November 19th, 1917
October 31st, 1984
Popularly Known as
RAM NAM ME LIN HAI, DEKHAT SABME RAMTAKE PAD VANDAN KARUN, JAI JAI JAI JALARAM
Biography of Mrs. Indira Feroze Gandhi
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, born Indira Nehru to Jawaharlal Nehru; 19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984) was the third Prime Minister of the Republic of India for three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977 and for a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, a total of fifteen years. India's only female prime minister to date, she remains the world's longest serving female Prime Minister as of 2011.She was also the only Indian Prime Minister to have declared an emergency in order to 'rule by decree' and the only Indian Prime Minister to have been imprisoned.
Indira Gandhi was born Indira Nehru on November 19, 1917 into the politically influential Nehru Family. Indira Gandhi's father was Jawaharlal Nehru and her mother was Kamala Nehru. Indira gained surname "Gandhi" by her marriage to Feroze Gandhi. She is no relation to Mahatma Gandhi, either by blood or marriage. Her grandfather, Motilal Nehru, was a prominent Indian nationalist leader. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a pivotal figure in the Indian independence movement and the first Prime Minister of Independent India.
In 1934–35, after finishing school, Indira joined Shantiniketan,a school set up by Rabindranath Tagore, who gave her the name Priyadarshini (priya=pleasing, darshini=to look at). Subsequently, she went to England and sat for the University of Oxford entrance examination, but she failed,and spent a few months at Badminton School in Bristol, before passing the exam in 1937 and enrolling at Somerville College, Oxford. During this time, she frequently met Feroze Gandhi, whom she knew from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. She married him in 1942.
Returning to India in 1941, she became involved in the Indian Independence movement. In the 1950s, she served her father unofficially as a personal assistant during his tenure as the first Prime Minister of India. After 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.
The then Congress Party President K. Kamaraj was instrumental in making Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister after the sudden demise of Shastri. Gandhi soon showed an ability to win elections and outmaneuver opponents. She introduced more left-wing economic policies and promoted agricultural productivity. She led the nation as Prime Minister during the decisive victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan and creation of an independent Bangladesh. A period of instability led her to impose a state of emergency in 1975. Due to the alleged authoritarian excesses during the period of emergency, the Congress Party and Indira Gandhi herself lost the next general election for the first time in 1977. Indira Gandhi led the Congress back to victory in 1980 elections and Gandhi resumed the office of the Prime Minister. In June 1984, under Gandhi's order, the Indian army forcefully entered the Golden Temple, the most sacred Sikh Gurdwara, to remove armed insurgents present inside the temple. She was assassinated on 31 October 1984 in retaliation for this operation.
- Prime minister
- Domestic policy
When Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966, the Congress was split in two factions, the socialists led by Gandhi, and the conservatives led by Morarji Desai. Rammanohar Lohia called her Gungi Gudiya which means 'Dumb Doll'. The internal problems showed in the 1967 election where the Congress lost nearly 60 seats winning 297 seats in the 545 seat Lok Sabha. She had to accommodate Desai as Deputy Prime Minister of India and Minister of Finance. In 1969 after many disagreements with Desai, the Indian National Congress split. She ruled with support from Socialist and Communist Parties for the next two years. In the same year, in July 1969 she nationalized banks.
- War with Pakistan in 1971
The Pakistan army conducted widespread atrocities against the civilian populations of East Pakistan. An estimated 10 million refugees fled to India, causing financial hardship and instability in the country. The United States under Richard Nixon supported Pakistan, and mooted a UN resolution warning India against going to war. Nixon apparently disliked Indira personally, referring to her as a "witch" and "clever fox" in his private communication with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (now released by the State Department). Indira signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, resulting in political support and a Soviet veto at the UN. India was victorious in the 1971 war, and Bangladesh was born.
Foreign policy Gandhi invited the late Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Shimla for a week-long summit. After the near-failure of the talks, the two heads of state eventually signed the Shimla Agreement, which bound the two countries to resolve the Kashmir dispute by negotiations and peaceful means. Due to her antipathy for Nixon, relations with the United States grew distant, while relations with the Soviet Union grew closer.
