Indira Gandhi

Biography of Indira Gandhi Prime Minister of India, a country with more than 1,200,000 inhabitants, believers in eight major religions and spread over an immense territory of over 3 million square km.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

The daughter of a wealthy and well off family in India, she began her political rise as the closest and closest ally of her father, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Intelligent political strategist and brilliant thinker, she became one of the most powerful women in the world.

Childhood and family of Indira Gandhi

Indira was born on November 19, 1917. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a lawyer educated in the United Kingdom, at Somerville College, Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Her mother Kamala Nehru was also a descendant of a wealthy Indian family.

Indira grew up among the comforts offered by the family’s financial situation.

Familia Nehru
Nehru family: grandfather Motilal Nehru, father Jawaharlal Nehru, mother, Indira Gandhi, Ranjit Pandit and Krishna. Credit: Wikipedia

During her childhood she lived closely the consequences of opposition to British rule.

Her home was a coming and going of meetings, violent police bursts, and arrests.

Her father was a faithful disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.

As a child, Indira pulled the mustaches of all the important men who built India, including Mahatma himself.

The fight for independence unfolded before her eyes.

Indira Gandhi told journalist Oriana Fallaci that, when she opened the door to her friends, she said: “I’m sorry, there is nobody; my father, my mother, grandfather, grandmother and aunt are in jail “.

The prolonged absences of her father were frequent, motivated by his total dedication to the independence of India.

Her mother died very young of tuberculosis.

Indira Gandhi’s youth studies and experiences

The economic possibilities of her family allowed her to study at prestigious colleges and institutions in India, Switzerland and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Nehru 1930
Indira and her father Jawaharlal Nehru in 1930. Credit: Wikipedia

In 1938, she joined the Indian National Congress party, of which her father was leader of the moderate socialist wing.

She actively promoted the fight for the independence of India, advocated by the legendary Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1939, World War II broke out.

Gandhi declared that India could not be in favor of a war that, apparently, was a fight for democratic freedom, while that same freedom was denied to India.

Gandhi and his supporters were clear that they would not support the war effort, unless immediate independence was granted to India.

Across India, efforts for independence intensified.

Thousands of freedom fighters were killed or wounded by police fire, and hundreds of thousands were arrested.

Gandhi was held for two years.

In August 1942, the British arrested Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi returned to India in 1942

Indira returned to India to be as close as possible to her father in these terrible circumstances.

Feroze
Feroze Gandhi, Indian politician and journalist. Credit: The National Herald Newspaper

She met a young Bombay lawyer, Feroze Gandhi (unrelated to Mahatma Gandhi).

Feroze Gandhi was also up to his neck in politics.

They married. Indira was 25 years old.

Six months later, both were arrested by the British authorities, accused of subversion; and they were 13 months in jail.

The end of the war brought some relief to the persecution of nationalist leaders in India and the promise of prompt independence.

Gandhi ordered to suspend the fight; and the British released more than 100,000 prisoners.

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi, main promoter of the independence of India. Credit: India Network

Events in India since 1947

On August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, appointed Prime Minister of the new country, spoke these words to Parliament: “When the hour of midnight strikes, while the world sleeps, India will awaken to life and liberty“.

That day, August 15, 1947, meant for India the beginning of its long-awaited sovereignty.

Independence
Without war or revolutions, India gained independence on August 15, 1947. Credit: web mihistoriauniversal

Indira went to live at the residence of her father, who was a widower and needed a woman by his side.

Jawaharlal Nehru remained in the post of Prime Minister of India for 17 years.

He promoted the definitive consolidation of the country, with the support of the Congress Party, of which he was head.

Indira Gandhi became a public figure

Indira became not only her closest and most devoted ally, but she also became a public figure who participated in meetings and conferences.

Along with her father, she was meeting the most prominent politicians and statesmen internationally.

She became a key figure in the Party, and went on to play an essential role as a public figure.

As for Indira’s relationships with her husband, rumors of his continued infidelities caused her to practically abandon him.

They had two children: Rajiv (in 1944) and Sanjay (in 1946).

However, Indira kept throughout her life, the last name of her husband, who died in 1960.

Indira Gandhi named Chief of her party

A year earlier, in 1959, Indira was named Head of the Congress Party and began to intervene more directly in politics.

At that time, the poor of India began to count on the help of a nun: Teresa of Calcutta

Indira Gandhi
The young Minister Indira Gandhi. Credit: Very Interesting Magazine

In May 1964, Nehru died of a myocardial infarction.

After the death of her father, the new government, made up of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, appointed her Minister of Information and Broadcasting.

Bahadur Shastri’s leadership was short-lived, as only two years later, in 1966, he died suddenly.

Indira Gandhi appointed Prime Minister of India

Indira was elected Secretary General of the Congress Party and Prime Minister of India.

