorist
activity of extremist Sikhs who had occupied the Temple.
As prime minister,
Gandhi tried to improve the lives of Indians. With her neighbors, the
Soviet Union and China, she improved relations. She also promoted science
and technology. In 1971, India sent its first satellite into space.
Economically, Indira Gandhi led India to become one of the fastest growing
economies in the world toward the end of her time as prime minister.
Gandhi, Indira (1917-1984)
was the first woman prime minister of India. She held the office from
1966 to 1977 and from 1980 until her death in 1984. She was assassinated
by two of her security guards, who were members of India's Sikh religious
group. Much friction had arisen between the Sikhs and Gandhi's government.
Gandhi was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, who served as India's
first prime minister from 1947 to 1964. She was an adviser to her father
during his term. Gandhi was first elected to Parliament in 1964. She
was minister of information and broadcasting from 1964 until she became
In June 1975, a
court found Gandhi guilty of using illegal practices during India's
1971 parliamentary election campaign. Gandhi's opponents demanded that
she resign from office because of the conviction, but she refused. Criticism
of Gandhi grew, and she declared a state of emergency two weeks after
the court ruling. She had her major opponents arrested and imposed press
censorship. In November 1975, the Supreme Court of India overturned
Gandhi's conviction. In 1977, Gandhi's Congress (Ruling) Party was defeated
in India's parliamentary elections. Gandhi lost both her post as prime
minister and her seat in Parliament. Following her defeat, she organized
the Congress-I Party. The I in the party's name stands for Indira. In
1980, she won a seat in Parliament, and her party gained control of
Parliament. Gandhi again became prime minister.
Gandhi was born
in Allahabad. Her maiden name was Indira Priyadarshini Nehru. She attended
Santiniketan University in India and Oxford University in England. In
1942, she married Feroze Gandhi (no relation to Mohandas K. Gandhi).
Gandhi and her husband were imprisoned for 13 months for their part
in India's campaign for independence from Britain. They had two sons,
Rajiv and Sanjay. Feroze Gandhi died in 1960. In the 1970's, Sanjay
Gandhi became his mother's chief political adviser and gained much power
in Indian politics. He was killed in an airplane crash in 1980. Rajiv
Gandhi then became a key aide to his mother. When Indira Gandhi was
assassinated, the Congress-I Party chose Rajiv as its head. As party
head, Rajiv succeeded his mother as prime minister. He held that office
until 1989. Rajiv was assassinated while campaigning in parliamentary
elections in 1991.
Date of Birth:
November 19, 1917
Date of Demise: October 31, 1984
Place of Birth: Allahabad, UP
Prime Minister of India
Tenure Order: 3rd Prime Minister
Political party: Congress (I)
Took Office: January 19, 1966
Left Office: March 24, 1977
Predecessor: Gulzarilal Nanda
Successor: Morarji Desai
Took Office: January 14, 1980
Left Office: October 31, 1984
She was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister
A brilliant political
strategist and thinker, Indira also possessed an extraordinary desire
for political power. As a woman occupying the highest position of government
in, what was at that time, a very patriarchal society, Indira was expected
to be a passive leader, but her actions proved her otherwise.
When her father
died in 1964, she was pressured to take up a career in politics. She
was elected as a member of Parliament in her father's Indian National
Congress Party, and was appointed a minister in the cabinet of Congress
Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri died in office in 1966,
and Indira successfully ran to succeed him as party leader, and thus
Prime Minister of India. Initially she was dubbed as goongi gudiya (Hindi
for dumb doll), as people thought that she would be a puppet in the
hands of other Congress leaders. But she proved them all wrong as she
emerged to be one of the strongest leaders in the history of independent
As Prime Minister,
Indira carefully used every tool available at her disposal to expand
her power and authority. By using her powers of appointment, she created
"notoriously weak" cabinets, centralizing her own personal
authority in a way her predecessors never had.
