Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Golda Meir, Edith Cresson, and Indira Gandhi – What is common among all these names? They are some of the most powerful women who have had the reins of the governance of their countries in their hands for a considerable part of their political life. Among these names, the name of Indira Gandhi stands out as a female icon of India, especially for hailing from a societal background where women in the ruling position whether of a nation or a state was a distant idea. Know more about the first woman prime minister of India below.
Born as Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi to the first woman prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the year 1917 in Allahabad, Indira had quite a privileged childhood. But having lost her mother at a tender age and with her father away for most of the time due to his political commitments, Indira had to fend for herself. However, despite having a childhood that was devoid of her parent’s love and care, she grew into an independent individual with a feisty personality and strong-willed mind. While growing up, she continued pursuing her studies without any predisposition towards joining politics. It was not until 1964 that Indira Gandhi entered politics as the first woman prime minister of India after her father’s demise as a member of the Rajya Sabha during the tenure of Lal Bahadur Shastri who was then the prime minister of India.
However, her initial days as a politician were not as smooth as one would expect, in as much as she was the daughter of the former and first woman prime minister of India. Rather, for being a woman, she wasn’t even considered a plausible prime ministerial candidate for the election by her party. To be more specific, she was nothing but a representative of the fairer sex holding her place in Indian politics which was indeed steeped with a discriminatory attitude rooted out of the age-old beliefs in gender stereotypes. She finally got her chance to serve India as the first woman prime minister of India due to the orchestrated administrations of Congress President Kamaraj. Even then, she was viewed as a weakling, and all her male counterparts regarded her as nothing but a puppet owning such an authoritative position in Indian politics.
It was after 1971 that both India and the world got acquainted with the formidable personality of Indira Gandhi, and her style of leading one of the largest democracies and a nation in making became clear and enunciated. Although the year had a shaky start when a political vendetta containing a two-word manifesto ‘Indira Hatao’ was launched against the Iron Lady of India, her dominance was reiterated in the political fabric of India when the Civil War broke out in 1971 leading to the creation of Bangladesh. Being instrumental in assisting Bangladesh in its liberation movement, the charisma and wit of Indira popularized the concept of the ‘Indira Wave’ and ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. Not only that, the culmination of the Bangladesh Liberation War is still considered one of the biggest achievements in the career of Indira Gandhi after which she was even greeted as goddess Durga by her opponent leaders. To highlight India’s geopolitical stature during the Cold War situation, Indira Gandhi was the one to initiate India’s nuclear program followed by a successful test in the year 1974.
It was with Indira Gandhi that the populist style of government made its entry into Indian politics where she deviated from the policies followed by her father. To consolidate her regime at the centre, Indira made sure that only the members who were loyal to her would be a part of her cabinet, and all the ministers having an independent base were relieved of their posts.
In the year 1975, Indira Gandhi was charged with electoral malpractice and misusing government resources for her electoral campaign. Following these allegations, Indira was deposed from her position in the parliament and her office as the first woman Prime Minister of India for the next six years. However, all these adversities did not make Indira cower. She decided to take on the opposition and expose them. At the same time, the thousands of followers, whose hearts Indira ruled, took to the streets protesting against the machinations centring Indira’s overthrow. The overwhelming situation all over the country compelled the summoning of a state of emergency within the next few months, and a presidential rule was established in India. There were curfews and detainments in the public everywhere to manage the political unrest that had consumed the country.
By the year 1977, rumours were adrift that the ruling style of Indira Gandhi was nothing short of dictatorship and ran on terrorizing the citizens of India, but that did not affect her fan following at all. Indira was the target of numerous conspiracies, even being framed and arrested for murdering all her opposition leaders in prison during the period of emergency. However, it was the massive protest and support of her followers, demonstrated in the form of the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight, demanding Indira’s release from prison.
In the year 1980, the Congress Party, with Indira Gandhi at its helm, was again back in power after which she had to experience the devastating demise of Sanjay Gandhi. As a tribute, she took the endeavour to nationalize Sanjay’s debt-ridden organization Maruti Udyog and even facilitated a partnership with Suzuki of Japan to officially inaugurate India’s first manufactured car in the year 1984.
Another worth-mentioning episode in her career, although critically viewed by many, came in the year 1983 when a guest house near the Golden Temple at Amritsar was invaded by many militants under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Despite multiple attempts at negotiations, it was all in vain until Indira Gandhi dispatched the Indian army in 1984 to retaliate by breaking into the Golden Temple and ousting the militants from the complex under the mission code name ‘Operation Blue Star.’