This was the beginning of a new stage in the life of Indira Gandhi.

The bosses and leaders of the different parties had thought that the most convenient thing in this moment of chaos, was to choose a docile and manageable leader.

The young and harmless Mrs. Gandhi seemed the ideal option: recognized inside and outside the country and linked to the portentous Nehru-Gandhi couple.

Those who manipulated in this way would soon discover how wrong they were.

Indira Gandhi managed to transform her role from ornamental member of the political elite, to being the most powerful leader of India.

She was for decades, until her murder on October 3, 1984.

This was due to her popularity in the masses and her kinship and affiliation with the Nehru Dynasty.

In 1967, the fourth general elections took place in India.

Indira’s party retained majority control.

Difficulties of the Party of Indira Gandhi

However, after twenty years of political rule, the “Congress Party” was experiencing serious difficulties.

In eastern Pakistan, the widespread atrocities of the Pakistani army against the civilian population caused a massive immigration of some 10 million refugees who fled to India.

Indira did not prevent mass immigration, but allowed it to enter India.

The Administration of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the USA was very upset with the leftist tendency of the Indira Gandhi government.

The North Americans supported Pakistan against India, in the diplomatic friction originated between both countries by that massive immigration.

A brilliant strategist and political thinker, she had used all means at her disposal to consolidate her power and authority as Prime Minister.

Faced with this situation of international conflict, in which the United States had positioned itself in favor of Pakistan and against India, she made the appropriate arrangements to sign a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union.

The political support of the Russian giant, which had the power of veto at the UN, left out of play all the countries that were facing India, in this conflict with Pakistan.

India’s war with the Pakistanis

In 1971, already fearless of any international resolution that could stop them, the Indian government sent an army of 93,000 men to East Pakistan.

The Indian army easily defeated the Pakistani armies.

With the popular support of the East Pakistanis and with her military victory, Indira decisively contributed to the birth of Bangladesh, a “declared independent republic“, but which in reality was a satellite nation of India.

Indira Gandhi’s victory, in this war in 1971, granted her the status of heroin and definitively transformed her into a respected and popular Prime Minister.

She had shown the world her political potential and her steadfastness.

Difficult political situation in India

The political situation in India was chaotic.

In 1975 she declared the country in a state of emergency on two occasions, ordered the arrest of her opponents, censored criticism in the media, ordered compulsory sterilization.

Indira Gandhi decided to impose a dictatorship that lasted until 1977.

In 1977, confident of her popularity, she decided to call a popular plebiscite.

The Congress Party was divided during the electoral campaign due to the circumstances created by Sanjay Gandhi, Indira’s youngest son.

The main rumor was that Sanjay intended to oust his mother from power.

The National Congress Party lost the elections to Janata, a coalition of almost all of Indira’s opponents.

Janata’s claimed the elections as the last chance for India to choose between “democracy and dictatorship“.

Indira Gandhi faced serious difficulties since 1977

After the elections, Indira Gandhi found herself without a job.

Unable to govern, due to many internal disputes, the government minister blamed the Gandhi and ordered the arrest of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay.

They were charged with several charges, some of which included that she, during the state of emergency, had planned to murder all opposition leaders in prison.

However, the longer the trial dragged on, the more popular sympathy for the Gandhi increased.

It was clear that the Janata coalition was united only because of its hatred of Indira.

The latter began giving more speeches, tacitly apologizing for the mistakes made during her tenure.

Indira Gandhi re-elected Prime Minister in 1980

In the January 1980 elections, the Congress Party returned to power with an overwhelming majority.

Indira was re-elected as Prime Minister again, due to her charisma and her immense popularity among the lower classes.

Criticism of her tactics against opposition parties had been balanced by popular approval of her swift response in June 1982, when she had to quell a Sikh terrorist outbreak in the Punjab state of north-western India.

In July 1982, the leader of the Sikh religious institution launched a campaign with the intention of creating an independent Sikh confessional state in the region.

Indira Gandhi had tirelessly fought against Sikh nationalism in Punjab.

A great disaster with the independents of India

In June 1984, in response to this outbreak of independence, Indira Gandhi ordered what was called: “Operation Blue Star.”

The Indian army opened fire at the Golden Temple in Amritsar during one of the holiest Sikh festivals.

About 600 people died in the attack; Among them, the main Sikh leader.

The government blocked access to the international media and human rights organizations.

In July 1984, Indira was re-elected again.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984

Three months after her reelection, on October 31, 1984, while on her way to an interview with actor Peter Ustinov, she was killed by two of her bodyguards who were part of the Sikh minority and who were shot shortly thereafter.

The night before her death, she said at a political rally: “I don’t care if my life goes in the service of the nation. If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation.

The life and sad ending of Indira Ghandi bears a strong resemblance to the life and tragic ending of Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

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