Indira Gandhi, born on 19 November 1917 and died on 31 October 1984, was the only child of Kamala Kaul and Jawaharlal Nehru, a lawyer and future first head of government of independent India.
To treat her mother's tuberculosis, the family moved to Switzerland, where Indira spent part of her schooling. Indira's youth was an active period in India's independence movement. At the age of twelve, the young girl began to fight alongside her father and grandfather for the independence of her country.
This struggle had serious consequences for the family, as Nehru was imprisoned several times. Her mother's health forced the family to return to Europe, where she succumbed to her illness in 1936. Indira continued her studies in history at Oxford and finally returned to India in 1941, where she continued her studies before marrying Feroze Gandhi. They had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay. But the couple soon came to a standstill, leading to a break-up. Personal failure on the one hand, her political career on the other. Indira was appointed president of the Congress party from 1959-1960, a minister in Lal Bahadur Shastri's government from 1964 to 1966 and, when she succeeded him, became Prime Minister, a position she held from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 until her death.
As head of government, she was at the head of a country with formidable problems: a population explosion, a struggle against poverty and a failing education system, a cumbersome Indian bureaucracy, a deficit in public enterprises and economic stagnation. Indira led India on a path of industrial and agricultural modernisation and won several military victories against Pakistan, including the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. A brilliant strategist and political thinker, Indira Gandhi was driven by an uncommon desire for personal power.
Her party won the 1971 elections with ease. But voters were soon disappointed by broken promises, rampant corruption and unpopular measures. Numerous strikes and demonstrations broke out in 1973 and Indira Gandhi's opponents filed complaints of corruption and electoral fraud. In 1975, the Supreme Court upheld the charges against her and ordered her to resign and sentenced her to 6 years of ineligibility. Convinced that she was the target of a plot, Indira Gandhi refused and declared a state of emergency on 25 June 1975. She had her opponents imprisoned, censored the press and set up a programme of forced sterilisation to limit population growth.
This dictatorial period lasted almost two years. In 1977, considerably weakening her popularity, Indira Gandhi called for elections which led to her downfall. Three years later, she was re-elected with a much less authoritarian mandate. To this day, Indira Gandhi's record as prime minister remains mixed. Although she had a strong personality and her governance was popular with some sections of India's population, particularly the youth and the poor, Indira Gandhi's 'reign' also saw the deterioration of relations between the Hindu and Sikh communities, which eventually led to her assassination. On 31 October 1984, she was assassinated by her two bodyguards, Sikh extremists.
● Katherine Frank: Indira - The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi. HarperCollins Publishers. 2001.