Indira Gandhi

Indira Nehru Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917 and would be the only child of Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru. Being influenced and inspired by her parents, Indira Gandhi rose to power in India and eventually became prime minister. She dedicated her life to progress in her country despite the overwhelming problems and challenges she encountered.

Her road to power and politics started when she turned twelve years of age. During the time of British imperialism, many Indian National Congress workers from Allahabad did not know when or if the British would arrest them or search their homes. In order to find out when this would occur, the Monkey Brigade was formed. Although Indira claimed to have thought of the idea, some asserted that the Monkey Brigade was the idea of the Congress. In any event, Indira became the leader of this children's group whose purpose was to help end British control in India. Being its leader, she delivered speeches while other children actually warned the people who were going to be arrested. The Congress figured that the British would not suspect children of participating in such involvement. Although some deemed it a joke, Indira took her job very seriously. One of the most significant actions of the Monkey Brigade involved Indira. The Congress party's top officials were organizing a civil disobedience movement. After the meeting, the documents containing the plans of the movement were placed in the trunk of a car with Indira in the back seat. Before the car was ready to leave the area, a police inspector stopped the car in order to search it. However, Indira pleaded with him not to inspect the car because the delay would cause her to arrive late at school. Fortunately, the inspector believed her and the car was not searched.

In 1938, Indira finally joined the Indian National Congress Party, something she always longed to do. Soon afterwards in 1942, she married journalist Feroze Gandhi to whom she eventually bore two sons. Soon after the couple was married, they were sent to prison on charges of subversion by the British. Her first and only imprisonment lasted from September 11, 1942 until May 13, 1943 at the Naini Central Jail in Allahabad.

Fortunately, India won its independence from Britain in 1947. In that same year, Indira's father Jawaharlal Nehru became prime minister and served until his death in 1964. Since her mother had died in 1936, Indira acted as hostess and confidante and traveled with Nehru to meet famous political figures. Later in 1959, Gandhi became the fourth woman elected president of the Indian National Congress. After her father's death, the new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri appointed Indira Gandhi as minister of information and broadcasting. This position was the fourth highest ranking position in the Cabinet. Many Indians were illiterate. Therefore, radio and television played a major part in informing them. As minister, she most importantly encouraged the making of inexpensive radios and started a family planning program.

After Shastri's death in 1966, Indira Gandhi served as prime minister until India held the next election. She won that election, and in 1967, became one of the first women ever elected to lead a democracy. In 1971, Gandhi was re-elected by campaigning with the slogan "Abolish Poverty." However in 1975, Gandhi was found guilty of violating election laws. Later, the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of India. Also, to control population growth, Gandhi implemented a voluntary sterilization program. As a result, adversaries criticized her and her administration in general. To secure her power and because of escalating riots, on June 26, 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency which limited the personal freedom of Indians. Also, she ordered the arrests of the main opposition leaders. In her opinion, her dictatorship was for the good of India. But she allowed free elections in 1977, and the Indian people voted her out of office.

She regained her position as prime minister in 1980.  Unfortunately on October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her. They did so to avenge the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Gandhi had ordered the storming in June because of what her government considered terrorist activity of extremist Sikhs who had occupied the Temple.

As prime minister, Gandhi tried to improve the lives of Indians. With her neighbors, the Soviet Union and China, she improved relations.  She also promoted science and technology.  In 1971, India sent its first satellite into space. Economically, Indira Gandhi led India to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world toward the end of her time as prime minister.

