Indira Gandhi : The woman of the Millennium
The Iron Lady of India – Indira Gandhi was called so for a reason. At a time when women preferred staying behind closed doors, she stepped up and forayed into active politics. She had her apprehensions, her fears; but she conquered them all and excellently worked her way to the top.
This piece is to reflect upon her ‘no-nonsense attitude’, ‘never say never’ approach and her caring persona that the country’s first and only female Prime Minister carried without a hitch.
Indira Gandhi – A fiery soul with a caring heart
On 19th November 1917, a girl was born into a family of freedom fighters. She was no ordinary girl, for she was the child of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. As Indira’s grandmother Swaroop Rani was eagerly waiting to hold her grandson in her hands, the birth of a girl child wasn’t being expected in the family. Indira’s fate was decided at that time. She was not meant to be an ordinary girl. She was meant to be more than what a boy could ever be. Taking birth in an era when the nation was struggling for independence, Indira Priyadarshini’s childhood was never easy. Being a responsible daughter to her parents, Indira was highly protective of them, especially her mother Kamala Kaul Nehru.
As Indira Gandhi once said: From the age of three I felt responsible for myself. Whether I was or not did not matter, I also felt fiercely responsible for my parents, for I thought they were defenceless and relations and friends took advantage of their goodness. I had a feeling of wanting to protect something very big.”
After her mother’s death from tuberculosis, Indira gradually became her father’s confidante. Once at a party meeting, Pandit Nehru proudly asserted, “At first Indira Gandhi had been my friend and adviser, then she became my leader.”
Such was the personality of this lady, who was bold yet emotional and tough yet caring. Usually, such contrary attributes aren’t found in the same person. You are either too courageous or too soft-hearted. But she was both. She was an enigma -- a rare enigma.
India for Indira
There is this place in New Delhi which draws thousands of visitors every day. From its lush green gardens to its walls – every inch and every corner of the place has memories so inspiring that people from across the globe come and visit it; for this is the same place where once the Iron Lady of India and the most influential global women politicians ever lived. Yes, I am referring to 1, Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. What was once the residence of Indira Gandhi, later turned into a museum, but still,holds a very special place in India’s history.
This love and respect that the countrymen have towards her corroborate the fact that she lived for the country and will always be held in high regard. How can a woman, who had ‘India’ in her name, could forget her country anyway? India was not only in Indira’s name, it was in her soul, in every breath that she took.
She once said, “I cannot understand how anyone can be an Indian and not be proud.” Such was the love she carried for her nation. And to this day she is remembered as Indira Amma (mother). The love that she gave to the country is being reciprocated till date.
In 1975 she foisted the Emergency in the country, but this doesn’t mean that the love that she had for the country could ever be undermined. A political leader of rare acumen that she was, she wore her heart on her sleeve.
Even today the country longs for such a Prime Minister who couldn’t compromise on country’s honour. She bravely took on America, secured Sikkim’s merger with India, defeated Pakistan in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh, brought Green Revolution and made the country self-sufficient in food.
Indira ji managed to expand India’s horizons, stand up bravely against rivals and stay fearless in front of world’s leading nations with such mettle and conviction that Indira had been able to do. She knew how to protect her nation. And walked the walk, rather than just making tall claims.
She led the nation when it was going through a really tough time. Rampant poverty, the opposition she faced not only from other parties but from the Congress party itself, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and during the Emergency (1975- 77) – all this imposed a greater challenge in front of a woman leader. But she dealt with it all with an iron fist.
As a matter of fact, when she lost the general election, 1977, she did not see it as an end of her political career and came back with a thumping majority in the 1980 election. The resolve and strength of character that she carried were extraordinary.
With a vision to make the country globally renowned, Indira toiled hard to bring all such social welfare programmes that could uplift the poor and change the face of the nation.
In the words of Mary C. Carras, “Turbulence, challenge, and conflict— both within and without— have been the normal conditions of Indira.
