Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India and central figure of the Indian National Congress party. She was assassinated in 1984.

Gandhi (born Indira Nehru) was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was one of the chief figures in India’s campaign for independence from Britain along with her grandfather Motilal Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru was a top leader of the Indian National Congress and the first Prime Minister of independent India.

Gandhi had an unhappy childhood, her father was often busy with politics and her mother suffered from ill health, often leaving her bed-ridden. She began her education being taught at home by tutors, but occasionally attended a variety of schools including the Ecole Internationale in Geneva. Gandhi then attended the Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan for a year before having to leave to join her mother in europe due to her ailing health. Gandhi continued her education at the University of Oxford in England where she studied history, political science and economics but left before completing her studies due to a combination of ill health and the Nazi occupation of Europe. In 1942 at age 25 she married Feroze Gandhi, becoming Indira Gandhi.

In 1938 Gandhi had joined the Congress Party, when they came to power in 1947 and her father took office. In 1955 she became a member of it’s working committee and in 1959 she was elected to the honorary post of party president. She was then elected to the Rajya Sabha (upper chamber of the Indian parliament) in 1964, the same year she was named minister of information and broadcasting by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who succeeded Nehru as prime minister.

Shastri died suddenly in 1966 and Gandhi was named leader of the Congress party, becoming Prime Minister. She was a strong leader, sacking some of highest-ranking officials and bringing about great change in agricultural programs that improved the lives of a large majority of country’s poor. For a time, she was hailed as a hero. Gandhi was constantly challenged by from the right wing of the party and in 1969 she was dismissed from the party by Desai, her deputy prime minister.

Gandhi regrouped, and joined by a majority of party members formed the “New” Congress Party which won a sweeping electoral victory over a coalition of conservative parties in 1971. That same year, the Pakistan army conducted violent acts against the people of East Pakistan, which resulted in nearly 10 million people fleeing to Indi. Gandhi invited the Pakistani president to Shimla for a weeklong summit which culminated in the two leaders signing the Shimla Agreement. Her work eventually led to the creation of the new and independent nation of Bangladesh and she was the first government leader to recognize the new country. She was hailed as Goddess Durga by opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Gandhi ruled with an authoritarian hand and there was corruption within her congress and her national and state governments. In 1977, the high courts found her guilty of a minor infraction during the year’s elections and called for her resignation. Gandhi responded by requesting that the president call for a state of emergency, this lasted 21-months. She imprisoned her political opponents and assumed emergency powers, all while Indians’ constitutional rights were restricted. Public opposition to her emergency rule was widespead and at its end in 1977 she and her party were defeated. She was briefly imprisoned on charged of political corruption.

In the election in 1980 she was re-elected to a fourth term. During this time she was faced with threats to the political integrity of India. In 1982 a large number of Sikhs separatists who were calling for Punjab state to become autonomous, occupied and fortified the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex at Amritsar, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine. The tension between government and the Sikhs escalated and in June 1984, under Gandhi’s orders the Indian army attacked the separtists with the intention of removing them from the complex. Around 450 Sikhs were killed and some of the buildings in the shrine were badly damaged.

Five months later on On October 31, 1984 one of Gandhi’s trusted bodyguards, who was a Sikh shot her point-blank. Another Sikh boyguard shot 30 rounds into her body, the acts as revenge for the attack in Amritsar. She died on the way to the hospital.

In 2011, the Bangladesh Freedom Honour (Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona ) Bangladesh’s highest civilian award, was posthumously conferred on Indira Gandhi for her outstanding contributions to Bangladesh’s Liberation War. The Indira Awaas Yojana, a central government low-cost housing programme for the rural poor, is named after her.

Sources here, here, here and here.

Through these turbulent months, Nehru kept his nerve. Even in the gloomiest moments of the war he did not seek scapegoats. Neither did he conceal his grief for the loss of Indian soldiers.

Gyanesh Kudaisya on India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Image credit: US President John F. Kennedy speaks with Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru at the White House, 1961, from the US Embassy New Delhi. CC-BY-ND-2.0 via Flickr.


Happy World Elephant Day!

Intelligent. Strong. Social. Adaptable. These adjectives are often used to describe the majestic elephant. We think they fit the bill for First Ladies too!


Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton ride an elephant in the Chitwan National Forest, Nepal. 4/1/95.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy feeds an elephant, Urvashi, in the garden of the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru’s residence, Teen Murti Bhavan. New Delhi, India. 3/14/62.

Barbara Bush and family on an elephant during the Senate campaign. (left to right: Barbara, Doro, Marvin, Neil, Jeb, and George H. Bush (George W. was away at school). 1964.