Annotated Bibliography

Ashby, Ruth and Deborah Gore Ohrn, eds. Herstory. New York: Viking, 1995.
This book features women who have had a profound impact on the world. It provides the reader with concise biographies of 120 women from Queen Hatshepsut to contemporary women. The editors divide it into three sections: the Dawn, From Revolution to Revolution, and the Global Community. Although the first section mostly consists of royalty or the elite, the other parts cover a wide variety of women, queens and subjects alike.
One of the women presented is Indira Gandhi. Her biography includes her early years, family life, and education. It also discusses her rise to fame by holding the positions of president of the National Congress party, minister of information and broadcasting, and finally prime minister of India.
Even though the biography is brief, it highlights the main aspects of each woman's life. One doing research would want to further develop these points. Each biography also contains information concerning the time the woman was born, a description of her family, significant aspects of her life, and finally her death, if applicable, in a well-organized fashion. Besides explaining famous women, the editors include brief descriptions on women's life in general from prehistory to the present.
In order to assist the reader, the editors arranged the index by geography and occupation of the women.
The most important purpose of this book is to inform that women did contribute to this world and need to be recognized. Although nobody can dispute the significance of men's accomplishments, one must realize that women also impacted and continue to impact our world. The editors, each involved in women's studies, commented that history is not complete or accurate without women's history. The female editors and contributors successfully describe women in history from women's perspectives.

Bhatia, Krishan. Indira: A Biography of Prime Minister Gandhi. New York: Praeger, 1974.
This book traces the life of Indira Gandhi. It describes her family life and the pain she had to endure when her parents Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru and her grandfather Motilal Nehru were sent to prison as a result of the Indian freedom movement. The author also discusses Indira Gandhi's education in India, Geneva and London. In addition, the author, one of India's most respected journalists, includes how Nehru, who was extremely concerned about the education of his only child, wrote Indira many letters about world history. Since he was in jail at the time, Nehru could not teach her himself.
The author also describes her marriage to Feroze Gandhi, a Parsi newspaper executive and politician. Although the couple remained together, their busy schedules kept them apart at times. He also describes how Indira served as her father's hostess and confidante which gave her experience in politics. In becoming prime minister, Indira Gandhi needed to fight to maintain her power and faced serious challenges in order to lead over 550 million people.
Although being famous to the world, Indira, as Bhatia concludes and she herself commented, was a very private person. To write his book, Bhatia met with Indira Gandhi, her supporters, and those who opposed her. He also explains both her successes and failures in order to be as objective as possible.

D'Amico, Francine and Peter R. Beckman, eds. Women in World Politics. Westport: Bergin and Garney, 1995.
This book examines the effect that women have had on world politics and what women are actually involved in politics. Besides discussing female world leaders, such as presidents and prime ministers, the book also includes activists and revolutionaries and others not directly appointed or elected to a specific political position. It also considers the concept of gender and how it affects politics and what impact culture has on politics. All of the contributors present different views on world politics and different perspectives on how women participate in world politics.
The editors divide the book into two sections. In the beginning of the book, the contributors explain how individual women leaders and representatives rose to political prominence and examine their policies, decisions, and leadership. In addition, the authors include how society views women political leaders, and the affect that gender has on acquiring and enforcing power. One famous politician that was written about was Indira Gandhi. By exploring her political acumen, the author informs the reader of Gandhi's rise to prime minister of India. It also includes Gandhi's family background, path to power, relations with the United States, efforts at regional hegemony, and Gandhi's perception of herself. To further enhance this section, women who have participated in world politics either as leaders or held prominent positions provide the reader with a first-hand experience of political life. Each offers a different view on women in world politics. The second half of the book explores how ordinary women influenced and affected politics.
This book includes many tables that give the reader insightful information into how men's political views compare and contrast to women's views. In addition, the book serves as a guide to understanding female political figures.

Drieberg, Trevor. Indira Gandhi. New York: Drake, 1973.
This book provides insightful knowledge into the life of Indira Gandhi. In order to give the reader an accurate view, Trevor Drieberg, a political reporter in India, traces the path of Gandhi's political life from its earliest beginnings until the early seventies. He explains how the desire for independence from the British affected Indira Gandhi in the early part of her life. In addition, this book emphasizes the role her father Jawaharlal Nehru played in her life. She served as his hostess since her mother died. In return, he served as her primary inspiration. By accompanying him on world tours and public events, she learned world politics first hand.
The author also explores Indira's rise to political fame by tracing her steps from entering the Congress party, becoming minister of information and broadcasting, and more importantly, her becoming prime minister.
This book includes four appendixes to provide the reader with additional information concerning Indira Gandhi. The first appendix contains selections from her speeches and writing from 1966 until 1972. The second one includes a letter to President Richard Nixon. The letter reveals India's problems with Pakistan and relations with the U.S. Appendix three discusses the treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation between the Republic of India and other foreign countries. Finally, appendix four lists the twelve points of the Congress party's plan for progress in 1971.
Drieberg believes that Gandhi is significant since she dominated Indian politics yet was elected democratically and used the almost unlimited power in a democratic manner. From the author's explanation and description of her political life, one can gain useful information concerning Indira Gandhi.

