Indira Gandhi

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Political People

Indira Gandhi
इन्दिरा प्रियदर्शिनी गान्धी
Indira Gandhi

5th and 8th Prime Minister of India
In office
January 19, 1966 –  March 24, 1977
January 15, 1980 – October 31, 1984
Preceded by Gulzarilal Nanda
Charan Singh
Succeeded by Morarji Desai
Rajiv Gandhi

Born November 19, 1917
Allahabad, UP, India
Died October 31, 1984
New Delhi, India
Political party Congress (I)

Indira Priyadarśinī Gāndhī ( Devanāgarī: इन्दिरा प्रियदर्शिनी गान्धी, IPA: [ɪnd̪ɪraː prɪjəd̪ərʃɪniː gaːnd̪ʰiː]) ( November 19, 1917 – October 31, 1984) was Prime Minister of India from January 19, 1966 to March 24, 1977, and again from January 14, 1980 until her assassination on October 31, 1984.

Daughter of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and mother of another, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi was one of India's most remarkable political leaders after independence. In spite of her famous surname, she was of no relation to Mahatma Gandhi.

Early years

The Nehru family can trace their ancestry to the Brahmins of Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. Indira's grandfather Motilal Nehru was a wealthy barrister of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Nehru was one of the most prominent members of the Indian National Congress in pre- Gandhi times and would go on to author the Nehru Report, the people's choice for a future Indian system of government as opposed to the British system. Her father Jawaharlal Nehru was a well-educated lawyer and was a popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Indira Gandhi was born to his young wife Kamala Nehru; at this juncture, Nehru entered the independence movement with Mahatma Gandhi.

Growing up in the sole care of her mother, who was sick and alienated from the Nehru household, Gandhi developed strong protective instincts and a loner personality. Her grandfather and father continually being enmeshed in national politics also made mixing with her peers difficult. She had conflicts with her father's sisters, including Vijayalakshmi Pandit, and these continued into the political world.

Indira Gandhi created the Vanara Sena movement for young girls and boys which played a small but notable role in the Indian Independence Movement, conducting protests and flag marches, as well as helping Congress politicians circulate sensitive publications and banned materials. In an often-told story, she smuggled out from her father's police-watched house an important document in her schoolbag that outlined plans for a major revolutionary initiative in the early 1930s.

In 1934, her mother Kamala Nehru finally succumbed to tuberculosis after a long struggle. Indira Gandhi was 17 at the time and thus never experienced a stable family life during her childhood. She attended prominent Indian, European and British schools like Santiniketan and Oxford, but her weak academic performance prevented her from obtaining a degree. In her years in continental Europe and the UK, she met Feroze Gandhi, a young Parsee Congress activist, whom she married in 1942, just before the beginning of the Quit India Movement - the final, all-out national revolt launched by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party. The couple was arrested and detained for several months for their involvement in the movement. In 1944, Gandhi gave birth to Rajiv Gandhi, followed by Sanjay Gandhi two years later.

During the chaotic Partition of India in 1947, she helped organize refugee camps and provide medical care for the millions of refugees from Pakistan. This was her first exercise in major public service, and a valuable experience for the tumult of the coming years.

The couple later settled in Allahabad where Feroze worked for a Congress Party newspaper and an insurance company. Their marriage started out well, but deteriorated later as Gandhi moved to Delhi to be at the side of her father, now the Prime Minister, who was living alone in a high-pressure environment. She became his confidante, secretary and nurse. Her sons lived with her, but she eventually became permanently separated from Feroze, though they remained married.

When India's first general election approached in 1951, Gandhi managed the campaigns of both Nehru and her husband, who was contesting the constituency of Rae Bareilly. Feroze had not consulted Nehru on his choice to run, and even though he was elected, he opted to live in a separate house in Delhi. Feroze quickly developed a reputation for being a fighter against corruption by exposing a major scandal in the nationalized insurance industry, resulting in the resignation of the Finance Minister, a Nehru aide.

At the height of the tension, Gandhi and her husband separated. However, in 1958, shortly after re-election, Feroze suffered a heart attack, which dramatically healed their broken marriage. At his side to help him recuperate in Kashmir, their family grew closer. But Feroze died on September 8, 1960, while Gandhi was abroad with Nehru on a foreign visit.