She created her
own independent Congress party following the November 1969 split within
the governing Indian National Congress.Re-elected in 1971 – after
campaigning fiercely on her well-known platform, with the famous Garibi
hatao slogan – she proceeded to boost her government's fortunes
through a successful war that December against U.S.-backed neighbouring
Pakistan in East Bengal, where India's intervention enabled local separatists
to crown their nine-month war of independence with the creation of the
independent republic of Bangladesh. President Nixon dispatched the aircraft
carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal, but the fighting in East
Pakistan was quickly over. Moreover the Soviet Union offered its support
in case of a confrontation with the US. Thus US intervention failed
to materialize for fear of a bigger crisis. Because of this and other
similar cooperative ventures, India maintains a nostalgia-tinted warmth
in its relations with Russia (after Soviet disintegration) as compared
to its relations with the US.
She is also credited
with nationalizing the banks in India, a move severely derided by economists
at the time, but for which she received immediate approval from the
masses. The move reflected the anger of ordinary people at the time
as several private banks had collapsed with depositors getting back
only a fraction of their money. Moreover a large number of private banks
were actually operated by holding companies with wide-ranging business
interests and the common man felt the deposited money was being used
inappropriately. The nationalized network of banks Gandhi created are
successful and widely trusted institutions today. She also took the
bold initiative of discontinuing privy purses – personal allowance
payments to India's princely states, which she felt were anachronistic
given India's democratic post-independence character.
Her efforts at achieving
self-sufficiency for India in food grain production – the Green
Revolution – achieved consummate success. Her government's initiatives
in diversifying and increasing crop yields throughout the country ended
India's reliance on foreign food grain imports. It was the success of
this Green Revolution that led to her party, the Congress, sweeping
the state legislative assembly elections in a number of states in 1972.
protection policies were held up an exemplary given India's status as
a poor developing country. She initiated both "Project Tiger"
(a tiger conservation effort) and regulations aiming to protect habitats
on coastal environments on the entire peninsula of India.
Indira Gandhi is
considered the initiator of India's nuclear programme; India carried
out its first nuclear tests in 1974, supposedly for peaceful purposes.
(The second series of tests in 1998 led to the recognition of India's
Opponents had long
made allegations that her party had practiced electoral fraud to win
the 1971 elections. In June 1975 the High Court of Allahabad found the
sitting Prime Minister guilty of election fraud, and ordered her to
be removed from her seat in Parliament and banned from running for an
additional six years. Rather than face the charges, Indira declared
a State of Emergency, and in her own words brought democracy "to
a grinding halt". Invoking article 352 of the Indian Constitution,
she granted herself extraordinary powers and launched a massive crackdown
on civil liberties and political opposition. This move was endorsed
by Mother Teresa.
Rival party leaders
were jailed, and electricity was cut off to opposition newspapers. Opposition-controlled
state legislatures were dissolved and suspended indefinitely. The Prime
Minister pushed a series of increasingly harsh bills and constitutional
amendments through parliament, all which were approved with little discussion
to re-write the nation's laws with the help of the parliament, thus
protecting herself from legal prosecution once emergency rule was revoked.
As massive as these reforms were, Indira did not feel her powers were
amassing quickly enough, so she utilized President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed
to issue "extraordinary laws" that bypassed parliament altogether,
allowing her to rule by decree.
rule lasted nineteen months. In spite of the controversy involved, India
made significant strides in economic and industrial progress during
this period. India was badly in need of economic recovery after the
monetary strain of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Also communal Hindu-Muslim
riots, which had been surfacing again in the 1960s and 70s virtually
ceased, and during the initial stages of the Emergency the government
seemed to be working with vigor. However with the stringent measures
imposed during Emergency, the Indian public and opposition grew increasingly
resentful. Gandhi was absolved of election fraud charges by the Supreme
Court of India in November 1975.
In 1977, greatly
misjudging her own popularity, she called elections and was roundly
defeated. To the surprise of some observers, she agreed to step down
without much objection. However, three years later she would be re-elected,
and her second term would be much less authoritarian.
The effects of the
Emergency are described in vivid detail through the works of Rohinton
Mistry, in his books "Such a Long Journey," and even more
noteably, "A Fine Balance," which details specific effects
of the cruelty of Indira.
Indira's later reign was most marked by a serious breakdown in Hindu-Sikh
relations that would eventually lead to her own assassination. Alarmed
at the rise in popularity of the highly political Sikh missionary and
millitant leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, India's leaders were
disturbed by his proclamation that Sikhs were a sovereign and self-ruling
community. He and his followers also engaged in terrorist activities
aimed at driving out Hindu populace from the state of Punjab. Many atrocious
acts were carried out by the millitants. The initial appeasement policies
of the central government soon gave way to the trademark hard fist approach
of Mrs. Gandhi.
