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Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi
First Term:January 19, 1966 - March 24, 1977
Second Term:January 14, 1980 - October 31, 1984
Predecessor:Lal Bahadur Shastri
Successors:Morarji Desai[?], Rajiv Gandhi
Date of Birth:November 19, 1917
Place of Birth:Allahabad, India[?]
Political Party:Indian National Congress

Indira Gandhi (1917 - 1984) was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. She was not related to Mahatma Gandhi; she took her last name from her husband Feroze Gandhi.

She served as Prime Minister of India from January 19, 1966 - 1977, and 1980 - 1984.

A brilliant political strategist and thinker, Indira also possessed an extraordinary desire for personal power. As a woman occupying the highest position of government in a still very patriarchal society, Indira was expected to be a passive leader, but her actions would prove to be the contrary.

As Prime Minister, Indira carefully used every tool available at her disposal to consolidate her power and authority. By using her powers of appointment she created "notoriously weak" cabinets, filled with sycophants and blind followers. This included the appointment of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed[?] as President, a weak man whom Indira was confident would never dare exercise his prerogative powers and undermine her authority. Within her own party she reformed the bureaucracy and leadership mechanisms until virtually all policy decisions were decided directly by her.

The harshest measures of all came in the Summer of 1975, when to avoid being jailed for corruption, the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency[?], and in her own words brought democracy "to a grinding halt." Invoking article 352 of the Indian Constitution[?], Indira Gandhi granted herself dictatorial powers and proceeded to launch a massive crackdown on civil liberties and political opposition. Rival party leaders were jailed, and electricity was cut off to newspapers and television stations. State legislatures that were not being ruled by the Congress Party were dismissed, and suspended indefinitely. Back in the capitol, the Prime Minister pushed a series of increasingly harsh bills and constitutional amendments through parliament, all which were approved with little discussion or debate. The weak nature of India's constitution made it extremely easy for Indira to re-write the nation's laws, and thus protect herself from legal prosecution once emergency rule was revoked. As massive as these reforms were, Indira did not feel her powers were amassing quickly enough. It was at this point that she utilized President Ahmed and using him as her puppet, made him issue "extraordinary laws" that bypassed parliament altogether, and allowed her to rule by decree.

Indira's reign as dictatress would last for almost two years. In 1977, greatly misjudging her own popularity, she called elections and was badly defeated. Somewhat surprisingly, she agreed to step down without much of fuss. Three years later she would be re-elected, although her second term would be much less authoritarian. To this day, Indira's legacy as Prime Minister remains mixed. Though she had a strong personality, and her reign was popular with many segments of India's population, especially the youth and the poor, her decision to declare a state of emergency solely to escape prosecution remains controversial.

Indira's regin also saw a serious breakdown in Hindu/Sikh relations that would eventually lead to her own assasination. For many years before 1984, she saw the rise in popularity of a Sikh missionary and leader, Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale, and was disturbed by his instruction to Sikhs that they were a sovereign and self-ruling community. Gandhi consequently became active in perpetuating a negative image of the militant Sikh leader. Gandhi became interested in keeping the Sikh community quiet and obedient, and was not interested in their requests for self-government. Consequently in June, 1984, Operation Blue Star, which had taken years to organize, took place. The Operation was characterized by the desecration of the Harimandir Sahib (central Sikh place of prayer). The militant soldiers in the Sikh force under the leadership of Jarnail Singh were in the complex of the Harimandir Sahib at this time. They, along with thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed. In the attempt to ensure the shutting-up of the community, several Sikh reference libraries were destroyed across Punjab, in addition to other gurdwaras (places of prayer). In order to establish the acceptance of the common people for her action, she asserted that the operation was inevitable given the militant nature of the Sikh seperatists, whom she and other high-ranking politicans labelled as "terrorists." On October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards, one of whom was shot to death and the other sentenced to death by hanging in 1988.

Her two sons, Sanjay[?] and Rajiv, were both involved in politics. Sanjay Gandhi died in a place crash in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister of India after her death.



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