"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."
These words, spoken by Indira Gandhi in her last public speech in Orissa two days prior to her assassination, resonate even after 29 years of her death.
Arguably one of India's most controversial figures of all times, Indira Gandhi, is India's first and longest serving female Prime Minister.
Born as Indira Priyadarshini Nehru to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamla Nehru on November 19, 1917, she lived a life that was less than ordinary. Her life was different from other kids as she had a tough childhood with her father away and her mother suffering from poor health.
Exposed to the affairs of nation at a tender age, Indira, at 12, led the children’s group which served to help end the British Raj in India. Closely associated with her father's work, she finally joined the Indian National Congress Party in 1938.
In 1942, Indira tied the knot with journalist Feroz Gandhi who was studying at the London School of Economics during Indira's stay at Oxford. Post marriage she unofficially worked for her father during his stint as the first prime minister of India.
Indira was always noted for her charismatic personality and her hold over politics and was the popular choice of the party for prime ministership after her father's death. However, it was senior leader Lal Bahadur Shastri who took over the post. In 1964, she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha and also served as the Information & Broadcasting minister in Shastri's cabinet.
In 1966, she was catapulted to the helm of affairs following the sudden demise of Shastri and was chosen as the candidate for the prime minister's post. She served as the prime minister of India for three consecutive terms (1966-77) and a fourth term (1980-84).
It was under her leadership that a slew of reforms were introuced that put India on the world map. She endorsed her father's view to establish India’s stability and security and authorised the development of nuclear weapons in 1967.
She even nationalised the oil companies after the 1971 war against Pakistan when India faced oil crisis. She was instrumental in bringing about the Green Revolution which changed the agricultural production in India and transformed India’s chronic food shortages into surplus production of wheat, rice, cotton and milk. It was under Gandhi’s premiership that India sent its first citizen into space. In a memorable moment during a joint television news conference from space, when Indira asked Sharma how India looked from outer space, he replied Saare jahan se achcha.
However, Gandhi's achievements are often eclipsed by the shadow of the 1975 Emergency during which she even gagged the press, a move that was heavily criticised and brought about her downfall in the next elections. She is also the only Indian Prime Minister to have been imprisoned after holding this office.
Strong-willed Indira fought the next elections from jail and came back to power after winning by a high margin. Her ability to take bold and brave decision earned her the moniker Iron Lady.
Her last term as a prime minister was spent dealing with the rise of a secessionist movement which was started by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, who along with his troops had captured the Golden Temple in Amritsar. She launched Operation Blue Star to flush out Bindranwale and his men from the temple and subdue them. While the operation was successful, many civilians lost their lives and the temple was heavily damaged. This earned her a bad name among the Sikhs.
As a repercussion of Operation Blue Star, on October 31, 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards— Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, who fired 33 bullets into her chest and abdomen, killing her in the lawn of her residence. While Beant was killed in gun fire, Satwant was arrested and later sentenced to death along with co-conspirator Kehar Singh.
On the ocassion of Gandhi's 29th death anniversary, dna reader Jagdamba Prasad Mishra "Gaurav" (below) dedicates a few lines to the epitome of female power.