In a world dominated by male politicians, Margaret Thatcher turned to an Indian woman to draw inspiration. Little is known about her first meeting with Indira Gandhi, but the diplomat who set it up revealed Monday that it was Thatcher who sought it.
Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra, former foreign secretary, went to see Thatcher in 1972, sensing a rising international star in the then junior education minister. “She said, ‘You know, I’d love to go to India to meet Mrs Gandhi’, and so I organised her trip,” Rasgotra told HT.
They met for 1.15 hours, instead of the scheduled half hour. “The two ladies got on famously. Mrs Thatcher was full of India and full of Mrs Gandhi. Later, I asked Mrs Gandhi, ‘What did you talk about? Your politics are totally different.’ And she looked straight at me and said, ‘Oh, we talked about our grandchildren!”
Apparently, the chemistry between the two women laid the foundation for Thatcher’s rise. Thatcher’s biographer Hugo Young says the first meeting marked an important step in her journey towards belief in herself as a rising international stateswoman.
Indira was said to be one of the few women by whom Thatcher had ever allowed herself to be impressed. At that first meeting, an Indian official told the academic Blema Steinberg, Thatcher sat at Mrs Gandhi’s feet, asking how had she made it to the top, how had she stayed there and how had she sustained her domination of her party.
When Mrs Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 – just 15 days after an IRA bombing attack on Thatcher – the British leader recalled thinking, “I shall miss her very much indeed; our friendship had a special quality.”
In 1989, Thatcher finally had occasion to pay a fulsome public tribute to Mrs Gandhi at the unveiling of a bust of the Indian leader, sculpted by K.S. Radhakrishnan, at the Indian High Commission in London. Wearing a striking dark magenta dress, she spoke positively about India and the need to fight terrorism.
At around the same time, she took a series of swift measures to check rising Khalistani militancy in Britain. “She realised what the problem was and sorted it out no time,” said Rasgotra.