"India." URL: (Accessed 3 November 1998).
This useful site gives a basic overview of Indian history. It is divided into four sections. The first provides the reader with a background of the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization and the rise of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The second section describes how Britain brought imperialism to India. The third section explains how India was transformed from British rule to an independent country and Jawaharlal Nehru's rise to prime minister. The final section primarily focuses on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It describes how she split her Congress party and resorted to repressive measures, which lasted until 1977, to ensure her power. Although she ended up losing power, she surprisingly regained her position.
The site highlights the main events and also points out influential and notable Indians.

"Indira Gandhi." URL: (Accessed 3 November 1998).
This site contains a brief biography about Indira Gandhi. It traces her birth, education, and political life. The majority of the article focuses on her political life starting with her joining the Congress party, becoming its president, being appointed minister of information and broadcasting, and finally being elected prime minister.
Although it briefly informs the reader of her controversial political career, it does not thoroughly explore any one aspect of her life. However, the site highlights the most important aspects of the political life of Indira Gandhi.

"Indira Gandhi." URL: (Accessed 3 November 1998).
This site provides a basic biographical overview of Indira Gandhi's life. Although it mentions members of her family and her education, it primarily focuses on her political career. It includes both positive and negative aspects of her political life. It traces her rise to political power first as president of the Congress party, then minister of information and broadcasting, and finally to prime minister.
By using this site, one can gain a basic overview of Indira Gandhi's life. As a result, the article is not in-depth but supplies points that one could use in further research.

Krishnan, Narayana Kalyana. "The Elections and the Political Struggle in India." World Marxist Review. 28(July 1985): 97-102.
This article discusses and emphasizes the main factor that led to a victory in the December 1984 election for the Indian National Congress party. The primary factor resulted from the death of former prime minister, Indira Gandhi. As a result of her death, Indians became aware of the threat to the unity and security of their country. Just before her death, the government had the army storm Punjab because of Sikh extremists. Most Indians became very concerned about their nation's unity, integrity, and security. This became the central political factor in the parliamentary general elections. Therefore, the party that could assure to create unity, integrity, and security would emerge victorious. As it happened, the Indian people felt that the Indian National Congress could achieve this goal. Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi, claimed that only the Indian National Congress could accomplish this goal. Also, many Indians felt sympathetic to the Congress because of Indira's death.
The writer also points out that the Congress failed in such states as Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim. This resulted from the dislike of the undemocratic actions of the Congress Central Governments.
The people of India expected the Government to end their anguish and improve living conditions. In addition, Rajiv Gandhi promised peace, non-alignment, and friendship with countries and especially the Soviet Union. The author of this article, who is the Secretary of the National Council of the Communist Party of India, said that his party would work with the Rajiv Government to bring about these positive plans.
This article gives insight into the election from someone who is active in politics. The author, who is a communist, also provides the reader with information from past elections and the reactions of the Communist Party. One can also gain a feeling of how Indians felt shortly after Indira Gandhi's death.

