Indira Gandhi

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Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi
Image:Indira Gandhi.jpg
Date of Birth: November 19, 1917
Date of Assassination: October 31, 1984
Place of Birth: Allahabad, UP, India
Prime Minister of India
Tenure Order: 3rd & 6th Prime Minister 
Political party: Congress (I)
First Term
Took Office: January 19, 1966
Left Office: March 24, 1977
Predecessor: Gulzarilal Nanda
Successor: Morarji Desai
Second Term
Took Office: January 15, 1980
Left Office: October 31, 1984
Predecessor: Charan Singh
Successor: Rajiv Gandhi

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (इन्दिरा प्रियदर्शिनी गान्धी) (November 19, 1917October 31, 1984) was Prime Minister of India from January 19, 1966 to March 24, 1977, and again from January 14, 1980 until her assassination on October 31, 1984.

She was one of modern India's most notable and politically controversial leaders.

She was also the daughter of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

She was no relation of Mahatma Gandhi.


Early years

The Nehru family can trace their ancestry to the Brahmins of Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. Indira's grandfather Motilal Nehru was a wealthy barrister of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Nehru was one of the most prominent members of the Indian National Congress in pre-Gandhi times and would go on to author the Nehru Report, the people's choice for a future Indian system of government as opposed to the British system. Her father Jawaharlal Nehru was a well-educated lawyer and was a popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Indira was born to his young wife Kamala; at this juncture, Nehru entered the independence movement with Mahatma Gandhi.

Growing up in the sole care of her mother, who was sick and alienated from the Nehru household, Indira developed strong protective instincts and a loner personality. Her grandfather and father continually being enmeshed in national politics also made mixing with her peers difficult. She had conflicts with her father's sisters, and these continued into the political world.

Indira created the Vanara Sena movement for young girls and boys which played a small but notable role in the Indian Independence Movement, conducting protests and flag marches, as well as helping Congress politicians circulate sensitive publications and banned materials. In an often-told story, Indira smuggled out from her father's police-watched house an important document in her schoolbag that outlined plans for a major revolutionary initiative in the early 1930s.

In 1934, her mother Kamala Nehru finally succumbed to tuberculosis after a long struggle. Indira was 17 at the time and thus never experienced a stable family life during her childhood. Indira attended prominent Indian, European and British schools like Santiniketan and Oxford, but her weak academic performance prevented her from obtaining a degree. In her years in continental Europe and the U.K., she met Feroze Gandhi, a young Parsee Congress activist, whom she married in 1942, just before the beginning of the Quit India Movement - the final, all-out national revolt launched by Mahatma Ghandi and the Congress Party. Indira and Feroze were arrested and detained for several months for their involvement in the movement. In 1944, Indira gave birth to Rajiv Gandhi, followed by Sanjay Gandhi two years later .

During the traumatic Partition of India in 1947, Indira helped organize refugee camps and provide medical care for the millions of refugees from Pakistan. This was her first exercise in major public service, and a valuable experience for the tumult of the coming years.

Personal life

The couple later settled in Allahabad where Feroze worked for a Congress Party newspaper and an insurance company. Their marriage started out well, but deteriorated later as Indira moved to Delhi to be at the side of her father, now the Prime Minister, who was living alone in a high-pressure environment. Indira became his confidante, secretary and nurse. Her sons lived with her, but Indira and Feroze eventually became permanent separated, though they remained married.

When India's first general election approached in 1952, Indira managed the campaigns of both Nehru and her husband, who was contesting the constituency of Rae Bareilly. Feroze had not consulted Nehru on his choice to run, and even though he was elected, he opted to live in a separate house in Delhi. Feroze quickly developed a reputation for being a fighter against corruption by exposing a major scandal in the nationalized insurance industry, resulting in the resignation of the Finance Minister, a Nehru aide.

At the height of the tension, Feroze and Indira seperated. However, in 1957, shortly after re-election, Feroze suffered a heart attack, which dramatically healed Indira's broken marriage. At his side to help him recuperate in Kashmir, Indira, her husband and her children grew closer. But Feroze died on September 8, 1960, while Indira was abroad with Nehru on a foreign visit.

