Smt. Indira Gandhi, perhaps was India’s most charismatic Prime Minister, It is said that, After Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru- the third person who left a lasting imprint on India’s modern political landscape is Smt. Indira Gandhi.
India’s numerable achievements such as self sufficiency in food grains, winning the 1971 war with Pakistan, nationalisation of banks, abolishing privy purses of princely states, India’s first nuclear test for peaceful, 20-point programme to fight against poverty are all results of Indira Gandhi’s efforts.
Born on November 19, 1917 in an illustrious family, Smt. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. Being academically inclined, she studied at Ecole Nouvelle, Bex (Switzerland), Ecole Internationale, Geneva, Pupils' Own School, Poona and Bombay, Badminton School, Bristol, Vishwa Bharati, Shantiniketan and Somerville College, Oxford. Smt. Indira Gandhi was actively involved in the freedom struggle. In her early childhood she founded the Bal Charkha Sangh and in 1930, the 'Vanar Sena' of children to help the Congress party during the Non-Cooperation Movement. She was imprisoned in September 1942, and worked in riot-affected areas of Delhi in 1947 under Gandhiji's guidance.
She got married to Feroze Gandhi on March 26, 1942 and had two sons.
Smt. Gandhi was a Member, Congress Working Committee and Central Election of the party in 1955; Member, Central Parliamentary Board of Congress, 1958; Chairperson, National Integration Council of A.I.C.C.; President, All India Youth Congress, 1956 and Women's Dept. A.I.C.C.
Smt. Gandhi first appeared on the centrestage of Indian politics when she became the President, Indian National Congress in 1959
From 1964 to 1966 she was the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting. After Shashtri ji’s unfortunate demise in Tashkent, Smt. Gandhi was found to be the most suitable candidate among a host of stalwart Congress leaders. She surprised a lot of her political opponents who thought she was politically inexperienced and went on to serve as Prime Minister for 11 long years. After a brief stint out of power, she came back with a thumping majority in 1980 and remained Prime Minister, till she was tragically assassinated.
Long after a death though, Smt. Gandhi is still remembered for her lasting legacy in different fields. When India gained Independence, our banking system had a total of 96 reporting banks with a total cash deposit of Rs 43.43 crore. Most of the banks were privately owned and only a very low proportion of banks were located in rural areas, making it extremely difficult for the Indian farmer to access agricultural credit. Not that the private banks were very keen in the first place to bail out a farmer in financial distress.
Smt. Indira Gandhi was committed to greater financial inclusion and realized what the farmers needed. She went for nationalisation of banks in July 1969. 14 private banks which held about 75% of all private deposists were nationalized. A decade later, in 1979, the total number of branches of these banks increased more than three-fold; from 8,262 in 1969 to 30,202 in 1979. Nationalisation of Banks was one of the most impressive achievements of Smt. Gandhi.
In the early 1960s, India was facing food shortages; government launched some special packages to satisfy the needs of the common people. The country had to import food grains from the United States and it was a public fact that India was a foodgrain-deficient nation. Smt. Indira Gandhi was determined to change this situation. She consulted scientists like M. S Swaminathan to find out how per hectare yield of foodgrain could be significantly augmented. As scientists, toiled in the labs and farmers worked hard on their fields, India came up with its indegeneous ‘Green Revolution’. Over the years, India has become a nation that today promises its citizens ‘Right to Food’ as a Constitutional right.
Smt. Gandhi undertook a slew of measures to help out the common man among them was abolition of Privy Purse for the rulers of erstwhile princely states. The Privy Purse had been promised to these royal families as reward for joining the Indian Union in 1947. Smt. Gandhi saw little logic in continuing to pay them such a hefty sum when the money could be far better spent in the development of the not inconsiderable number of poor people of this country.
In 1971, India was posed with a grave challenge, when Pakistan not for the first time launched an unprovoked military attack on India. An undaunted Smt. Gandhi responded with great decisiveness, as Indian armed forces chased Pakistani troops from Indian soil. After a 14-day war, Pakistan was forced to surrender and an independent nation called Bangladesh came into existence. Pakistan tried to use its then ally the USA, to brow beat India. As news spread of the American 7th fleet heading towards Bay of Bengal. Smt. Gandhi decided to call Pakistan’s bluff in what was the finest diplomatic moment of an illustrious career. Smt. Gandhi was hailed as “Durga”, even by opposition leaders.
In 1967, when Smt. Gandhi was the Prime Minister, she endorsed India’s started atomic energy programme. India has always stood for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but on several occasions the country has made it abundantly clear that it will not be cowed down by a nuclear threat. In 1974, Smt. Gandhi okayed nuclear tests which were carried out in Pokhran near the Thar desert. Smt. Gandhi wrote to her Pakistani counterpart to assure him that India would use nuclear power only for peaceful purposes.
She also became a Member, Rajya Sabha, August 1964-February 1967; Member, Fourth Lok Sabha 1967-71; Fifth Lok Sabha 1971-77; and Sixth Lok Sabha during November-December 1978. She was elected to the Seventh Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli (U.P.) and Medak (Andhra Pradesh), January 1980. She chose to retain the Medak seat and relinquished the Rae Bareli seat. She was chosen as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in 1967-77 and for the Congress Parliamentary Party from January 1980.
She found recreation in whatever she did and equal relaxation in being close to nature, in different forms of art, in physical activities like hiking in the mountains, or even reading about an unfamiliar subject. Her love for Environment for so entrenched that she envisaged India’s First Environment Protection Act.
Interested in a wide array of subjects, she viewed life as an integrated process, where activities and interests are different facets of the whole, not separated into compartments or labeled under different heads.
She had many achievements to her credit. She was the recipient of Bharat Ratna in 1972.
Smt Indira Gandhi was the inspiration to her grandchildren, Priyanka and Rahul. She taught them to take decisions which were in favor of all. Today, they follow her steps and making Congress a strong party among other parties of the nation.
"The Congress has had a small beginning but over the years as a result of its policies and programmes it has grown into a mighty organisation. It has also changed with the demands of the time. Gurudev Tagore's poem Ekla chalo has always inspired me.
Gandhi ji showed us that sometimes we may have to walk alone in the pursuit of our principles and in order to fight inequality and injustice. Our aim must always be to refurbish India's image and take our people forward on the right path which aims at the uplift of the poor and downtrodden."From the Presidential Address of Indira Gandhi to the 76th Session of the Congress held on January 1978, in New Delhi.