Masani, Zareer. Indira Gandhi. New York: Crowell, 1976.
This book presents the life of Indira Gandhi. The author, a historian, begins by explaining her family life and ends with the events of 1975. In discussing her early years, the author describes how Indira Gandhi was surrounded by politics and political figures. Motilal Nehru, her grandfather, and also Jawaharlal Nehru, her father, were two influential leaders in the campaign for Indian independence. Indira also had contact with Mahatma Gandhi, the primary leader for independence.
In 1947, India gained independence and Indira's father became prime minister. Indira became her father's official hostess and political confidante. As a result, she acquired an abundance of political knowledge. This proved helpful to her when she finally achieved the position of prime minister of India. In this position, Gandhi encountered many problems such as overpopulation, low food production, financial difficulties, and poor foreign relations. Masani explores the hard times Indira Gandhi had to deal with and her determination to end those problems as prime minister.
This book is a thorough biography of the life of Indira Gandhi until 1975. One can gain a strong sense of what factors influenced her political actions throughout her time as prime minister. In addition, the author revised his book in order to include the Emergency that occurred in the middle of 1975. To Masani, the Emergency resulted from economic and political problems. He also called democracy in India a "Western Liberal Illusion." According to him, the masses were not properly represented. The book is objective and provides the reader with even more insight into Indira Gandhi's political life.

Moraes, Dom. Indira Gandhi. Boston: Little Brown, 1980.
This book describes the life of one of the world's most popular women, Indira Gandhi. It gives a very informative and well-written portrayal of her. The author, a correspondent and memoirist, divides the book into four sections: the inheritance, the ascent, the pinnacle, and the descent of Indira Gandhi. Being the daughter of the active political figure Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was destined to play an active part in politics. Just as Nehru, Indira, along with her husband Feroze Gandhi, was jailed because of tensions with the British and struggle for independence. When independence was finally gained and Nehru became Prime Minister of India in 1947, Indira was right by his side and highly exposed to politics.
Moraes also explains Gandhi's political life. In addition, he devotes an entire chapter to Indira's son Sanjay. He describes Sanjay's four-point program. According to the author, two points, sterilization and destruction of the slums, were factors in the downfall of Indira Gandhi.
Moraes initially wrote this book with the cooperation of Indira Gandhi and members of her family. He provides the reader with insight into Indian life, culture, politics, and its history. Overall, his book thoroughly explains the life of India's most famous woman.

"Mrs. Gandhi is Dead, Long Live Gandhi." Economist, 3 November 1984, 35-6.
The writer of this article presents Indira Gandhi's assassination. The writer divides the article into four parts. The first informs the reader of the assassination itself. Not only does he mention the murder, but also the writer provides the reader with the event at Amritsar that led to her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. The writer also provides the reader with the effects of the assassination on both Hindus and Sikhs, and describes India as a divided community. The second section deals with Gandhi's successor and son, Rajiv Gandhi. By including him, the writer informs the reader of what challenges Rajiv Gandhi will face as new prime minister. The third section provides the reader with a brief description of how India improved economically under Indira. Also, the writer includes how Gandhi removed anyone who would challenge her political power. Finally, the writer concludes by examining the growth of violence in India. Although he does not totally blame Gandhi, the writer feels that she failed to check it.
Overall, the writer presents a clear description of the divisions in India that Gandhi had to endure. In order to begin to understand India, one must understand this. The article explains the differences and problems between religion, race, and communities in India.

NebulaSearch. Gandhi. URL: (Accessed 30 January 2004).
Provides only a brief biography, but the page has many links to other sources on the web.

Sahgal, Nayantara. Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982.
This candid book primary focuses on the political life of Indira Gandhi. According to the author, Gandhi's values differed from those of her father Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, both of whom were her predecessors. Therefore, her style in dealing with politics was contrary to theirs. To her predecessors, democracy was very important for the growth and development of the nation. Even though Indira Gandhi believed that she was democratic, she did not continue that democratic belief of her father and Shastri. Instead, the writer stresses the fact that Gandhi created a highly centralized government under her command. This can be best seen in the Emergency of 1975-1977. According to the author, the emergency formed a one-party system, strong executive powers, and dynastic succession. The writer also claims that Gandhi returned back to power in 1980 in order to save Sanjay, one of her sons. Indira felt that the only way to rid the charges against him was to become prime minister again.
This book is very interesting especially since the author is related to Gandhi. It provides insight into the political life of Indira Gandhi. The author is not afraid to express her criticism of Gandhi. She also provides a useful list of Indian personalities and a clear definition of these people. In addition, the writer translates a handful of Indian words to assist the reader when reading.


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Written by Maria Ulicny, 1998
Last Revision: 16 November 2004
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