Indira Gandhi: Biography, Education, Political Career, Death

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984) was an Indian politician and a central figure of the Indian National Congress. She was the first and, to date, only female Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. She served as prime minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984, making her the second longest-serving Indian prime minister after her father.

Indira Gandhi Biography
Indira Gandhi

During Nehru's time as Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964, Gandhi was considered a key assistant and accompanied him on his numerous foreign trips. She was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1959. Upon 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 the Congress Party's parliamentary leadership election held in early 1966 (upon the death of Shastri), she defeated her rival Morarji Desai to become leader, and thus succeeded Shastri as Prime Minister of India.

As prime minister, Gandhi was known for her political intransigence and unprecedented centralization of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India's influence to the point where it became the sole regional power of South Asia. Citing separatist tendencies, and in response to a call for revolution, Gandhi instituted a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 where basic civil liberties were suspended and the press was censored. Widespread atrocities were carried out during the emergency. In 1980, she returned to power after free and fair elections. After Gandhi ordered military action in the Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star, her own bodyguards and Sikh nationalists assassinated her on 31 October 1984.

In 1999, Indira Gandhi was named "Woman of the Millennium" in an online poll organised by the BBC. In 2020 Gandhi was named by the Time magazine among world's 100 powerful women who defined the last century.

 

Key Description:


3rd Prime Minister of India: (14 January 1980 – 31 October 1984)

President N. Sanjiva Reddy, Zail Singh

Preceded By: Charan Singh

Succeeded By: Rajiv Gandhi (24 January 1966 – 24 March 1977)

President:

  • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
  • Zakir Husain
  • V. V. Giri
  • Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed

Minister of External Affairs: 9 March 1984 – 31 October 1984

Preceded By: P. V. Narasimha Rao

Succeeded By: Rajiv Gandhi (22 August 1967 – 14 March 1969)

Preceded By: M. C. Chagla

Succeeded By: Dinesh Singh

Minister of Defense: 14 January 1980 – 15 January 1982

Minister of Home Affairs: 27 June 1970 – 4 February 1973

Minister of Finance: 17 July 1969 – 27 June 1970

Minister of Information and Broadcasting: 9 June 1964 – 24 January 1966
Prime Minister: Lal Bahadur Shastri

Preceded By: Satya Narayan Sinha

Succeeded By: Kodardas Kalidas Shah

Personal details

Full Name: Indira Priyadarshini Nehru

Born: 19 November 1917, Allahabad, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, British India (present-day Prayagraj, India)

Died: 31 October 1984 (aged 66) New Delhi, India

Cause of Death: Assassination

Political Party: Indian National Congress

Spouse(s): Feroze Gandhi (m. 1942; died 1960)​

Relations: Nehru–Gandhi family

Children:

Parents:

  • Jawaharlal Nehru (father)
  • Kamala Nehru (mother)

Education:

  • Visva-Bharati University (dropped out)
  • Somerville College, Oxford (dropped out)

Awards:

  • Bharat Ratna (1971)
  • Bangladesh Freedom Honour (2011)

More: INC

 

Indira Gandhi Early Life And Career


Indira Gandhi was born Indira Nehru into a Kashmiri Pandit family on 19 November 1917 in Allahabad. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in India's political struggle for independence from British rule, and became the first Prime Minister of the Dominion (and later Republic) of India. She was the only child (a younger brother died young), and grew up with her mother, Kamala Nehru, at the Anand Bhavan, a large family estate in Allahabad. She had a lonely and unhappy childhood. Her father was often away, directing political activities or incarcerated, while her mother was frequently bedridden with illness, and later suffered an early death from tuberculosis. She had limited contact with her father, mostly through letters.

Indira was taught mostly at home by tutors and attended school intermittently until matriculation in 1934. She was a student at the Modern School in Delhi, St Cecilia's and St Mary's Christian convent schools in Allahabad, the International School of Geneva, the Ecole Nouvelle in Bex, and the Pupils' Own School in Poona and Bombay, which is affiliated with the University of Mumbai. She and her mother Kamala moved to the Belur Math headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission where Swami Ranganathananda was her guardian. She went on to study at the Vishwa Bharati in Santiniketan, which became Visva-Bharati University in 1951. It was during her interview[clarification needed] that Rabindranath Tagore named her Priyadarshini, literally "looking at everything with kindness" in Sanskrit, and she came to be known as Indira Priyadarshini Nehru. A year later, however, she had to leave university to attend to her ailing mother in Europe. There it was decided that Indira would continue her education at the University of Oxford. After her mother died, she attended the Badminton School for a brief period before enrolling at Somerville College in 1937 to study history. Indira had to take the entrance examination twice, having failed at her first attempt with a poor performance in Latin. At Oxford, she did well in history, political science and economics, but her grades in Latin—a compulsory subject—remained poor. Indira did, however, have an active part within the student life of the university, such as membership in the Oxford Majlis Asian Society.

