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Woman of the Millennium: Indira Gandhi

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was the first and till date the only female Prime Minister of India. The central figure of the Indian National Congress party was born on 19th November, 1917. She was the daughter of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The years she served as Prime Minister were from 1966 to 1977 and then again from 1980 till she met her assassination in 1984.

Indira Gandhi became the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of India after Jawaharlal Nehru. She ruled by decree during emergency state from 1975 to 1977. She started her career in politics by serving her father as personal assistant and hostess during his period as Prime Minister between 1947 and 1964. In 1959, she was elected as Congress President. She was known for her political ruthlessness and unparalleled centralization of power.

A symbol of women power, Indira Gandhi managed to occupy the highest chair in the country when women’ role in the country was usually consigned to the four walls of her house. The first and only female Prime Minister of a large and diverse country where patriarchy is still rampant, Indira Gandhi   managed to claw her way to the very top of political arena.  The male-dominated society found itself ill at ease to accept a women PM and she was often subjected to most misogynist and derogatory comments from the old-schoolers and even the public at large. The only child of her illustrious parents, she saw her father Pt Jawaharlul Nehru declare India independent on 15 August, 1947. Hailing from a family that ate, drank and breathed politics, it was natural for her to take a keen interest in politics from a very young age. However, keeping in with the trends of the time, Indira Gandhi refrained from actively entering politics more often than not playing the role of a hostess in all of her father’s diplomatic meetings and travels abroad. Her education first in a posh Swiss School and then Oxford prepared her well to play the hostess as well as an advisor to her father who often consulted her on important matters.

Indira Gandhi married a Parsi Feroze Gandhi and she had two sons Rajiv and Sanjay with him. Her induction into 21-member working committee of the Congress Party, in 1955 was her first real dabble in politics and from there she worked her way upwards. Apart from the immensely successful Green Revolution, Indira Gandhi is most famously noted for her role in creation of Bangladesh after the Indian Army served a humiliating defeat on Pakistan forces. The 1971 Indo-Pak war which stripped Pakistan of more than half of its population and more importantly its honour was perhaps the most crowning achievement of the Iron Lady who challenged gender stereotypes and came out triumphs.

She was assassinated in 1984 by Sikh nationalists. The assassins Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were both shot by other security guards. In a poll organized by the BBC in 1999, she was named as “Woman of the Millennium”.

By: Bhavna Sharma


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