Indira Gandhi

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My father was a statesman, I'm a political woman. My father was a saint. I'm not.

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (November 19, 1917October 31, 1984) was an Indian politician and a central figure of the Indian National Congress. She was the 3rd prime minister of India and was also the first and, to date, only female prime minister of India. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the 1st prime minister of India. She served as prime minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984, making her the second longest-serving Indian prime minister after her father.

As prime minister, Gandhi was known for her political intransigency and unprecedented centralisation of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India's influence to the point where it became the sole regional power of South Asia. Citing separatist tendencies, and in response to a call for revolution, Gandhi instituted a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 where basic civil liberties were suspended and the press was censored. Widespread atrocities were carried out during the emergency. In 1980, she returned to power after free and fair elections. After Gandhi ordered military action in the Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star, her own bodyguards and Sikh nationalists assassinated her on 31 October 1984.


We should not mourn for men of high ideals. Rather we should rejoice that we had the privilege of having had them with us, to inspire us by their radiant personalities.
A nation's strength ultimately consists in what it can do on its own, and not in what it can borrow from others.
  • We admired Dr. King. We felt his loss as our own. The tragedy rekindled memories of the great martyrs of all time who gave their lives so that men might live and grow. We thought of the great men in your own country who fell to the assassin's bullet and of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom here in this city, this very month, twenty-one years ago. Such events remain as wounds in the human consciousness, reminding us of battles, yet to be fought and tasks still to be accomplished. We should not mourn for men of high ideals. Rather we should rejoice that we had the privilege of having had them with us, to inspire us by their radiant personalities.
    • "Martin Luther King", speech at the presentation of the Jawaharial Nehru Award for International Understanding to Coretta Scott King in New Delhi, India (January 24, 1969). Published in Selected Speeches and Writings of Indira Gandhi, September 1972-March 1977 (New Delhi : Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1984. pp. 312-313).
  • The great need in the world today is for for nations to so define their national interest that it makes for greater harmony, greater equality and justice and greater stability in the world.
    • 1980 to Roy Jenkins <[1]
  • We believe in freedom with a passion that only those who have been denied it for so long can understand it, We believe in equality because so many in our nation have been denied for so long, we believe in human worth for that is the basis for all our current work in India.
    • Jul 29 1982 [2]
  • A nation's strength ultimately consists in what it can do on its own, and not in what it can borrow from others.
  • India wants to avoid a war at all costs but it is not a one-sided affair, you cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.
    • Press conference, New Delhi (October 19, 1971), quoted in "Indian and Pakistani Armies Confront Each Other Along Borders" by Sydney H. Schanberg, The New York Times (October 20, 1971), page 6C.
  • There are grave misgivings that the discussion on ecology may be designed to distract attention from the problems of war and poverty.
    • First global conference on the human environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm in June 1972 by UN.
  • There are moments in history when brooding tragedy and its dark shadows can be lightened by recalling great moments of the past.
    • Letter to Richard Nixon (December 15, 1971) [3].
  • All unprejudiced persons objectively surveying the grim events in Bangladesh since March 25 have recognized the revolt of 75 million people, a people who were forced to the conclusion that neither their life, nor their liberty, to say nothing of the possibility of the pursuit of happiness, was available to them.
  • Dacca is now the free capital of a free country.
    • Address to Parliament announcing the victory of Bangladesh-India Forces over the Pakistan Army, (December 16, 1971) [5].
  • You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose.
    • "The Embattled Woman Who Relishes Crosswords, Children...and Running India," People (June 30, 1975).
  • My father was a statesman, I'm a political woman. My father was a saint. I'm not.
    • Quoted in "Indira's Coup," profile by Oriana Fallaci, The New York Review of Books (September 18, 1975).
  • To be liberated, woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality.
    • "True Liberation Of Women", speech, inauguration of the All-India Women's Conference Building Complex in New Delhi, India (March 26, 1980). Published in Selected Speeches and Writings of Indira Gandhi, September 1972-March 1977 (New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1984, pp. 417-418).
  • I am not interested in a long life. I am not afraid of these things. I don't mind if my life goes in the service of this nation. If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation.
    • Speech, Bhubaneswar, India (October 30, 1984), quoted in "Death in the Garden," by William E. Smith, Time (November 12, 1984) [6].
  • I am here today, I may not be here tomorrow. But the responsibility to look after national interest is on the shoulder of every citizen of India. I have often mentioned this earlier. Nobody knows how many attempts have been made to shoot me, lathis have been used to beat me. In Bhubaneswar itself, a brickbat hit me. They have attacked me in every possible manner. I do not care whether I live or die. I have lived a long life and I am proud that I spend the whole of my life in the service of my people. I am only proud of this and nothing else. 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.