During her time in Europe, Indira was plagued with ill-health and was constantly attended to by doctors. She had to make repeated trips to Switzerland to recover, disrupting her studies. She was being treated there in 1940, when Germany rapidly conquered Europe. Indira tried to return to England through Portugal but was left stranded for nearly two months. She managed to enter England in early 1941, and from there returned to India without completing her studies at Oxford. The university later awarded her an honorary degree. In 2010, Oxford honoured her further by selecting her as one of the ten Oxasians, illustrious Asian graduates from the University of Oxford. During her stay in Great Britain, Indira frequently met her future husband Feroze Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi), whom she knew from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. Their marriage took place in Allahabad according to Adi Dharm rituals, though Feroze belonged to a Zoroastrian Parsi family of Gujarat. The couple had two sons, Rajiv Gandhi (born 1944) and Sanjay Gandhi (born 1946).

In the 1950s, Indira, now Mrs. Indira Gandhi after her marriage, served her father unofficially as a personal assistant during his tenure as the first prime minister of India. Towards the end of the 1950s, Gandhi served as the President of the Congress. In that capacity, she was instrumental in getting the Communist led Kerala State Government dismissed in 1959. That government had the distinction of being India's first-ever elected Communist Government. After her father's death in 1964 she was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and served in Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. In January 1966, after Shastri's death, the Congress legislative party elected her over Morarji Desai as their leader. Congress party veteran K. Kamaraj was instrumental in Gandhi achieving victory. Because she was a woman, other political leaders in India saw Gandhi as weak and hoped to use her as a puppet once elected:

Congress President Kamaraj orchestrated Mrs. Gandhi's selection as prime minister because he perceived her to be weak enough that he and the other regional party bosses could control her, and yet strong enough to beat Desai [her political opponent] in a party election because of the high regard for her father ... a woman would be an ideal tool for the Syndicate.

 

First term as Prime Minister between 1966 and 1977


Her first eleven years serving as prime minister saw Gandhi evolve from the perception of Congress party leaders as their puppet to a strong leader with the iron resolve to split the party over her policy positions or to go to war with Pakistan to liberate Bangladesh. At the end of 1977, she was such a dominating figure in Indian politics that Congress party president D. K. Barooah had coined the phrase "India is Indira and Indira is India."

Indira Gandhi 1971–1977

Garibi Hatao (Eradicate Poverty) was the theme for Gandhi's 1971 political bid. The slogan was developed in response to the combined opposition alliance's use of the two word manifesto—"Indira Hatao" (Remove Indira). The Garibi Hatao slogan and the proposed anti-poverty programs that came with it were designed to give Gandhi independent national support, based on the rural and urban poor. This would allow her to bypass the dominant rural castes both in and of state and local governments as well as the urban commercial class. For their part, the previously voiceless poor would at last gain both political worth and political weight. The programs created through Garibi Hatao, though carried out locally, were funded and developed by the Central Government in New Delhi. The program was supervised and staffed by the Indian National Congress party. "These programs also provided the central political leadership with new and vast patronage resources to be disbursed ... throughout the country."

Gandhi's biggest achievement following the 1971 election came in December 1971 with India's decisive victory over Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War that occurred in the last two weeks of the Bangladesh Liberation War, which led to the formation of independent Bangladesh. She was said to be hailed as Goddess Durga by opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the time. In the elections held for State assemblies across India in March 1972, the Congress (R) swept to power in most states riding on the post-war "Indira wave".

Despite the victory against Pakistan, the Congress government faced numerous problems during this term. Some of these were due to high inflation which in turn was caused by wartime expenses, drought in some parts of the country and, more importantly, the 1973 oil crisis. Opposition to her in the 1973–75 period, after the Gandhi wave had receded, was strongest in the states of Bihar and Gujarat. In Bihar, Jayaprakash Narayan, the veteran leader came out of retirement to lead the protest movement there.

Verdict on electoral malpractice

On 12 June 1975, the Allahabad High Court declared Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha in 1971 void on the grounds of electoral malpractice. In an election petition filed by her 1971 opponent, Raj Narain (who later defeated her in the 1977 parliamentary election running in the Raebareli constituency), alleged several major as well as minor instances of the use of government resources for campaigning. Gandhi had asked one of her colleagues in government, Ashoke Kumar Sen, to defend her in court.[citation needed] She gave evidence in her defence during the trial. After almost four years, the court found her guilty of dishonest election practices, excessive election expenditure, and of using government machinery and officials for party purposes. The judge, however, rejected the more serious charges of bribery against her.

