Indira Gandhi

Una donna alla guida dell'India


Indira Gandhi, daughter of Kamla and Jawaharlal Nehru - who served as Prime Minister of India - was born on November 19, 1917. Defined by public opinion as a woman firmly convinced of her ideals and intelligent, she spent her years of study between India, Switzerland and England. Her childhood was certainly not one of the most serene. In 1936 she lost her mother to tuberculosis and, in the same year, had to deal with several imprisonments of relatives, including that of her father - a well-known leader of the Indian independence movement. In this context, he found comfort in the figure of Feroze Gandhi, a family friend, with whom he married in 1942. After her father was appointed Prime Minister of India in 1947, the year in which the country achieved independence, the young woman began to look out and become passionate about the political world. She was her father's greatest ally and, over time, learned to navigate complex diplomatic relationships with some of the world's most influential leaders.

Political growth

It was 1955 when Indira Gandhi joined the working committee of the Congress Party; four years later she was elected President of the party. In 1964, after the death of her father, in addition to being appointed “Rajya Sabha”, the highest office in the Indian parliament, she was elected Minister of Information and Broadcasting. When her father's successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, abruptly died in 1966, she took his place. Thus, Indira Gandhi was the only woman to hold the position of Prime Minister in India. Indira distinguished herself for her tenacity and resilience even when, following the Congress Party's near miss in the 1967 elections and after acting unilaterally to nationalize the country's banks in 1969, Congress Party elders tried to oust her from her role. Nevertheless, she rallied a new faction of the party with her populist stance and cemented her grip on power with a decisive parliamentary victory in 1971.

Wars and successes

In that same year, India was in a bloody conflict between East and West Pakistan, which led around 10 million Pakistanis to seek refuge in India. Following the surrender of Pakistani forces, Indira Gandhi invited the Pakistani president to the city of Simla for a summit. The two leaders signed the Simla Agreement, agreeing to resolve territorial disputes peacefully and paving the way for the recognition of the independent nation of Bangladesh. During this time, India was achieving tangible success through the progress of the Green Revolution. In order to address the chronic food shortage that had primarily affected poor farmers in the Punjab region, Indira Gandhi stimulated increased grain production through the introduction of high-yielding seeds and irrigation.

Authoritarian tendencies and imprisonment

Despite these advances, Gandhi was also criticized for the authoritarian tendencies and corruption of her government. In 1975, the Allahabad High Court found her guilty of dishonest electoral practices, excessive election spending, and using government resources for party purposes. Instead of resigning, Indira declared a state of emergency and imprisoned thousands of her opponents. Unable to permanently avoid the various obstacles to her power, Indira Gandhi temporarily left the scene following her defeat in the 1977 elections. She was briefly imprisoned in 1978 on charges of corruption, but the following year she won the elections to the "Lok Sabha", the lower level of parliament. In 1980 she returned to power as Prime Minister. That same year her son Sanjay, who had been her main political advisor, died in a plane crash in New Delhi: thus, Indira Gandhi began to prepare her other son, Rajiv, for the leadership.


During the early 1980s, Indira Gandhi faced increasing pressure from secessionist factions, particularly from the Sikhs of Punjab. In 1984, she ordered the Indian Army to confront Sikh separatists at their sacred Golden Temple in Amritsar, resulting in several hundred victims. On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was killed by two of her bodyguards, both Sikhs, who retaliated for the attack on the Golden Temple. She was immediately succeeded by her son Rajiv and her body was cremated three days later in a Hindu ritual.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Licia Signoroni

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  • L'Autore

    Licia Signoroni

    Licia Signoroni ha 23 anni e vive a Palazzolo sull’Oglio, città in provincia di Brescia.

    Tre anni fa si è trasferita a Bologna per intraprendere il corso di Laurea triennale in Scienze Politiche, Sociali e Relazioni Internazionali. Dopo avere trascorso l’ultimo anno di studi presso l’istituto di studi politici “Sciences Po Lille”, ha deciso di iscriversi presso il corso di Laurea magistrale in Management dell’Economia Sociale, che sta attualmente frequentando.

    Le sue aree di interesse riguardano i diritti umani, con un focus sulla situazione della donna per quanto riguarda la sua condizione lavorativa in ambito internazionale.

    Licia Signoroni is 23 years old and she lives in Palazzolo sull'Oglio, a city in the province of Brescia.

    She moved to Bologna three years ago to undertake the bachelor’s degree in Political, Social and International Relations. After having spent the last year of studies at the institute of political studies "Sciences Po Lille", she decided to enrol in the Master’s degree in Management of Social Economy, which she is currently attending.

    Her areas of interest concern human rights, with a focus on the situation of women with regard to their working conditions from an international perspective.


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