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


“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