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Who is Indira Gandhi

by Vishul Malik

Indira Gandhi: A Woman with Unparalleled Dynamism Indira Gandhi, the pivotal character of the 20th century politics remains an influential figure even in the 21st century. Her dynamic character and…

Indira Gandhi: A Woman with Unparalleled Dynamism

Indira Gandhi, the pivotal character of the 20th century politics remains an influential figure even in the 21st century. Her dynamic character and the many facets of her life shaped her public

Indira Gandhi

image and to this day her essence continues to lurk in the Indian political scene. Her powerful demeanor and her unyielding and fearless attitude were traits she cloaked herself in throughout her life. No wonder, she went on to become the third Prime Minister of India and remains the first Indian female to occupy that covetous seat till date. Today, she is remembered not just for being the first female Prime Minister of India but also for being a hero and for being the most powerful and effective political leader of her times. She is rightly referred to as the Iron Lady of India.


Early Life and Family

Born in a politically bonded environment to the first Prime Minister of free India, Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamala Nehru, Indira Priyadarshini Nehru was the only child. Allahabad was her birthplace and she was born in British India on 19th November 1917. Kamala Nehru had given birth to a boy on 1924 November, but unfortunately he died two days later. Hence, Indira grew up as the only child, spending most of her years with her mother Kamala Nehru. The family used to reside in their Anand Bhavan estate in Allahabad. Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru a powerful figure in the Indian Independence Movement, hardly had any time for his daughter as he was either immersed in political activities or was spending days in prison. Indira’s grandfather Motilal Nehru, was also an influential figure and a leader of the Indian Nationalist Leader. Hence, as obvious as it may sound, Indira Nehru started breathing the air of politics from a young age. The family’s association with Mohandas Gandhi, a renowned pacifist leader in the Indian Freedom Movement had a tremendous impact on Indira’s life. Her parents joined hands with Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle for freedom and before long they got completely involved in the freedom movement. In the midst of all the chaos at home, little Indira was left all alone. She spent her days as a silent observer of all that went around her. Things worsened when her grandfather, who was her only companion during her lonesome days was also sent to jail along with her father Jawaharlal Nehru. Simultaneously, the imprisonment of her mother for her involvement in various political activities left her distraught. The ambience she grew up led to the development of her strong self. She once declared, “I will not to be hurt, as my mother had been, by Indian social customs that repressed women”. Despite the circumstances, young Indira grew up to be an intelligent girl. When she was just 12 years of age she summoned her friends announcing, “Let’s help our country”. With this motive in mind she created the Monkey Brigade in imitation to the monkey army in the Indian epic story Ramayana. She and her friends partook in the struggle through such activities as delivering written notes, spying on the police, making flags etc. Indira was the leader of this children’s group. The main motive of the group was to end the British control in India. She once quoted, “We will do our best even if we are just children.” Of her movement a leader was heard saying, “Though she is just twelve years old, her idea is ingenious.” During her school days she spent most of her time with the people in prison; her parents and her Gandhi uncle. She once remarked, “Gandhi uncle is one person who played an important role in shaping me up”. As a father Jawaharlal Nehru was extremely concerned about her daughter’s education and he wanted her to be knowledgeably sound. It was this intention, which made him write long letters to her from his confinement.



Indira’s early education was irregular. She was mostly taught at home by tutors and occasionally attended school. She completed her matriculation in the year 1934. She was then enrolled at Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan. She could continue her studies for more than a year here, as she had to rush back to her ailing mother in Europe. Kamala Nehru eventually died of Tuberculosis on February 1936. During her days in Europe, she attended the University of Oxford in Britain. She was a part of the Badminton School and Somerville College. At Oxford she excelled in subjects like political science, history, economics but she could not fair well in the compulsory subject, Latin. Unfortunately her illness stood in the way of her studies and she had to visit Switzerland time and again for treatment. She came back to India without completing her studies though the University of Oxford made sure to present her an honorary degree.


Personal life: Her Friendship and Marriage with Feroze Gandhi

During her sojourn in Europe she used to be frequented by Feroze Gandhi, a student of the London School of Economics. Feroze Khan happened to be a Parsee and a descendent of Iranian immigrants and came nowhere near the social status of the Nehru’s. Despite the objection of Jawaharlal Nehru, the two got married in March 1942. Soon after their marriage the couple were imprisoned for their involvement in the political protests against the British. Feroze Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were blessed with two sons; Rajiv Gandhi 1944 and Sanjay Gandhi 1946.


The Initial phase of her Political Career

After India achieved Independence, Indira’s father became the country’s first Prime Minister. Indira then 28 years old actively engrossed herself in political activities. During the tenure of her father’s service as the Prime Minister of India, Indira worked unofficially as his assistant. She began to take care of her father’s large mansion and helped him in his political endeavors. At various official functions she used to accompany him. And because she got engaged in helping her father with all the political duties, her relationship with her husband eventually died down. She continued to deliver speeches in campaigns and events and became an active political figure along with her father. Together they worked towards the improvement of social and children’s welfare and towards the attainment of peace in the country. She ultimately landed up being the president of the Indian National Congress. During her service as the president, she worked towards increasing the participation of women in politics.


