Indira Gandhi was India’s third prime minister and the only women prime minister of India till date. She is considered by many to be the strongest Prime Minister India has ever seen. Gandhi belonged to the Indian National Congress and was elected as the PM for the first time in 1966 after Lal Bahadur Shastri died in office.
Indira Gandhi was the second longest-serving prime minister after India’s first prime minister and her father Jawaharlal Nehru. She served from 1966 to 1977 and then again from 1980 until her assassination by her bodyguards in 1984.
Indira Gandhi’s early years
Indira Gandhi was the daughter of one of India’s tallest leaders, freedom fighter, and independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Her mother, Kamala Nehru, was also a freedom fighter and the leader of the Indian National Congress. She was born on November 19, 1917 in Allahabad.
She did her early schooling from Modern School in Delhi, St Cecilia’s and St Mary’s Convent in Allahabad. She also studied in International School of Geneva, the Ecole Nouvelle in Bex, and the Pupil’s Own School in Poona and Bombay. She later moved with her mother to Belur Math, which is the headquarter of the Ramakrishna Mission. She also studied at Santiniketan where Rabindranath Tagore named her Priyadarshini after, which she came to be known as Indira Priyadarshhini Tagore.
She attended Oxford University in England but could not complete her course and returned to India.
She later married Feroze Gandhi in 1942 and had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay.
In the early 1950s, she unofficially served as the personal assistant to her father. In 1955, she became a member of the Congress Working Committee and in 1959 and then the president of the party.
In 1964, after her father’s death, she was made the information and Broadcasting minister in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet.
After Shastri's death in 1966, the Congress legislative party elected Gandhi as the leader over Moraji Desai.
Indira as the Prime Minister
Many Congressmen believed, because she was a woman, she would be weak and could be used as a puppet. But her leadership and policy decisions made her one of the most popular prime ministers ever in the history of Indian politics.
Her anti-poverty measures, Green revolution, and the war with Pakistan, which helped liberate Bangladesh made her immensely popular.
After her election to the Lok Sabha in 1971, Gandhi was accused of misconduct by Raj Narain who contested against her. The Allahabad High Court declared her election void on the grounds of electoral malpractice, which meant she could no longer hold her position as the prime minister. But she refused to step down. This led to protests and unrest.
Gandhi arrested most of the Opposition leaders who participated in the protests. Gandhi and her cabinet recommended to the President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency, which the president did in 1975.
After the declaration of emergency, the entire country was under direct rule of Gandhi and the Congress party. Police were granted special powers, which enabled them to curb liberty indefinitely. The press was also censored. Most of the Opposition leaders were detained and states governed by the Opposition parties were dismissed.
Finally, in 1977, Gandhi decided to call elections. She grossly misjudged her popularity and lost the elections.
She won it back in 1980, helped by her charismatic leadership and the infighting within the Janata Party-led government.
In 1984, the Golden Temple in Amritsar was overtaken by extremists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who sought an independent state for Sikhs.
To control the situation, Gandhi sent the army. But this resulted in bloodshed, and offended the Sikh community.
On October 31, 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by her two bodyguards outside her home, who had sought revenge for what happened at the Golden Temple.