Focus:Indira Gandhi, the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of India and the only woman to hold the office.

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Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi ( née Nehru; 19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984) was the third Prime Minister of India and a central figure of the Indian National Congress party. Gandhi, who served from 1966 to 1977 and then again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, is the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of India and the only woman to hold the office.

Indira Gandhi was the only child of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She served as the Chief of Staff of her father's highly centralised administration between 1947 and 1964 and came to wield considerable unofficial influence in government. Elected Congress President in 1959, she was offered the premiership in succession to her father. Gandhi refused and instead chose to become a cabinet minister in the government. She finally consented to become Prime Minister in succession to Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966.

As Prime Minister, Gandhi was known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralisation 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. Gandhi also presided over a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 during which she ruled by decree and made lasting changes to the constitution of India. She was assassinated in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star.

Indira Gandhi was born Indira Nehru in a Kashmiri Pandit family on 19 November 1917 in Allahabad. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, led India's political struggle for independence from British rule, and became the first Prime Minister of the Union (and later Republic) of India. She was an only child (a younger brother was born, but died young), and grew up with her mother, Kamala Nehru, at the Anand Bhavan; a large family estate in Allahabad. Indira had a lonely and unhappy childhood .Her father was often away, directing political activities or being incarcerated in prison, while her mother was frequently bed-ridden with illness, and later suffered an early death from tuberculosis. She had limited contact with her father, mostly through letters.

Indira was mostly taught at home by tutors, and intermittently attended school until matriculation in 1934. She went on to study at the Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan. It was during her interview that Rabindranath Tagore named her Priyadarshini, and she came to be known as Indira Priyadarshini Nehru. A year later, however, she had to leave university to attend to her ailing mother in Europe. While there, it was decided that Indira would continue her education at the University of Oxford. After her mother died, she briefly attended the Badminton School before enrolling at Somerville College in 1937 to study history. Indira had to take the entrance examination twice; having failed at her first attempt, with a poor performance in Latin. At Oxford, she did well in history, political science and economics, but her grades in Latin—a compulsory subject—remained poor.

During her stay in the UK, young Indira frequently met her future husband Feroze Gandhi, whom she knew from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. The marriage took place in Allahabad according to Adi Dharm rituals though Feroze belonged to a Parsi family of Gujarat.

In the 1950s, Indira, now Mrs. Indira Gandhi after her marriage, served her father unofficially as a personal assistant during his tenure as the first Prime Minister of India. After 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.

When Indira became Prime Minister in 1966, the Congress was split in two factions, the socialists led by Gandhi, and the conservatives led by Morarji Desai. Rammanohar Lohia called her Gungi Gudiya, which means 'Mute Doll'. The internal problems showed in the 1967 election where the Congress lost nearly 60 seats winning 297 seats in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. She had to accommodate Desai as Deputy Prime Minister of India and Minister of Finance. In 1969, after many disagreements with Desai, the Indian National Congress split. She ruled with support from Socialist and Communist Parties for the next two years. In the same year, in July 1969 she nationalised banks.

On 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi's bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, shot her with their service weapons in the garden of the Prime Minister's residence at 1 Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. The shooting occurred as she was walking past a wicket gate guarded by Satwant and Beant. She was to have been interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. Beant Singh shot her three times using his side-arm, and Satwant Singh fired 30 rounds. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh dropped their weapons and surrendered. Afterwards they were taken away by other guards into a closed room where Beant Singh was shot dead. Kehar Singh was later arrested for conspiracy in the attack. Both Satwant and Kehar were sentenced to death and hanged in Delhi's Tihar jail.

Indira Gandhi was brought at 9:30 AM to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors operated on her. She was declared dead at 2:20 PM. The post-mortem examination was conducted by a team of doctors headed by Dr. T.D. Dogra. Dr. Dogra stated that as many as 30 bullet wounds were sustained by Indira Gandhi, from two sources, a Sten gun and a pistol. The assailants had fired 31 bullets at her, of which 30 had hit; 23 had passed through her body while 7 were trapped inside her. Dr. Dogra extracted bullets to establish the identity of the weapons and to correlate each weapon with the bullets recovered by ballistic examination. The bullets were matched with respective weapons at CFSL Delhi. Subsequently Dr. Dogra appeared in the court of Shri Mahesh Chandra as an expert witness (PW-5), and his testimony lasted several sessions. The cross examination was conducted by Shri P. N. Lekhi, the defence counsel Salma Sultan gave the first news of assassination of Indira Gandhi on Doordarshan's evening news on 31 October 1984, more than 10 hours after she was shot.
Indira Gandhi with Jacqueline Kennedy in New Delhi, 1962

Gandhi was cremated on 3 November near Raj Ghat. The site where she was cremated is today known as Shakti Sthala. Her funeral was televised live on domestic and international stations, including the BBC. Following her cremation, millions of Sikhs were displaced and nearly three thousand were killed in anti-Sikh riots. Rajiv Gandhi on a live TV show said of the carnage, "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes

In 2001, Gandhi was voted the greatest Indian Prime Minister in a poll organised by India Today. She was also named "Woman of the Millennium" in a poll organised by the BBC in 1999.

Wikipedia.

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