“There are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is much less competition”
On November 19, way back in 1917, Allahabad welcomed the cries of a little baby girl. Her parents Jawarharlal Nehru and Kamala Nehru named her Indira Priyadharshini. She was affectionately called “Priyadharshini” by one and all in her household. Indira’s babyhood was every little girls dream as she grew up in a very wealthy family where she had every little thing she wished and had her every need catered to. But things did not remain the same for long.
When she was two years old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi visited her house. He was a well-known pacifist leader known for his fervor in the Indian freedom movement. He was exiled in South Africa due to his freedom movement and after he returned to India he visited Indira’s home. He had long talks with her parents and before Indira could comprehend anything, things began to change in her home.
Her parents gave up all the Western possessions they had enjoyed so long.
One day, Indira’s mother came to her and said “Priyadharshini, please give me your doll. I shall have to burn it”.
Little Indira asked, “Why do I have to my doll mama?”
Her mother Kamala replied, “This is to show your support to Uncle Gandhi against the British rule. Your doll is a product of Britain my dear”.
“You can surely take her mama”, said Indira and gave up her doll without the slightest grudge.’
Such was Indira’s exposure to freedom in that tender age of four. Indira’s parents joined in the freedom struggle along with Gandhi and soon her quiet home became a center of the movement. Constant meetings were being held with a lot of freedom fighters rallying around the house most of the time. Political leaders were always staying at her house and no longer were the stately mansion a quiet place.
Her parents Nehru and Kamala started to get thoroughly involved in the freedom movement and soon, little Indira were left all to herself. Her grandfather Motilal Nehru a great lawyer of those days stayed with her during her lonesome hours. But things got worse in the household when her beloved grandfather and her father were imprisoned for the first time for their activities in the freedom movement. This led little Indira through a bout of grief, which worsened when her mother was also imprisoned for her involvement in the freedom struggle.
Indian customs in those days did not allow women to stand in the forefront and the breaking of this social custom by Kamala Nehru led to her frequent imprisonments. Little Indira soon became a silent observer of all the atrocities that took place against her mother and her family. Eventually as she grew up she hardened herself and declared, “I will not to be hurt, as my mother had been, by Indian social customs that repressed women”.
She grew up as a solemn and intelligent child whose childhood games were related to the fight against Britain. Her games always reflected the freedom struggle India underwent and the involvement of her parents in the struggle against the British. But gradually her games grew serious as she started to involve herself in the freedom movement with her friends in a shrewd manner.
During that time, many Indian National Congress workers from Allahabad did not know when the British would arrest them or search their homes. This was the main fear among the workers and in order to find out when this would occur Little Indira called her friends and said “Let’s help out our country”
Thus she formed the Monkey Brigade. Imitating the Monkey army in the epic Indian story Ramayana, she and her friends took part in the struggle by writing and delivering notices, making flags, cooking food, and spying on the police.
Indira became the leader of this children’s group.
When asked, she said, “Our purpose is to help end British control in India. We will do our best even if we are just children.”
Being its leader, she delivered speeches while other children actually warned the people who were going to be arrested. The Congress was fully aware of the Monkey Brigade movement led by Indira.
One leader said, “Though she is just twelve years old her idea is ingenious. The British will never suspect children of participating with such involvement.”
Indira took her job very seriously. One of the most significant actions of the Monkey Brigade involved Indira when she was all by herself. The Congress party’s top officials were organizing a civil disobedience movement. After the meeting, the documents containing the plans of the movement were placed in trunk of a car with Indira in the back seat. Before the car was ready to leave the area, a police inspector stopped the car in order to search it.
However, Indira pleaded saying, “Please do not inspect the car. I will be delayed and I will arrive late at school.”
Fortunately, the inspector said, “Ok, you may go”
He had believed her and the car was not searched. Indira triumphantly succeeded in delivering the documents intact.
Indira spent her school days visiting jails where her parents or her favorite freedom fighters were imprisoned. While she was in school in Poona, she often visited Mohandas Gandhi in prison.
According_to Indira, “Gandhi uncle is one person who played an important role in shaping me up”.
Not only did she visit Gandhi in the prison, she gave him her support in her child like manner by sitting on his bedside, as he recovered from one of his fasts.
Though Indira was not involved directly in the freedom struggle, she came to know the entire Indian political leadership when she was a little girl itself.
Nehru, Indira’s father was in jail most of the time. But he was extremely concerned about the education of his only child.