She was criticized by some for not making the Line of Control (LoC) a permanent border while a few critics even believed that Pakistan-administered Kashmir should have been extracted from 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, she had allowed Pakistan to stabilize and normalize. Trade relations were also normalized, though much contact remained frozen (sealed) for years.
- Nuclear weapons program
A national nuclear program was started by Gandhi in 1967, in response to the nuclear threat from the People's Republic of China and to establish India's stability and security interests as independent from those of the nuclear superpowers. 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 became the world's then youngest nuclear power.
- Green Revolution
Special agricultural innovation programs and extra government support launched in the 1960s finally transformed India's chronic food shortages into surplus production of wheat, rice, cotton and milk, the success mainly attributed to the hard working majority Sikh farmers of Punjab. Rather than relying on food aid from the United States - headed by a President whom Gandhi disliked considerably (the feeling was mutual: to Nixon, Indira was "the old witch"), the country became a food exporter. That achievement, along with the diversification of its commercial crop production, 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. 'Food security', as the program was called, was another source of support for Gandhi in the years leading up to 1975.
Established in the early 1960s, the Green Revolution was the unofficial name given to the Intense Agricultural District Program (IADP) which sought to insure abundant, inexpensive grain for urban dwellers upon whose support Gandhi—as indeed all Indian politicians—heavily depended. The program was based on four premises: 1) New varieties of seed(s), 2) Acceptance of the necessity of the chemicalization of Indian agriculture, i.e. fertilizers, pesticides, weed killers, etc., 3) A commitment to national and international cooperative research to develop new and improved existing seed varieties, 4) The concept of developing a scientific, agricultural institutions in the form of land grant colleges. Lasting about ten years, the program was ultimately to bring about a tripling of wheat production, a lower but still impressive increase of rice; while there was little to no increase (depending on area, and adjusted for population growth) of such cereals as millet, gram and coarse grain, though these did, in fact, retain a relatively stable yield.
- 1971 election victory and second term
Indira's government faced major problems after her tremendous mandate of 1971. The internal structure of the Congress Party had withered following its numerous splits, leaving it entirely dependent on her leadership for its election fortunes. Garibi Hatao (Eradicate Poverty) was the theme for Gandhi's 1971 bid. The slogan and the proposed anti-poverty programs that came with it were designed to give Gandhi an independent national support, based on rural and urban poor. This would allow her to bypass the dominant rural castes both in and of state and local government; likewise the urban commercial class. And, 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, developed, supervised, and staffed by New Delhi and 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." Scholars and historians now agree as to the extent of the failure of Garibi Hatao in alleviating poverty - only about 4% of all funds allocated for economic development went to the three main anti-poverty programs, and precious few of these ever reached the 'poorest of the poor' - and the empty sloganeering of the program was mainly used instead to engender populist support for Gandhi's re-election.
- Corruption charges and verdict of electoral malpractice
On 12 June 1975 the High Court of Allahabad declared Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha void on grounds of electoral malpractice. In an election petition filed by Raj Narain (who later on defeated her in 1977 parliamentary election from Rae Bareily), he had alleged several major as well as minor instances of using government resources for campaigning. The court thus ordered her to be removed from her seat in Parliament and banned from running in elections for six years. The Prime Minister must be a member of either the Lok Sabha (Lower house in the Parliament of India) or the Rajya Sabha (the Higher house of the Parliament). Thus, this decision effectively removed her from office. Mrs Gandhi had asked one of India's best legal minds and also one of her colleagues in government, Mr Ashoke Kumar Sen to defend her in court. It has been written that Mrs Gandhi was told she would only win if Mr Sen appeared for her.
But Gandhi rejected calls to resign and announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. The verdict was delivered by Mr Justice Sinha at Allahabad High Court. It came almost four years after the case was brought by Raj Narain, the premier's defeated opponent in the 1971 parliamentary election. Gandhi, who gave evidence in her defence during the trial, was found guilty of dishonest election practices, excessive election expenditure, and of using government machinery and officials for party purposes. The judge rejected more serious charges of bribery against her.
