Indira Gandhi: A Review

  • Dr. Shashi Kumar Singh, Ph.D., D.Litt

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s marriage with Kamla Kaul took place in Delhi on February 08, 1916, on Basant Panchami. Their only child, Indiraji, was born on November 19, 1917, in Anand Bhawan, Allahabad, which was an important centre in India’s freedom struggle. Regarding the birth of Indira Ji, her younger aunt Smt. Krishna Hathi Singh has written “At the time of Indira’s birth, Pandit Motilal Nehru was very excited at Anand Bhawan at the thought of his beloved son Jawaharlal having a child. They were moving here and there outside the room and inside the room the Scottish doctor was busy in the medical work necessary for the reproduction of the child. The women of the Nehru family were also eagerly waiting for the arrival of the child. Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision was also focused on the same door behind which his wife Kamala Nehru was lying in labour pain. At last, the Scots doctor came out and whispered in Jawaharlal Nehru’s ear, “It is a bonny lass”. At the time of Indira Ji’s birth, Pandit Motilal Nehru had proudly said, “This daughter of Jawaharlal will be better than thousands of sons” and indeed the prediction of Pandit Motilal Nehru’s grandfather proved to be true literally.”

In her late twenties, Indiraji began her schooling in Europe, where her mother Kamala Nehru had stayed for some time for treatment of her illness. Later, she pursued her education in Pune and Bombay. Indiraji joined Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Visva Bharati’ in 1934 but withdrew from‘Visva Bharati’ after a few months to be with her ailing mother in Europe. Kamala Nehru breathed her last in Lao Sen, Switzerland in 1936. The following year, Indira Gandhi went to Somerville College, Oxford University to complete her education.

The letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to her from jail had a great influence on making her life creatively brilliant. His letters, which were later published in the books titled “Father’s Letters to Daughter” and “Glimpses of World History”, generated such curiosity in this publication that a flurry of questions followed until it was calmed down. She was the heir of a rich world civilization, but Indian culture was firmly rooted at its core.

In 1938, she joined the Indian National Congress. Soon after returning to India in March 1941, she entered active politics. On March 26, 1942, she was married to Feroze Gandhi who was himself a brave freedom fighter and knew her family for years. Indira Gandhi attended the session of the All-India Congress Committee in August 1942. It was in this session that the famous Quit India Resolution was adopted. Soon after this, she was arrested and sent to jail. She was released in May 1943. In August 1944, their son Rajiv was born. In December 1946, their second son Sanjay was born.

With India’s independence in 1947, she entered a new phase of public activity. She took over the responsibility of running the Prime Minister’s residence. Apart from this, she had keen interest in social and child welfare works. The Congress, which for her was akin to domestic politics, assigned her a leading role. First, she became a member of the Congress Executive Committee in 1955. In 1959, she was elected President of the Indian National Congress. She gave a new direction to the thinking of the Congress. She oriented its actions towards solving the fundamental problems of Indian society and increased the enthusiasm of the young generation in the work of nation-building.

Feroze Gandhi died in September 1960. This incident, giving Indira Ji a fatal shock, was the second and biggest turning point in her life. Due to the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1964, Indira Gandhi was completely broken inside but she did not lose her patience and faced the circumstances courageously. After this, Lal Bahadur Shastri persuaded Indira Gandhi to join his cabinet as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. In 1965, when linguistic riots broke out widely in Tamil Nadu, Indira Gandhi reached that state and with her tact, understanding and political acumen, pacified the burningsentiments of the people and brought the situation under control.

After the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri on January 19, 1966, she was elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party and was sworn in as Prime Minister on January 24, 1966. She became the architect of Congress’ success in the1967 general elections. She introduced one fundamental change after another in the direction of the social and economic policies of Congress. Her fight against the status quo and vested interests resulted in sharp ideological differences. As a result, Congress reached the verge of division in 1969. The overwhelming majority of Congressmen and women were with her. She regained power in the 1971 general elections with a decisive majority. This was a clear indication of people’s support for her decisions.

Face challenges with Courage

To meet the challenge of destroying the established power, she had to declare an internal emergency in June 1975. In early 1977, she conducted Lok Sabha elections, in which the Congress Party faced defeat. During 197780, when she was not in power, a series of deliberate harassment and false allegations were levelled against her. But she did not lose courage. All efforts were made to defame her and her family. Many frivolous cases were filed against her. She was arrested and sent to jail on these charges but the case did not survive even judicial review. However, even when elected to the Lok Sabha in a by-election, she was deprived of the seat in blatant disregard of the popular decision. She faced this entire situation with full courage and continued to support the interests of Dalits and deprived people. During this period, wherever she went, thousands of people gathered to show their respect and affection for her and to express their faith in her leadership. In the elections held in February 1980, people voted her back to power with an overwhelming majority. Continuing the policies of the Nehruvian era, she placed the problem of poverty among the issues of national debate and brought about changes in the political structure, wherein began the nationalization of banks and abolition of privy purses.Her commitment to the social form is visible in many historical measures one after the other. The culmination of this process was the formulation and implementation of a 20-point programme focusing on improving the condition of poor people.

Comprehensive Approach

India is one of the few developing countries with labour laws which has protected the rights of workers and enabled them to improve their skills and income. The remarkable burst of creativity shown by our scientists and technologists can be attributed to India’s bold commitment to advertising and technology. In every field of modern science and especially in the sophisticated areas of peaceful uses of atomic energy and space, India has emerged as a powerful country capable of closing the technology gap. Her continuous encouragement to scientists has made it possible for them to reach new heights of progress. The growth of ocean development and the Antarctica expedition within a short period is an achievement that tells us how much we have progressed since Indira Gandhi took over the leadership of the nation. For her, science and technology are means for the betterment of the people. Irrational and unimaginable economic growth can cause losses. Because of her sensitivity to that loss, she was one of the few international figures to emphasize the paramount importance of the environment in our concern for the future of humanity. Drawing on the knowledge and insights of our ancient culture, she said in her emotional address to the United Nations Human Environment Conference in Stockholm in 1972 that the future of humanity was threatened by the destruction of nature and the emphasis was on adopting such a method of development that lets humans lead their lives in harmony with nature.

Commitment to values and principles

There is no creative, political, economic, scientific or cultural activity in which she did not take interest and which she did not enrich. Her commitment to the country’s heritage and its cultural values was profound, supporting all aspects of arts, crafts, theatre, dance and music. During 1965-74, she was the Chairperson of the ‘Sangeet Natak Academy’. As the Chairperson of ‘Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Samiti’, she took a special interest in its work. For her contribution to the field of intellectuality, she was honoured by many universities and scientific academies in the country and abroad by conferring doctorate degrees. She was awarded the United Nations Population Award in 1983 for her exceptional work in the field of family planning. She was passionate about the welfare of the disabled. She had started many programmes for the visually and physically handicapped. A nationwide campaign was launched for the treatment of leprosy. Her concern for the disabled was a new ray of hope for lepers.

She was a tireless crusader for the upliftment of the underprivileged classes. She started programmes of a concrete and permanent nature to improve the economic and social condition of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes and other weaker sections. All these programmes are now integral parts of national poverty alleviation programmes. She spread awareness in society for providing rights to women and for their social and economic progress. Indira Gandhi, a mountain lover, was generous to all mountain dwellers. This generosity of hers was behind the formulation of special programmes related to hill development for their different way of life. She travelled to remote parts of India, including the border islands, to integrate isolated communities into national life. Since she was full of welfare sentiments, the people of these areas considered her as their own and had deep affection for her.

She was an agitator for national independence. Indira Gandhi had honoured the freedom fighters for their services to the country by giving them ‘taampatras’ and ‘pensions’. Along with providing ample time for the welfare of the youth, she remained active for them. She wanted the youth of India to do something great in the field of sports. Fulfilling her commitment to organising the Asian Games in India, she provided Delhi with state-of-the-art stadiums and many such facilities that were not available to many cities. In 1983, the International Olympic Council honoured her continuous encouragement and guidance for the development of sports by awarding her the ‘Golden Order’.