The Mitrokhin Archive

Christopher Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin - The Mitrokhin Archive II - The KGB in the World-Penguin (2018)
  • From 1967 to 1973 Haksar, a former protégé of Krishna Menon, was Mrs Gandhi’s most trusted adviser. One of her biographers, Katherine Frank, describes him as ‘a magnetic figure’ who became ‘probably the most influential and powerful person in the government’ as well as ‘the most important civil servant in the country’. Haksar set out to turn a civil service which, at least in principle, was politically neutral into an ideologically ‘committed bureaucracy’. His was the hand that guided Mrs Gandhi through her turn to the left, the nationalization of the banks and the split in the Congress Party. It was Haksar also who was behind the transfer of control of the intelligence community to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. His advocacy of the leftward turn in Mrs Gandhi’s policies sprang, however, from his socialist convictions rather than from manipulation by the KGB. But both he and Mrs Gandhi ‘were less fastidious than Nehru had been about interfering with the democratic system and structure of government to attain their ideological ends’. The journalist Inder Malhotra noted the growth of a ‘courtier culture’ in Indira Gandhi’s entourage: ‘The power centre in the world’s largest democracy was slowly turning into a durbar.’
  • In the early 1970s, the KGB presence in India became one of the largest in the world outside the Soviet bloc. Indira Gandhi placed no limit on the number of Soviet diplomats and trade officials, thus allowing the KGB and GRU as many cover positions as they wished. Nor, like many other states, did India object to admitting Soviet intelligence officers who had been expelled by less hospitable regimes. The expansion of KGB operations in the Indian subcontinent (and first and foremost in India) during the early 1970s led the FCD to create a new department. Hitherto operations in India, as in the rest of non-Communist South and South-East Asia, had been the responsibility of the Seventh Department. In 1974 the newly founded Seventeenth Department was given charge of the Indian subcontinent.
  • The KGB, in Kalugin’s view, was more successful than the CIA, partly because of its skill in exploiting the corruption which became endemic under Indira Gandhi’s regime. As Inder Malhotra noted, though corruption was not new in India: People expected Indira Gandhi’s party, committed to bringing socialism to the country, to be more honest and cleaner than the old undivided Congress. But this turned out to be a vain hope. On the contrary, compared with the amassing of wealth by some of her close associates, the misdeeds of the discarded Syndicate leaders, once looked upon as godfathers of corrupt Congressmen, began to appear trivial.
  • Suitcases full of banknotes were said to be routinely taken to the Prime Minister’s house. Former Syndicate member S. K. Patil is reported to have said that Mrs Gandhi did not even return the suitcases... The Prime Minister is unlikely to have paid close attention to the dubious origins of some of the funds which went into Congress’s coffers. That was a matter which she left largely to her principal fundraiser, Lalit Narayan Mishra, who – though she doubtless did not realize it – also accepted Soviet money. On at least one occasion a secret gift of 2 million rupees from the Politburo to Congress (R) was personally delivered after midnight by the head of Line PR in New Delhi, Leonid Shebarshin. Another million rupees were given on the same occasion to a newspaper which supported Mrs Gandhi. Short and obese with several chins, Mishra looked the part of the corrupt politician he increasingly became. Indira Gandhi, despite her own frugal lifestyle, depended on the money he collected from a variety of sources to finance Congress (R). So did her son and anointed heir, Sanjay, whose misguided ambition to build an Indian popular car and become India’s Henry Ford depended on government favours.
  • The greatest successes of Soviet active measures in India remained the exploitation of the susceptibility of Indira Gandhi and her advisers to bogus CIA conspiracies against them.
  • India under Indira Gandhi was also probably the arena for more KGB active measures than anywhere else in the world, though their significance appears to have been considerably exaggerated by the Centre, which overestimated its ability to manipulate Indian opinion.

