She’s known to be the longest serving female Prime Minister till date (2011), having served three consecutive terms (1966–77) and a fourth term (1980–84) as the Prime Minister of India. The only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister and one of India’s forefront freedom fighters and grandchild of Motilal Nehru, a renowned barrister and outstanding nationalist leader, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was born into a politically influential family on the 19th November 1917 in Allahabad.
With her family playing an active role in India’s freedom struggle, Indira developed an interest for politics at an early age, and studied in prominent schools like Shantiniketan (a school set up by Rabindranath Tagore), Badminton School, and Oxford. In1942 she married Feroze Gandhi a journalist and member of the Youth Congress, who later became the editor of The National Editor, a newspaper founded by Jawaharlal Nehru.
After independence, when Indira Gandhi’s father Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi shifted from Allahabad to Delhi to assist her father taking her two sons, Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi with her.
Dedicated to the Congress Party, she served as an unofficial personal assistant to her father during his term as Prime Minister, and was later appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha, and was appointed as Minister of Information and Broadcasting during Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure. After Shastri’s sudden death in January 1966, Indira Gandhi, skilled in politics, was appointed leader of the Congress Party by senior leaders. However the Prime Minister surprised all displaying astonishing political skills.
Indira Gandhi’s selection led to major differences between the party and a split looked inevitable with the right wing of the party being formed under former Finance Minister Morarji Desai; however Indira prevented the split by inducting Morarji Desai into the cabinet and appointed him Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of the country.
In 1971, when an estimated 10 million Bangladeshi refugees fled to India, Indira supported East Pakistan’s struggle for freedom against West Pakistan, providing logistical support and troops to fight against West Pakistan thus leading to the formation of Bangladesh.
India’s victory in the 1971 war against Pakistan improved her popularity as a shrewd political leader and in 1972 the Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi witnessed a landslide victory in national elections. However in 1975, the Allahabad High Court ruled that Indira Gandhi had used illegal practices during the elections, and ordered her to vacate her seat immediately. With the demonstrations and anger of the people growing, on 26 June 1975 Indira Gandhi declared ‘an emergency’ due to the unstable political situation within the country.
Besides imprisoning her political opponents she also passed several laws limiting personal freedoms, as well as abrogating constitutional rights of citizens, while the press was placed under strict censorship. Jai Prakash Narayan a socialist was arrested and jailed for trying to unify students, farmers and other labor organizations in a ‘Total non-violent Revolution’. Sanjay Gandhi her son began ruling the country with full free rein launching a drive to cleanse Delhi of its slums, a move that led to many losing their homes in the capital. Another program widely criticized was the widespread family planning program that was initiated where government officials, police officers, men and women were forcibly implemented into the program, creating an aversion towards family planning.
Finally in 1977, fearing a military coup Indira Gandhi called for elections and lost to the Janata Dal, led by Morarji Desai and Jai Prakash Narayan. However internal fights within the party led to a rift within it in months. Indira Gandhi’s subsequent arrest that was ordered by the Janata Dal also did not go down well as Indira Gandhi gained the sympathy of the people. Highlighting the wrongdoing of the Janata Dal party at several speeches, the Congress returned to power in 1980
Operation Blue Star that was ordered by Indira Gandhi eliminating Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar led to her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh on the 31st October 1984.
Allahabad her place of birth, goes down in India’s history for being the birthplace of seven out of India’s fourteen Prime Ministers! Others include Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Gulzarilal Nanda, Vishwanath Pratap Singha and Chandra Shekhar.
Anand Bhavan the ancestral home of the Nehru Family, owned by political leader and barrister, Motilal Nehru is one of the most sought after destinations of the city. Indira Gandhi was born here. In 1970 it was donated to the Indian Government by Mrs. Indira Gandhi and today it serves as a memorial and museum run by the ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund’; it gives tourists a glimpse into the lifestyle of India’s most important political dynasty.
Within this complex, one can find the ‘Jawahar Planetarium’, and ‘Jawahar Bal Bhavan’
While Indira Gandhi is today best remembered for her ”Garibi Hatao” slogan during the fifth general elections in March 1971, the successful leadership during the 1971 war against Pakistan, the nationalization of all banks in the country in 1969, the ‘Green Revolution’ under her leadership, and the Lenin Peace Prize (for 1983-84), India’s first women Prime Minister, is also often remembered for being one of India’s most controversial Prime Ministers!