Indira Gandhi, the second from her lineage to have wielded the position of Head of State, is the only woman to have been elected as the Prime Minister in India to date. With a long-standing political career, she served close to four terms as India’s Prime Minister from 1966-1977 and then again from 1980-1984.
Born on November 19, 1917, as Indira Priyadarshani Nehru, she was the only daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Born into a family of freedom fighters and political leaders, her entire life was spent in the realm of politics.
Indira Gandhi boasted an illustrious educational background. She studied at some of the most prominent institutions, both domestic and foreign. Her academic years were spent at Ecole Nouvelle, Bex (Switzerland), Ecole Internationale in Geneva, Pupils’ Own School in Pune and Mumbai, Badminton School in Bristol, Vishwa Bharati, Shantiniketan and Somerville College of Oxford University.
She became inquisitive about politics at an early age. Her initial stints at leadership came to light during the Indian freedom struggle against British colonial rule, when she, as a child, established the ‘Bal Charkha Sangh’ and in 1930, the ‘Vanar Sena’ of children to support the Congress party during the Mahatma Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation Movement.
When her father became Prime Minister in 1947, Indira took charge of offering aid to the riot-affected areas of North India and volunteered to assist victims facing the ramifications of the ill-planned partition. Indira Gandhi also repeatedly chipped in as her father’s informal hostess, learning to steer intricate affairs of diplomacy with some of the great leaders of the world.
Gandhi’s first crucial political achievement came as she joined the Congress Party’s working committee in 1955, and was four years later elected the party’s president. After her father’s demise in 1964, she was elected as a member of Rajya Sabha and served as the country’s Information and Broadcasting Minister in the Lal Bahadur Shastri Government.
When her father’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died abruptly in 1966, she ascended to the post of Prime Minister. However, her years serving as the Prime Minister of the country were marred with chaos and distrust.
The internal feud within the Congress Party compelled Gandhi to separate her faction from the more conservative leaders. The political tensions were at an all-time high in the country during her time in office, and she was both praised and criticised for handling the internal security crisis by imposing the state of Emergency in the country in 1975.
Indira was widely respected as a political leader and her policies were aimed at uplifting the marginalised sections of society. She is still applauded for her leadership during the India-Pakistan war of 1971, is credited with the introduction and success of the green revolution and for leading her country into the nuclear era with the detonation of an underground device in 1974.
Here are 8 facts you might not know about Indira Gandhi:
- Indira led the Vanar Sena at the age of 12, and the protestant group over the time amassed around 60,000 young revolutionaries who addressed envelopes, made flags, conveyed messages and put up notices about demonstrations during the Indian freedom movement.
- Indira was married to fellow freedom fighter and long-time family acquaintance Feroze Gandhi in 1942 despite widespread criticism of the relationship between the two in the country. Although hers was a love marriage, her marital life remained turbulent and unsettled due to personal differences between the couple until Feroze Gandhi’s untimely demise in 1960.
- One of the achievements that propelled Indira to the status of a widely adored and respected leader in the country was India’s victory during the India-Pakistan war that broke out in 1971. Following the feat, Indira also became the first government head in the world to formally recognise Bangladesh as an independent country.
- Indira Gandhi was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna after leading India to victory against Pakistan in the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.
- Indira’s political portfolio boasted some of the highest positions in the government. Besides serving as India’s third Prime Minister, she was the Minister for Atomic Energy from September 1967 to March 1977. She also held the additional charge of the Ministry of External Affairs from September 5, 1967, to February 14, 1969. Moreover, Gandhi headed the Ministry of Home Affairs from June 1970 to November 1973 and Minister for Space from June 1972 to March 1977.
- In 1975, after she was convicted of an election offence and barred from politics for 6 years, she imposed Emergency.
- On October 31, 1984, Gandhi was shot and killed by two of her bodyguards, both Sikhs, in retribution for the attack at the Golden Temple.
- Indira Gandhi, in 1999, was named “Woman of the Millennium” in a poll organised by the BBC. In 2020, she was named by Time magazine among the world’s 100 powerful women who defined the last century.