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Assassination: Indira Gandhi's Life Through Politics
June 7, 2000

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Looking at the spot of her assassination

"If I die a violent death... I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassin, not in my dying - for no hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country."

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Flowers in the middle mark the spot where she died
I am reading these words, which are etched into a memorial plaque, on a hot Sunday afternoon. The glass plaque marks the site of Indira Gandhi's assassination, right on the front walkway of her home, and those words were found amongst her papers after her death on October 31, 1984. She died of gunshot wounds inflicted by her bodyguards. Her residence, including that fatal walkway, has been turned into a free museum.

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Indira Nehru as a teen
Indira Priyadarshini Nehru Gandhi's house, near Connaught Place in New Delhi, contains many memories of her later years. Born 19 November, 1917 in Allahabad, at another house, called Anand Bhawan, Indira's earliest memories were, "not of family life but of the days of jail going, police searches, confiscation of goods and the constant flow of people." Many discussions about India and British rule took place at Anand Bhawan, with participants such as "Mahatma" Mohandas Gandhi (no relation) and Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira's father. As a youth of 12 years old, Indira was too young to enroll in the new Indian Congress that was taking shape; however, in her determination to play a part, she encouraged all the neighborhood children to join her as "auxiliary" members of Congress. They made flags, addressed envelopes, and carried messages from one group to another; her political participation started at an early age!

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Waiting to enter the Memorial on a busy Sunday
After being educated at Somerville College, Oxford, Indira returned to India as the nation started to shake off British rule. Inculcated with determination and political activism from her youth, she spent a total of eight months in prison because of her pro-independence actions. At the time of Partition, she worked in the Muslim areas of Delhi, encouraging peace in the bloody confrontations between Hindus and Muslims. For this work, Mahatma Gandhi said, "Now I know your education and your years abroad have not been wasted."

Indira's father Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of newly independent India. Indira, now married to Feroze Gandhi, helped with Nehru's schedule and managed other business, and after her father's death in 1964, she was voted into Parliament, acting as Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the government of Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri's unexpected death, less than two years later, left a gap in leadership, so Mrs. Indira Gandhi was picked by her peers as the best candidate for Prime Minister. She held this office twice, from 1966-77 and 1980-84.

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My new friend Kavitha
While I'm in line with the many hundreds of other Indians who are visiting the house; Kavitha, 12; from Madhya Pradesh; shyly addresses me. "Welcome to India," I hear a soft voice say, and when I turn around, I see her. Kavitha looks at all the newspaper articles of Indira's time as Prime Minister posted on the walls. She points out photos of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with other heads of state, including Ronald Reagan. The pictures and articles show Indira's efforts at diplomacy and statesmanship. "She was a very nice woman," Kavitha whispers. "I think she liked children very much." Both Indira and her children have a role in Indian politics, read more in future updates about her son Rajiv, and his wife Sonia.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi helped to bring India into the modern age. She accomplished much through her successes, and persevered through her failures. Her death due to religious tension did not detract from her earlier efforts to make her country the best it could be. On the last wall as you exit her house, you see a black and white picture of her as she walks along a beach, her back towards the camera. Below this photo, you may read the words of President Fidel Castro of Cuba upon her cremation: "We saw her disappear amidst flames, while her people, her descendants and statesmen from all over the world surrounded the funeral pyre in respectful silence. And we recalled the August calmness with which years earlier she had indicated that one day she also would, with resignation, give up her life in a holocaust for the unity of her nation."

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Learning about Indira Gandhi's accomplishments worldwide
Regardless of if Mrs. Indira Gandhi was nice or not, many criticized her leadership. For example, during a time of unpopularity for her, Indira Gandhi declared a "state of emergency." During this time, her critics were jailed, she censored the press, and she ignored some constitutional rights. She demonstrated low tolerance for different viewpoints, causing some harm to India's new democracy. For example, in the 1980's, in the northern state of Punjab, Jarnail Singh Bindranwale was leading a movement of Sikh separatists. To crush this movement, Indira Gandhi launched "Operation Bluestar." In June 1984, she sent army troops to the "Golden Temple", the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, and this operation led to the death of Bindranwale and major damage to the temple. Five months later, in a violent response, two of Mrs. Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her, out of vengeance.


assassination: a murder of a famous figure, sometimes with political implications.
inculcated: taught by frequent repetitions.
Partition: the political split of Modern India, between Hindu and Muslim peoples.
vengeance: punishment inflicted for revenge.

Although Mrs. Indira Gandhi tried to serve her country's interests well, her faults cannot be denied. At the same time, many people praise her work for its accomplishments. Can you think of leaders you know of that were good and noble, but also plagued by bad decisions?

Learn more about Indira Gandhi's leadership and life by following these links:

Bengal Net
Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Equity Resource Center
An account of Mrs. Indira Gandhi's assassination


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