Many of us fail to learn from our failures, but Indira Gandhi was different. After meeting a deadly defeat in post-emergency elections, it was in August 1977 when she decided to turn the events to her advantage. While the state of Bihar was mourning over the carnage of 11 landless Dalits in Belchhi, Indira decided tovisit the region. The waist-deep water and sticky, wet roads couldn’t stop her from doing what she had set her mind on. Rather than going back, she decided to ride on an elephant to get past the mushy roads. She sure knew what she was doing. She wanted to win hearts of the locals and that she did for sure.
The locals were overwhelmed looking at a sixty-year-old Indira lurching her way on an elephant, just to meet them – without thinking about hurting herself. Very convivially, she again made a place for herself in the hearts of the countrymen and nothing could stop her from making a grand comeback – something that she desperately wanted.
Even after a long wait of 33 years, the country has not been able to find another leader as astute, as daring and as inspirational as Indira Gandhi.Although many experts state that Modi’s era and his style of politics and governance bear resemblance to those of Indira Gandhi, it’s extremely important to note that her personality was in stark contradiction to Mr. Modi’s.
It was Indira Gandhi who actually launched a full-scale invasion of Pakistan in 1971. She was anout-and-out courageous leader and being a woman never held her back from reaching her goals.
It can only take a daring soul like her to take such a huge decision as that of Operation Blue Star to take Punjab out of the clasps of Sikh fundamentalists. Even though she knew that she might have to lose her own life for storming the Golden Temple, she went ahead with the operation to put an end to Sikh radicalism in the state. She saved Punjab for it is only because of her that Punjab didn’t become Khalistan. And the Punjabi Hindus will always have a sense of gratitude towards her for saving their lives and their Punjab from the extremists.
When Beant Singh (one of Indira’s bodyguards and assassins) was ordered off because intelligence agencies informed that Indira had death threats after Operation Blue Star, it was Indira Gandhi only who refused to go with the decision and said that she is secular and she couldn’t remove someone from their position just because he belongs to a particular religion. No fear, no hatred could consume her ever. She was above all. And will always remain so.
To a great extent, Indira Gandhi reminds me of Rani Laxmi Bai – another powerful Indian woman, who is idolised for her valour and huge contribution to the Indian society. What is great to note here is that both of these brave women were born on the same day as well. One died protecting her states and another died protecting her country.
Indira: A combination that’s one of a kind
When seen globally, if there is one woman to whom Indira Gandhi could ever be compared to then it has to be none other than Margaret Thatcher. Both of them were Exceptional political leaders with similar personality traits. Both of them were pragmatic, extremely strong willed and transformative in their respective nations.
Even destiny knew the amazingness of both these ladies and they ended up being great friends. A note from Margaret Thatcher sent to Rajiv Gandhi after Indira’s assassination reads:“ I cannot describe to you my feelings at the news of the loss of your mother, except to say that it was like losing a member of my own family. Our many talks together had closeness and mutual understanding which will always remain with me. She was not just a great statesman but a warm and caring person.”
As brilliantly highlighted by Thatcher, Indira Gandhi was a great statesman and a truly warm and caring person.
The lady in her has always inspired me, not only as a political leader but also as a person. When I read about her, I am forced to ponder over the thought that how the courage of one woman could really become an inspiration for many.
Indira Gandhi had an impeccable aura. She was confident, she was classy and she had a touch of feminism, even when she made some bold decisions that no men in India’s history could ever take.
Her hairstyle, her choice of saris, and her elegance – all was out of this world. It feels like she was born to be different, to stand out from the rest, and she did that wonderfully. While she has been hailed by many as Goddess Durga, she also donned the avatar of Goddess Saraswati with her transformation from ‘Goongi Gudiya’ to a highly-acclaimed and knowledgeable global leader. By bringing Green Revolution to a country that was struggling with food shortages she could also be dubbed as Goddess Annapurna.
There are more than one ways in which I see Indira Gandhi. Simply because she has inspired women like me in more than one ways.
In the end, I would like to quote Indira Gandhi with what she had said a day prior to her assassination: “I am here today; I may not be here tomorrow. But the responsibility to look after national interest is on the shoulder of every citizen of India.”
Hope we could live up to her expectations, because she certainly lived up to ours.
(The author is a political thinker and activist)