Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi-Nehru was the fourthPrime 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 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. ElectedCongress President in 1959, she was offered the premiership in succession to her father. Gandhi refused and instead chose to become a cabinet minister in the government. She finally consented to become Prime Minister in succession to Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966.
Read Also: Indira Gandhi Peace Prize
As Prime Minister, Gandhi became 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 the aftermath of Operation Blue Star.
In the 1950s, Indira, now Mrs Indira Gandhi after her marriage, served her father unofficially as a personal assistant during his tenure as the first Prime Minister of India. After her father’s death in 1964, she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and became a member of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
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, led India’s political struggle for independence from British rule and became the first Prime Minister of the Union of India. She was an only child and grew up with her mother, Kamala Nehru, at the Anand Bhavan; a large family estate in Allahabad.
When Indira became Prime Minister in 1966, the Congress was split in two factions, the socialists led by Gandhi, and the conservatives led by Morarji Desai. Rammanohar Lohia called her Gungi Gudiya, which means ‘Mute Doll’. The internal problems showed in the 1967 election where the Congress lost nearly 60 seats winning 297 seats in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. She had to accommodate Desai as Deputy Prime Minister of India and Minister of Finance. In 1969, after many disagreements with Desai, the Indian National Congress split. She ruled with support from Socialist and Communist Parties for the next two years. In the same year, in July 1969 she nationalised banks.
The Indira Awaas Yojana, a central government low-cost housing programme for the rural poor, is named after her. The international airport at New Delhi is named Indira Gandhi International Airport in her honour. The Indira Gandhi National Open University, the largest university in the world, is also named after her. Indian National Congress established the annual Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1985, given in her memory on her death anniversary. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust also constituted the annual Indira Gandhi Prize.