The only woman Prime Minister of India, and almost its longest serving one, 'Iron Lady' Indira Gandhi's remains one of the biggest influences in the shaping of post-independence India.
Born in 1917, hers was a privileged background. Indira's exposure
to politics came early in life, beginning at her paternal grandfather's lap. A considerable part of her childhood was spent in hanging around the top leadership of the Congress. Her active involvement in politics came later, alongside her father and her husband.
She was chosen the youngest woman president of her party in the late 1950s, despite her father's protest. Regarded as a political lightweight by the leading members of Congress when she was chosen as Prime Minister in 1966, she soon went on to prove them wrong, even splitting the party.
Gandhi's first Cabinet position was as Minister of Information and Broadcasting, before she became Prime Minister in 1966. She continued without a break till 1977, and again was elected from 1980 till her assassination in 1984.
Her period as a Prime Minister saw her play a crucial role, inside and outside Parliament. While her admirers point to many of the constitutional amendments and policy changes that came about in her time, critics accuse her of de-democratising the Indian Government set up. From amending the Constitution to being found guilty of electoral malpractices, her period in office remains surrounded in controversy.
While she gained popularity amongst the masses for the Bangladesh War, the explosion of the nuclear bomb in 1974 and bank nationalization, rampant corruption and poor living standards by the mid-1970s saw widespread demonstrations against her.
Despite being swept out of Government in the 1977 elections, she was back with a resounding victory in 1980. Controversy dogged the remaining years, and even as progress was made in various fields, especially communications, foreign relations and environment, steps like the `Operation Bluestar’ backfired on her.
Gandhi's legacy may be a contested one, but her position as a world leader of considerable stature and her personal charisma assures her a position in the top pantheon of modern Indian history.
Profile by: Suman Tarafdar