Today In History : January 19, 2022
On This Day In History
On January 19, 1966, following the death of Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi became head of the Congress Party making her the first female prime minister of India. She was also one of India’s most controversial heads of state.
Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of the independent Republic of India. She was elected to the executive body of the Congress Party in 1955. In 1959, she served as president of the party and in 1964 was appointed to an important post in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ruling government. In the 1967 election she won only a narrow victory and so had to rule with a deputy prime minister.
In 1971, she won a resounding reelection victory and became the undisputed leader of India. That year, she ordered India’s invasion of Pakistan in support of the creation of Bangladesh. This gained her greater popularity and led her New Congress Party to a landslide victory in national elections in 1972.
During the next few years, there was increasing civil unrest brought on by food shortages, inflation, and regional disputes. Her administration was criticized for its strong-arm tactics in dealing with these problems. In 1975, the High Court in Allahabad convicted her of a minor election infraction and she was banned from politics for six years. In response, she declared a state of emergency throughout India. She imprisoned thousands of political opponents, and restricted personal freedoms in the country.
In 1977 Gandhi and her party were swept from office when new elections were held. Soon after the ruling Janata Party fell apart, the Congress (I) Party, with Indira as its head, won a spectacular election victory in 1980, and Gandhi was again prime minister.
In the early 1980s, the Sikh secessionist movement in Punjab resorted to violence and terrorism. In 1984, the Sikh leaders set up base in their sacred Golden Temple in Amritsar. Gandhi sent in the Indian army, and hundreds of Sikhs were killed in the assault. In retaliation, Sikh members of Gandhi’s own bodyguard gunned her down on the grounds of her home on October 31, 1984. She was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Gandhi.