As the Prime Minister

After Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in the year 1964, Indira was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. She was also appointed to be the minister of information and broadcasting in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet. She was instrumental in starting the Indian television system. In the year 1966, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Though there were other candidates who were eligible for the post of the Prime Minister, unable to decide among themselves they designated Indira Gandhi for the post. It was their belief that she could be easily molded. It was in the year 1966 January, that Indira became the Prime Minister of India. She held this post until the year 1977. Contrary to the beliefs of her colleagues, Indira Gandhi exhibited outstanding political skills and perseverance. A strong willed woman she sacked a number of high-ranking congressmen out of power. Problems started heaping in the congress party. This subsequently led to a rupture in the Indian National Congress in the year 1969. As a prime minister Indira made some noteworthy moves. Her introduction of agricultural programs led to a significant improvement in the country’s situation. It was under her rule that the Green Revolution movement raced to change the face of the country’s situation. It not only tackled the unemployment issue of the country but also provided food for her countrymen. This initiative on her part raised her in the esteem of the people. She took the decision to nationalize fourteen major commercial banks and her initiative went on to be successful leading to a significant progress in other sectors as well. She then went on to nationalized various other industries the like of which includes steel, coal, cotton textiles, copper etc. She even nationalized the oil companies of India. When the East Pakistani/India forces defeated Pakistan in the 1971 war, Indira was hailed a hero and was showered a lot of respect and appreciation for her leadership. Her support to East Pakistan led to the creation of a separate nation, Bangladesh. She took pain to stabilize the relationship between India and Pakistan. It was during her tenure itself that India accomplished to create her own nuclear bomb. She was also involved in bringing social reforms and introduced a number of clauses in the Indian Constitution. All these advancement during her service boosted her image and she was regarded by her people to be an able and powerful political leader.


The State of Emergency, Re-Election

In the year 1975, Indira Gandhi was charged for violating election laws and for making use of illegal practices during the election campaign. She was asked to leave her post and demands for resignation also increased. The election was considered null and void and she was removed from Lok Sabha in addition to a ban of contesting the next six years. Chaos ensued in the country and she was asked to quit. However, she rejected the demands and refused to step down from her post. In order to secure her position, she made the President declare a state of emergency in the country. She also demanded that the main opposition leaders be arrested. The State of Emergency was extended two times before the 1977 elections. The result of the election was obvious and Indira Gandhi lost her seat.


Prime Minister Again

The happenings of the 1977 election did not dampen Indira’s hope. The people of the country re-elected Indira as their Prime Minister after realizing the incompetence of the Janata Party. Indira resumed power and she set out to resolve the political problems that plagued Punjab at that time.


Attack on Golden Temple: Operation Bluestar

There evolved a secessionist movement under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bindranwale. Their demand was for a separate state of Khalistan and for this they conducted a terrorism movement. The group occupied the holy Sikh shrine of Amritsar “Golden Temple”, garnered enough supporters from the temple and stored all their weapons therein. In order to terminate this terrorist group, Indira prepared operation Bluestar in collaboration with the Indian army. The mission was successfully accomplished though several civilians lost their lives and the shrine was severely damaged. The event took place in June 1984. Gandhi earned the hatred of the Sikh people who considered the attack unjustified.


Her Assassination

In November of 1984, Indira Gandhi was shot down by her two Sikh bodyguards when she was taking a stroll in her garden. The Sikh bodyguards wanted to take revenge for the insult that was heaped upon the Sikh nation. Indira Gandhi’s last speech delivered in Orissa on 30th October 1984 shall always remain dear to her supporters: “I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow. I shall continue to serve till my last breath and when I die every drop of my blood will strengthen India and keep a united India alive.”



In a poll organized by India Today 2001, Indira Gandhi was selected for being the Greatest Indian Prime Minister. BBC in the year 1999, declared her “Woman of the Millennium”


Full Name Indira Priyadarshini Nehru
After marriage she came to be known as Indira Gandhi
Born 19th November 1917
Place of Birth Allahabad
Nationality Indian
Political Party Indian National Congress
Residence Allahabad
Religion Hindu
Profession 3rd Prime Minister of India
Father Jawaharlal Nehru
Mother Kamala Nehru
Spouse Feroze Gandhi
Marriage Date March 1942
Children Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi
Teenage Indira’s childhood had been very lonely.
Schooling Private tuitions at home
College Somerville College, Oxford
Died 31st October 1984
Occupation Third Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister of India In office from 14th January 1980-31st October 1984 24th January 1966- 24th March 1977
Minister of Defence In office from 14 January 1980 – 15 January 1982 30 November 1975 – 20 December 1975
Minister of External Affairs In office from 9 March 1984 – 31 October 1984 22 August 1967 – 14 March 1969
Minister of Finance In office from 16 July 1969 – 27 June 1970
Minister of Home Affairs In office from 27 June 1970 – 4 February 1973
Operation Bluestar June 1984

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