Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was born on 19 November 1917 in Allahabad, United Provinces, British India & died on 31 October 1984 New Delhi, Delhi, India, was the Prime Minister of the Republic of India for three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977 and for a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, a total of fifteen years. She is India’s only female prime minister to date. She is the world’s all time longest serving female Prime Minister.
Indira Gandhi was born into the politically influential Nehru Family. Her father was Jawaharlal Nehru and her mother was Kamala Nehru. It is a common myth to relate the name Gandhi with Mahatma Gandhi, but her surname is from her marriage to Feroze Gandhi. Her grandfather, Motilal Nehru, was a prominent Indian nationalist leader. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a pivotal figure in the Indian independence movement and the first Prime Minister of Independent India.
In 1934–35, after finishing school, Indira joined Shantiniketan, a school set up by Rabindranath Tagore, who gave her the name Priyadarshini. Subsequently, she went to England and sat for the University of Oxford entrance examination, but she failed, and spent a few months at Badminton School in Bristol, before clearing the exam in 1937 and joining Somerville College, Oxford. During this period, she was frequently meeting Feroze Gandhi, whom she knew from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. She married Feroze in 1942.
Returning to India in 1941, she became involved in the Indian Independence movement. In the 1950s, she served her father unofficially as a personal assistant during his tenure as the first Prime Minister of India. After her father’s death in 1964 she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and became a member of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
In 1936, her mother, Kamala Nehru, finally succumbed to tuberculosis after a long struggle. Indira was 18 at the time and had never experienced a stable family life during her childhood. While studying at Somerville College, University of Oxford, England, during the late 1930s, she became a member of the radical pro-independence London based India League.
In early 1940, Indira spent time in a rest home in Switzerland to recover from chronic lung disease. She maintained her long-distance relationship with her father in the form of long letters as she was used to doing through her childhood. They argued about politics.
In her years in continental Europe and the UK, she met a young Parsi man active in politics, Feroze Gandhi. After returning to India, Feroze Gandhi grew close to the Nehru family, especially to Indira’s mother Kamala Nehru and Indira herself.
When Indira and Feroze Gandhi returned to India, they were in love and had decided to get married. Indira liked Feroze’s openness, sense of humor and self-confidence. Jawaharlal Nehru did not like the idea of the marriage, but Indira was adamant and the marriage took place in March 1942 according to Hindu rituals.
During 1959 and 1960, Gandhi ran for and was elected as 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.
When Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966, the Congress was split in two factions, the socialists led by Gandhi, and the conservatives led by Morarji Desai. Rammanohar Lohia called her Gungi Gudiya which means ‘Dumb Doll’. The internal problems showed in the 1967 election where the Congress lost nearly 60 seats winning 297 seats in the 545 seat Lok Sabha. She had to accommodate Desai as Deputy Prime Minister of India and Minister of Finance. In 1969 after many disagreements with Desai, the Indian National Congress split. She ruled with support from Socialist and Communist Parties for the next two years. In the same year, in July 1969 she nationalized banks.
The Pakistan army conducted widespread atrocities against the civilian populations of East Pakistan. An estimated 10 million refugees fled to India, causing financial hardship and instability in the country. The United States under Richard Nixon supported Pakistan, and mooted a UN resolution warning India against going to war. Nixon apparently disliked Indira personally, referring to her as a “witch” and “clever fox” in his private communication with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Indira signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, resulting in political support and a Soviet veto at the UN. India was victorious in the 1971 war, and Bangladesh was born.
In July 1982, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s Sikh group occupied the Golden Temple. In response, on 6 June 1984, during one of the holiest Sikh holidays, enacting Operation Blue Star, the Indian army opened fire, killing a disputed number of Sikh militants along with supporters of Bhindranwale. The State of Punjab was closed to international media, Sikh devotees, human rights organizations, and other groups during the period. On 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi’s bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, assassinated her with their service weapons in the garden of the Prime Minister’s residence at 1 Safdarjung Road, New Delhi as she was walking past a wicket gate guarded by Satwant and Beant. She was to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. According to information immediately following the incident, Beant Singh shot her three times using his side-arm, and Satwant Singh fired 30 rounds using a Sten submachine gun. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh dropped their weapons and surrendered. Afterwards they were taken away by other guards into a closed room where Beant Singh was shot dead as he tried to capture one of the guard’s weapons. While Satwant Singh was arrested at the site of assassination, Kehar Singh was later arrested for conspiracy in the assassination. Both were sentenced to death and hanged in Tihar jail in Delhi.
Gandhi died on her way to the hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors operated on her. Official accounts at the time stated as many as 19 entry and exit wounds and some reports stated 16 bullets were extracted from her body. She was cremated on 3 November near Raj Ghat. Her funeral was televised live on domestic and international stations including the BBC.
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.Indira was known for her closeness with his personal yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari, who not only helped her in taking certain decisions but also executed certain top level political tasks on her behalf, especially during the emergency.
After Indira Gandhi’s death, Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister. In May 1991, he too was assassinated, this time at the hands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Rajiv’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, led the United Progressive Alliance to a surprise electoral victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Sonia Gandhi 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 Vadra, 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.
Being the first woman Prime Minister of India, and an influential leader, in a prevalently male-dominated society, Indira Gandhi is a symbol of feminism in India.. As per economic surveys, when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, 65% of the country’s population was below the poverty line, and when her regime ended in 1984, this figure was 45%. During her rule, food production increased by 250%. Literacy was also increased in India by 30%.
The goodwill of the rural population earned by Gandhi still has its effects on the success of the Congress Party in rural India, as well as the popular support of the Nehru-Gandhi Family. She is reverently remembered in many parts of rural India as Indira-Amma (“Amma” means “mother” in many Indian languages). Her Garibi Hatao slogan is still used by the Congress during political campaigns. The present president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, who is also the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, is said to style herself in resemblance to her.
The Indira Awaas Yojana, a programme of the central government to provide low-cost housing to rural poor, is named after her. The international airport at New Delhi is named as the Indira Gandhi International Airport in her honour.
Indira Gandhi enjoys widespread popularity in Russia and other former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia as a symbol of feminism. Many girls in these countries have been named Indira.