Indira insisted the conviction did not undermine her position, despite having been unseated from the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, by order of the High Court. 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 BK 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 of the Constitution, on 26 June 1975.
- 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 indefinitely detain citizens and all publications were subjected to substantial censorship by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Inder Kumar Gujral, a future prime minister himself, resigned as Minister for Information and Broadcasting to protest Sanjay Gandhi's interference in his work. Finally, impending legislative assembly elections were indefinitely postponed, with all opposition-controlled state governments being removed by virtue of the constitutional provision allowing for a dismissal of a state government on recommendation of the state's governor.
- Indira Gandhi used the emergency provisions to grant herself extraordinary powers.
"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..."
It is alleged that she further moved President Ahmed to issue ordinances that did not need to be debated in the Parliament, allowing her to rule by decree.
Simultaneously, Gandhi's government undertook a campaign to stamp out dissent including the arrest and detention of thousands of political activists; Sanjay was instrumental in initiating the clearing of slums around Delhi's Jama Masjid under the supervision of Jag Mohan, later Lt. Governor of Delhi, which allegedly left thousands of people homeless and hundreds killed, and led to communal embitterment in those parts of the nation's capital; and the family planning program which forcibly imposed vasectomy on thousands of fathers and was often poorly administered.
After extending the state of emergency twice, in 1977 Indira Gandhi called for elections, to give the electorate a chance to vindicate her rule. Gandhi may have grossly misjudged her popularity by reading what the heavily censored press wrote about her. In any case, she was opposed by the Janata Party. Janata, led by her long-time rival, Desai and with Jai Prakash Narayan as its spiritual guide, claimed the elections were the last chance for India to choose between "democracy and dictatorship." Indira's Congress party was beaten soundly. Indira and Sanjay Gandhi both lost their seats, and Congress was cut down to 153 seats (compared with 350 in the previous Lok Sabha), 92 of which were in the south.
- Removal, arrest, and return
The downfall of Indira Gandhi began after India won the war against Pakistan in 1971. The Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty with electoral corruption for the 1971 elections. In 1975, Indira Gandhi called a State of Emergency under Article 352 in which she ordered the arrest of her opposition, who later joined together and formed the Janata Party In 1977, Indira Gandhi and her party, Indian National Congress, lost the election to the Janata Party, a coalition of virtually all of Indira Gandhi’s opponents. After the elections, Gandhi found herself without work, income or residence. The Congress Party split during the election campaign of 1977: veteran Gandhi supporters like Jagjivan Ram and her most loyal Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy - very close to Indira, the three were compelled due to politicking and possibly circumstances created by Sanjay Gandhi - to part ways. The prevailing rumour was that Sanjay had intentions of dislodging Indira. The Congress Party was now a much smaller group in Parliament, although the official opposition.
Once the Janata Party came into power, they aimed to return all Indian citizens the freedoms taken away when Indira Gandhi declared the State of Emergency. The leader of the Janata Party was Jayaprakash Narayan who kept the party united. The other party leaders of the Janata Party were Morarji Desai , Charan Singh , Raj Narain and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 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 several charges, none of which would be easy to prove in an Indian court. The arrest meant that Indira was automatically expelled from Parliament. These allegations included that Indira Gandhi “‘had planned or thought of killing all opposition leaders in jail during the Emergency’”. However, this strategy backfired disastrously. Her arrest and long-running trial, however, gained her great sympathy from many people who had feared her as a tyrant just two years earlier.The Janata coalition was only united by its hatred of Indira (or "that woman" as some called her). With so little in common, the government was bogged down by infighting and Gandhi was able to use the situation to her advantage. She began giving speeches again, tacitly apologizing for "mistakes" made during the Emergency. Jayaprakash Narayan died on 8 October 1979, which broke the unity of the Janata Party and Desai took his place. Desai resigned in June 1979, and Charan Singh was appointed Prime Minister by Reddy after Gandhi promised that Congress would support his government from outside.