Rise to Power

From 1959 - 1960, Indira ran for and was elected the President of the Indian National Congress. Her term of office was uneventful. Indira also acted as her father's chief of staff. Nehru was known as a vocal opponent of nepotism, and Indira did not contest a seat in the 1962 elections.

Nehru died on May 24, 1964, and Indira, at the urgings of the new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, contested elections and joined the Government, being immediately appointed Minister for Information and Broadcasting. She went to Madras when the riots over Hindi becoming the national language broke out in non-Hindi speaking states of the south. There she spoke to government officials, soothed the anger of community leaders and supervised reconstruction efforts for the affected areas. Shastri and senior Ministers were embarrassed, owing to their lack of such initiative. Indira's actions were probably not directly aimed at Shastri or her own political elevation. Indira lacked interest for details in work and was a lacklustre Minister, but she was media-savvy, and adept at the art of politics and image-making.

When the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 broke out, Indira was vacationing in the border region of Srinagar. Although warned by the Army that Pakistani insurgents had penetrated very close to the city, Indira refused to shift to Jammu or Delhi. She rallied local government and welcomed media attention, in effect reassuring the nation. Indira was hailed as the "only man in a cabinet full of women". Shastri died in Tashkent, while conducting the peace agreement with Pakistan's Ayub Khan, with Soviet mediation. The circumstances of his death are unclear to this day. It is alleged that seniors in the Congress Party changed the Prime Minister's personal aides at the very last moment. Others feel it was an assassination made to order since Indira was elected, in rather undue haste, as the person to succeed him.

Shastri had been a candidate of consensus, bridging the left-right gap and staving off the conservative Morarji Desai. Among Indira's many supporters was Congress President Kumaraswami Kamaraj. Many years later, Kamaraj declared that he had made a personal vow to Nehru, to make Indira, the Prime Minister 'at any cost'. (Nehru had assisted Kamaraj earlier in his political ambitions and had made him the General Secretary of the Congress Party. Kamaraj could speak only his native Tamil; Nehru's insistence at having Kamaraj in the most important post had raised eyebrows at the time.) In a vote of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Indira won against Desai, 355 to 169, becoming the third Prime Minister of India, the first woman to hold that position in the world's biggest democracy.

Image:Indira and Nixon.JPG

Nuclear Security and the Green Revolution

During the 1971 War, the US had sent its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal as a warning to India not to use the genocide in East Pakistan as a pretext to launch a wider attack against West Pakistan, especially over the disputed territory of Kashmir. This move had further alienated India from the First World, and Indira now accelerated a previously cautious new direction in national security and foreign policy. India and the USSR had earlier signed the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Cooperation, the resulting political and military support contributing substantially to India's victory in the 1971 war.

But Indira now also accelerated the national nuclear program, as it was felt that the nuclear threat from China and the intrusive interest of the two major superpowers were not conducive to India's stability and security. Indira also invited the new Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Shimla for a week-long summit. After the near-failure of the talks, Bhutto and Indira eventually signed the Shimla Agreement, which bound the two countries to resolve the Kashmir dispute by negotiations and peaceful means. It was the stubbornness of Indira Gandhi which made even the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister sign the accord according to India's terms in which Zulfikar Bhutto had to write the last few terms in the agreement in his own handwriting.

Image:Indira at pokran.jpg Indira Gandhi was heavily criticized for not extracting the Pakistan-occupied portion of Kashmir from a humiliated Pakistan, whose 93,000 prisoners of war were under Indian control. But the agreement did remove immediate United Nations and third party interference, and greatly reduced the likelihood of Pakistan launching a major attack in the near future. By not demanding total capitulation on a sensitive issue from Bhutto, Indira had allowed Pakistan to stabilize and normalize. Trade relations were also normalized, though much contact remained frozen for years.

