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Life and times of Indira Gandhi: From Congress’ Vanar Sena to India’s Prime minister for 15 years

Although Indira Gandhi’s contribution to the nation was immense, her image has been marred by her decision to impose the Emergency in 1975.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31 in 1984 by two of her security guards. (File photo: IE)

India is remembering former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on her 34th death-anniversary today. Gandhi, the daughter of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is widely regarded as one of the most popular prime ministers and Congress leaders of the country. Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, was assassinated on October 31 in 1984 by two of her security guards.

Life and times of Indira Gandhi

Early life: Indira Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917, in Allahabad. Gandhi was an alumna of Modern School in Delhi, St Cecilia’s and St Mary’s Christian convent schools in Allahabad. Apart from these, she studied at the International School of Geneva, the Ecole Nouvelle in Bex, and the Pupils’ Own School in Poona and Bombay. She also studied at the Rabindranath Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal’s Santiniketan. As per reports, Gandhi formed an army of child volunteers known as ‘Vanar Sena’ through which she encouraged and gathered children to take part in the freedom struggle.

Rise in politics: Gandhi was first elected as Congress president in 1959. This catapulted her status as the national leader. After the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964, she was elected as a Rajya Sabha MP. She was inducted into cabinet headed by the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. She was made Minister of Information and Broadcasting.

In 1966, after the death of Shastri, Gandhi was elected as the leader of Congress legislative party and became the Prime Minister. During her first stint, she remained Prime Minister till 1977.

During this stage, she reportedly encountered infighting within Congress and hurdles from party stalwarts. Gandhi was also termed as “Goongi Gudiya” (mute puppet) by the opposition leaders. Gandhi, however, managed to overcome the first litmus test of 1967 Lok Sabha elections.

Bold decisions: Seeking to woo voters, she pitched for ‘Garibi Hatao’ (eliminate poverty). With an eye to strengthen the economy, 14 largest banks were nationalised from the midnight of 19 July 1969 under her tenure as PM.

However, the victory over Pakistan in the 1971 liberation war projected her as a strong leader. Under her leadership, Congress managed to emerge as victorious in the 1971 election.

In the mid-70s, Gandhi refused to abide by the Allahabad High Court ruling which stripped her of the parliamentary seat and barred her from holding any office for six years. She and her government recommended the imposition of emergency to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. The emergency was declared on June 25, 1975. In 1977, she called for general elections in which she was defeated.

Operation blue-star: In June 1984, she ordered an operation in Amritsar and removed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his men from the premise of the Golden Temple. The operation was code-named Operation Blue Star.

Assassination: On October 31, 1984, the then Prime Minister Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh at her official residence at 1 Safdarjung Road.