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Sonia Gandhi
Profiles of Indian Political Leaders
Indira Gandhi
(1917-1984)

Indira Gandhi was the only child of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the grand daughter of freedom fighter Motilal Nehru.

Indira was born on November 19, 1917. Her mother Kamala Nehru died when Indira was still a young girl. Although Indira attended Somerville College, Oxford, she did not graduate. Other schools Indira attended include Ecole Nouvelle, Bex (Switzerland); Ecole Internationale, Geneva; Pupils' Own School, Poona and Bombay; Badminton School, Bristol; and Vishwa Bharati, Shantiniketan.

Indira's official biography credits her with founding the Bal Charkha Sangh and the Vanar Sena (monkey brigade) of children in 1930 to help the Congress party during the Non-Cooperation Movement against the British colonial rulers. She was also imprisoned in September 1942, and is said to have worked in the violence-affected areas of Delhi in 1947.

Her marriage to Feroze Gandhi on March 26, 1942 does not seem to have been a happy one. Feroze Gandhi, who was considered an able parliamentarian, died in 1960. The marriage resulted in two sons - Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi.

Born into such a distinguished political family, it's hardly surprising that Indira would eventually gravitate towards politics.

After India achieved independence in 1947, Indira's father Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of the country. Indira acted as his hostess and accompanied him on some of his foreign visits.

Although Indira had become active in Congress party politics in the mid-1950s itself when her father was still alive, she first became a minister (Minister of Information and Broadcasting) in the cabinet of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964.

Indira became Prime Minister in 1966 after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent. After Shastri's death, the senior leaders in the Congress party could not agree on a consensus candidate and picked on Indira thinking she would be easy to manipulate. But Indira outfoxed all of the old guards including such veterans as Morarji Desai, K.Kamaraj, N.Sanjiv Reddy and others.

Her first stint as Prime Minister was from 1966-1977. In 1969, Indira and the old guard in the Congress party parted ways. The old guard was no match for Indira, who won a comfortable victory in the 1971 elections on the Garibi hatao (Remove Poverty) slogan.

Indira reached the acme of her popularity after India's decisive victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war. The war led to the creation of the present Bangladesh from the erstwhile East Pakistan. But the honeymoon was coming to an end.

There was growing agitation and opposition to Indira's rule as well as a June 1975 Allahabad High Court ruling that declared her guilty of electoral fraud, ordered her removal from her seat in Parliament and banned her from running for an additional six years. Indira responded by declaring a state of Emergency in the country in 1975 curtailing human rights. Her opponents were thrown in jail.

The Emergency was to prove to be a dark night in Indian democracy.

Although, the Emergency helped her to get a better grip on the political situation, in the subsequent elections Indira and her party were roundly trounced by the Janata Party. Her defeat in 1977 can be attributed to the high-handed behavior of government officials during the Emergency and the forced sterilization program.

But the Janata party was riven by constant internal squabbles of its top leaders and soon collapsed under the weight of its contradictions. Indira returned to power as Prime Minister in 1980. However, her joy was shattered when her younger son Sanjay Gandhi was killed in a plane accident in Delhi.

During this period (1980-1984), the secessionist movement by the Sikhs in the northern Punjab gained momentum. Finally, in an effort to crush the separatist movement and end the continuous violence Indira sent in the army in "Operation Bluestar" to flush out the militants who were holed up in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. In the ensuing firefight, the Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bindranwale was killed and parts of the Golden Temple damaged. Although Operation Bluestar ended the violence in Punjab, the Sikh community was enraged by what they saw as destruction to their holy place.

Indira died on October 31, 1984 when she was shot by her Sikh bodyguards who were upset over her government's actions in Punjab. Indira's assassination led to an orgy of violence against the Sikhs, and thousands of innocent Sikhs were brutally killed.

The Indira era in Indian politics was marked by decline in political institutions and the ascent of sycophancy and thuggism. Her Cabinet Ministers and the Chief Ministers of her party were puppets who could be unseated anytime. In the memorable words of one of her sychophantic partymen D K Barooah, "Indira is India, India is Indira."

Indira had a strong authoritarian streak that brooked no dissent.

During Indira's tenure, India launched its nuclear program and the country's first "peaceful" explosion in Pokhran happened in 1974. Other major decisions during her tenure include the nationalization of banks and the abolition of privy purses to the princes.

There is little evidence to support that Indira had a strong intellectual side to her unlike her father who was very well read and author of some fine books. Most likely Indira would have passed through life completely unnoticed but for her birth into the Nehru family.

Profiles of Other Indian Politicians
C.N. Annadurai
Biju Patnaik
Indira Gandhi
Jayalalitha
Jayaprakash Narayan
Kamaraj
M. Karunanidhi
Laloo Prasad Yadav
Mayawati
Narendra Modi
Nitish Kumar
Rahul Gandhi
Rajiv Gandhi
M.G. Ramachandran
Sanjay Gandhi
M.K. Stalin

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