After a short interval, she withdrew her initial support and President Reddy dissolved Parliament in the winter of 1979. In elections held the following January, Congress was returned to power with a landslide majority.
In the 1980s, Money meant for aid given by Mrs Gandhi was used by the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups in Sri Lanka It is alleged that she purposefully supported terrorist activities in Sri Lanka in order to suppress the 'Pakistan-friendly' country.
- Currency crisis
During the early 1980s, Indira's administration failed to arrest the 40 percent fall in the value of the Indian Rupee from 7 to 12 against the US Dollar.
- Operation Blue Star and assassination
In July 1982, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's Sikh group occupied the Golden Temple. In response, on 6 June 1984, during one of the holiest Sikh holidays, enacting Operation Blue Star, the Indian army opened fire, killing a disputed number of Sikhs along with supporters of Bhindranwale. The State of Punjab was closed to international media, Sikh devotees, human rights organizations, and other groups during the period. On 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, assassinated her with their service weapons in the garden of the Prime Minister's residence at 1 Safdarjung Road, New Delhi as she was walking past a wicket gate guarded by Satwant and Beant. She was to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. According to information immediately following the incident, Beant Singh shot her three times using his side-arm, and Satwant Singh fired 30 rounds using a Sten submachine gun. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh dropped their weapons and surrendered. Afterwards they were taken away by other guards into a closed room where Beant Singh was shot dead as he tried to capture one of the guard's weapons. While Satwant Singh was arrested at the site of assassination, Kehar Singh was later arrested for conspiracy in the assassination. Both were sentenced to death and hanged in Tihar jail in Delhi.
Gandhi died on her way to the hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors operated on her. Official accounts at the time stated as many as 19 entry and exit wounds and some reports stated 16 bullets were extracted from her body. She was cremated on 3 November near Raj Ghat. Her funeral was televised live on domestic and international stations including the BBC.
- Personal life
Initially, Sanjay had been her chosen heir; but after his death in a flying accident, his mother persuaded a reluctant Rajiv Gandhi to quit his job as a pilot and enter politics in February 1981.
Indira was known for her closeness with her personal yoga guru, Dhirendra Brahmachari, who not only helped her in making certain decisions but also executed certain top level political tasks on her behalf, especially from 1975 to 1977 when Gandhi "dissolved Parliament, declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties."
After Indira Gandhi's death, Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister. In May 1991, he too was assassinated, this time at the hands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Rajiv's widow, Sonia Gandhi, led the United Progressive Alliance to a surprise electoral victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Sonia Gandhi declined the opportunity to assume the office of Prime Minister but remains in control of the Congress' political apparatus; Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, formerly finance minister, now heads the nation. Rajiv's children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, have also entered politics. Sanjay Gandhi's widow, Maneka Gandhi - who fell out with Indira after Sanjay's death and was famously thrown out of the Prime Minister's house - as well as Sanjay's son, Varun Gandhi, are active in politics as members of the main opposition BJP party.
Being the first woman Prime Minister of India, and an influential leader, in a prevalently male-dominated society, Indira Gandhi is a symbol of feminism in India. As per economic surveys, when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, 65% of the country's population was below the poverty line, and when her regime ended in 1984, this figure was 45%. During her rule, food production increased by 250%. Literacy also increased in India by 30%.
The goodwill of the rural population earned by Gandhi still has its effects on the success of the Congress Party in rural India, as well as the popular support of the Nehru-Gandhi Family. She is reverently remembered in many parts of rural India as Indira-Amma ("Amma" means "mother" in many Indian languages). Her Garibi Hatao slogan is still used by the Congress during political campaigns. The present president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, who is also the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, is said to style herself in resemblance to her.
The Indira Awaas Yojana, a programme of the central government to provide low-cost housing to rural poor, is named after her. The international airport at New Delhi is named as the Indira Gandhi International Airport in her honour.