Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984) was the fourth Prime Minister of India and a central figure of the Indian National Congress party. Gandhi, who served from 1966 to 1977 and then again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, is the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of India and the only woman to hold the office.
Indira Gandhi was the only child of the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. She served as the Chief of Staff of her father's highly centralised administration between 1947 and 1964 and came to wield considerable unofficial influence in government. She was elected Congress President in 1959. Upon her father's death in 1964, Gandhi refused to enter Congress party leadership contest and instead chose to become a cabinet minister in the government led by Lal Bahadur Shastri. In Congress party parliamentary leadership election held in early 1966 upon the death of Shastri, she defeated her rival, Morarji Desai to become leader and thus succeed Shastri as the prime minister of India.
As Prime Minister, Gandhi was known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralisation of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India's influence to the point where it became the regional hegemon of South Asia. Gandhi also presided over a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 during which she ruled by decree and made lasting changes to the constitution of India. She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards a few months after she ordered the storming of the Sikh holy Temple in Amritsar.
In 2001, Gandhi was voted the greatest Indian Prime Minister in a poll organised by India Today. She was also named "Woman of the Millennium" in a poll organised by the BBC in 1999.
Indira Gandhi was born Indira Nehru in a Kashmiri Pandit family on 19 November 1917 in Allahabad.Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in India's political struggle for independence from British rule, and became the first Prime Minister of the Union (and later Republic) of India.She was an only child (a younger brother was born, but died young),and grew up with her mother, Kamala Nehru, at the Anand Bhavan; a large family estate in Allahabad.Indira had a lonely and unhappy childhood.Her father was often away, directing political activities or being incarcerated in prison, while her mother was frequently bed-ridden with illness, and later suffered an early death from tuberculosis.She had limited contact with her father, mostly through letters.
Indira was mostly taught at home by tutors, and intermittently attended school until matriculation in 1934.She went on to study at the Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan. It was during her interview that Rabindranath Tagore named her Priyadarshini, and she came to be known as Indira Priyadarshini Nehru.A year later, however, she had to leave university to attend to her ailing mother in Europe.While there, it was decided that Indira would continue her education at the University of Oxford.After her mother died, she briefly attended the Badminton School before enrolling at Somerville College in 1937 to study history.Indira had to take the entrance examination twice; having failed at her first attempt, with a poor performance in Latin.At Oxford, she did well in history, political science and economics, but her grades in Latin—a compulsory subject—remained poor.
1971 election victory and second term
Mrs. Gandhi called snap parliamentary elections for March 1971. In this election, her Congress (R) Party scored a landslide victory on a platform of progressive policies such as poverty elimination (Garibi Hatao) against the United opposition aliance's "Indira Hatao" ( Remove Indira) Manifesto.,
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 and developed by the Central Government in New Delhi. The program was supervised, and staffed by 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."
The biggest achievement of Indira Gandhi after the 1971 election was the victory against Pakistan that led to the formation independent Bangladesh. At that time she was hailed as Goddess Durga by opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In elections held for State assemblies across India in March 1972, the Congress(R) swept to power in most states riding on the post-war "Indira wave".
Despite the victory against Pakistan, the Congress government faced numerous problems during this term. Some of these were due to high inflation which was in turn caused by war time expenses, drought in some parts of the country and more importantly, the 1973 oil crisis. The opposition to Indira in 1973-75 period after the Indira wave had receded was strongest in Bihar and Gujarat. In Bihar, Jayaprakash Narayan, the veteran leader came out of retirement to lead the protest movement there.
Verdict on 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 stripped of her parliamentary seat and banned from running for any office for six years. The Prime Minister must be a member of either the Lok Sabha (the lower house in the Parliament of India) or the Rajya Sabha (the upper house). Thus, this decision effectively removed her from office. Mrs Gandhi had asked one of her colleagues in government, Mr Ashoke Kumar Sen to defend her in court.
But Gandhi rejected calls to resign and announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. The verdict was delivered by Mr Justice Jagmohanlal 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.
With Richard Nixon, 1971
Gandhi 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)
Main article: The Emergency (India)
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(1) of the Constitution, on 25 June 1975.
1977 election and opposition years
In 1977, after extending the state of emergency twice, Indira Gandhi called 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 alliance of Opposition parties. Janata alliance, with Jai Prakash Narayan as its spiritual guide, claimed the elections were the last chance for India to choose between "democracy and dictatorship." The Congress Party split during the election campaign of 1977: veteran Gandhi supporters like Jagjivan Ram, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy were compelled to part ways and form a new political entity, CFD (Congress for Democracy), primarily due to intra-party politicking and also due to circumstances created by Sanjay Gandhi. The prevailing rumour was that Sanjay had intentions of dislodging Gandhi and the trio stood between that. Gandhi's Congress party was crushed soundly in the elections. The public realized the statement and motto of the Janata Party alliance. 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. The Janata alliance, under the leadership of Morarji Desai, came into power after the State of Emergency was lifted. The alliance parties later merged to form the Janata Party under the guidance of Gandhian leader, Jayaprakash Narayan. The other leaders of the Janata Party were Charan Singh, Raj Narain, George Fernandes and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In opposition and return to power
Since Indira had lost her seat in the election, the defeated Congress party appointed Yashwantrao Chavan as their parliamentary party leader. Soon afterwards, the Congress party split again with Indira floating her own Congress (I) faction. She won a bye-election from the Chikamagalur constituency to the Lok sabha in 1978. However, the Janata government's Home Minister, Choudhary Charan Singh, ordered the arrest of her and Sanjay Gandhi on several charges, none of which would be easy to prove in an Indian court. The arrest meant that Indira Gandhi was automatically expelled from Parliament. These allegations included that she “‘had planned or thought of killing all opposition leaders in jail during the Emergency’”. In response to her arrest, Indira Gandhi's supporters hijacked an Indian Airlines jet and demanded her immediate release. However, this strategy backfired disastrously. Her arrest and long-running trial, however, gained her great sympathy from many people. The Janata coalition was only united by its hatred of Gandhi (or "that woman" as some called her). The party included right wing Hindu Nationalists, Socialists and former Congress party members. With so little in common, the Morarji Desai government was bogged down by infighting. In 1979, the government started to unravel over the issue of dual loyalties of some members to Janata and the RSS. The ambitious Union Finance minister, Charan Singh, who as the Union Home Minister during the previous year had ordered arrest of Indira, took advantage of this and started courting the Congress (I). After a significant exodus from the party to Charan Singh's faction, Desai resigned in July 1979. Charan Singh was appointed Prime Minister, by President Reddy, after Indira and Sanjay Gandhi promised Singh that Congress (I) would support his government from outside on certain conditions., The conditions included dropping all charges against Indira and Sanjay. Since Charan Singh refused to drop the charges Congress (I) withdrew support and President Reddy dissolved Parliament in August 1979.
