The first and only woman Prime Minister of India, an Oxford graduate, strong and dynamic leader, an obedient daughter and a caring mother, Indira Gandhi is a woman to be reckoned with.
Upbringing & Education
Indira was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India. Most of her childhood, Nehru would be away and Indira would spend time with her mother. She attended Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan and then proceeded to take admission in the University of Oxford in England. While attending college, she was always falling ill and did not like Latin. She had to give Latin exam two times and by the third time, she fell seriously ill and left. However, the university still granted her an honorary degree.
While in Oxford, Indira would meet Feroze Gandhi, her romantic interest, who studied in London School of Economics. Together they held various anti colonial outrages within the campus to bring attention to the enslaved India.
Later, Feroze Gandhi and Indira got married in 1948.
When Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded Nehru for Prime Minister, he made Indira Minister of Broadcasting and Information in his government. In 1966, due to Shastri’s sudden death, she was named leader of the party and so also became Prime Minister. In her early days of schooling, she was always sick and shy and the politicians thought she would come to power and be their puppet. She was also widely referred to as ‘dumb doll’ or ‘goongi gudiya’. But Indira was not to be dominated or be a puppet. She rose to be the leader who everyone looked up to. Her cabinet was surprised and at the same time were in awe with her. She truly lived up to the legacy her father and grandfather, Motilal Nehru, left her.
Victory in Indo-Pakistani War
Back in early 90s, when women around the globe were still fighting for equality and fighting against the patriarchal society, Indira won a war which later led to the formation of Bangladesh as a country and then claimed victory in the elections. She was hailed as a goddess across the nation. She was a rising icon around the globe for women and they really looked up to her as an inspiration.
When the colonists left, India was left in poverty and hunger. With no means to earn, a new government, India had little hope of coming out of the centuries that endured hunger and oppression. Our neighbors were already under military rule by now.
Indira saw hopelessness and unemployment rate and initiated some very popular
programs for the welfare of people which came to be known as Green Revolution.
Indira, being the only woman to hold office of Prime Minister, is still talked about as she left a huge imprint on Indian politics.
She was recently named as 100 Most Powerful Women who defined the Last Century by TIME Magazine. In 1999, she was named Women of the Millennium in an online poll by BBC. In 2012, she was 12th on Outlook India’s poll for The Greatest India. Media loved following her for her controversies and she is still widely talked-about. She was given the title of ‘Priyadarshini’ by Tagore during an interview which means ‘looking at everything with kindness’.
Gareebi Hatao/Eliminate Poverty
Indira started Gareebi Hatao or Eliminate Poverty slogan and welfare program. She recognized that India is drowning in hunger, malnutrition, diseases and poverty. The movement was so widespread and spoke to people to the needs of people that she again emerged victorious in the coming elections and became Prime Minister for the second time.
As no politician has been loved by all, Indira was no different. Her works have sparked controversies and had a remarkable impact in shaping the subsequent years of Indian politics.
Indira loved her 2 sons dearly. She even named Sanjay Gandhi as her successor. In the early years, even without a position, Sanjay had power in the cabinet and decision making. Sanjay Gandhi made sterilization of people who had 2 children mandatory. This was widely criticized. Due to his untimely death during an aircraft manoeuvre, Indira was devastated and so she nationalized his car company, Maruti Udyog, after collaborating with Japanese Suzuki. Rajeev Gandhi was nurtured next to take over her position. Nepotism in Indian institutions still prevails and dynasty continues to play a key role in Indian National Congress.
This is perhaps the biggest blotch on her political career. Despite her Gareebi Hatao Andolan, poverty and hunger was widely spread all over India. She called for National Emergency in 1975 to remain in power lasting 2 years. During these 2 years, fundamental rights of the people were suspended, media was censored, her opposition was behind bars, students, and journalists were sent to jail. She had full control and the power was centralized on her. She was widely criticized in the Western media. People no longer had faith in her but due to censored media she believed they still had faith in her. She lost her seat in the elections.
Unfair Means to win Elections
The Allahabad High Court convicted Indira for election fraud and banned her from politics for 6 years. She appealed to the Supreme Court but got no desirable response. In 1978, Indira was imprisoned briefly for election fraud and using unfair means to win elections. Her response to this was calling for National Emergency to have complete power, skip elections and giving up her seat.
Sikh Movement in Punjab
The Sikhs rose to agitation in the 1980s for greater autonomy of their state. This was a result of the distrust between the Sikh community and Indira. She had promised to make Chandigarh the sole capital of Punjab which was never fulfilled. She brought modern tools for agriculture which attracted the younger generation towards it letting go of practices which were otherwise considered sacred and traditional. The frustration built up and so they set up their base in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Indira retaliated by sending troops into the temple and naming the operation as Operation Bluestar as a code word for the Golden Temple. In the fight that followed for 4 days and nights, 450 Sikhs had lost their lives, the sacred temple was damaged to an extent and the movement was curbed by using force.
It was an usual day for Indira. She was strolling in her garden when her own bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, shot her for the Golden Temple violence. They shot more than 30 bullets which pierced right through her body. She was rushed to the hospital and was declared dead after a few hours. There were huge clashes of the Sikhs in the capital. They turned into a mob and damaged the cars, buses, broke into buildings and opened fire.
The bodyguards were taken into custody and were hanged. Indira Gandhi was cremated at Shakti Sthal on 1st November.
Indira Gandhi still lives in the heart of her people. Yes, she wanted more power and was the sole authority but she worked for the poor and represented India worldwide. She refused to compromise with India’s image and worked relentlessly for the benefit. Her powers and impact surpassed her father who was a visionary. She provided a strong front, refused to bend under political pressure. The Iron Lady of India has strengthened our dignity, during the times when we were still licking our wounds from 200 years of oppression.