Aware of the Pakistani
support for the movement, and after years of the separatist movement
in Punjab led by Bhindranwale in Punjab, the sepratist millitants occupied
the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar in June 1984. A decision
was taken by the Government to evict these militants from a place of
worship: Amritsar's holy Harmindar Sahib or Golden Temple, the central
Sikh place of prayer, which had been occupied by Sant Jarnail Singh
and his militant supporters with a heavy cache of arms. Operation Blue
Star, a military assault, was ordered: the army was to fight its way
into the main shrine where Sikh militants had established their headquarters.
The army unit involved was headed by Major General Kuldip Singh Brar,
GOC, 9 Infantry Division. The occupiers refused to depart from their
holiest shrine and a firefight ensued, with 83 soldiers and 493 occupiers
– including the leaders – killed, and many more injured.
were outraged at the percieved desecration and their alienation was
deep and had dramatic consequences: on October 31, 1984, early in the
morning, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards,
Beant Singh and Satwant Singh in an act of treason. She was walking
towards a television crew led by famous movie actor and director Peter
Ustinov, who were waiting to conduct an interview with her. She died
shortly after arriving at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences
in New Delhi. Beant Singh was fatally shot just after the assassination,
and Satwant Singh was sentenced to death by hanging in 1988. In New
Delhi, anti-Sikh riots engulfed the city after her death, leaving more
than 3,000 innocent Sikh men, women and children dead. Many members
of the ruling Congress party were implicated for their role in the riots,
either through commission or ommission. Many related cases are still
pending judgement in Indian courts the judicial response is an inflammatory
topic in India even today. Some believe that Indira had a premonition
of her death. The very night before the day she was assassinated she
said in a speech, "I don't mind if my life goes in the service
of the nation. If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate
To this day, Indira's legacy as Prime Minister remains mixed. She had
a strong personality, and her reign was popular with many segments of
India's population, especially the youth and the poor. Her phrase "poverty
is the greatest pollutor" in her remarkable speech at the first
UN World Environmental Conference in Stockholm in 1972 set her (and
India at the time) apart in attempting to harmonise environmental and
developmental concerns in developing countries.
In her early struggles
to gain control of the Congress party, she transformed Indian politics
by appealing directly to the people and subverting the established structure
of the Congress. The inadvertant result of this was fragmentation of
the political hierarchy resulting in the later rise of parties such
as the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, allowing previously marginalised
communities to gain polical representation. Her decision to declare
a state of emergency solely to escape prosecution remains controversial,
and many Sikhs still resent her for Operation Bluestar and the human
rights violations of the subsequent Operation Woodrose.
Her two sons, Sanjay
and Rajiv, were both involved in politics. Sanjay Gandhi, who was instrumental
in convincing Mrs. Gandhi in her decision to call for the emergency
of 1975–77, has attracted much censure for his dictatorial use
of power particularly in his advocacy of press censorship and forced
sterilization camps during the state of emergency. He was being groomed
as Mrs. Gandhi's successor before he died in a plane crash in June 1980
amidst controversy. His widow, Maneka Gandhi, who had a falling out
with Mrs. Gandhi after Sanjay Gandhi's demise, as well as his son, Varun,
are active in politics. However, both are members of the main opposition
BJP party. Rajiv Gandhi entered politics in February 1981 and became
prime minister on his mother's death, later (May 1991) himself meeting
a similar fate, this time at the hands of foreign LTTE militants. Rajiv's
widow and Indira's daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, led a Congress led
"coalition" (which by itself was history for the Congress
party) to a surprise electoral victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha, dethroning
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Sonia
Gandhi declined the opportunity to assume the office of Prime Minister
but remains in control of the Congress political apparatus; Dr. Manmohan
Singh, notably a Sikh and a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist, now heads
the nation. Rajiv's children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi (post-marriage:
Priyanka Vadera), have also entered politics with Rahul Gandhi seen
as a future prime ministerial candidate.