In 1974, India successfully conducted an underground nuclear test, unofficially code named as smiling Buddha, near the desert village of Pokhran in Rajasthan. Describing the test as for "peaceful purposes", India nevertheless became the world's youngest nuclear power. This move naturally prompted Pakistan's nuclear program.

Special agricultural innovation programs and extra government support launched in the 1960s had finally resulted in India's chronic food shortages gradually being transformed into surplus production of wheat, rice, cotton and milk. The country became a food exporter, and diversified its commercial crop production as well, in what has become known as the Green Revolution. At the same time, the White Revolution was an expansion in milk production which helped to combat malnutrition, especially amidst young children. Indira's economic policies, while socialistic, brought major industrialization as well.

The Prime Minister's Personal Life

Indira Gandhi, heroine and icon that she had become after 1971, just like her father was now more emotionally isolated than ever. The instability of her childhood had prevented her from developing her own independent personal interests and lifestyle. It had been her sense of duty and pride in her father and family legacy that had brought her into politics, but she had never been given the space to develop as a person. Through the 1950s and 1960s, she had corresponded with Dorothy Norman, a New York-based journalist, who became a very close friend via correspondence. But apart from political associates, she had no personal friends. Her sons were 'studying in England' (neither obtained any formal degrees from any university). She grew ever more close to her younger son, Sanjay, who is accused by many historians of misusing his mother's emotional dependence.

Indira Gandhi may have seen traits of Feroze in Sanjay and was ever-anxious to please him, as she perceived that Sanjay blamed her for his father's death. While Rajiv developed as an independent young man free from politics, Sanjay's reckless youth induced a need in his mother to take care of her son under all circumstances. The outcome was a political partnership that eventually resulted in abrogation of democracy, corruption and abuse of power on a previously unwitnessed scale. Rajiv Gandhi is believed to have said that he would never forgive his brother for what he had done to their mother at a time when Indira was isolated, depressed and humiliated after her defeat in the 1977 elections.


Template:Main Indira's government faced major problems after 1971. Sycophancy enveloped her administration, leaving the Congress Party entirely dependent on her leadership for its election fortunes. The Green Revolution was transforming the lives of India's vast underclasses, but not with the speed promised under Garibi Hatao. Job growth was not strong enough to curb the widespread unemployment. A government contract to build India's first indigenous car was awarded to Sanjay Gandhi, whose Maruti company subsequently failed to produce a single unit.

Indira had stood accused of authoritarianism before. Using her strong parliamentary majority, she had amended the Constitution and stripped power from the states granted under the federal system. The Congress Party government had repeatedly imposed President's Rule by deeming states ruled by opposition parties as "lawless and chaotic", thus winning administrative control of those states. Elected officials resented the growing influence of Sanjay Gandhi, who had become Indira's close political advisor at the expense of men like P.N. Haksar, the architect of Indira's political ascendancy. Renowned public figures and former freedom-fighters like Jaya Prakash Narayan and Acharya Jivatram Kripalani now spoke actively against her Government.

Opponents had long alleged that Indira's party fraudulently won the 1971 elections. In June 1975 the High Court of Allahabad found the sitting Prime Minister guilty of employing a government servant in her election campaign and Congress Party work. Technically, this constituted election fraud, and the court thus ordered her to be removed from her seat in Parliament and banned from running in elections for six years.

It was known that the Congress Party were indulging in shady practices for a long time, but this was the first time that a judge had acted dramatically against that corruption. Indira appealed the decision; the opposition parties rallied en masse, calling for her resignation. Strikes by unions and protest rallies paralyzed life in many states. J.P. Narayan's Janata coalition even called upon the police to disobey orders if asked to fire on an unarmed public. Public disenchantment combined with hard economic times and an unresponsive government. A huge rally surrounded the Parliament building and Indira's residence in Delhi, demanding her to behave responsibly and resign.

