A towering personality


A towering personality
Indira Gandhi, India's first woman Prime Minister

India's first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a bold and daring lady, who led her government and the country through several crises during her record innings, spread over two different terms and spanning over three decades and nearly 6,000 days. | Nithin Belle

By Nithin Belle

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Published: Fri 11 Jan 2019, 4:59 PM

"Education is a liberating force, and in our age, it is also a democratising force, cutting across the barriers of caste and class, smoothing out inequalities imposed by birth and other circumstances."

It was nearly 40 years ago, when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, made the statement about education being a liberating and democratising force.

But four decades earlier in the late 1930s, she was among the very few women to have ventured abroad for higher studies. Mrs. Gandhi, the lone child of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamala had studied in several institutions across different Indian cities and even other countries around the world.

The prominent institutions that she studied in India included the Modern School, Delhi; St Cecilia's and St Mary's Christian convent schools, Allahabad; schools in Pune and Mumbai; the Ramakrishna Mission; and the Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan.

However, when her mother fell ill and was being treated in Europe, Mrs. Gandhi moved to the Continent in 1937 to study at Somerville College and later at Oxford. During her remarkable political career - spanning across four decades - she was conferred honorary doctoral degrees by several international universities.

After returning to India, she married Feroze Gandhi in early 1942. But later that year she was jailed for her role in the non-cooperation movement. She also had two sons, Rajiv (born in 1944) and Sanjay (1946).
In the mid-1950s, Mrs. Gandhi became a member of the Congress working committee and later was appointed a member for the party's central parliamentary board. She also took over as the president of the All India Youth Congress in 1956 and later the party's women's wing.

Three years later she became the president of the Indian National Congress. In the mid-1960s, Mrs. Gandhi became the minister for information and broadcasting.

Taking over as PM in a difficult year

She became Prime Minister in 1966, a difficult year for India and for the ruling party, with soaring inflation, massive unemployment and a food crisis unfolding simultaneously. But Mrs. Gandhi - who was the second woman Prime Minister in the world, with Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), being the first in 1960 - was a tough lady who withstood several crises during her 11-year rule till March 1977.

It also saw her launch her 'Garibi Hatao' (Eliminate Poverty) programme, nationalise banks and insurance companies, and introduce various measures to tackle the growing problems in the country. In 1971, India was involved in a war with Pakistan, which ended with the creation of Bangladesh. Three years later, India's first nuclear bomb explosion took place at Pokhran in Rajasthan, the first time such a test was conducted by a nation that was not part of the Permanent Five in the UN (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US).

Mrs. Gandhi, during her prime ministership, handled several ministries and was dealt with respect by leaders around the globe. Her second tenure began in January 1980, but soon after coming to power, India was riddled with terrorist attacks and a major crisis in Punjab. The tragedy began to unfold soon thereafter; her younger son Sanjay was killed in an air crash in June.

And Mrs. Gandhi herself was shot by two of her bodyguards on October 31, 1984, in the garden of her residence in retaliation for the Indian Army's assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to clear it off terrorists who had occupied it.

The killing brought an end to a remarkable chapter in the history of modern India.

 - nithin@khaleejtimes.com

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