Indira Gandhi

20 November, 2012

Daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and, again, from 1980 until her death in 1984. Born in 1917 to the prominent Nehru political family, she completed her education from the Shantiniketan institution of Rabindranath Tagore and from Somerville College, Oxford University. She got her name from Feroze Gandhi, a Parsi, whom she married in 1942. After serving her father as an unofficial personal assistant, she became union minister after his death in 1964 and then replaced the late Lal Bahadur Shastri as prime minister in 1966. The “Old Guard” had assumed that she would be easily influenced. She was not, and she soon made clear that she was the boss. She was to display a very strong will and political intuition. She continued the left-wing economic and industrial policies of her father. With the JP Movement (Jayaprakash Narayan) to deal with, she was led to adopt an authoritarian behavior, itself encouraged by her younger son, Sanjay. After the judgment that invalidated her 1971 election, Indira Gandhi felt compelled to declare a state of Emergency in June 1975, which lasted until 1977. All the leaders of the opposition were imprisoned and Indira’s colleagues themselves had to adopt a mute kind of obedience. Sanjay himself displayed his disregard for “soft politics,” conducting massive sterilization and slum-eradication campaigns in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh (UP), thereby alienating large sections of the population, particularly Muslims. After eighteen months of Emergency rule, Indira was heavily defeated in the 1977 general elections, but won a superb victory at Chikmagalur (Karnataka) in the by-elections of 1978. She came back to power in 1980. But soon afterwards, the death of Sanjay in a plane accident deeply affected her. Her behavior changed. It took a kind of pro-Hindu color. It showed during various riots. It showed also in 1984, when her dialogue with the Sikhs turned sour, then extremely violent. The Army was called in to the Golden Temple in Amritsar; thereby putting an end to the hopes of the Sikh separatists led by Sant Bhindranwale. Revenge came. On October 31, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. Extensive anti-Sikh pogroms followed. She was succeeded by her son, Rajiv.


MALHOTRA, Inder. 1989. Indira Gandhi: A Personal and Political Biography. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

JAYAKAR, Pupul. 1993. Indira Gandhi: An Intimate Biography. London: Pantheon

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OEMV , Indira Gandhi , Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 20 November, 2012, accessed 17/02/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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