Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, who served as the Prime Minister of India for three consecutive terms (1966-77) and a fourth term (1980-84) was assassinated on 31 October in 1984. The assassination which changed the history of India was said to have been motivated by Operation Blue Star, an attack on Sikh separatists holed up in Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.
At twelve years of age, Indira Priyadarshini became the leader of a children’s group, whose purpose was to help end British control in India. In 1938, she joined the Indian National Congress Party, something she always longed to do. In 1942, she married Feroze Gandhi. Soon after the couple was married, they were sent to prison on charges of subversion by the British.
Noted for her charismatic authority and political astuteness, Indira Gandhi adhered to the progressive policies of industrial development that were begun by her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the Prime Minister after India won its independence in 1947. As a minister, Indira Gandhi encouraged and started a family planning program. She also promoted the views of Nehru to establish India’s stability and security interests as independent from those of the nuclear superpowers, by authorizing the development of nuclear weapons in 1967.
On the international plane too she left her distinct imprint whether as the chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement or as a champion of environmental protection at various global fora. In all such activities she came in direct conflict with international vested interests entrenched in the West. She was intensely disliked by the prevailing leaderships of the US under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan who held her in profound distrust. She endeared herself to almost all the prominent leaders of the newly independent developing states of Africa, Latin America and the Arab world.
She was also the leader who transformed India’s chronic food shortages into surplus production of wheat, rice, cotton and milk through the Green Revolution. On Nehru’s death in 1964, Indira Gandhi was elected to Parliament in his place. After acting as Minister of Information and Broadcasting (1964-6), Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister on the death of Lal Shastri in 1966. In 1971, her popularity made her win again by an enormous margin. The second female in the world to hold the office of prime minister, after Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi remains the world’s second longest serving female Prime Minister as of 2011.
Indira Gandhi is today best remembered for her ”Garibi Hatao” slogan during the fifth general elections in March 1971, the successful leadership during the 1971 war against Pakistan, the nationalization of all banks in the country in 1969, the ‘Green Revolution’ under her leadership, and the Lenin Peace Prize (for 1983-84) and as India’s first women Prime Minister.
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