Oriana Fallaci. Interview with Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, February 1972

Oriana Fallaci. (2011). Interview with Indira Gandhi, in : Interviews with history and conversations with power. New York: Rizzoli.
  • They say that [I am icy, hard] because I’m sincere. Even too sincere. And because I don’t waste time in flowery small talk, as people do in India, where the first half hour is spent in compliments: »How are you, how are your children, how are your grandchildren, and so forth.« I refuse to indulge in small talk. And compliments, if at all, I save for after the job is done. But in India people can’t stomach this attitude of mine, and when I say, »Hurry up, let’s get to the point,« they feel hurt. And think I’m cold, indeed icy, hard. Then there’s another reason, one that goes with my frankness: I don’t put on an act. I don’t know how to put on an act; I always show myself for what I am, in whatever mood I’m in. If I’m happy, I look happy; if I’m angry, I show it. Without worrying about how others may react. When one has had a life as difficult as mine, one doesn’t worry about how others will react. And now go ahead. You can ask anything you like.
  • But we couldn’t do otherwise. We couldn’t keep ten million refugees on our soil; we couldn’t tolerate such an unstable situation for who knows how long. That influx of refugees would have stopped—on the contrary. It would have gone on and on and on, until there would have been an explosion. We were no longer able to control the arrival of those people, in our own interest we had to stop it! That’s what I said to Mr. Nixon, to all the other leaders I visited in an attempt to avert the war. However, when you look at the beginning of the actual war, it’s hard not to recognize that the Pakistanis were the ones to attack. They were the ones who descended on us with their planes, at five o’clock that afternoon when the first bombs fell on Agra. I can prove it to you by the fact that we were taken completely by surprise.
  • I made the trip knowing I was like the child putting his finger into the hole in the dike. And there are things that ... I don’t know ... one can’t ... oh, why not! The truth is that I spoke clearly to Mr. Nixon. And I told him what I had already told Mr. Heath, Mr. Pompidou, Mr. Brandt. I told him without mincing words that we couldn’t go on with ten million refugees on our backs, we couldn’t tolerate the fuse of such and explosive situation any longer. Well, Mr. Heath, Mr. Pompidou, and Mr. Brandt had understood very well. But not Mr. Nixon. The fact is that when the others understand one thing, Mr. Nixon understands another. I suspected he was very pro-Pakistan. Or rather I knew that the Americans had always been in favor of Pakistan—not so much because they were in favor of Pakistan, but because they were against India.
  • However, I had recently had the impression they were chang­ing—not so much by becoming less pro-Pakistan as by becoming less anti-India. I was wrong. My visit to Nixon did anything but avert the war. It was useful only to me. The experience taught me that when people do something against you, that something always turns out in your favor. At least you can use it to your advantage. It’s a law of life—check it and you’ll see it holds true in every situation of life. ... And do you know why I won this war? Because my army was able to do it, yes, but also because the Americans were on the side of Pakistan.
