Indira Gandhi Birth Centenary – India’s First Woman Prime Minister

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi née Nehru was born this day 100 years ago on November 21,1917. She was an Indian stateswoman and a central figure of the Indian National Congress. She was the first and, to date, the only female Prime Minister of India. Gandhi belonged to the Nehru–Gandhi family and was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian prime minister. Despite her surname Gandhi, she is not related to the family of Mahatma Gandhi. She served as Prime Minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984, making her the second longest-serving Indian prime minister after her father.

Gandhi served as her father’s personal assistant and hostess during his tenure as Prime Minister between 1947 and 1964. She was elected Congress President in 1959. Upon her father’s death in 1964 she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and became a member of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. In the Congress Party’s parliamentary leadership election held in early 1966 (upon the death of Shastri) she defeated her rival, Morarji Desai, to become leader, and thus succeeded Shastri as Prime Minister of India.

As Prime Minister, Gandhi was known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralization of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India’s influence to the point where it became the regional hegemon of South Asia.

Citing fissiparous tendencies and in response to a call for revolution, Gandhi instituted a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 where basic civil liberties were suspended and press was censored. In 1980, she returned to power after free and fair elections. She was assassinated by Sikh nationalists in 1984, less than a month before her 67th birthday. The assassins, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, were both shot by other security guards. Satwant Singh recovered from his injuries and was executed after being found guilty of murder.

In 1999, Indira was named “Woman of the Millennium” in an online poll organized by the BBC.

It was during Mrs. Gandhi’s tenure as Minister of Information and Broadcasting that I was called upon to provide her with the means of getting to the Bihar coalfields. I was then the General Manager of Bird & Company’s Coal Department with extensive coal mines in West Bengal and Bihar that made them the largest producers of coking coal in the country used by the steel industry in India and exported to Japan and elsewhere abroad.

Via an urgent telexed message I received from our New Delhi Office,  Madam Minister needed to travel immediately on arrival by air from the Capital at Calcutta’s Dum Dum International Airport to various parts of the coalfields on an important mission, and the only sure way for her to stick to her tight schedule was by private plane, which could air-hop to various small airstrips without much ado.

I was pleased to meet Mrs. Gandhi on her early arrival off the Indian Airlines plane and escort her to the Company 8-seater aircraft, which Bird’s had placed at her disposal. She insisted that I accompany her on the outward trip and so for most of that morning, I had the opportunity of speaking to her about our industrial role in the the economic development of the Eastern India states for nearly a century.

References:  Wikipedia; My Diary

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