lndira Gandhi, ( Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi) the third Prime Minister of India was no relation to the legendary Mohandas Gandhi. She was nevertheless part of one of the twentieth century’s most notable and violence touched political families. She followed her parents’ example; they joined the Indian independence movement following a visit from Mohandas Gandhi in 1919. Indira Gandhi was the daughter, of the newly independent India’s first leader, Jawaharlal Nehru. She eventually had to lead her country through one of its most important times.
Ghandi, the only child of Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru, was born on 19 November 1917 in Allahabad, India, when the country was still a British colony. At that time her father Jawaharlal Nehru, was, along with Muhandas “Mahatma” Gandhi and others totally involved in the independence movement. In 1947 Nehru became India’s first Prime Minister.
Gandhi received two educations: the first from the day by day often tumultuous life as the daughter of a leader striving for independence during a time when his actions were frequently considered illegal; the second education was, for short periods, in some of India’s finest schools as well as schooling in Switzerland. More often she studied at home. Before lndia was granted independence Gandhi attended the SantiniketanUniversity in her native country in 1934 where she studied art and dancing. Following that, she went to OxfordUniversity in England.
Gandhi started her own struggle for Indian independence from Great Britain when she was around the age of 11, by establishing the Monkey Brigade, which inter alia, as part of its activities, spied on the police. She became the leader of this children’s group whose aim was to help end British control in India. As the Brigade’s leader, she delivered addresses while other children actually warned the people who were to be arrested. The Congress reckoned that the British would not suspect children of being involved in such a way.
She married the lawyer and newspaper publisher, Feroze Gandhi, in 1942. During that same year they were both jailed by the British for their participation in the struggle for India’s freedom from England. This first and only imprisonment lasted from 11 September 1942 until 13 May 1943 at the Naini Central Jail in Allahabad.
Her father became Prime Minister of the newly independent nation of lndia in 1947. As her mother passed away in 1936, Gandhi acted as hostess and confidante and travelled with Nehru to meet famous political figures. She also became involved in many issues relating to women, children and welfare. In the years shortly after India’s independence, she gave birth to two sons named Rajiv and Sanjay. For eight years (up to 1955), she played an increasing role, and became prominent in her father’s political organization, the National Congress Party, which had been the key force for independence. Gandhi was elected as president of the National Congress Party in 1959.
Following her father’s death in 1964, the new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri appointed Gandhi as Minister of Information and Broadcasting – radio and television played a major part in informing the many Indians who were illiterate. This position was the fourth highest-ranking position in the Cabinet. Prime Minister Shastri died in 1966, and Gandhi acted as Prime Minister until India held the next election, which she won as leader of the Congress Party. In 1967 she became one of the first women ever elected to lead a democracy.
Gandhi came into power as Prime Minister during an era when her country was in turmoil. The war with the neighbouring Pakistan had just ended, and there were serious shortages of food due to a two-year period of little rain, drought and unemployment. This was compounded by higher prices, which caused significant discontent between India’s millions of poor people. Her National Congress Party was rapidly losing power by 1967, and her opponents criticized her and her administration in general.
She preferred strong government action in order to improve social and economic conditions in India. In 1969 she nationalized the largest banks in order to make more money and credit available to small businesses and farmers. This and other actions estranged a lot of support from within her party who were inclined to see a more free-market orientation to the economy. The conservatives and older party members forced her to form a separate, liberal wing of the party. By 1970 Gandhi was compelled to govern with a coalition of liberal parties and was almost voted out of office.
In 1971, Gandhi was re-elected by campaigning with the slogan “Abolish Poverty.” She was striving to consolidate her support. With her campaign ideas of increased, rapid change to improve the quality of life for all Indians, Gandhi and her supporters won an enormous victory, taking two-thirds of the legislature seats.
Gandhi declared a state of emergency on 26 June 1975 because of escalating riots. To secure her power, she also limited the personal freedom of Indians, and ordered the arrest of her main adversaries. She felt that her dictatorship was for the benefit of India. During 1977, however, she allowed free elections, and the Indian people voted her out of office. Another war with Pakistan broke out, which ended in the establishment of an independent state of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). Although this action promoted her support, it further drained the national treasury. A lot of factors resulted in India’s worst economic crisis since independence, and civil unrest increased.
At the 1977 elections Gandhi was voted out of office and arrested for corruption, however she was jailed only briefly. A year later she was forced to give up her seat in Parliament, (she had lost as prime minister, not as a legislator) and again was jailed briefly. Her arrests and battles with the courts simply served to increase her popularity again, and in 1980, she was back in office, which was, as in the past, no easy task. Civil dissatisfaction and violence that the government could not control, as well as an unceasingly unfavourable economy continued to stir up trouble
In 1980, her son Sanjay was killed in an airplane crash. She brought herself criticism at home and from foreign leaders when she refused to condemn the USSR’s invasion of nearby Afghanistan. During the 1980s, several Indian states sought independence, including Sikhs in the Punjab province. In June 1984, Gandhi ordered troops to bash a separatist movement by the Sikhs in Punjab province in India. They attacked the Sikhs’ most revered shrine, the GoldenTemple in Amritsar, which had been converted into an armory. Hundreds of Sikhs died in the attack. In reaction, Ghandi was murdered by her own bodyguards (both Sikh’s) in New Delhi, India, on 31 October 1984. Her son, Rajiv, who served until 1989, and was campaigning for re-election when he too was assassinated, on 21 May 1991, succeeded her
As Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi tried to improve the lives of Indians. She improved relations with the neighbouring Soviet Union and China, and she promoted science and technology. Economically, she led her country to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.