  • As for the position they held in this war ... well, I think they’ve been more skillful than the Americans. Certainly they’ve had a lighter touch—had they wanted to, they could have done more for Pakistan. Isn’t that so? It was the Americans who sent the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal, not the Chinese.
  • India had barely become independent, in 1947, when Pakistan invaded Kashmir, which at the time was ruled by a maharajah. The mahara­jah fled, and the people of Kashmir, led by Sheikh Abdullah, asked for Indian help. Lord Mountbatten, who was still governor general, replied that he wouldn’t be able to supply aid to Kashmir unless Pakistan declared war, and he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that the Pakistanis were slaughtering the population. So our leaders decided to sign a document by which they bound themselves to go to war with Pakistan. And Mahatma Gandhi, apostle of nonviolence, signed along with them. Yes, he chose war. He said there was noth­ing else to do. War is inevitable when one must defend somebody or defend oneself.
  • Look, I don’t see the world as something divided between right and left. And I don’t at all care who’s on the right or left or in the center. Even though we use them, even though I use them myself, these expressions have lost all meaning. I’m not interested in one label or the other—I’m only interested in solving certain problems, in getting where I want to go. I have certain objectives.
  • I’m not for nationalization because of the rhetoric of nationalization, or because I see in nationalization the cure-all for every injustice. I’m for nationalization in cases where it’s necessary.
  • In India, women have never been in hostile competition with men-even in the most distant past, every time a woman emerged as a leader, perhaps as a queen, the people accepted her. As something normal and not exceptional. Let’s not forget that in India the symbol of strength is a woman; the goddess Shakti. Not only that—the struggle for inde­ pendence here has been conducted in equal measure by men and by women. And when we got our independence, no one forgot that. In the Western world, on the other hand, nothing of the kind has ever happened—women have participated, yes, but revolutions have always been made by men alone.
  • Yes, it’s true. It’s true that Joan of Arc was my dream as a little girl. I discovered her toward the age of ten or twelve, when I went to France. I don’t remember where I read about her, but I recall that she immediately took on a definite importance for me. I wanted to sacrifice my life for my country. It seems like foolishness and yet ... what happens when we’re children is engraved forever in our lives.
  • Happiness is such a fleeting point of view—there’s no such thing as continual happiness. There are only moments of happiness—from contentment to ecstasy. And if by happiness you mean ecstasy ... Yes, I’ve known ecstasy, and it’s a blessing to be able to say it because those who can say it are very few. But ecstasy doesn’t last long and is seldom ever repeated. If by happiness you mean an ordinary contentment, then yes—I’m fairly contented. Not satisfied—contented. Satisfied is a word I use only in reference to my country, and I’ll never be satisfied for my country. For this reason I go on taking difficult paths, and between a paved road and a footpath that goes up the mountain, I choose the footpath. To the great irrita­tion of my bodyguards.

