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 Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (1917 - 1984)
Indira Gandhi was born Indira Priyadarshini Nehru in Allahabad, the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamala Kaul Nehru. Her father was a lawyer, a nationalist leader, and later the first prime minister of independent India (1947-1964). Gandhi studied at Visva-Bharati University in Bengal and then attended the University of Oxford in England after her mother died in 1936. In 1938 Gandhi joined the Indian National Congress, the political organization that was spearheading the fight for Indian independence from British rule.
In 1942 she defied social custom by marrying a Parsi, Feroze Gandhi (no relation to Indian nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi). A lawyer, Feroze was also active in the Congress, and he and Indira were imprisoned for civil disobedience shortly after their marriage. Later, they had two sons, Rajiv Gandhi, born in 1944, and Sanjay Gandhi, born in 1946. Feroze Gandhi died in 1960.

After India achieved independence in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected prime minister and Gandhi began acting as her father's official hostess and political confidante. She moved to his home with her two young children and accompanied him on trips abroad. She also gained political experience in her own right during this period. The Congress Party, which evolved from the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Nehru, elected Gandhi to its Working Committee (the executive arm of the party) in 1955. In 1959 she became the party's president. In 1962 Gandhi coordinated civil defense activities during a border war with China.

Nehru died in 1964, and Congress Party member Lal Bahadur Shastri replaced him as prime minister. Shastri appointed Gandhi to his cabinet as minister of information and broadcasting. When Shastri died suddenly in January 1966, an election was held in parliament to replace him. Congress Party president Kumaraswami Kamaraj backed Gandhi to become the new prime minister. Morarji Desai, a veteran member of the Congress Party and a conservative faction leader, contested her candidacy, but most Congress leaders supported Gandhi. Many of them apparently believed that she would be popular with the Indian people but also pliable to guidance from party leadership. With the votes of the majority of the ruling Congress Party, Gandhi won the election and became India's third prime minister.

Kamaraj and the other party leaders had greatly underestimated Gandhi's political skills and her fierce determination. In the face of a potentially severe famine caused by the failure of the monsoon rains in 1965, Gandhi used her international experience to obtain the promise of wheat, loans, and credit from the United States. She visited the United States in 1966, establishing a good relationship with President Lyndon Johnson but criticizing his decision to escalate the U.S. conflict in Vietnam (see Vietnam War). Under pressure from the United States and international financial agencies, Gandhi agreed to a major devaluation of the rupee (the Indian currency) in June 1966.

New elections held in 1967 brought unprecedented losses for the Congress Party, but Gandhi retained the office of prime minister and began to move to the left, embracing socialist policies like those of her father, Nehru. She came into increasing conflict with the conservative factions of the Congress Party, and in 1969 she moved to split the party. A majority of party members followed Gandhi to the New Congress Party, while the remainder joined the Congress-Organization (or O) Party, headed by Morarji Desai. Running on a platform of Garibi Hatao, or "Remove Poverty," Gandhi led her New Congress Party to a sweeping victory over conservative factions in 1971. She subsequently nationalized banking in India, introduced limited land reform, and ended the large pensions of India's former princely rulers.

In early 1971 Gandhi faced a severe foreign crisis as East and West Pakistan became locked in a struggle over East Pakistan's demand for greater autonomy. After talks among Pakistani political leaders collapsed in March, West Pakistani troops began to ravage East Pakistan, and East Pakistan declared its independence as the nation of Bangladesh. Millions of native Bengalis fled to India. Displaced Bengalis set up a government in exile, and India helped train Bengali guerrillas to fight against the Pakistani army. Gandhi appealed for international help but no intervention was undertaken. Finally, in December Gandhi ordered an Indian invasion of East Pakistan. Less than two weeks later, the Pakistani army surrendered to Indian forces, and Bangladesh became an independent country.

Although Gandhi was highly popular after the war, food shortages, inflation, and regional political grievances led to growing civil unrest in India during the first half of the 1970s. Gandhi suppressed some of these disturbances harshly, and she centralized control of the government and the New Congress Party in her own hands. Charges of corruption, a swelling populist movement in Bihar State, and opposition within the party followed. In 1975 the high court in Allahabad convicted Gandhi of a relatively minor election fraud during her 1971 campaign and ordered her to resign. Before final appeals could be heard, however, Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India on June 26. All civil rights were suspended and thousands of opposition leaders, journalists, and others were imprisoned. During 21 months of emergency rule, Gandhi initiated programs to foster economic development and reduce inflation. She gave increasing power to her politically ambitious younger son, Sanjay, who organized a compulsory sterilization campaign aimed at lowering the national birthrate. The campaign, which mandated vasectomies for men with families of two or more children, met with widespread fear and resistance.

In March 1977 Gandhi lifted the state of emergency and called a free election, perhaps hoping to demonstrate popular support for her regime. Instead, she lost her seat in parliament, and the Janata Party, an alliance of disparate opponents of her regime, soundly defeated the New Congress Party. The Janata Party was led by Desai, who became India's new prime minister. In 1978 Gandhi formed the Congress (I) (for Indira) Party and recaptured a seat in parliament. A short time later the new government jailed her briefly but was unable to convict her of any charges.

The Janata coalition had difficulty working together, and by 1979 it had fragmented. The government dissolved parliament and held a new election in early 1980. Gandhi and her Congress (I) Party, campaigning on the slogan "Elect a Government that Works," won a major victory, and Gandhi resumed the office of prime minister. Sanjay also captured a seat in parliament; however, later that year he died when the private airplane he was piloting over New Delhi crashed. Gandhi then began grooming her older son, Rajiv, a professional airplane pilot, to be her political successor. Rajiv was elected to Sanjay's seat in parliament in 1981. In her later years, Indira did not seem to completely trust any political adviser or ally except for members of her own family.

In the early 1980s Gandhi formed an opportunistic political alliance with a young Sikh leader named Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in an effort to control a Sikh secessionist movement in the Punjab region of northwest India. This alliance deteriorated, however, and in early 1984 Bhindranwale and his followers occupied the grounds of the sacred Golden Temple of the Sikhs in Amritsar. The group carried out acts of terrorism, which led to widespread unrest in Punjab. In June Gandhi sent the Indian army to flush out the terrorists. Hundreds were killed in the conflict, including Bhindranwale, many of his supporters, and many army personnel. A few months later, in October 1984, two of Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards took revenge by assassinating Gandhi on the grounds of her home. Violent anti-Sikh riots engulfed Delhi at the news of Gandhi's death. Within 24 hours, Gandhi's son Rajiv was sworn in as prime minister. In December Rajiv led the Congress (I) Party to a resounding victory - the greatest election victory for the Congress Party since India's independence,which he attributed to his mother's martyrdom. Rajiv served as prime minister until 1989, when the Congress Party lost its majority in parliament and Rajiv resigned his position. In 1991, while campaigning for reelection near Chennai (Madras), Rajiv was assassinated in a suicide bombing. The bombing was attributed to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil separatist group seeking independence for the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka.
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