Indira Gandhi once said, "All my games were political games; I was, like Joan of Arc, perpetually being burned at the stake" (qtd. in thinkexist.com). This eloquent statement by Gandhi gives people an unfeigned perspective of her beliefs. By comparing herself to Joan of Arc, she acknowledges that people loathe her ideologies and policies. However, her "political games" were necessary to construct a prosperous India. Since her birth, Gandhi had been taught to love her country above anything else. Her patriotism and loyalty toward India's independence made her a martyr. Until her last days, Gandhi was combating different rebellious groups, such as the Sikh guerilla, the Indian National Congress, politicians, and wealthy business people who wanted to overpower and defeat her. Since birth until death, Gandhi concentrated on aiding India to gain independence from Great Britain and improve its economy. Gandhi's life was India. Her political views and policies enhanced Indian customs. An article titled, "Sad, Lonely, but Never Afraid" in Time magazine described Gandhi's as "a virtual dictatorâ€¦warm and charming but also arrogant and ruthless. She always had a look of sadness. " According to this article, it's believed that her personality was shaped by loneliness and lack of attention from her parents. Her parents were often imprisoned for demonstration against British rule over India. Thus, Indira spent a lot of time alone in the family palace with servants, she often spent most of the time in the library reading her grandfather's books on politics or letters from her father who wrote from prison. These letters were about politics of India. The atmosphere where she grew up made her an adamant woman who believed in herself and her instincts. Even though, she had intellectual advisors, she made her own decisions and became the First Woman Prime Minister in India through difficult work, and determination.
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For more than one century, India had been struggling to gain independence from British rule. In the city of Allahabad, a child named Indira Priyadarshini Nehru, was born on November 19, 1917. Her middle name Priyadarshini which meant "beautiful to behold" was given to her in honor of her diseased grandmother from her father side (Opfeil 14). She was the living child of Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru. At her birth, Motilal Nehru, her grandfather said, "this daughter of Jawaharlalâ€¦ may prove better than a thousand sons" (Groff 14). Since her birth Indira was loved, adored, and favored by her grandfather, which was uncommon in Indian culture because of its patriarchal society where males were believed to be healthier and superior than women. Indira was born during a period of mayhem where Indians were revolting against British rule to acquire autonomy. Hence, she had a lonely childhood since she had no siblings or cousins, and the Nehru's were often imprisoned for public demonstrations against British policies. The parents of Indira Nehru were Jawaharlal Nehru a wealthy lawyer, and activist. Her mother, Kamala Kaul, was the daughter of a businessman from a town called Kashmir (Opfeil 14). Kaul was regarded by the members of the Nehru family as inferior than Jawaharlal because she didn't have a proper education, lifestyle, and social status. The Nehru's were the wealthiest and most powerful family in Allahabad, India. While Kaul lived in a small town and belonged to a middle class family or a lower caste. In consequence, when they got marry and moved to the Nehru's palace, Kaul was very miserable living in the palace because she was overlooked by the family. So, Kaul joined her husband on the movement toward India's independence and women's rights movements until her death. Indira's grandfather, Motilal Nehru, was an activist, nationalist, lawyer, and politician in India. While her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a lawyer, activist, and the first Prime Minister of Independent India. The Nehru's were pro-autonomy and pro-self-government activist from Great Britain. They were involved in demonstrations and boycotts against Britain. They were devoted followers of Mohandas Gandhi who used civil disobedience and nonviolent protests to extricate India from "British colonial rule" (Groff 14-5). One example, of their devotion to Mohandas Gandhi was when Gandhi called a boycott on salt, and the Nehru's started to make their own salt instead of importing it from Britain. Another example, of the Nehru's devotion to achieve independence was when they took the drastic step of burning any British imported item, stopped using British silk, instead Indian made rough cloth (khadi) for clothes. The Nehru's were well known for their wealth and involvement in the Indian National Congress, which was India's government. The fortune brought the family prestige and land ownership. They lived on a palace called Anand Bhavan, meaning abode of peace. Its "spacious lawns and gardens surrounded the gleaming white villa, with its long verandas, columns, colonnaded arches, and balconies" (Opfeil 14). Hence, Anand Bhavan epitomized power and success. However, when Indira was born and the family joined the Indian Independence movement, they lost some of their fortune, but gained political power. Indira's nickname was Indu, in English meaning Moon Child (Willeoxen 11). She was called Moon Child because of her charisma and desire to follow the Nehru's political views. While the Nehru's began following the pacifist Mohandas Gandhi, and his policies of civil disobedience and nonviolence, Indira became involved too. At a young age, Indira realized that she wanted to follow her family footsteps and support India's economy by not purchasing or owning British products, and policies. Seeing her family actions and strong support for independence, young Indira decided to burn her favorite English doll. This doll had been her best friend, company, and accomplice at adventures. By burning the doll, Indira was demonstrating her support for India's Independence. In addition, at the age of 12, she wanted to join the Indian National Congress, but was rejected due to her age. Adamant to contribute to India's Independence movement, Gandhi formed the Monkey Brigade. The group recruited thousands of children who "ran errands, helped with cooking, wrapped bandages, and even acted as carriers carrying secret messages between groups of protesters" (Groff 15). As the leader of the group, Indira made inspiring speeches to children and servants in the palace. Her father and grandfather motivated her to stand up for her beliefs and battle for Indian's Independence. Indira's mother, Kamala, became extremely ill when her husband and father in law were imprisoned. Kamala was diagnosed with tuberculosis and advised to receive medical treatment in Switzerland. Indira and Kamala flew to Geneva, Switzerland where they lived for two years. In Geneva, she attended school and traveled with her father to meet politicians from different countries. Then, she returned to India with her mother where Kamula died. Following her mother's death, Indira returned to England and attended Someville, a women's college in Oxford. She spent five years living and studying in England, but didn't finish her career in political studies. Instead, she returned to India to bolster her father's spirits. While studying in Oxford University in London, she met Feroze Gandhi who was not related to Mihandas Gandhi. Feroze was an activist and journalist who had studied at Oxford University. In 1939, Indira returned from London to India announcing her marriage to the family. Although, Feroze belonged to a religious called Parsee who had escaped Muslin persecution in Persia. While Indira's family "members of the Hindu religion and the priestly class, looked down upon the Parsees as culturally inferior" (Kuhlman 248). The Nehru family believed the Parsees were inferior than Hindu's, so the family was flummoxed by Indira's decision. Not only, was the family against the marriage, but the public too. Despite criticism, the Nehru family assimilated their engagement and marriage. Nevertheless, they were imprisoned thirteen months into the marriage for their involvement in India's Independence Movement. Afterward in 1944, she gave birth to her first son Rajiv, and then in 1946 to Sanjay. When India gained its Independence on August 14, 1947, Indira's father became India's Prime Minister. Due to her mother's death, she had to take the place of her mother as the first lady of independent India. She was given the title of official hostess where she had to be the "hostess, confidante and traveled with â€¦. [her father] to meet famous political figures"(Ulicny). She became involve in India's politics and moved into her father's house with her two sons.