The court ordered her stripped of her parliamentary seat and banned her from running for any office for six years. As the constitution requires that the Prime Minister must be a member of either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, the two houses of the Parliament of India, she was effectively removed from office. However, Gandhi rejected calls to resign. She announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court and insisted that the conviction did not undermine her position. She said: "There is a lot of talk about our government not being clean, but from our experience the situation was very much worse when [opposition] parties were forming governments." And she dismissed criticism of the way her Congress Party raised election campaign money, saying all parties used the same methods. The prime minister retained the support of her party, which issued a statement backing her.

After news of the verdict spread, hundreds of supporters demonstrated outside her house, pledging their loyalty. Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Braj Kumar Nehru said Gandhi's conviction would not harm her political career. "Mrs Gandhi has still today overwhelming support in the country," he said. "I believe the prime minister of India will continue in office until the electorate of India decides otherwise".

State of Emergency (1975–1977)

Gandhi moved to restore order by ordering the arrest of most of the opposition participating in the unrest. Her Cabinet and government then recommended that President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declare a state of emergency because of the disorder and lawlessness following the Allahabad High Court decision. Accordingly, Ahmed declared a State of Emergency caused by internal disorder, based on the provisions of Article 352(1) of the Constitution, on 25 June 1975.

Indira Gandhi Rule By Decree

Within a few months, President's rule was imposed on the two opposition party ruled states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu thereby bringing the entire country under direct Central rule or by governments led by the ruling Congress party. Police were granted powers to impose curfews and detain citizens indefinitely; all publications were subjected to substantial censorship by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Finally, the impending legislative assembly elections were postponed indefinitely, with all opposition-controlled state governments being removed by virtue of the constitutional provision allowing for a dismissal of a state government on the recommendation of the state's governor.

Indira Gandhi used the emergency provisions to change conflicting party members:

Unlike her father Jawaharlal Nehru, who preferred to deal with strong chief ministers in control of their legislative parties and state party organizations, Mrs. Gandhi set out to remove every Congress chief minister who had an independent base and to replace each of them with ministers personally loyal to her...Even so, stability could not be maintained in the states.

President Ahmed issued ordinances that did not require debate in the Parliament, allowing Gandhi to rule by decree.

 

Indira Gandhi 1977 Election And Opposition Years


In 1977, after extending the state of emergency twice, Gandhi called elections to give the electorate a chance to vindicate her rule. She may have grossly misjudged her popularity by reading what the heavily censored press wrote about her. She was opposed by the Janata alliance of Opposition parties. The alliance was made up of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Congress (O), The Socialist parties, and Charan Singh's Bharatiya Kranti Dal representing northern peasants and farmers. The Janata alliance, with Jai Prakash Narayan as its spiritual guide, claimed the elections were the last chance for India to choose between "democracy and dictatorship". The Congress Party split during the election campaign of 1977: veteran Gandhi supporters like Jagjivan Ram, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy were compelled to part ways and form a new political entity, the CFD (Congress for Democracy), due primarily to intra-party politicking and the circumstances created by Sanjay Gandhi. The prevailing rumour was that he intended to dislodge Gandhi, and the trio stood to prevent that. Gandhi's Congress party was soundly crushed in the elections. The Janata Party's democracy or dictatorship claim seemed to resonate with the public. Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi lost their seats, and Congress was reduced to 153 seats (compared with 350 in the previous Lok Sabha), 92 of which were in the South. The Janata alliance, under the leadership of Morarji Desai, came to power after the State of Emergency was lifted. The alliance parties later merged to form the Janata Party under the guidance of Gandhian leader, Jayaprakash Narayan. The other leaders of the Janata Party were Charan Singh, Raj Narain, George Fernandes and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In opposition and return to power