Indira advised President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency. Ahmed was an old political ally, and in India the President acts upon the advice of an elected PM alone. (This former Governor of a border state had organized the infiltration of several million Bangladeshis into India). Claiming patriotism, some Indians saw this alliance as a political evil. Having secured a state of emergency, Indira called out the police and the army to break up the strikes and protests, ordering the arrest of all opposition leaders. Many of these were men who had first gone to jail fighting the British in the 1930s and 1940s. Curfews, indiscriminate charges, and unlimited powers of detention were granted to police, while all publications were directly censored by the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting. Elections were indefinitely postponed, and non-Congress state governments were dismissed.

The Prime Minister pushed a series of increasingly harsh bills and constitutional amendments through parliament with little discussion or debate. Indira attempted to re-write the nation's laws to protect herself from legal prosecution once emergency rule was revoked. Still, Indira did not feel her powers were amassing quickly enough, so she utilized President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, an Indira loyalist, to issue "extraordinary laws" that bypassed parliament altogether, allowing her to rule by decree. Inder Kumar Gujral, future Prime Minister but then Indira's Minister for Information and Broadcasting, resigned to protest Sanjay's interference in his Ministry's work. With a few exceptions everyone fell in line to Indira and Sanjay's style of rule; sychophancy and servile attitude in politics were encouraged and came to stay.

Indira's emergency rule lasted nineteen months. During this time, in spite of the controversy involved, the country made significant economic and industrial progress. This was primarily due to the end it put to strikes in factories, colleges, and universities and the disciplining of trade and student unions. Production and government work became more efficient. Tax evasion was reduced by zealous government officials, although corruption remained. Agricultural and industrial production expanded considerably under Indira's 20-point programme; revenues increased, and so did India's financial standing in the international community. Against this must be counted the arrest and torture of thousands of political activists, the ruthless clearing of slums around Delhi's Jama Masjid area ordered by Sanjay, which left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and thousands killed, and the family planning program which forcibly imposed vasectomy on thousands of fathers and was often poorly administered, nurturing a public anger against family planning that persists into the 21st century.

In 1977, greatly misjudging her own popularity, Indira called elections and was roundly defeated. To the surprise of some observers, she meekly agreed to step down, although the theory has been proposed that Field Marshall Sam Maneckshaw, Chief of Army Staff, threatened her by suggesting the possibility of forcible removal.

Ouster, Arrest and Return

The unwieldy Janata Party coalition came to power in the 1977 elections. Morarji Desai, Indira's long-time opponent, became Prime Minister and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, the establishment choice of 1969, became President of the Republic. Indira had lost her seat and found herself without work, income or residence. The Congress Party split, and veteran Indira supporters like Jagjivan Ram abandoned her for Janata. The Congress (Indira) Party was now a much smaller group in Parliament, although the official opposition. Unable to govern owing to fractious coalition warfare, the Janata government's Home Minister, Choudhary Charan Singh, ordered the arrest of Indira and Sanjay Gandhi on a slew of charges. Her arrest and long-running trial, however, projected the image of a helpless woman being victimized by the Government, and this triggered Indira's political rebirth.

The people were already dissatisfied with a dysfunctional government, a stagnant economy, disorderly coalition governments at the state levels, near-continuous strikes and disorder, and frustratingly stalled trials of Emergency-era culprits. Millions of poor people recalled their former icon, and the middle classes recalled the order, peace and progress of the Emergency. They were disenchanted by the return of elections and freedom of expression, noting the disorder it caused. Indira began giving speeches again, tacitly apologizing for "mistakes" made during the Emergency, and garnering support from icons like Vinoba Bhave. Desai resigned in June 1979, and Charan Singh was appointed Prime Minister by the President.

Singh attempted to form a government with his Janata (Secular) coalition but lacked a majority. Charan Singh bargained with Indira for the support of Congress (I) MPs, causing uproar by his unhesitant coddling of his biggest political opponent. After a short interval, Indira withdrew her initial support and President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy dissolved Parliament, calling fresh elections in 1980. Indira's Congress (I) Party was returned to power with a landslide majority.