So in order to keep her well updated in general knowledge he told Indira, “Priyadharshini, I will write to you all about the history of the world in my letters. Read them and store them in your memory. That is all I can do as I am unable to sit beside you and teach”.
Thus began the long correspondence between the father and daughter, which lasted through Nehru’s prison years. Meanwhile Indira passed her Metric from Pune University and was then sent on to Shantiniketan, formed by Rabindranath Tagore. Here she was made to lead a strict highly disciplined life.
As time went by Indira’s mother Kamala became ill and was sent to Switzerland to convalesce. Indira accompanied her mother to Switzerland where she Joined a school and completed a part of her studies. But as time went by her mother became increasingly s‘ck and when Indira turned 17, her world came apart ^hen her mother passed away.
By and by she got over the loss. She pursued her studies in Oxford University in London. Although she had vowed to remain single, she decided to marry Feroze Gandhi, a family friend of the Nehru’s.
He was a Parsee, a member of a small cultural group that had fled from Persia centuries earlier to escape Muslim persecution. Since the Nehru’s were of the Brahmin or priestly class of India, Indira was criticized for her choice of a husband not only by her father but also from the public. Despite these protests the couple were married when Indira was 23 years old.
After, her wedding Indira became increasingly active in the freedom movement. As a result of this, she was jailed for nine months. As soon as she was released she got herself involved thoroughly in politics. Due to this she could not spend much time with her husband I and family.
Soon after her imprisonment she gave birth to a baby boy. She named him Rajiv. When Rajiv was two years old, the family moved to Lucknow where her husband Feroze served as Managing Director of the National Herald. Before long Indira carried again and little Rajiv was joined by his baby brother Sanjay.
Finally India achieved independence when Indira was 28 years old and Indira’s father became the nation’s first prime minister. Because Nehru was a widower he needed Indira to act as hostess at official government functions. This led Indira to be on her father’s side most of the time and gradually she and her husband drifted apart. Although they were never divorced they lived separately until he passed away when Indira was 39 years old.
Indira lived in Nehru’s shadow for years, but she eventually began to speak out during her own campaigns and at functions her father could not attend. Soon she became the president of the India National Congress and sought to increase women’s participation in politics.
In 1964, Nehru passed away and Indira Gandhi was elected to the Parliament. She was Minister of Information and Broadcasting under Lai Bahadur Shastri who became the Prime Minister after Nehru’s death. But unfortunately Shastri died unexpectedly of a heart attack less than two years after he became the Prime Minister of India. There were numerous contenders for the position of the Prime Minister ship when Shastri passed away and since the candidates were unable to agree among themselves they picked Indira Gandhi as a compromise candidate, thinking that she could be easily manipulated.
But they were in for a shock as Indira showed extraordinary political skills and tenacity. She was the Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 for 11 years. She was greatly respected and became very popular j after India’s triumph in the war of 1971 against Pakistan. The explosion of a nuclear device enhanced her reputation among middle-class Indians as a tough and shrewd political leader and she was greatly loved by the people of India. But as time went by North India was soon rocked by demonstrations from people who were angry at the poor state of the economy and rampant corruption in the country, and the poor standards of living among the people. This led to
Indira’s unpopularity and soon she lost her Prime Minister ship.
But this did not deter Indira. In 1980 Indira returned back as Prime Minister of India. The same year, however, a sad event took place in her life. Her son Sanjay was killed in an airplane crash.
Indira carried on in her role as the country’s leader with great zeal. She was also occupied by efforts to resolve the political problems in the state of Punjab. A secessionist movement of Sikh militants were waging a campaign of terrorism against the Government and wanting a separate state of Khalistan. Jarnail Singh Bindranwale led this movement and with supporters from the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar. Indira wanted to end this terrorism and she organized “Operation Bluestar” with the help of the Indian army. This led to the death of Bindranwale and over 600 people died in the conflict.
The Golden Temple was stripped clean of Sikh terrorists but the Temple was damaged, and sadly Indira earned the hatred of Sikhs who started to resent her move for peace as an invasion on their space.
And so, On October 31 of the same year, when she was 65 years old, Indira was walking through her garden when two of her own Sikh security guards shot her down.
Indira will be remembered for her commendable efforts in the development and progress of science, space exploration, irrigation, as well as policies like the nationalization of banks and the 20-point program. But most of all she will be remembered for being one of the greatest leaders the country ever had.