Rise to power

During 1959 and 1960, Gandhi ran for and was elected the President of the Indian National Congress. Her term of office was uneventful. She also acted as her father's chief of staff. Nehru was known as a vocal opponent of nepotism, and she did not contest a seat in the 1962 elections.

Nehru died on May 24, 1964, and Gandhi, at the urgings of the new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, contested elections and joined the Government, being immediately appointed Minister for Information and Broadcasting. She went to Madras when the riots over Hindi becoming the national language broke out in non-Hindi speaking states of the south. There she spoke to government officials, soothed the anger of community leaders and supervised reconstruction efforts for the affected areas. Shastri and senior Ministers were embarrassed, owing to their lack of such initiative. Minister Gandhi's actions were probably not directly aimed at Shastri or her own political elevation. She reportedly lacked interest in the day-to-day functioning of her Ministry, but was media-savvy and adept at the art of politics and image-making.

When the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 broke out, Gandhi was vacationing in the border region of Srinagar. Although warned by the Army that Pakistani insurgents had penetrated very close to the city, she refused to relocate to Jammu or Delhi. She rallied local government and welcomed media attention, in effect reassuring the nation. Shastri died in Tashkent, hours after signing the peace agreement with Pakistan's Ayub Khan, mediated by the Soviets.

Shastri had been a candidate of consensus, bridging the left-right gap and staving off the popular conservative Morarji Desai. Gandhi was the candidate of the 'Syndicate', regional power brokers of immense influence, who thought that she would be easily led. Searching for explanations for this disastrous miscalculation many years later, the then Congress President Kumaraswami Kamaraj made the strange claim that he had made a personal vow to Nehru to make Gandhi Prime Minister 'at any cost'.

With the backing of the Syndicate , in a vote of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Gandhi beat Morarji Desai by 355 votes to 169 to become the third Prime Minister of India and the first woman to hold that position.

Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi in 1971
Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi in 1971
Mohammadreza Pahlavi King of Iran and Indira Gandhi
Mohammadreza Pahlavi King of Iran and Indira Gandhi
MG_Ramachandran and Indira Gandhi
MG_Ramachandran and Indira Gandhi

Nuclear security and the Green Revolution

During the 1971 War, the US had sent its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal as a warning to India not to use the genocide in East Pakistan as a pretext to launch a wider attack against West Pakistan, especially over the disputed territory of Kashmir. This move had further alienated India from the First World, and Prime Minister Gandhi now accelerated a previously cautious new direction in national security and foreign policy. India and the USSR had earlier signed the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Cooperation, the resulting political and military support contributing substantially to India's victory in the 1971 war.

But Gandhi now accelerated the national nuclear program, as it was felt that the nuclear threat from the People's Republic of China and the intrusive interest of the two major superpowers were not conducive to India's stability and security. She also invited the new Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Shimla for a week-long summit. After the near-failure of the talks, the two heads of state eventually signed the Shimla Agreement, which bound the two countries to resolve the Kashmir dispute by negotiations and peaceful means. It was Gandhi's stubbornness which made even the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister sign the accord according to India's terms in which Zulfikar Bhutto had to write the last few terms in the agreement in his own handwriting.

Indira Gandhi was criticized by some for not making the Line of Control a permanent border while a few critics even believed that Pakistan occupied Kashmir should have been extracted from a humiliated Pakistan, whose 93,000 prisoners of war were under Indian control. But the agreement did remove immediate United Nations and third party interference, and greatly reduced the likelihood of Pakistan launching a major attack in the near future. By not demanding total capitulation on a sensitive issue from Bhutto, she had allowed Pakistan to stabilize and normalize. Trade relations were also normalized, though much contact remained frozen for years.

In 1974, India successfully conducted an underground nuclear test, unofficially code named as smiling Buddha, near the desert village of Pokhran in Rajasthan. Describing the test as for "peaceful purposes", India nevertheless became the world's youngest nuclear power.

Special agricultural innovation programs and extra government support launched in the 1960s had finally resulted in India's chronic food shortages gradually being transformed into surplus production of wheat, rice, cotton and milk. The country became a food exporter, and diversified its commercial crop production as well, in what has become known as the Green Revolution. At the same time, the White Revolution was an expansion in milk production which helped to combat malnutrition, especially amidst young children. Gandhi's economic policies remained socialistic and did not bring major industrialization. This would finally occur in 1991, with the opening of the Indian economy.