Operation Blue Star and Assassination

Image:Indira Time.jpg

Indira Gandhi found her toughest opponent in Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Much misunderstanding has existed in the state-controlled Indian press regarding this charismatic leader of the Sikhs. There is no evidence that he began the movement for Khalistan, even though Indira Gandhi labelled him a separatist. In September 1981, Bhindranwale voluntarily offered his arrest in Amritsar, where he was detained and interrogated for twenty-five days, but was released because of lack of evidence. After his release, Bhindranwale relocated himself from his headquarters at Mehta Chowk to Guru Nanak Niwas within the Golden Temple precincts.<ref>Ibid, p. 105.</ref>

This move of Bhindranwale is generally seen as the reason for Indira Gandhi's attack on the Golden Temple. Template:Fact The Indian army, however, attacked not only this important shrine, but 37 additional shrines across Punjab where there were no Sikh nationalists or militants in residence.<ref>Mahmood, Cynthia Keppley, “Dynamics of Terror in Punjab and Kashmir,” Jeffrey A. Sluka, ed., Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p. 77.</ref> The then deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Gurdev Singh, said that he had categorically informed the highest officials of the Punjab government that if they wanted to arrest Bhindranwale, there would be no major difficulty in organizing it. The chief minister, the governor of Punjab and other senior officials told him that the directive to take action against Bhindranwale had to come from Delhi.”<ref>Kumar, Ram Narayan, et. al., Reduced to Ashes, p. 34</ref> These orders never came because Bhindranwale had no outstanding charges against him. Arun Shourie of The Indian Express noted, "For all I know, he [Bhindranwale] is completely innocent and is genuinely and exclusively dedicated to the teachings of the Gurus.”<ref>Arun Shourie, “The consequences of pandering”, The Indian Express, May 13, 1982.</ref> In December 1983, a senior officer in Chandigarh confessed: “It’s really shocking that we have so little against him Bhindranwale while we keep blaming him for all sorts of things.”<ref>India Today, December 31, 1983, page 36.</ref>

The attack had been planned several months beforehand and was timed for an important anniversary in the Sikh calendar when thousands of pilgrims would be expected to be present.<ref>Joyce Pettigrew, "Parents and Their Children in Situation of Terror: Disappearances and Special Police Activity in Punjab," Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), p. 204. </ref> The army operation was followed by wholesale killings of Sikh males between the ages of 15 and 35 in Punjab’s villages.<ref>Mary Anne Weaver, The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 1984. Also see ibid.</ref> These violent events, together with organized massacre of Sikhs in India’s major cities in November 1984, and daily terror families subsequently experienced in Punjab’s villages gave rise to resistance.<ref> Joyce Pettigrew, "Parents and Their Children in Situation of Terror: Disappearances and Special Police Activity in Punjab," Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), p. 204. </ref>

Many Sikhs were outraged at the perceived desecration of their holiest shrine. On October 31, 1984, two of Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh assassinated her in the garden of her home, pumping bullets from automatic weapons. Indira Gandhi was cremated on November 3, near Raj Ghat and the place was called Shakti Sthal. After her death, anti-Sikh pogroms engulfed New Delhi and spread across the country, killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands homeless [[1]].

The Nehru-Gandhi Family

Rajiv Gandhi entered politics in February 1981 and became Prime Minister on his mother's death. Later though (May 1991), he met the same fate, this time at the hands of Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants. Rajiv's widow, Sonia Gandhi, a native Italian, led a novel Congress-led coalition to a surprise electoral victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, ousting Atal Behari Vajpayee and his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from power.

Sonia Gandhi controversially declined the opportunity to assume the office of Prime Minister but remains in control of the Congress political apparatus; Dr. Manmohan Singh, notably a Sikh and a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist, now heads the nation. Rajiv's children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, have also entered politics. Sanjay Gandhi's widow, Maneka Gandhi, who fell out with Indira after Sanjay's death, as well as his son, Varun Gandhi, are active in politics as members of the main opposition BJP party.

Though frequently called The Nehru-Gandhi Family, Indira was in no way related to the Mahatma. Though Mahatma was a family friend, Gandhi in her name comes from her marriage to Feroze Gandhi, a Parsi.

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