Indira Gandhi was born as Indira Priyadarshini Nehru in a Kashmiri Pandit family on 19 November 1917 in Allahabad.
she had to attend to her ailing mother in Europe. While there, it was decided that Indira would continue her education at the University of Oxford. After her mother died, she briefly attended the Badminton School before enrolling at Somerville College in 1937 to study history. Indira had to take the entrance examination twice, having failed at her first attempt with a poor performance in Latin. At Oxford, she did well in history, political science and economics, but her grades in Latin—a compulsory subject—remained poor. She did, however, have an active part within the student life of the university, such as the Oxford Majlis Asian Society.
During her time in Europe, Indira was plagued with ill-health and was constantly attended to by doctors. She had to make repeated trips to Switzerland to recover, disrupting her studies. She was being treated there in 1940, when the German armies rapidly conquered Europe. Gandhi tried to return to England through Portugal but was left stranded for nearly two months. She managed to enter England in early 1941, and from there returned to India without completing her studies at Oxford. The university later awarded her an honorary degree.
During her stay in Great Britain, Indira frequently met her future husband Feroze Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi), whom she knew from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. The marriage took place in Allahabad according to Adi Dharm rituals though Feroze belonged to a Zoroastrian Parsi family of Gujarat.
Towards the end of the 1950s, Indira Gandhi served as the President of the Congress. In that capacity, she was instrumental in getting the Communist led Kerala State Government dismissed in 1959. That government had the distinction of being India's first ever elected Communist Government.
Her marriage lasted 18 years, until Feroze died of a heart attack in 1960.
After her father's death in 1964 she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and served in Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
In January 1966, after Shastri's death, the Congress legislative party elected Indira Gandhi over Morarji Desai as their leader. Congress party veteran K. Kamaraj was instrumental in achieving Indira's victory. Because she was a woman, other political leaders in India saw Gandhi as weak and hoped to use her as a puppet once elected.
The first electoral test for Indira was the 1967 general elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The Congress Party won a reduced majority for the Lok Sabha in these elections owing to widespread disenchantment over rising prices of commodities, unemployment, economic stagnation and a food crisis. Gandhi herself was elected to Lok Sabha from the Raebareli constituency.
On 22 August 1967, she became the Minister of External Affairs of India until 14 March 1969.
On 17 July 1969, She became the Minister of Finance of India until 27 June 1970.
On 27 June 1970, she became the Minister of Home Affairs of India until 4 February 1973.
Garibi Hatao (Eradicate Poverty) was the theme for Gandhi's 1971 political bid. The Garibi Hatao slogan and the proposed anti-poverty programs that came with it were designed to give Gandhi independent national support, based on rural and urban poor. This would allow her to bypass the dominant rural castes both in and of state and local governments; likewise the urban commercial class. And, for their part, the previously voiceless poor would at last gain both political worth and political weight. The programs created through Garibi Hatao, though carried out locally, were funded and developed by the Central Government in New Delhi. The program was supervised and staffed by the Indian National Congress party. "These programs also provided the central political leadership with new and vast patronage resources to be disbursed... throughout the country."
Indira Gandhi won the 1971 Indian general election.
The biggest achievement of Indira Gandhi after the 1971 election came in December 1971 with India's decisive victory over Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War that occurred in the last two weeks of the Bangladesh Liberation War which led to the formation of independent Bangladesh. She was hailed as Goddess Durga by opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee at that time.
Despite the victory against Pakistan, the Congress government faced numerous problems during this term. Some of these were due to high inflation which was in turn caused by war time expenses, drought in some parts of the country and more importantly, the 1973 oil crisis.
On 12 June 1975, the Allahabad High Court declared Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha in 1971 void on grounds of electoral malpractice. The court ordered her stripped of her parliamentary seat and banned from running for any office for six years. As the constitution holds that the Prime Minister must be a member of either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, the two houses of the Parliament of India, this would have effectively removed her from office. However, Gandhi rejected calls to resign and announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. Gandhi insisted that the conviction did not undermine her position, despite having been unseated from Lok Sabha.
Gandhi moved to restore order by ordering the arrest of most of the opposition participating in the unrest. Her Cabinet and government then recommended that President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declare a state of emergency because of the disorder and lawlessness following the Allahabad High Court decision. Accordingly, Ahmed declared a State of Emergency caused by internal disorder, based on the provisions of Article 352 of the Constitution, on 25 June 1975.
On 30 November 1975, she became Minister of Defence of India for a month.
In 1977, after extending the state of emergency twice, Indira Gandhi called elections to give the electorate a chance to vindicate her rule. Gandhi may have grossly misjudged her popularity by reading what the heavily censored press wrote about her. Gandhi's Congress party was crushed soundly in the elections. The public realized the statement and motto of the Janata Party alliance. Indira and Sanjay Gandhi both lost their seats, and Congress was cut down to 153 seats (compared with 350 in the previous Lok Sabha), 92 of which were in the South.
She won a by-election from the Chikmagalur Constituency to the Lok Sabha in November 1978.
In 1979, the government started to unravel over the issue of dual loyalties of some members to Janata and the RSS. The ambitious Union Finance minister, Charan Singh, who as the Union Home Minister during the previous year had ordered arrest of Gandhi, took advantage of this and started courting the Congress.
Charan Singh was appointed Prime Minister, by President Reddy, after Indira and Sanjay Gandhi promised Singh that Congress would support his government from outside on certain conditions. The conditions included dropping all charges against Indira and Sanjay. Since Charan Singh refused to drop the charges, Congress withdrew its support and President Reddy dissolved Parliament in August 1979.
In 1980, As a tribute to her son's dream of launching an indigenously manufactured car, Gandhi nationalized Sanjay's debt ridden company called Maruti Udyog for Rs. 4.34 crore and invited joint venture bids from automobile companies around the world.
Before the 1980 elections Gandhi approached the then Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Abdullah Bukhari and entered into an agreement with him on the basis of 10-point programme to secure the support of the Muslim votes. In the elections held in January, Congress returned to power with a landslide majority.
On 23 June, Gandhi's son Sanjay was killed in an air crash while performing an aerobatic manoeuvre in New Delhi.
On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Temple compound. The following day, after the murder, Harchand Singh Longowal confirmed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder.
After several futile negotiations, Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army in June 1984 to enter the Golden Temple in order to remove Bhindranwale and his supporters from the complex. The army used heavy artillery, including tanks, in the action code-named Operation Blue Star. The operation badly damaged or destroyed parts of the Temple complex, including the Akal Takht shrine and the Sikh library. It also led to the deaths of a large number of Sikh fighters and innocent pilgrims. The number of casualties remains disputed with estimates ranging from many hundreds to many thousands.
On 30 October 1984, Gandhi visited Orissa where she gave her last speech at the then Parade Ground in front of the Secretariat of Orissa. In that speech, she strikingly associated her blood with the health of the nation: "I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow...I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it...Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood... will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic."
On 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi's bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, shot her with their service weapons in the garden of the Prime Minister's residence at 1 Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. The shooting occurred as she was walking past a wicket gate guarded by Satwant and Beant. She was to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. Beant Singh shot her three times using his side-arm and Satwant Singh fired 30 rounds. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh dropped their weapons and surrendered. Afterwards, they were taken away by other guards into a closed room where Beant Singh was shot dead. Kehar Singh was later arrested for conspiracy in the attack. Both Satwant and Kehar were sentenced to death and hanged in Delhi's Tihar Jail.
Following her cremation, millions of Sikhs were displaced and nearly three thousand were killed in anti-Sikh riots. Rajiv Gandhi on a live TV show said of the carnage, "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes."