Indira’s
Political Family Background:

Politics
permeated Indira Gandhi’s life from the early age of three. As a young girl,
she was encouraged to form a sense of hatred towards the British after her
father was arrested by them and taken to prison for defying the British Empire.

A few years later when her mother was also taken by the British, her parents
would write her letters full of historical and philosophical lessons for young
Indira, pushing her to create change for her and future generations to come. Growing
up, Indira Gandhi saw the impact the Britishers still had on Indians shortly
after India had finially gained independence from them. She was a witness to
the amount poverty, hatered, and discrimination displayed within the country.

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Immersed
in politics from childhood, at the age of 12 when Indira wanted to enter the
Congress Party, she was denyed membership due to simply her age. Fumed with
immense anger and fire, Indira retaliated by founding a youth organization called
the “Vanar Sena” or “Monkey Brigade.”
Modeled by the famous indian poem, Ramayana, Monkey Brigade began to serve the
Congress party by putting up
posters, writing notices, addressing envelopes, getting messages past
unsuspecting policemen and, in short, acting, in Indira’s words, ‘not unlike
monkeys.”1

Because
Indira Gandhi was exposed to politics due to her family’s positions in Indian
government, it was easy to see that Gandhi was determined to play her part as
well. Growing up the daughter of a Prime Minister, Jawaharla Nehru, Gandhi was “her
father’s hostess and assistant” in the 1950s and 1960s. 2 Nehru had a dream for Indira
Gandhi  to play a brave part in the
public life of India by entering the wide espanse of Indian humanity. 3Since childhood, he had nurtured her
and prepared her to grow as a strong and confident woman who could tackle the
political atmosphere in India. By attaining an education from Badminaton School
in Bristol and later Oxford University in London, she was able to understand
the Western education, allowing her to have more open-minded thoughts. During
her time in London, she started to grow feelings for her childhood friend,
Feroze Gandhi. They soon decided to get married and after Indira Gandhi
completed her studies, they moved back to India. A few years later, the couple
had two children who grew up to be politicians later in their lives.

With
her educational background and expertise, Indira Gandhi had the opportunity to
serve as her father’s personal liason at times and eventually became a member
of the Congress Working Committee, one of the most influential policy-making
bodies in the Indian government. Impressed with her creativity, Gandhi was soon
elected Congress President. However, due to the illness of her husband, she
decided to step down. As a widowed mother of “irreproachable virtue,” Indira
was considered politically unacceptable by the society.2
The society’s perception on how a single woman could take on a role as Prime
Minister was nearly impossible. Nevertheless, with a positive outlook to life,
Indira Gandhi remained strong until a four years later Nehru experienced a
stroke in 1964 and passed away.

 Nehru’s death forced the Congress Party which
was the leading independence movement to select a new leader. They wanted someone
who was not too independent and would not dare to deviate from the wishes of
others. While many were impressed by her strength during the difficult times of
her life and expected Indira Gandhi to follow her father’s footsteps, she chose
otherwise and instead the Indian public chose Lal Shastri as Prime Minister.

Shastri appointed Gandhi to his cabinet allowing her to become more involved in domestic and international
affairs. While it was argued that, during her role as a cabinet member, she
stepped on the toes of Shastri, she did so because she believed it was her
responsibility to better India. However, two years later, Lal Shastri passed
away and the Indian public looked up to Indira Gandhi to fill his shoes.

 

Time Period During Indira Gandhi
Political Office:

At
first, Indira Gandhi was not prepared to take on the power as the first female prime
minister of the most populous democracy in the world, but was essentially
forced to after the unforeseen death of the two most important men in her life,
her father and husband. She was elevated through the leadership of the Congress
Party through a negative decision, in one of the most difficulty periods of the
party’s history.4 It was during this time the country
was facing a serious crisis between Hindus and Muslims. Over 50,000 to three
million people part of these communities were mercilessly killed one over land.3
Familes became seperated and tention began to grow in various parts of Northern
India. The hatred between the two communities created instability and poverty
among the nation. Not only were there outburts of violent acts, but also, indiscriminately
slaughters in villages. Additionally, the amount of poverty drastically
increased, in India, due to the economic burden many families faced.

            With
her intense passion for helping the Indian community prosper, she campaigned
with the slogan “Abolish Poverty” promising the country she would improve the
lives of many through policy reforms. Her slogan was designed to widen and
deepen her social base of support.5  To improve the relations between the Muslims
and Hindus, Indira Gandhi encouraged both communities to be friendly and
understanding of each others’ differences. Inspired by her parents and despite
the hardships she faced, Indira Gandhi decided to accept the role as the first
female Prime Minister of India.  Indira
Gandhi’s political agenda consisted of the immediate task of finding grain for
a drought-riven country in order to decrease the amount of starvation deaths
and also to harness the forces of intellectuals and the youth for the
eradication of poverty.3
Her agenda proved to show she was commited to improving the lives of Indians.

Indira
Gandhi came to power because she appeared to have a set of political
qualifications that showcased her knowledge, creativitity, and integrity.

However, the greatest qualification of Indira Gandhi at the time of her
accession was the fact that she was not too strongly associated with any policy
line to give offence to any of the groups which dominated the polycentric
structure of the Congress party. 4
She understood the agenda of others and made sure their concerns were
addressed. Associated with the symbol of stalemate, Gandhi was elected because
she did not represent anything too decisively and remained neutral in many of
the policies.

 

Challenges of Being a Woman in
Politics:

As
an authoritarian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi didn’t see herself differently
than her male counterparts and, as a result, spoke her mind when situations
needed to be changed. Unlike her father, Indira had to face challenges of her
own as a woman. For example, she could not visit politicians at their homes or
offices and had to refrain from social events that came along being Prime Minister.

Because India was a conservative country, it was looked poorly upon for women
to participate in affection by simply shaking hands with the male politicians
because it would create media’s attention and be detrimental to their
reputation. As a result, Indira Gandhi displayed a very tradtional behavior
trough her presentation and way of greeting others with both hands together and
a slight bow.

While
it was difficult to improve the relationships between the Hindus and Muslims
because of the cultural differences and intense amount of hatered. If she spoke
about one community, it was seen as if she favored one over the other. Instead,
Indira Gandhi made efforts, in the aftermath, by spending eight to ten hours
every day in refugee camps  doing relief
work such as arranging for medical supplies and food rations.6 She understoof the refugees’
grievances and requests.

Gandhi,
also, developed a style where she decided to work on her own instead of
confiding in others. She was frequently perceived as a shy and an aloof woman.

However, as Prime Minister, she was aggressive, but engaged with the general
public as shown in her decision to declare a state of emergency in 1975 for the
country of India. The state of emergency ended democracy in the country and it seemed
at this point that India was starting down
the path that most of the world’s poorer democracies had already traveled. 7 When
Indira made this decision, it threw many men off as it was unexpected for a
woman to take such blunt actions for the country.

Fighting
to hold her power, Gandhi made this decision out of a culmination of bitter
relations with the opposition party and their strident behavior.9
The rationale behind this decision was due to the corruption, nepotism,
industrial strikes, and socio-economic hardships the country faced.8
These persistent problems caused a high rate of inflation and a shortage of
food supply in the nation. The emergency was also declared due to internal
disturbances. These “internal disturbances” mainly referred to the opposition’s
increased efforts in demanding Gandhi’s resignation after she was accused of
corruption. 9
Gandhi was accused for spending more money than permitted on her campaign.

Gandhi negated the charges and won the Supreme Court case. Although she won,
many individuals became to dislike her.

During
this time, her charisma, however, motivated many women as they saw her
personality transform, displaying qualities such as ambition, dominance, and contentiousness.

As a result, women began understanding that the amount of power and voice they
had in the community. Due to a traditional outlook to life, women refrained
themselves from speaking against others if they disagreed. As a role model,
Indira Gandhi motivated women throughout India to stand up for themselves. She
said “I do not regard myself as woman but as a person with a job to do.”10
Despite not creating woman-friendly policies, she saw gender as immaterial.

Due
to her confidence and goal-orientated mindset, many men were not willing to
work with Indira because they realized they wouldn’t be able to control her.

While it was a challenge at first because it was difficult to pass policies
that were vital for the country, Indira Gandhi focused her agenda to improving
her relations with those who were cooperative. She emphasized the importance of
her role as a leader was to improve the lives of the citizens of India.

 

Indira Gandhi’s Accomplishments:

Early
in her political career, Indira Gandhi transformed herself from a quiet
policymaker to one with guiding authority. This allowed her to find new ways to
be an independent leader, allowing her to become the alpha and omega of Indian
poltiics. With this attitude, she was able to initiate changes within the
Indian system. Indira Gandhi was most famous accomplishment from the late 1960s
to 1984 was her efforts to improve domestic policies5. For example, in 1966, she proposed the
devaluation of the Indian currency in order to promote export and trade in the
foreign market. 11

She
had a significant presence domestically and beyond India’s borders. As part of
the Gandhi legacy, India reluctantly agreed to the establishment of the South
Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, known as SAARC, which was proposed
by President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh in the late-1970s, but began to meet
regularly only in 1985, a year after Gandhi’s death. 12 Through international and regional
organizations, SAARC’s seeked to promote the
welfare of the peoples of South Asia through active collaboration and
mutual assistance. By being part of SAARC, India proved, internationally, that
it was open to creating relationships with countries worldwide in peaceful
manners.