Gandhi's government faced major problems after her tremendous mandate of 1971. The internal structure of the Congress Party had withered following its numerous splits, leaving it entirely dependent on her leadership for its election fortunes. The Green Revolution was transforming the lives of India's vast underclasses, but not with the speed or in the manner promised under Garibi Hatao. Job growth was not strong enough to curb the widespread unemployment that followed the worldwide economic slowdown caused by the OPEC oil shocks.

Gandhi had already been accused of tendencies towards authoritarianism. Using her strong parliamentary majority, she had amended the Constitution and stripped power from the states granted under the federal system. The Central government had twice imposed President's Rule under Article 356 of the Constitution by deeming states ruled by opposition parties as "lawless and chaotic", thus winning administrative control of those states. Elected officials and the administrative services resented the growing influence of Sanjay Gandhi, who had become Gandhi's close political advisor at the expense of men like P.N. Haksar, Gandhi's chosen strategist during her rise to power. Renowned public figures and former freedom-fighters like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Jivatram Kripalani now toured the North, speaking actively against her Government.

In June 1975 the High Court of Allahabad found the sitting Prime Minister guilty of employing a government servant in her election campaign and Congress Party work. Technically, this constituted election fraud, and the court thus ordered her to be removed from her seat in Parliament and banned from running in elections for six years.

Gandhi appealed the decision; the opposition parties rallied en masse, calling for her resignation. Strikes by unions and protest rallies paralyzed life in many states. J.P. Narayan's Janata coalition even called upon the police to disobey orders if asked to fire on an unarmed public. Public disenchantment combined with hard economic times and an unresponsive government. A huge rally surrounded the Parliament building and Gandhi's residence in Delhi, demanding her to behave responsibly and resign.

Prime Minister Gandhi advised President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency, claiming that the strikes and rallies were creating a state of 'internal disturbance'. Ahmed was an old political ally, and in India the President acts upon the advice of an elected Prime Minister alone. Accordingly, a State of Emergency because of internal disorder, under Article 352 of the Constitution, was declared on June 26, 1975.

Even before the Emergency Proclamation was ratified by Parliament, Gandhi called out the police and the army to break up the strikes and protests, ordering the arrest of all opposition leaders that very night. Many of these were men who had first been jailed by the British in the 1930s and 1940s. The power to impose curfews and unlimited powers of detention were granted to police, while all publications were directly censored by the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting. Elections were indefinitely postponed, and non-Congress state governments were dismissed.

The Prime Minister pushed a series of increasingly harsh bills and constitutional amendments through parliament with little discussion or debate. In particular, there was an attempt to amend the Constitution to not only protect a sitting Prime Minister from prosecution, but even to prevent the prosecution of a Prime Minister once he or she had left the post. It was clear that Gandhi was attempting to protect herself from legal prosecution once emergency rule was revoked.

Gandhi further utilized President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, to issue ordinances that did not need to be debated in Parliament, allowing her - and Sanjay - to effectively rule by decree. Inder Kumar Gujral, a future Prime Minister but then Gandhi's Minister for Information and Broadcasting, resigned to protest Sanjay's interference in his Ministry's work.

The Prime Minister's emergency rule lasted nineteen months. During this time, in spite of the controversy involved, the country made significant economic and industrial progress. This was primarily due to the end it put to strikes in factories, colleges, and universities and the repression of trade and student unions. In line with the slogan on billboards everywhere Baatein kam, kaam zyada, ("Less talk, more work"), productivity increased and administration was streamlined. Tax evasion was reduced by zealous government officials, although corruption remained. Agricultural and industrial production expanded considerably under Gandhi's 20-point programme; revenues increased, and so did India's financial standing in the international community. Thus much of the urban middle class in particular found it worth their while to contain their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs.

Simultaneously, a draconian campaign to stamp out dissent included the arrest and torture of thousands of political activists; the ruthless clearing of slums around Delhi's Jama Masjid ordered by Sanjay and carried out by Jagmohan, which left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and thousands killed, and led to the permanent ghettoisation of the nation's capital; and the family planning program which forcibly imposed vasectomy on thousands of fathers and was often poorly administered, nurturing a public anger against family planning that persists into the 21st century.

