Born: 19 November 1917
Passed Away: 31 October 1984
Gandhi was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest political leaders of India.
She was the first and only woman to be elected as the Prime Minister.
She is also regarded as the most controversial political leader of the
country for her unprecedented decision of imposing "a state of
emergency". She was also criticized for carrying out the Operation
Blue-Star in Punjab that eventually scripted her assassination on 31
Indira 'Priyadarshini' Gandhi was born on 19 November, 1917, in
Allahabad to Kamala and Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira's father was a
well-educated lawyer and an active member of the Indian Independence
Movement. Since the Nehru family was the centre of national political
activity, Indira Gandhi was exposed to politics when she was a little
child. A leader like Mahatma Gandhi was among the frequent visitors of
the Nehru house in Allahabad. She passed her Metric from Pune University
and went to Shantiniketan in West Bengal. Here, the students were made
to lead a very strict and disciplined life. She later went on to study
in Switzerland and Oxford University in London. Indira, then stayed few
months in Switzerland with her ailing mother. In 1936, after Kamala
Nehru finally succumbed to tuberculosis, she returned to India. At the
time of Kamala's death, Jawaharlal Nehru, was languishing in the Indian
After his return to the country, Indira showed an active participation
in the national movement. She also became a member of the Indian
National Congress. Here, she met Feroze Gandhi, a journalist and key
member of the Youth Congress - the youth wing of the Congress Party. In
1941, despite his father's objections, she married Feroze Gandhi. In
1944, Indira gave birth to Rajiv Gandhi followed two years later by
After the independence, Indira Gandhi's father Jawaharlal Nehru became
the first Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi decided to shift to
Delhi to assist his father. Her two sons remained with her but Feroze
decided to stay back in Allahabad. He was working as an editor of The
National Herald newspaper founded by Motilal Nehru.
During the 1951-52 Parliamentary Elections, Indira Gandhi handled the
campaigns of her husband, Feroze, who was contesting from Rae Bareli,
Uttar Pradesh. After being elected as MP, Feroze opted to live in a
separate house in Delhi.
Feroze soon became a prominent force against the corruption in the
Nehru led government. He exposed a major scandal involving prominent
insurance companies and the Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari. The
Finance Minister was considered to be a close aide of Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru. Feroze had developed as a noted figure in the
country's political circle. He, with a small coterie of supporters and
advisors continued to challenge the Central government. On 8 September
1960, Feroze died after a major cardiac arrest.
India as Congress President
In 1959, Indira Gandhi was elected as the President of the Indian
National Congress Party. She was one of the political advisors of
Jawaharlal Nehru. After the death of Jawaharlal Nehru on 27 May 1964,
Indira Gandhi decided to contest elections and eventually elected. She
was appointed as the in-charge of the Information and Broadcasting
Ministry under Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri
It was believed that Indira Gandhi was an adept at the art of politics
and image-making. This is corroborated by an event happened during the
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. While the war was going, Indira Gandhi went
on a holiday trip to Srinagar. Despite repeated warnings by the security
forces that Pakistani insurgents had entered very close to the hotel,
she was staying, Gandhi refused to move. The incident fetched her huge
national and international media attention.
As Prime Minister
the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri on 11 January 1966, in Tashkent, the
race to the coveted throne of Prime Minister began. The party faced a
serious trouble, as, all the senior leaders of the Congress party
desired to contest. Unable to reach at a consensus, the high-command
picked Indira as their contender. The virtual reason behind Indira's
selection was the thought that "Indira would, indirectly be run by
the top leadership." But Indira Gandhi, showing extraordinary
political skills elbowed the Congress stalwarts out of power.
In 1971, in order to stop the Bangladeshi refugees from flowing in into
the country, Indira Gandhi supported the East Pakistan's struggle for
freedom against West Pakistan. India provided logistical support and
also sent troops to fight against West Pakistan. India's triumph in the
war of 1971 against Pakistan enhanced the popularity of Indira Gandhi as
a shrewd political leader.
Imposition of Emergency
In 1975, the Opposition parties and social activists staged regular
demonstrations against the Indira Gandhi-led Central government over
rising inflation, the poor state of economy and unchecked corruption.
The same year, a ruling of Allahabad High Court that Indira Gandhi had
used illegal practices during the last election helped in adding fuel to
the existing political fire. The verdict ordered her to vacate her seat,
immediately. The agitation and anger of the people intensified.
Realizing the consequences, on 26 June, 1975, Indira Gandhi declared "an
emergency, due to the turbulent political situation in the country".
During the state of emergency, her political foes were imprisoned,
constitutional rights of the citizens were abrogated, and the press
placed under strict censorship. The Gandhian socialist Jaya Prakash
Narayan and his supporters sought to unify students, peasants and labor
organizations in a 'Total non-violent Revolution' to transform Indian
society. Narayan was later arrested and jailed.
Meanwhile, her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, began to run the country
with full-authority. Sanjay Gandhi had ordered the removal of slum
dwellings, and in an attempt to curb India's growing population,
initiated a highly resented program of forced sterilization.
In 1977, fearing military coup if the emergency continued further,
Indira Gandhi called for elections. She was brutally thrashed by the
emerging Janata Dal, led by Morarji Desai and Jai Prakash Narayan.
Congress managed to win only 153 Lok Sabha seats, as compared to 350
seats it grabbed in the previous Lok Sabha.
With so little in common among the allies of the Janata Party, the
members were busy in internal strife. In an effort to expel Indira
Gandhi from the Parliament, the Janata government ordered to arrest her.
However, the strategy failed disastrously and gained Indira Gandhi, a
great sympathy from the people who had considered her as an autocrat
just two years back.
In the next elections, Congress returned to power with a landslide
majority. Experts viewed the victory of the Congress as a result of
inefficient and ineffective "Janata Dal".
Operation Blue Star and her assassination
In September 1981, a Sikh militant group demanding "Khalistan"
entered into the premises of the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Despite the
presence of thousands of civilians in the Temple complex, Indira Gandhi
ordered the Army to barge into the holy shrine. The operation was
carried out with tanks and armored vehicles. The act was viewed as an
unparalleled tragedy in the Indian political history. The impact of the
onslaught increased the communal tensions in the country. Many Sikhs
resigned from the armed and civil administrative office and also
returned their government awards. On 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi's
bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, as a revenge of the Golden
Temple assault, assassinated the Prime Minister at her Safdarjung Road