INDIA, Amritsar : An Indian schoolboy ® cries and he and schoolmates, dressed up as India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, pose during a photo event for Children’s Day celebrations at a school in Amritsar, India’s northwestern state of Punjab, on November 14, 2014. The celebration of Children’s Day falls on November 14, coinciding with the birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Despite a ban on children’s labour imposed under the 1986 Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act which took effect 10 October, millions of Indian children still have to work for a living to support their families, missing out on primary education. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU


Sammy Davis Jr. in the Nehru jacket, 1960s

The Nehru jacket was first popularized in India in the 1940s, named after Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (who never wore it). It then became a fashionable menswear item in the US and Europe in the late 1960s, worn most notably by The Beatles. A lifetime lover of clothes noted for his “loud” tastes, Davis wore Nehru jackets frequently around this time period, taking on a style rarely worn by men of his age or his crowd of show business. Though he was sometimes mocked for it, Davis happily sported many new fashions that came directly out of youth culture and counterculture.

In October 1954, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru set off on what was described as the “most important foreign mission of his life.” He was visiting China, which had ended its civil war just three years before. To read about the historic rapprochement between the two up-and-coming Asian powerhouses, check out my latest post at historical-nonfiction

Prime Minister Nehru of India with Albert Einstein while visiting his home in Princeton, New Jersey, 1949.

Einstein had previously written this in a 1947 letter to Nehru:

“May I tell you of the deep emotion with which I read recently that the Indian Constituent Assembly has abolished untouchability? I know how large a part you have played in the various phases of India’s struggle for emancipation, and how grateful lovers of freedom must be to you, as well as to your great teacher Mahatma Gandhi.”



Nov. 13, 1949: Indira, a 15-year-old elephant recently given as a gift to Japan by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, won a tug-of-war match with more than 50 school children and others. During the war, Ueno Zoo, in Tokyo, had had its animals slaughtered for fear that bombing would release them from their cages and they’d run amok. Until Indira, the zoo had been without an elephant. Prime Minister Nehru received several similar petitions, and gave the United States elephants as well. Photo: The New York Times


“The concept of this procession and exhibition and everything else should be to demonstrate both the unity and great variety and diversity of India…..Each State should represent some distinctive feature of it’s own in the tableaux or in the exhibition or both. Thus the procession would be a moving pageant of India in its rich diversity.” Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952. Quote on Republic Day celebrations from Beyond Belief: India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism, Srirupa Roy.

Today, India’s 66th Republic Day, will see about 25 tableaux from States and Central ministries and departments

In these 1958 pics the then Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, poses with Republic Day contingents.  Pics include contigents from the East, North, Centre, Islands, South and West of the country (Manipur, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar, Kerala, Maharashtra).

Source: photodivision

What is the Indus Waters Treaty and can India abrogate it?

New Delhi, Sep 23 (IANS) With India saying that there have been differences over the implementation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, a dispute that was referred to an international tribunal under the aegis of the World Bank, the issue has come back into focus because of the current tension with Pakistan following the September 18 cross-border terror attack on an army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir that claimed the lives of 18 Indian soldiers. On Thursday, India raised the issue saying a treaty could not be a “one-sided affair”.

So, what is the treaty all about? Here is a primer:

What is the Indus Waters Treaty?

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing arrangement signed by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan on September 19, 1960, in Karachi. It covers the water distribution and sharing rights of six rivers – Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. The agreement was brokered by the World Bank.

Why was the agreement signed?

The agreement was signed because the source of all the rivers of the Indus basin were in India (Indus and Sutlej, though, originate in China). It allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise do’s and don'ts for India on building projects along the way. Pakistan feared that India could potentially create droughts in case of a war between the two countries. A Permanent Indus Commission set up in this connection has gone through three wars between the two countries without disruption and provides a bilateral mechanism for consultation and conflict-resolution through inspections, exchange of data and visits.

What does the agreement entail?

The treaty gave the three “eastern rivers” of Beas, Ravi and Sutlej to India for use of water without restriction. The three “western rivers” of Indus, Chenab and Jhelum were allocated to Pakistan. India can construct storage facilities on “western rivers” of up to 3.6 million acre feet, which it has not done so far. India is also allowed agriculture use of 7 lakh acres above the irrigated cropped area as on April 1, 1960.

Is there a dispute?

Although the two countries have been managing to share the waters without major dispute, experts say that the agreement is one of the most lop-sided with India being allowed to use only 20 percent of the six-river Indus water system. Pakistan itself in July this year sought an international arbitration if India sought to build hydro power projects on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. Though the agreement has been seen as one of the most successful water-sharing pacts, the current tension between the two South Asian neighbours might well lead to a flashpoint. Strategic affairs and security experts say that future wars could well be fought over water.

Could India abrogate the agreement?

This is unlikely since the treaty has survived three wars between the two countries. Although on Thursday India raised the issue, saying that for a treaty to work there had to be “mutual cooperation and trust” between the two sides, this seems to be more pressure tactics than any real threat to review the bilateral agreement. And the idea that India can intimidate Pakistan by threatening to cut of river waters is nothing new. It has arisen before every major conflict. A unilateral abrogation would also attract criticism from world powers, as this is one arrangement which has stood the test of time.

Short of abrogation, can India do something?

Some experts have said that if India starts making provision for storage facility involving the “western rivers”, which it is allowed under the treaty of up to 3.6 million acre feet, this may send a strong message to its neighbour. Pakistan has often sought arbitration proceedings just on mere impression that India may do so, seeking to dissuade its larger neighbour from tinkering with the status quo.