Quotes about Indira Gandhi

  • Before Washington, Indira Gandhi stopped in New York, where she dazzled Hannah Arendt, herself a longtime critic of British rule in India. The political theorist breathlessly described Gandhi as “very good-looking, almost beautiful, very charming, flirting with every man in the room, without chichi, and entirely calm—she must have known already that she was going to make war and probably enjoyed it even in a perverse way. The toughness of these women once they have got what they wanted is really something!”
    • Hannah Arendt, quoted from Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. ch 16
  • I don't even respect her. To me she's a mediocre woman with a mediocre intelligence. There's nothing great about her... Mrs. Gandhi [came to power] by the simple fact of being Nehru’s daughter. Without having Nehru's light. With all her saris, the red spot on her forehead, her little smile, she'll never succeed in impressing me. She's never impressed me.
    • Ali Bhutto, in an interview to Oriana Fallaci. Oriana Fallaci. Interview with Ali Bhutto in Karachi, April 1972. Oriana Fallaci. (2011). Interview in : Interviews with history and conversations with power. New York: Rizzoli.
  • The unceremonious exit of Mr. M.C. Chagla from her Cabinet and the relaxation of the rule prohibiting polygamy among Muslim employees of the Central Government are but two examples of the concessions she [Indira Gandhi] is making to Muslim communalism.
    • Hamid Dalwai (Muslim social reformer, thinker, activist) in Muslim Politics, quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 363
  • In the end, Indira Gandhi has earned her name as a great martyr on the doorsteps of history. With her courage and efficiency, she demonstrated that only she understood the realities of our corrupt and divided society and was capable of uniting the country dominated by rotten politics. She was a great woman and in her valiant death, she has become greater.
  • Indira Gandhi was the least egotistical great statesman I ever met. She hardly ever talked about herself; she could reduce all personal questions to a proper perspective. She was much more interested in the great political questions: the way the world was going, how the unity of her beloved India could be preserved, how the poverty of her people could be broken, how nuclear annihilation could be averted.
  • The future patroness of compulsory sterilization had become, in the meantime, head of the government.
    • Hitchens, C. (2012). The missionary position: Mother Theresa in theory and practice.
  • She's a real prune—bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.
    • Jacqueline Kennedy in 1964, as quoted in Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (2011)
  • She was a woman of immense stature whose life was full of turmoil, challenge and great achievement. From the age of 12, when she joined the non-co-operation movement, her whole life was given to securing the emancipation of her country, first in the struggle for independence and then in the even more monumental task of economic and political development. Mrs. Gandhi knew, in the words of her friend, Aneurin Bevan, that political liberty is the by-product of economic sufficiency. In that knowledge she fought a lifelong contest against poverty and against war, the bringer of poverty. For nearly 20 years...Indira Gandhi was the most important figure in that country. Throughout that time the principles that guided her were devotion to the maintenance of parliamentary democracy and determination to produce tolerance and common purpose out of the diversity and distinctiveness of the peoples of India.
  • The question before us is not whether Indira Gandhi should continue to be prime minister or not. The point is whether democracy in this country is to survive or not. The democratic structure stands on three pillars, namely a strong opposition, independent judiciary and free press. Emergency has destroyed all these essentials.
  • She [Mrs Gandhi] has still today overwhelming support in the country. I believe the prime minister of India will continue in office until the electorate of India decides otherwise.
  • In keeping with the great secrecy involved in India's efforts to develop and test its first nuclear explosive device, the project employed no more than 75 scientists and engineers working on it in the period from 1967 to 1974. Of course this does not count the thousands of individuals required to build and operate the infrastructure supporting BARC and to produce the plutonium for the device. Outside of those actually working on the project, only about three other people in India knew of it - Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her trusted adviser and former principal secretary P.N. Haksar, and her current principal secretary D.P. Dhar. No government ministers, including the Defense Minister, were informed. The implosion system was designed to compress the core to twice its normal density. The lenses that were developed used the fast-slow explosive design pioneered by the U.S. in World War II. Like the Gadget exploded at Trinity in 1945, they used an RDX-TNT mixture as the fast explosive, with baratol (barium nitrate and TNT) used as the slow explosive. Chengappa describes the inner slow explosive component as being in the shape of "Shiva ling am" -- a phallus in Hindu religious art which is squat and blunt in form. The device used 12 lens, which is described by Chengappa [pg. 182]: "the way the explosives were placed around the plutonium sphere resembled the petals of the lotus". This presumably indicates that each hemisphere of the implosion system consisted of 6 longitudinal lens segments (asymmetric diamond shaped lenses) joined together at the pole so that they formed triangular teeth at the equator which interlocked with the opposite hemisphere. This design is simpler and less sophisticated than the 32-lens "soccer ball" system developed by the U.S. during World War II.
  • We should remember that she probably lost her life in defending the unity of her country, that most precious asset, with its democracy. We should also remember that perhaps her greatest legacy is that she hands to her son a united and democratic country.
  • I lunched with Indira Gandhi in her own modest home, where she insisted on seeing that her guests were all looked after and clearing away the plates while discussing matters of high politics. ... I found myself liking Mrs Gandhi herself. Perhaps I naturally sympathized with a woman politician faced with the huge strains and difficulties of governing a country as vast as India.
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