Before the 1980 elections Gandhi approached the then Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Abdullah Bukhari and entered into an agreement with him on the basis of 10-point programme to secure the support of the Muslim votes.In the elections held in January, Congress was returned to power with a landslide majority.
In 1979, when she visited Madurai, some hooligans attacked her. Nedumaran saved her from the attacks.
1980 elections and third term
The Congress (I) under Indira swept back to power in January 1980. Elections soon after to State assemblies across the country also brought back Congress ministries in the state with Sanjay Gandhi choosing loyalists to lead the states. Sanjay soon died in an aircrash early into this term. Indira by this stage only trusted her family members and therefore decided to bring in her reluctant pilot son, Rajiv into politics.
Operation Blue Star
In the 1977 elections, a coalition led by the Sikh-majority Akali Dal came to power in the northern Indian state of Punjab. In an effort to split the Akali Dal and gain popular support among the Sikhs, Indira Gandhi's Congress helped bring the orthodox religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to prominence in Punjab politics. Later, Bhindranwale's organisation Damdami Taksal became embroiled in violence with another religious sect called the Sant Nirankari Mission, and he was accused of instigating the murder of the Congress leader Jagat Narain.After being arrested in this matter, Bhindranwale disassociated himself from Congress and joined hands with the Akali Dal. In July 1982, he led the campaign for the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which demanded greater autonomy for the Sikh-majority state. Meanwhile, a small section of the Sikhs including some of Bhindranwale's followers, turned to militancy in support of the Khalistan movement, which aimed to create a separate sovereign state for the Sikhs. In 1983, Bhindranwale and his militant followers headquartered themselves in the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, and started accumulating weapons.After several futile negotiations, Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to enter the Golden Temple in order to subdue Bhindranwale and his followers. In the resulting Operation Blue Star, the shrine was damaged and many civilians were killed. The State of Punjab was closed to international media, its phone and communication lines shut. To this day the events remain controversial with a disputed number of victims; Sikhs seeing the attack as unjustified and Bhindrawale being declared the greatest Sikh martyr of the 21st century by Akal Takht (Sikh Political Authority) in 2003.
The day before her death Indira Gandhi visited Orissa on 30 October 1984 where she gave her last speech:
I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow...I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.
Indira Gandhi delivered her last speech at the then Parade Ground in front of the Secretariat of Orissa. After her death, the Parade Ground was converted to the Indira Gandhi Park which was inaugurated by her son, Rajiv Gandhi.
Samadhi of Indira Gandhi
Shakti Sthala, the place where Indira Gandhi was cremated at New Delhi
Today, the spot where Indira Gandhi was assassinated is marked by a glass opening in the crystal pathway at the Indira Gandhi Memorial
On 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi's bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, shot her with their service weapons in the garden of the Prime Minister's residence at 1 Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. The shooting occurred as she was walking past a wicket gate guarded by Satwant and Beant. She was to have been interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. Beant Singh shot her three times using his side-arm, and Satwant Singh fired 30 rounds. 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. Kehar Singh was later arrested for conspiracy in the attack. Both Satwant and Kehar were sentenced to death and hanged in Delhi's Tihar jail.
Indira Gandhi was brought at 9:30 AM to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors operated on her. She was declared dead at 2:20 PM. The post-mortem examination was conducted by a team of doctors headed by Dr. T.D. Dogra. Dr. Dogra stated that as many as 30 bullet wounds were sustained by Indira Gandhi, from two sources, a Sten gun and a pistol. The assailants had fired 31 bullets at her, of which 30 had hit; 23 had passed through her body while 7 were trapped inside her. Dr. Dogra extracted bullets to establish the identity of the weapons and to correlate each weapon with the bullets recovered by ballistic examination. The bullets were matched with respective weapons at CFSL Delhi. Subsequently Dr. Dogra appeared in the court of Shri Mahesh Chandra as an expert witness (PW-5), and his testimony lasted several sessions. The cross examination was conducted by Shri P. N. Lekhi, the defence counsel.Salma Sultan gave the first news of assassination of Indira Gandhi on Doordarshan's evening news on 31 October 1984, more than 10 hours after she was shot.
Gandhi was cremated on 3 November near Raj Ghat. The site where she was cremated is today known as Shakti Sthala. Her funeral was televised live on domestic and international stations, including the BBC. Following her cremation, millions of Sikhs were displaced and nearly three thousand were killed in anti-Sikh riots.Rajiv Gandhi on a live TV show said of the carnage, "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.