In 1977, greatly misjudging her own popularity, Gandhi called elections and was roundly defeated by the Janata Party. Janata, led by her longtime rival, Desai and with Narayan as its spiritual guide, claimed the elections were the last chance for India to choose between "democracy and dictatorship." To the surprise of some - mainly Western - observers, she meekly agreed to step down.

Ouster, arrest, and return

Desai became Prime Minister and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, the establishment choice of 1969, became President of the Republic. Gandhi had lost her seat and found herself without work, income or residence. The Congress Party split, and veteran Gandhi supporters like Jagjivan Ram abandoned her for Janata. The Congress (Gandhi) Party was now a much smaller group in Parliament, although the official opposition. Unable to govern owing to fractious coalition warfare, the Janata government's Home Minister, Choudhary Charan Singh, ordered the arrest of Indira and Sanjay Gandhi on a slew of charges. Her arrest and long-running trial, however, projected the image of a helpless woman being victimized by the Government, and this triggered her political rebirth.

The Janata coalition was only united by its hatred of Gandhi (or "that woman" as some called her). Although freedom returned, the government was so bogged down by infighting that almost no attention was paid to her basic needs. She was able to use the situation to her advantage. She began giving speeches again, tacitly apologizing for "mistakes" made during the Emergency, and garnering support from icons like Vinoba Bhave. Desai resigned in June 1979, and Singh was appointed Prime Minister by the President.

Singh attempted to form a government with his Janata (Secular) coalition but lacked a majority. Charan Singh bargained with Gandhi for the support of Congress MPs, causing uproar by his unhesitant coddling of his biggest political opponent. After a short interval, she withdrew her initial support and President Reddy dissolved Parliament, calling fresh elections in 1980. Gandhi's Congress Party was returned to power with a landslide majority.

Indira Gandhi was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (for 1983-84).

Operation Blue Star and assassination

Gandhi's later years were bedevilled with problems in Punjab. A local religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was first set up by the local Congress as an alternative to the regional Akali Dal party, but once his activities turned violent he was excoriated as an extremist and a separatist. In September 1981, Bhindranwale was arrested in Amritsar, but was released twenty five days later because of lack of evidence. After his release, he relocated himself from his headquarters at Mehta Chowk to Guru Nanak Niwas within the Golden Temple precincts.

Disturbed by the spread of militancy by Bhindranwale's group, Gandhi gave the Army permission to storm the Golden Temple to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers on June 3, 1984. Many Sikhs were outraged at the perceived desecration of their holiest shrine, which remains controversial in terms of timing and effect to this day.

On October 31, 1984, two of Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh assassinated her in the garden of the Prime Minister's Residence at No. 1, Safdarjung Road in New Delhi. As she was walking to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov filming a documentary for Irish television, she passed a wicket gate, guarded by Satwant and Beant; when she bent down to greet them in traditional Indian style, they opened fire with their semiautomatic machine pistols. She died on her way to the hospital, in her official car, but was not declared dead until many hours later.

Indira Gandhi was cremated on November 3, near Raj Ghat and the place was called Shakti Sthal.

After her death, anti-Sikh riots engulfed New Delhi , killing thousands and leaving many homeless. Many leaders of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, long accused by neutral observers of a hand in the violence, were tried for incitement to murder and arson some years later; but the cases were all dismissed for lack of evidence.

Nehru-Gandhi family

Initially Sanjay had been her chosen heir; but after his death in a flying accident, his mother persuaded a reluctant Rajiv Gandhi to quit his job as a pilot and enter politics in February 1981. He became Prime Minister on her death; in May 1991, he too was assassinated, this time at the hands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam militants. Rajiv's widow, Sonia Gandhi, a native Italian, led a novel Congress-led coalition to a surprise electoral victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, ousting Atal Behari Vajpayee and his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from power.

Sonia Gandhi controversially declined the opportunity to assume the office of Prime Minister but remains in control of the Congress political apparatus; Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, formerly finance minister, now heads the nation. Rajiv's children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, have also entered politics. Sanjay Gandhi's widow, Maneka Gandhi, who fell out with Indira after Sanjay's death and was famously thrown out of the Prime Minister's house , as well as Sanjay's son, Varun Gandhi, are active in politics as members of the main opposition BJP party.

Though frequently called The Nehru-Gandhi Family, Indira Gandhi was in no way related to Mohandas Gandhi. Though the Mahatma was a family friend, the Gandhi in her name comes from her marriage to Feroze Gandhi.

Retrieved from ""