In 1966 Gandhi was elected prime minister of India, becoming the third person to head the government of the South Asian nation since its establishment as an independent republic in 1947. Gandhi was only twelve years old when she began working to free her country from British colonial rule, an effort that continued throughout her years as a student at Oxford University and eventually led to her imprisonment for subversion in 1942. After the British withdrew from India, Gandhi's father, Jawaharlal Nehru, became prime minister, and Gandhi served as his official hostess and political aide. In 1959 she was elected president of the Congress party, and, when Nehru died in 1964, she was elected to the Upper House of the Indian Parliament as minister of information and broadcasting under Nehru's successor, Bahandur Shastri. Following Shastri's death in 1966, Gandhi came to power as prime minister after defeating rival Mararji R. Desai in the 1967 national elections.
Gandhi instituted within India such policies as strong population control, nuclear and space research, and a friendly stance toward the Soviet Union. Internationally known, Gandhi enjoyed relatively wide acceptance in her own country during her first years as prime minister, but by 1975, in the midst of government economic woes and severe droughts, she came under attack by critics who charged her with corruption within her organization and abuse of authority. Responding to the widespread demand for her resignation, she declared a national state of emergency, censoring the press, jailing thousands of opponents, and curtailing civil rights. In March of 1977, after nearly two years of totalitarian rule, Gandhi called for elections. She lost to Desai, but, after reorganizing her supporters to form a new party, called the Indira Congress, she won the 1980 general elections in a landslide victory and was restored as India's prime minister. The events leading up to her assassination involved escalating tensions and violence between the Moslem, Hindu, and Sikh religious sects. In June of 1984 Gandhi, a Hindu, ordered the government takeover of the Sikh's Golden Temple in Amritsar, which was being used as a terrorist arsenal. As a result, large numbers of both Sikhs and Hindus were killed. Four months later, Prime Minister Gandhi was assassinated on the grounds of her New Delhi compound by Sikh members of her own security staff. Immediately following the attack Gandhi's son, Rajiv Gandhi, who was sworn in as India's Prime Minister, urged restraint among Hindus retailing violently against Sikh adherents.
OBITUARY NOTICE: Born November 19, 1917, in Allahabad, India; assassinated, October 31, 1984, in New Delhi, India; cremated and ashes scattered over the Himalayan Mountains.
- Current Biography, Wilson, 1966, January, 1985.
- Dictionary of Politics, revised edition, Free Press, 1974.
- The International Who's Who, 48th edition, Europa, 1984.
- 1000 Makers of the Twentieth Century, David & Charles, 1971.
- Detroit Free Press, November 1, 1984.
- Detroit News, November 1, 1984.
- Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1984.
- Newsweek, November 12, 1984.
- New York Times, November 1, 1984.
- Time, November 12, 1984.