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After two years into the marriage, she left her husband and he lived by himself in another house. The position of official hostess gave Indira Gandhi the opportunity to gain popularity in the Indian National Congress, and the heart of the Indian people. Sadly, her father died and he was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri who followed Nehru's polices and beliefs. While Shastri was Prime Minister, Indira was given the position of Minister of Information and Broadcasting. This position gave Gandhi the opportunity to deliver messages through the radio to people about the economy, and relief programs for the poor. Shastri died suddenly, and Gandhi was the fervent candidate who took India matters seriously. Thus, on January 20, 1966, she won the election by 355 votes over her opponent, Mararji Desai, with 169 votes. At age 48, Indira Gandhi assumed the title of the First Woman Prime Minister (Garnett 137-9). "During her first term in office, Indira Gandhi improved the irrigation system, increased food production, further developed an industrial base, and nationalized the banking system" (Kuhlman 249-50). However, India was still a very poor country and there was war in Pakistan over the division of a Muslim and Hindu country. With the aid of Gandhi, Pakistan was divided into Pakistan for Muslims and Bangladesh for Hindus. Another problem Gandhi faced was corruption and the opposition of the Allahabad's and maharajah's who opposed Gandhi's policies. After nine years of serving as Prime Minister, Gandhi had many opponents or rivals who wanted her to abdicate or be impeached. Indians were infuriated by the Indian National Congress because Indian's economy remained pitiable, it faced food scarcity, and Indian money, rupees, had lost its value. Indians felt cheated and betrayed by Congress, and unfortunately Gandhi had to face the problems. These problems led to division in the congress, one side supported her policies, while the opposing side presented evidence to congress that declared her "guilty of using illegal practices [during the election as prime minister]â€¦ in 1971 parliamentary election campaign" (Karan 24). Noticing the uproar and unrest of the people Gandhi declared the country in a State of Emergency. Under the State of Emergency, Gandhi dismissed from office "leaders of opposition, such as J.P. Narayan of the Janata Party, in jail [who publicly criticized and advocated rebellion to make her advocate], and suspended civil liberties" (Kuhlman 250). Gandhi with the support of congress declared herself India's dictator who had the rights to make decisions without any authorization. Consequently, she passed a law that mandated men with two or more children to have a vasectomy. The vasectomy was to be a form of birth control pill that would decrease Indian population and stabilize the economy. She outlawed public demonstrations or coalitions against government actions. Thereupon, she lost the support of many people and was harshly criticized by the people. Some people believed a dictatorship was not necessary, while others believed it was necessary to keep India united. When Gandhi ended the State of Emergency and called for elections, she lost in 1977. After three years of being out of office, Gandhi gained Indians support through speeches and relief programs for the poor. Then in 1978, she gained a seat in the parliament and in 1980 formed the Congress I where I stood for Indira (Karan 24). The Congress I gained popularity and in 1980 Gandhi became for a second term Prime Minister of India. During her second term, she tried to avoid involvement in wars with other countries seeking independence. Unfortunately, an extremist group called Sikh from Punjab, India was causing riots and chaos. In order to suppress the Sikhs, Gandhi had to send troops into Punjab. However, the Sikh took refuge in a mosque which is a sacred place to Indians. Desperate to suppress the Sikh guerilla, Gandhi gave the order for the Sikh to enter the mosque and kill the extremist. People were flummoxed by her actions. The Sikhs wanted revenge. In October 31, 1984, while taking a stroll through her garden one morning, she was shot by two Sikh bodyguards (Kuhlman 250). Gandhi life was full of suffering and her policies have been debated, however, this brave woman has been an inspiration to many women. Her determination to improve India and its economy was her life. India came before her own family, she dedicated all her life to India. At a very young age, Indira decided to follow her family footsteps and is the epitome of determination and success. She might not have been perfect, but she followed her goals and never gave up.
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