National Security above all

She never made any compromise with national security. She was conscious of the need for modernization of our defence forces to meet the new challenges posed by the degradation of the security environment. She focused tremendously on indigenous efforts to make India self-reliant in this sensitive and important sector. The Indian Armed Forces today are fully capable of safeguarding national integrity due to abundant support for the policies of technological upgradation of our defence. She went and met the soldiers deployed on the border who were using our machines. She initiated several policies for the defence forces to improve their service conditions and boost their morale. Several measures taken by the Government to improve the employment tenure of ex-servicemen reflect her concern for the problems of ex-servicemen. Particularly memorable among her many achievements was her display of courage and extraordinary political skill in dealing with the Bangladesh crisis in 1971.

Indira Gandhi was a symbol of the ambitions of all humankind. She was dedicated to the ideals of the United Nations and the principles of its Charter. She was counted among the leading politicians of the world for peace and complete disarmament. She provided ample assistance to the dependent countries for their independence. Like her father, she was against all forms of exploitation and considered politics and military power to be an obstacle to world peace. She was at the forefront of raising her voice to reduce economic disparity among nations and was mainly associated with the Non-Aligned Movement. Being associated with this movement, she gave momentum to it. She was elected to the post of Chairperson in the Seventh Non-Alignment Summit held in New Delhi in March 1983.

Indira Gandhi never lost courage in the face of dangers and challenges. In times of personal or national crisis, she displayed extraordinary courage. Millions of people saw her courage turning into success. Millions of men and women of the country respected her a lot. To express this honour, the nation’s highest ‘Bharat Ratna Award’ was given to her in 1972. Despite her busy schedule in the cause of peace and progress for the entire human family, Indira Priyadarshini always appeared energetic, full of enthusiasm and eternally happy. She was very fond of every kind of beauty present in nature. But this great personality of radiant life and charm was brutally and heinously murdered on October 31, 1984, in a brutal and treacherous act by two of her security personnel at her residence.

The top priority for Indira Gandhi was to safeguard the unity and integrity of the country. To safeguard the unity of the country, she courageously faced all kinds of communal forces, orthodox sects and religious fanatics. She had repeatedly warned the nation that the weapons of communalism and fundamentalism were in the hands of the forces destabilising the country. She sacrificed her life in defence of the ideals on which the foundation of the unity and integrity of the Republic was laid. The sacrifices of Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi to keep the unity of India intact will be remembered for centuries to come.

There are very few people in history who are remembered as the ‘Bhagya Vidhata’ of a country’s destiny. She was a symbol of India’s self-respect and self-confidence. Her death occurred at a time, when the entire world was reverberating with the sound of her glory and influence. With the tragic death of Indira Gandhi, India has lost an astute statesman, a determined, dedicated and harmonious genius at critical junctures of political and economic development. The nation is grateful to this decisive, radiant and compassionate personality. Her father used to say about himself that he was a person who loved India from his heart and in return the people of the country loved him. The same thing proves to be true about Indira Gandhi. The people of India will always love and respect Indira Gandhi. Even while breathing her last, Smt. Indira Gandhi was engrossed in the service of the people of the country.

Just a day before her death she had said in a meeting in Orissa: “If I lose my life while serving the nation, it will be a matter of pride for me. I believe every drop of my blood will continue to contribute to the development of this nation and make it a strong and dynamic nation.”

When people talk about ‘Modern India’, Jawaharlal Nehru is remembered as its creator. He is considered the creator of modern India in the true sense of the word. His dream about the future, influenced the plan and outline prepared under his leadership for New India. It was he who laid the strong and deep foundation of New India. But the credit for building an entire empire on this foundation goes to Smt. Indira Gandhi. The structure of India which she built on this foundation emerged as a power in front of the world and today power of the world can ignore India. The coming generations will remember Indira Gandhi as the ‘Creator of Modern India’.

The Author is a Member, AICC and Chairman of Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (Vichar Vibhag)