Any Indian political discourse is incomplete without mention of the contribution of the Gandhi family. One of the most eminent women who officially entered the gamut of active politics and managed to make her prominence felt across the Indian sub-continent is none other than Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi. The first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi represented and ruled our diverse nation which was largely patriarchal in those times.
Born to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamala Nehru on November 19, 1917 in Allahabad, Indira Gandhi was their only child who was fortunate to witness her father declare India independent on 15 August and closely follow how he worked towards developing the country into ‘modern India.’ The political legacy attributed much to the way Gandhi’s interests shaped up from an early age as she literally lived and breathed politics and its nuances. This year we will be celebrating her 101st birth anniversary.
Glimpse of Gandhi’s Early Life and Career:
Indira Gandhi attended schools in Delhi and Allahabad and completed her matriculation in 1934. Later, she went on to study at the Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan. In her interview with Rabindranath Tagore there, she was named Indira ‘Priyadarshini’ Gandhi. She left the University a year later to attend to her ailing mother in Europe, where she studied history, political science and economics at the University of Oxford and was actively involved in the Oxford Majlis Asian Society. During her stay in Europe, Ms. Indira had to be repeatedly treated for her ill-health during the 1940’s, when the Nazi army were on a mission to conquer Europe. She entered England in 1941 and managed to return to India without completing her education at Oxford.
It was during her stay in Great Britain that she met Feroze Gandhi, who was a Parsi lawyer. The couple married and few years later and were blessed with two sons – Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi.
Popularly known as the ‘Iron lady’, Indira never failed to escort her father whenever he requested her presence in attending matters of the Parliament. One of her principle active contribution to the Indian political realm occurred with her being nominated as one among the 21-member working committee of the Congress Party in 1955. With the right networking and connections, Gandhi secured her way up into politics. After four years of her dedicated work, she was chosen as the Congress President, at the time when Lal Bahadur Shastri had been appointed the Indian Prime Minister following the demise of Pandit Nehru in 1964.
In 1966, when Gandhi assumed Prime Minister’s position for the first time, Times Magazine cover published “Troubled India in a Woman’s Hands.” Soon after, India witnessed the rise of Indira as a powerful leader who led the nation during the Indo-Pak war in 1971. From a “gungi gudiya” symbolizing dumb doll as many called her, Gandhi came to be known as the Iron Lady.
Celebrated as one of the greatest leaders India has ever had, Indira Gandhi’s massive contribution retains its exclusivity. Despite the criticism amassed during the emergency period where the country spoke of her undemocratic and decisive ways in handling the situation, without Ms. Gandhi’s influence, India would have been struggling as a poor country dependent on foreign aid.
Article by Rochita.