Also known as the Iron Lady of India, Indira Gandhi was the first woman to become the prime minister of India. So far, no other Indian woman has been able to hold this position. Her strong personality, charisma, and keen sense of politics played a decisive role in shaping modern India. One of her sons, Rajiv Gandhi, became the sixth Indian prime minister.
Born in Allahabad on 19th November, 1917, Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamala Nehru. Pt. Nehru, who became the first prime minister of India, was hugely involved in the national struggle for independence. Her mother kept a weak health and was prone to suffering from illnesses. Hence, Indira Gandhi spent a lonely childhood.
Until her matriculation, she received education mostly at home. She was enormously influenced by the swadeshi views of Mahatma Gandhi. Later, she joined Viswa Bharati University, Shantiniketan and then, went to study at Oxford University. Because of her ill health and restive circumstances in Europe, she had to stop her studies many times. She returned to India in 1941 without completing her education.
Involvement in politics
When her father became the prime minister of India in 1952, Indira Gandhi became his personal assistant. In 1964, she became a Rajya Sabha member and the Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
As the Prime Minister of India
After Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India, passed away, there was confusion as to who should be the next Prime Minister. The confusion continued for some time before the Congress party selected Indira Gandhi as its leader and subsequently, the Prime Minister of India in 1966.
During her Prime Ministerial days, she became popular for her strong will power and determination to achieve economic goals. In fact, during her tenure, India could attain the goals of two Five-Year Plans. Under her guidance, banks were nationalized. The number of branches of banks increased remarkably, which encouraged savings in each household. She made a strong effort of securing employment for people by nationalizing major industries like copper, insurance, steel, coal, and cotton.
She also took drastic steps that made India more powerful politically. She supported the freedom struggle of East Pakistan and helped in the formation of Bangladesh in 1971.
India’s foreign relations
As Prime Minister, she maintained good relations with the neighboring countries of India namely the newly founded Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Relations with Pakistan did not blossom much due to a few unprecedented incidents. She also brought India and Soviet Union (now Russia) close, which jeopardized India’s relations with the US.
Indira Gandhi launched the Blue Star Operation to check the growing influence of a Sikh separatist group. As the group had made the Golden Temple in Amritsar its base, she ordered the army to enter the shrine and subdue the group members. Although the Operation met with success, the act caused several deaths and the severely damaged the temple. The religious sentiments of many Sikhs were hurt. Consequently, to avenge the insult, her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her on 31st October, 1984.