Since Gandhi had lost her seat in the election, the defeated Congress party appointed Yashwantrao Chavan as their parliamentary party leader. Soon afterwards, the Congress party split again with Gandhi floating her own Congress faction. She won a by-election in the Chikmagalur Constituency and took a seat in the Lok Sabha in November 1978 after the Janata Party's attempts to have Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar run against her failed when he refused to contest the election saying he wanted to remain apolitical. However, the Janata government's home minister, Choudhary Charan Singh, ordered her arrest along with Sanjay Gandhi on several charges, none of which would be easy to prove in an Indian court. The arrest meant that Gandhi was automatically expelled from Parliament. These allegations included that she "had planned or thought of killing all opposition leaders in jail during the Emergency". In response to her arrest, Gandhi's supporters hijacked an Indian Airlines jet and demanded her immediate release. However, this strategy backfired disastrously. Her arrest and long-running trial gained her sympathy from many people. The Janata coalition was only united by its hatred of Gandhi (or "that woman" as some called her). The party included right wing Hindu Nationalists, Socialists and former Congress party members. With so little in common, the Morarji Desai government was bogged down by infighting. In 1979, the government began to unravel over the issue of the dual loyalties of some members to Janata and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organisation. The ambitious Union finance minister, Charan Singh, who as the Union home minister during the previous year had ordered the Gandhi's' arrests, took advantage of this and started courting the Congress. After a significant exodus from the party to Singh's faction, Desai resigned in July 1979. Singh was appointed prime minister, by President Reddy, after Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi promised Singh that Congress would support his government from outside on certain conditions. The conditions included dropping all charges against Gandhi and Sanjay. Since Singh refused to drop them, Congress withdrew its support and President Reddy dissolved Parliament in August 1979.

Before the 1980 elections Gandhi approached the then Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Abdullah Bukhari and entered into an agreement with him on the basis of 10-point programme to secure the support of the Muslim votes.[83] In the elections held in January, Congress returned to power with a landslide majority.

1980 Elections And Third Term

The Congress Party under Gandhi swept back into power in January 1980. In this election, Gandhi was elected by the voters of the Medak constituency. Elections held soon after for legislative assemblies in States ruled by opposition parties resulted in Congress ministries in those states. Indira's son, Sanjay selected his own loyalists to head the governments in these states. On 23 June, Sanjay was killed in a plane crash while performing an aerobatic manoeuvre in New Delhi. In 1980, as a tribute to her son's dream of launching an indigenously manufactured car, Gandhi nationalized Sanjay's debt ridden company, Maruti Udyog, for Rs. 43,000,000 (4.34 crore) and invited joint venture bids from automobile companies around the world. Suzuki of Japan was selected as the partner. The company launched its first Indian manufactured car in 1984.

By the time of Sanjay's death, Gandhi trusted only family members, and therefore persuaded her reluctant son, Rajiv, to enter politics.

Her PMO office staff included H.Y.Sharada Prasad as her information adviser and speechwriter.

 

Indira Gandhi Foreign Relations


Gandhi is remembered for her ability to effectively promote Indian foreign policy measures.

Soviet Union and Eastern block countries

The relationship between India and the Soviet Union deepened during Gandhi's rule. The main reason was the perceived bias of the United States and China, rivals of the USSR, towards Pakistan. The support of the Soviets with arms supplies and the casting of a veto at the United Nations helped in winning and consolidating the victory over Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. Before the war, Gandhi signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviets. They were unhappy with the 1974 nuclear test conducted by India but did not support further action because of the ensuing Cold War with the United States. Gandhi was unhappy with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but once again calculations involving relations with Pakistan and China kept her from criticising the Soviet Union harshly. The Soviets became the main arms supplier during the Gandhi years by offering cheap credit and transactions in rupees rather than in dollars. The easy trade deals also applied to non-military goods. Under Gandhi, by the early 1980s, the Soviets had become India's largest trading partner.

United States

When Gandhi came to power in 1966, Lyndon Johnson was the US president. At the time, India was reliant on the US for food aid. Gandhi resented the US policy of food aid being used as a tool to force India to adopt policies favoured by the US. She also resolutely refused to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Relations with the US were strained badly under President Richard Nixon and his favouring of Pakistan during the Bangladesh liberation war. Nixon despised Gandhi politically and personally. In 1981, Gandhi met President Ronald Reagan for the first time at the North–South Summit held to discuss global poverty. She had been described to him as an 'Ogre', but he found her charming and easy to work with and they formed a close working relationship during her premiership in the 1980s.

