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Indira Gandhi (1917 1984) was the only child of Kamla and Jawaharlal Nehru. She spent part of her childhood in Allahabad, where the Nehrus had their family residence, and part in Switzerland, where her mother Kamla convalesced from her periodic illnesses. She received her college education at Somerville College, Oxford. A famous photograph from her childhood shows her sitting by the bedside of Mahatma Gandhi, as he recovered from one of his fasts, and though she was not actively involved in the freedom struggle, she came to know the entire Indian political leadership. After Indias attainment of independence, and the ascendancy of Jawaharlal Nehru, now a widower, to the office of the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi managed the official residence of her father, and accompanied him on his numerous foreign trips. She had been married in 1942 to Feroze Gandhi, who rose to some eminence as a parliamentarian and politician of integrity but found himself disliked by his more famous father in law, but Feroze died in 1960 before he could consolidate his own political forces.
In 1964, the year of her fathers death, Indira Gandhi was for the first time elected to Parliament, and she was Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the government of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack less than two years after assuming office. The numerous contenders for the position of the Prime Ministership, unable to agree among themselves, picked Indira Gandhi as a compromise candidate, and each thought that she would be easily manipulable. But Indira Gandhi showed extraordinary political skills and tenacity and elbowed the Congress dons Kamaraj, Morarji Desai, and others out of power. She held the office of the Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. She was riding the crest of popularity after Indias triumph in the war of 1971 against Pakistan, and the explosion of a nuclear device in 1974 helped to enhance her reputation among middle class Indians as a tough and shrewd political leader. However, by 1973, Delhi and north India were rocked by demonstrations angry at high inflation, the poor state of the economy, rampant corruption, and the poor standards of living. In June 1975, the High Court of Allahabad found her guilty of using illegal practices during the last election campaign, and ordered her to vacate her seat. There were demands for her resignation.
Mrs. Gandhis response was to declare a state of emergency, under which her political foes were imprisoned, constitutional rights abrogated, and the press placed under strict censorship. Meanwhile, the younger of her two sons, Sanjay Gandhi, started to run the country as though it were his personal fiefdom, and earned the fierce hatred of many whom his policies had victimized. He ordered the removal of slum dwellings, and in an attempt to curb Indias growing population, initiated a highly resented program of forced sterilization. In early 1977, confident that she had debilitated her opposition, Mrs. Gandhi called for fresh elections, and found herself trounced by a newly formed coalition of several political parties. Her Congress party lost badly at the polls. Many declared that she was a spent force, but, three years later, she was to return as Prime Minister of India. The same year, however, her son Sanjay was killed in an airplane crash.
In the second, post Emergency, period of her Prime Ministership, Indira Gandhi was preoccupied by efforts to resolve the political problems in the state of Punjab. In her attempt to crush the secessionist movement of Sikh militants, led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, she ordered an assault upon the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, called the Golden Temple. It is here that Bindranwale and his armed supporters had holed up, and it is from the Golden Temple that they waged their campaign of terrorism not merely against the Government, but against moderate Sikhs and Hindus. Operation Bluestar, waged in June 1984, led to the death of Bindranwale, and the Golden Temple was stripped clean of Sikh terrorists, however, the Golden Temple was damaged, and Mrs. Gandhi earned the undying hatred of Sikhs who bitterly resented the desacralization of their sacred space. In November of the same year, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated, at her residence, by two of her own Sikh bodyguards, who claimed to be avenging the insult heaped upon the Sikh nation.
Mrs. Gandhi acquired a formidable international reputation as a statesman, and there is no doubt that she was extraordinarily skilled in politics. She was prone, like many other politicians, to thrive on slogans, and one Garibi Hatao, Remove Poverty became the rallying cry for one of her election campaigns. She had an authoritarian streak, and though a cultured woman, rarely tolerated dissent, and she did, in many respects, irreparable harm to Indian democracy. Apart from her infamous imposition of the internal emergency, the use of the army to resolve internal disputes greatly increased in her time, and she encouraged a culture of sycophancy and nepotism. At her death, her older son, Rajiv Gandhi, was sworn in as head of the Congress party and Prime Minister.
2. Early Life
Indira Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917 in Allahabad (in modern day Uttar Pradesh), British India. Her father was Jawaharlal Nehru, who would go on to become the first prime minister of India following its independence from Britain, her mother, Kamala Nehru, was just 18 years old when the baby arrived. The child was named Indira Priyadarshini Nehru.Indira grew up as an only child. A baby brother born in November of 1924 died after just two days. The Nehru family was very active in the anti imperial politics of the time, Indiras father was a leader of the nationalist movement, and a close associate of Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
3. Sojourn in Europe
In March 1930, Kamala and Indira were marching in protest outside of the Ewing Christian College. Indiras mother suffered from heat stroke, so a young student named Feroz Gandhi rushed to her aid. He would become a close friend of Kamalas, escorting and attending her during her treatment for tuberculosis, first in India and later in Switzerland. Indira also spent time in Switzerland, where her mother died of TB in February of 1936.Indira went to Britain in 1937, where she enrolled at Somerville College, Oxford, but never completed her degree. While there, she began to spend more time with Feroz Gandhi, then a London School of Economics student. The two married in 1942, over the objections of Jawaharlal Nehru, who disliked his son in law. (Feroz Gandhi was no relation to Mohandas Gandhi.)Nehru eventually had to accept the marriage. Feroz and Indira Gandhi had two sons, Rajiv, born in 1944, and Sanjay, born in 1946.
4. Early Political Career
During the early 1950s, Indira served as an unofficial personal assistant to her father, then the prime minister. In 1955, she became a member of the Congress Partys working committee, within four years, she would be president of that body.Feroz Gandhi had a heart attack in 1958, while Indira and Nehru were in Bhutan on an official state visit. Indira returned home to take care of him. Feroz died in Delhi in 1960 after suffering a second heart attack.Indiras father also died in 1964, and was succeeded as prime minister by Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri appointed Indira Gandhi his minister of information and broadcasting, in addition, she was a member of the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha.In 1966, Prime Minister Shastri died unexpectedly. Indira Gandhi was named the new Prime Minister as a compromise candidate. Politicians on both sides of a deepening divide within the Congress Party hoped to be able to control her. They had completely underestimated Nehrus daughter.
5. Prime Minister Gandhi
By 1966, the Congress Party was in trouble. It was dividing into two separate factions, Indira Gandhi led the left wing socialist faction. The 1967 election cycle was grim for the party it lost almost 60 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. Indira was able to keep the Prime Minister seat through a coalition with the Indian Communist and Socialist parties. In 1969, the Indian National Congress Party split in half for good.As prime minister, Indira made some popular moves. She authorized the development of a nuclear weapons program in response to Chinas successful test at Lop Nur in 1967. (India would test its own bomb in 1974.) In order to counterbalance Pakistans friendship with the United States, and also perhaps due to mutual personal antipathy with US President Richard Nixon, she forged a closer relationship with the Soviet Union.In keeping with her socialist principles, Indira abolished the maharajas of Indias various states, doing away with their privileges as well as their titles. She also nationalized the banks in July of 1969, as well as mines and oil companies. Under her stewardship, traditionally famine prone India became a Green Revolution success story, actually exporting a surplus of wheat, rice and other crops by the early 1970s.In 1971, in response to a flood of refugees from East Pakistan, Indira began a war against Pakistan. The East Pakistani Indian forces won the war, resulting in the formation of the nation of Bangladesh from what had been East Pakistan.
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