During
her rule of India as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi also proved to be a formidable
political leader, consolidating her control over the party and the country,
winning the 1971 war with Pakistan that saw the creation of Bangladesh.7
Gandhi led the country to become one of the fastest growing economies in the
world, increasing India’s capacity to be independent and sovereign while also
helping the disadvantage with the necessary resources. She helped the country improve
their presence internationally and with neighboring countries which India’s
wealth through trade and other measures. While many of her supporters had
little or no regional background, they continued to advocate for her decisions
throughout her role as Prime Minister.

It
was evident that Gandhi’s unique leadership style played a huge role in her
successes throughout her position as India’s Prime Minister. Various research
described Gandhi’s leadership as flexible, powerful, and competititative. She
proved to be motivated, task orientated, and invested in job performance with
her cabinet members, the parlimentary party, media, and the public. Due to her
supremacy by controlling her cabinet, she received backlash from her those who
reported her. However, as an advocate of her goals, she understood when she had
to be stern and friendly depending on who she was speaking with during a
situation. For example, when she dealt with personnel, the party caucus, or
opposition parties, she was demanding, domineering, competitive, controlling,
and oppositional. 13 On the other hand, when Gandhi spoke
with the media she displayed friendly yet hostile behavior when necessary. It
was through her experience with various groups of people and organizations that
helped Indira Gandhi be confident and unafraid to be competitive and controlling
in order to get work done from other parties who resented her. She was also
consistently open and showed forms of affection when she spoke with the Indian
public. 5          

Overall,
despite growing up with a political background and being educated prior to her
election Indira Gandhi faced backlash from many people who saw her as not being
the ideal traditional woman. Her psychological makeup is further sought to be
explained by the fact that she was lonely, insecure, suspicious, self- centred
and ambitious.6
Her traits were descriptions of an authoritarian leader. If she was a man, the
dialogue regarding her commitment to helping the country prosper by her
constant work would be looked differently in a much more positive manner. While
many saw her as an authoritarian and controlling leader, others percieved her
as simply a Prime Minister who was running the nation and doing her or her job.

 

Conclusion:

Today,
India is in a period where many of Indira Gandhi’s initiatives still are being
applied or improved for the betterment of the country. Her death and the elections
for the next Prime Minister did not mark the end of her period, but only showed
its continuity. Despite her assassination by the Sikhs, who believed Indira
Gandhi had disrespected their religion, her image was important and laid a
foundation for the next Prime Minister elections. As the longest serving prime
minister of India, her legacy was destined to be continued by her son, Rajiv
Gandhi, who was after her as Prime Minister and made sure her goals were
completed during his time.

 

1 Kizer,
J. (2008). Lessons Learned in India: Indira Gandhi sees Power in
Democracy. IU South Bend Undergraduate Research Journal, 8,
63-69.

 

2 Oldenburg,
P., & Carras, M. C. (1980). Indira Gandhi in the Crucible of Leadership: A
Political Biography. The Journal of Asian
Studies, 40(1), 155.

 

3 Jayakar,
P. (1992). Indira Gandhi: A Biography. Penguin Books India.

 

4 Kaviraj, S. (1986). Indira Gandhi and Indian
Politics. Economic and Political Weekly,
21(38/39), 1697-1708.

 

5 Bose,
S. (1997). Instruments and idioms of colonial and national development. International
development and the social sciences, 45-60.

 

6 Steinberg,
B. S. (2008). Women in power: The personalities and leadership styles
of Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher (Vol. 4).

McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

 

7 Varshney,
A. (1998). Why democracy survives. Journal of Democracy, 9(3),
36-50.

 

8 Ram Joshi, “India 1974:
Growing Political Crisis”, Asian Survey, Vol. 15, No. 2, February

1975, p. 85.

9 Paul,
S. (2017). “When India Was Indira”. Journalism
History, 42(4), 201-211.

10 Antonia Fraser, The Warrior
Queens, (New York, Alfred A. Knoph, 1989), p. 309.

11 Rahul Mukherjee, “India’s
Aborted Liberalisation- 1966”, Pacific Affairs, (Washington), Vol.

73, No. 3, Autumn 2000, pp. 379-380.

12 Crossette,
B. (2008). Indira Gandhi’s Legacy. World Policy Journal, 25(1), 36-44.

 

13 Steinberg,
B. S. (2005). Indira Gandhi: The Relationship between Personality Profile and
Leadership Style. Political Psychology, 26(5), 755-790.

 

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