This is my first attempt at writing something that remotely resembles a biography and the person I have selected is none other than the iron lady of India, its second longest serving prime minister and perhaps the most complex person to serve as the prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi.
Of all the prime ministers of India, I am most fascinated by Indira and unlike most prime ministers who served in times of peace, she was one of the few women prime ministers who served during a war – a war that India was never expected to win, and if it wasn’t for her tenacity, India in all probability, would have lost the war.
At the onset, I have to admit that it is impossible to cover her whole life in an article or a series of articles because it was a long and illustrious career and her tenure as prime minister spanned more than a decade. Her first tenure lasted for ten years and her second tenure for four.
The events that we will be looking at here will be the events that piqued my interest as a young boy reading the New Straits Times between the age of 10-14 and we will look at the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, the death of her son Sanjay – a death that rocked the nation and a death many believe was an assassination, the subsequent fall-out with her daughter in law Maneka, who remains the only member of the Nehru dynasty who is not associated or affiliated to the Congress Party of India. Maneka who has had a long and illustrious political career herself serves with the BJP and finally the events that led to Indira’s death.
The events that I have mentioned here are by no means complete or comprehensive and for anyone who wants to acquire an insight to the life of India’s iron woman, it is best that they get a copy of her biography (there are a few in the market).
I read one of her biographies many years ago and to date I have never really managed to grasp the depths of it. Her life was by no means simple.
Indira was India’s third prime minister; her father Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first and longest serving prime minister and Indira was his only daughter. Indira in fact was an only child and being born in one of the most politically influential families in India, it would be fair to say that she would have come to terms with the intricacies and the subtleties of Indian politics at an early age.
India is one of the most difficult countries in the world to govern, not only because of the size of its population but also because of its diversity and each of its 29 states often demand separate attention and it is more often than not difficult to appease all the parties in the mix, but despite that Indira managed to keep a lid on things. This coupled with India’s external foes makes governing India challenging to say the least.
Indira was a Kashmiri Pandit or a Kashmiri Brahmin and she was born in Allahabad a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a state rich in history but not without its share of conflicts. Even at birth Indira could never be described as the contemporary Indian because Indians today are normally associated with states like Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana or Bengal and places like Mumbai and Delhi from the western perspective of things anyway.
The young Indira could aptly be described as the orthodox Brahmin girl and she was without doubt conservative but that was only to be expected given the strict upbringing most Kashmiri Pandit girls have.
Indira however was very, very intelligent and I remember reading somewhere that she loved reading and she was very knowledgeable and that she’d even read works like the arthashastra, something that most people don’t read. So it is fair to say that even at a young age, well before being elected the prime minister of India, the concepts of conflict and war were not alien to her and she was to a very large degree or extent able to accept conflict and war for what it was and that would have no doubt helped her during her tenure as prime minister where she would have had to face conflict and war over and over again.