Biography of Indira Gandhi

By Radiyah Shakur

Indira GandhiIndira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India. In power from January 19, 1966 to March 24, 1977, and from January 14, 1980 until her assassination on October 31, 1984. The daughter of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who served from 1946 to 1964, she was one of modern India’s most politically distinguished leaders.

Born Indira Priyadarshini Nehru on November 19, 1917, she was the only child of Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru. During the time of British imperialism many Indian National Congress workers from Allahabad lived in constant fear of spontaneous arrest and searches of their homes. As a result, the Monkey Brigade, a children’s informant group whose purpose was to help end British control in India, was formed. As the group’s leader at age 12, Indira Gandhi delivered speeches while other children actually warned the people intended to be arrested. The Congress assumed that British officials would not suspect children of participating in such schemes. Their assumptions proved correct on one very important occasion when Indira pleaded with a British officer not to inspect her parent’s car because the delay would make her tardy for school. Indira successfully stopped the police inspector from searching the car which held in its boot the Congress party’s documented plans for a civil disobedience movement.

In 1938, Indira joined the National Congress Party. A few years later, in 1942, she married journalist Feroze Ghandi (not related to Mahatma Gandhi), to whom she bore two sons. In 1946, India received its independence; and Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru was elected India’s first prime minister. Since the time of her mother’s death in 1936, Indira had become her father’s confidant and advisor and traveled with him to meet famous political figures. Later in 1959, Gandhi became the fourth woman elected president of the Indian National Congress. After her father's death in 1964, she was appointed by the new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri as minister of information and broadcasting.

In 1966, following Shastri’s death, Indira Gandhi served as prime minister until India held its next election. She won that election, and in 1967, became one of the first women ever elected to lead a democracy. In 1971, Gandhi was re-elected by campaigning with the slogan "Abolish Poverty." However, in June 1975, a court found Gandhi guilty of using illegal practices during India's 1971 parliamentary election campaign. Gandhi's opponents demanded that she resign from office because of the conviction, but she refused. Criticism of Gandhi grew, and she declared a state of emergency two weeks after the court ruling. She had her major opponents arrested and imposed press censorship. Later, the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of India. In her opinion, her dictatorship was for the good of India. Nevertheless she allowed free elections in 1977, and the Indian people voted her out of office. She regained her position as prime minister in 1980. Unfortunately on October 31, 1984, Gandhi's bodyguards assassinated her.

Indira Gandhi dedicated her life to progress in her country despite the overwhelming problems and challenges she encountered. As prime minister, Gandhi tried to improve the economic, social, political and technological lives of Indians.


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