Indira became the prime minister of India in 1966 following the death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on the 11th of January 1965. Both Nehru and Shastri were from the Gandhi camp and they were no doubt inspired and influenced by his non-violent stance and his rather peaceful approach to things.
While both men were without doubt able administrators, and were more than capable of governing the country in times of peace neither were suitable candidates to govern in times of war and could be blamed at least partly for India’s relatively poor showing in the first Indo-Pakistan war (1947 – 1948) or the war of Kashmir, the Sino-India War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Despite the fact that almost little or no territory changed hands in all three wars there was a significant loss of lives.
Things however were vastly different in the Liberation War of Bangladesh 1971. The Nixon administration fearing a rise in Soviet influence, primarily due to affairs in Afghanistan where the Soviet Union was gaining a firm foothold, encouraged their then allies to send supplies to Pakistan and were prepared to overlook or ignore the 1971 genocide of Bangladesh.
It is also worth adding that in the aftermath of 1947 it was obvious that India needed to bolster its defense capabilities and that to some degree explains the BJP’s success in recent times i.e. the willingness to spend extensively on defense. This coupled with the fact that there have been significant improvements in indigenous defense systems and the BJP’s willingness to maintain the trend has helped increase the BJP’s popularity. As far as the average Indian is concerned there are certain sectors that he or she wants to see significant improvements in and defense is one of them.
Indira was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi at an early age and was no doubt familiar with him, his work and his teachings but she could never be described as a leader in the Gandhi mold or even as a leader who was in the Nehru or Shastri mold for that matter and despite having served under both of them – she served as her father’s personal assistant and following her father’s death in 1964 she was appointed the minister of information and broadcasting by the Shastri government, she was nothing like them. She was also appointed the president of the congress party in 1959 and served in the capacity for a year.
There was nothing in her past to indicate that there would be a gradual move away from democracy towards a more state based economy, but that was in effect what happened following the 1966 elections, when the congress party won the elections, albeit by a smaller number of seats and Indira became the prime minister of India. I suspect that the move towards socialism was spurred on not by a sudden fixation for communism but rather a need to address the countries more pressing problems i.e. poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality. Despite the constant criticisms that are hurled at it, socialism does in fact advocate for a more equal distribution of wealth.
As soon as she was appointed the prime minister of India, Indira showed a boldness that would take many of her congress allies by surprise especially those that were expecting a docile leader who would accede to all their wishes because her actions clearly told the congress party that she was prepared to throw party politics out the window.
I am not going to say that she didn’t create a class of hyper rich, I think she did but not intentionally. It happens with nationalization i.e. when ownership is transferred from the private sector to the state and then back to the private sector it tends to create a class of hyper rich people who have a monopoly over certain sectors.
She also entrusted certain key people with the development of certain sectors for example the iron and steel sector and pioneered the growth of the Tatas, the Birlas and numerous other multinational companies like them.
In 1969 Indira nationalized the fourteen largest banks in India and while her popularity with the congress party especially its president was going downhill, her popularity among the regional parties was growing especially the DMK and that started the south’s long-standing infatuation with Indira.
I’m not saying that the leaders of the DMK are not rich. To the contrary they are exorbitantly rich but they too were founded on socialist principles and idolized both Lenin and Stalin and the bottom-line here was simply a better distribution of wealth especially among the Dravidians who felt left out and marginalized by the north. Whether that was indeed the case or otherwise was and is an entirely different matter but at that stage they saw in Indira a leader who was willing to address the inequalities and the alliance was formed.