Political Powerhouses: Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi served as the third Prime Minister of India for a total of 13 years. She is also the only woman, as of today, to hold the position. She was born in 1917 and her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, would go on to become the first Prime Minister of India. She was educated in India, England and Switzerland and at a young age had to deal with the loss of her parents (her father endured numerous terms in prison as one of the leaders in the India Independence Movement and her mother died when Indira was 19).

When her father became Prime Minister of India in 1947 she would go on to become his unofficial personal assistant. She would join politics herself in 1955 when she joined the working committee of the Congress Party. She went on to become the party leader in 1959. Her father was assassinated in 1966 and after this she was named in the upper level of the government. She was appointed Minister for Information and Broadcasting. The man who replaced her father as Prime Minister died suddenly in 1966 and she was subsequently named Prime Minister of India.

Her tenure as Prime Minister was a tumultuous one as she had to deal with criticism and resentment from within her own party. Many believed that she was not ready to lead the country at this time and was only chosen because of her father. When India was brought into the war between West and East Pakistan she welcomed millions of refugees into the country as well as signing the Simla Agreement with the President of Pakistan. This Agreement gave independence to Bangladesh. Indira also worked to reduce the food shortages that were a severe problem for the country every year.

Her first reign as Prime Minister ended in controversy when she was found guilty of corruption during her time in charge of the country. Indira responded by declaring a state of emergency and having opponents of hers imprisoned. She was defeated in the 1977 general election and was imprisoned for a short time. She re-entered politics a couple of years later and was re-elected Prime Minister in 1980.

At this time in India there was unrest from different factions including Sikhs. In 1984 her orders led to hundreds of casualties at the Sikh sacred site Golden Temple. A short while later Indira was assassinated by two of her bodyguards who were themselves Sikh. Her son took over from her as Prime Minister of the country. By becoming the first (and so far only) female Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi has left a legacy that will live on for generations to come. She was a woman who knew the power of hard work and determination and one of her better known quotes is one we could all live by today: “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory”.

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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