 

Indira Gandhi Domestic policy


Nationalisation

Despite the provisions, control and regulations of the Reserve Bank of India, most banks in India had continued to be owned and operated by private persons. Businessmen who owned the banks were often accused of channeling the deposits into their own companies and ignoring priority sector lending. Furthermore, there was a great resentment against class banking in India, which had left the poor (the majority of the population) unbanked. After becoming prime minister, Gandhi expressed her intention of nationalizing the banks to alleviate poverty in a paper titled, "Stray thoughts on Bank Nationalization". The paper received overwhelming public support. In 1969, Gandhi moved to nationalize fourteen major commercial banks. After this, public sector bank branch deposits increased by approximately 800 percent; advances took a huge jump by 11,000 percent. Nationalization also resulted in significant growth in the geographic coverage of banks; the number of bank branches rose from 8,200 to over 62,000, most of which were opened in unbanked, rural areas. The nationalization drive not only helped to increase household savings, but it also provided considerable investments in the informal sector, in small- and medium-sized enterprises, and in agriculture, and contributed significantly to regional development and to the expansion of India's industrial and agricultural base. Jayaprakash Narayan, who became famous for leading the opposition to Gandhi in the 1970s, solidly praised her nationalization of banks.

Having been re-elected in 1971 on a nationalisation platform, Gandhi proceeded to nationalise the coal, steel, copper, refining, cotton textiles, and insurance industries. Most of this was done to protect employment and the interests of organised labour. The remaining private sector industries were placed under strict regulatory control.

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, foreign-owned private oil companies had refused to supply fuel to the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. In response, Gandhi nationalised oil companies in 1973. After nationalisation, the oil majors such as the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) and the Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) had to keep a minimum stock level of oil, to be supplied to the military when needed.

Language Policy

Under the 1950 Constitution of India, Hindi was to have become the official national language by 1965. This was unacceptable to many non-Hindi speaking states, which wanted the continued use of English in government. In 1967, Gandhi introduced a constitutional amendment that guaranteed the de facto use of both Hindi and English as official languages. This established the official government policy of bilingualism in India and satisfied the non-Hindi speaking Indian states. Gandhi thus put herself forward as a leader with a pan-Indian vision. Nevertheless, critics alleged that her stance was actually meant to weaken the position of rival Congress leaders from the northern states such as Uttar Pradesh, where there had been strong, sometimes violent, pro-Hindi agitations. Gandhi came out of the language conflicts with the strong support of the south Indian populace.

India's nuclear programme

Gandhi contributed to, and carried out further, the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru, former premier of India, to develop its nuclear program. Gandhi authorised the development of nuclear weapons in 1967, in response to Test No. 6 by the People's Republic of China. Gandhi saw this test as Chinese nuclear intimidation and promoted Nehru's views to establish India's stability and security interests independent from those of the nuclear superpowers.

The programme became fully mature in 1974, when Dr. Raja Ramanna reported to Gandhi that India had the ability to test its first nuclear weapon. Gandhi gave verbal authorization for this test, and preparations were made in the Indian Army's Pokhran Test Range. In 1974, India successfully conducted an underground nuclear test, unofficially code named "Smiling Buddha", near the desert village of Pokhran in Rajasthan. As the world was quiet about this test, a vehement protest came from Pakistan as its prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, described the test as "Indian hegemony" to intimidate Pakistan. In response to this, Bhutto launched a massive campaign to make Pakistan a nuclear power. Bhutto asked the nation to unite and slogans such as "hum ghaas aur pattay kha lay gay magar nuclear power ban k rhe gay" ("We will eat grass or leaves or even go hungry, but we will get nuclear power") were employed. Gandhi directed a letter to Bhutto, and later to the world, claiming the test was for peaceful purposes and part of India's commitment to develop its programme for industrial and scientific use.

 

Indira Gandhi Family, Personal Life And Outlook


She married Feroze Gandhi at the age of 25, in 1942. Their marriage lasted 18 years until he died of a heart attack in 1960. They had two sons—Rajiv (b. 1944) and Sanjay (b. 1946). Initially, her younger son Sanjay had been her chosen heir, but after his death in a flying accident in June 1980, Gandhi persuaded her reluctant elder son Rajiv to quit his job as a pilot and enter politics in February 1981. Rajiv took office as prime minister following his mother's assassination in 1984; he served until December 1989. Rajiv Gandhi himself was assassinated by a suicide bomber working on behalf of LTTE on 21 May 1991.

Gandhi's yoga guru, Dhirendra Brahmachari, helped her in making certain decisions and also executed certain top level political tasks on her behalf, especially from 1975 to 1977 when Gandhi "declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties."

 

Posthumous Honours


  • The southernmost Indira Point is named after Gandhi.
  • The Indira Awaas Yojana, a central government low-cost housing programme for the rural poor, was named after her.
  • The international airport at New Delhi is named Indira Gandhi International Airport in her honour.
  • The Indira Gandhi National Open University, the largest university in the world, is also named after her.
  • Indian National Congress established the annual Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1985, given in her memory on her death anniversary.
  • The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust also constituted the annual Indira Gandhi Prize.

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