Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi) was born on November 19, 1917 in Allahabad, India. She was born into a political family. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, served as India’s first Prime Minister. As a member of the Indian National Congress, Nehru had been influenced by party leader Mahatma Gandhi, and dedicated himself to India’s fight for independence.
Because of her father’s political ambitions, Indira had a difficult and lonely childhood. Nehru was often working away from home or incarcerated in prison for his political actions and beliefs. Indira was raised mainly by her mother who was often very sick.
In 1936, Indira’s mother fell ill with tuberculosis. Indira moved to Europe to be by her mother’s bedside and after her mother passed, it was decided that Indira would stay in Europe to finish her education. A stubborn and highly intelligent young woman, she enjoyed an excellent education in Switzerland and the UK, eventually attending the University of Oxford. Once Indira had finished her education, she became her father’s unofficial personal assistant and host, navigating the complicated relationships of diplomacy with some of the greatest leaders in the world.
After her father’s death in 1964, Indira was appointed minister of information and broadcasting. Her father’s successor died abruptly, and in 1966 India’s congress elected Indira as the Prime Minister. She served for three consecutive terms (1966-77) and a fourth term (1980-84).
Within a few years of her appointment, Gandhi gained enormous popularity for her bold and dynamic policies. Most famously, The Green Revolution, a program that transformed India into a country self-sufficient in food grains.
In 1971, Indira took India into war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan. This resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, for which Gandhi was posthumously awarded Bangladesh’s highest state honor 40 years later.
Indira was known for her autocratic rulership and corruption in the Indian government and congress became common during her time as Prime Minister. After a minor infraction, Indira lost the 1977 election but in 1980, she won the election by a landslide. She continued to act as Prime Minister of India until her assassination in 1984.
She had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, with her husband, Feroze Gandhi.
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”