Assassination of Indira Gandhi Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Indira Gandhi's assassination and the assassination itself. This paper delves into her early life to understand her political steps. Furthermore, it highlights the economic and political climate of India during her rule. Lastly the paper concludes whether Indira Gandhi can be understood within the context of a tragic heroine.

Indira Gandhi has been a controversial figure in the political history of India. Descending from the most important dynasty of India, Indira ruled India for a total of twelve years; a tenure that ended with her assassination. In retrospect, it is evident that her assassination was a direct result of the ways that she employed in running India's domestic policy. According to some, Indira Gandhi's life can be termed as a Greek tragedy and herself as the tragic heroine. According to Aristotle's description of a tragic hero which he gave in Poetics, a tragic hero is a person who falls from grace into a state of extreme unhappiness. A tragic hero is also a significant person in history and extremely influential over the masses. However a series of political mistakes, or otherwise lead a tragic hero to his impending doom and the consequent downfall. An important distinction that is made regarding the tragic hero that separates him from a common man is his innate goodness. A tragic hero is thus, not an immoral person. As a result, his misfortune is not cause of his bad actions but his inability to cope with the existing circumstances. This paper tries to determine whether the assassination of Indira Gandhi was a tragedy by examining her early life, her political career and aspects of her personality. Finally the paper decides about her status as the "tragic heroine."


Indira Gandhi's assassination was a protest against an increasingly autocratic rule. Her lack of desire to establish a true democracy in India stemmed partly from her experiences of early life. Indira Gandhi was born in 1917 to Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru (Gupte, 1992). Though she was only child, Indira had to compete for her parents' time and attention with her father's passion for establishment of democracy. Hence it is no wonder that she grew anti-pathetical towards democracy and the institutions that represented it.

Her early life experiences as the child of the Nehru household were quite taxing. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru was always in the midst of political unrest and was being jailed on and off by the British authorities for active part in pro-independence activities. Her mother Kamala, firstly lived for a very short period of time, dying at the age of 37, to pay much attention to her daughter and secondly the time during which she lived was spent serving politically important jail terms and on visits abroad to seek cure from tuberculosis. Hence Indira was raised in a politically charged domestic and national environment. In addition to this, Nehru took her abroad during his political visits (Moraes, 1980). As a result of traveling with her father, Indira became quite a famous name in international politics where she was at cozy terms on a first-name basis with heads of states all over the world. Moreover her marriage with Feroze Gandhy and its consequent failure further took her focus away from household matters and pushed her towards politics (Jayakar, 1993).


The death of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 left the Indian politics with a yawning gap. After the short and relatively insignificant term of Lal Bahadur Shastri, whom her father had chosen as his successor, Indira was picked for the role of the Prime Minister. It was after she assumed the role of Prime Minister that her true personality came forth.

With Indira Gandhi in power, came the devaluation of the Indian rupee (Malhotra, 1991). The economic crisis resultant of two wars and successive monsoons, was furthered aggravated when she chose to announce sixty-percent devaluation of the rupee; a decision that was met with unanimous domestic criticism.

In 1967 she contested her first general election as prime minister. Though she was able to win a parliamentary seat with a huge majority, the Congress Party turned in its worst performance ever, losing in eight India's regional states. At this point, Indira split the party. As a result, the party that was a symbol of national unity in politics was divided where Indira was the sole authority. This changed the character of the Indian political scene forever. Prior to this change, the Congress Party functioned at the center with the help of its network of aids in different regional states. These regional bosses used to take care of collecting funds from supporters in their own areas which funded their own election campaigns. However with Indira as the president of the Party, any funds that were collected from supporters were delivered straight to her private secretaries. This gave her the authority to distribute these funds to whomever she liked for financing their own election campaigns. This shift established one-on-one loyalty but estranged the seasoned politicians in the regional states who had put her in power in the first place.

Once Indira was in power, the economic goals of India began to revolve around the tents of socialism. With Garibi Hatao or Banish Poverty as slogans, the entire economy took a radical turn towards left. Banks were nationalized. The princely families, who were formerly protected under the constitution, were divested of their privileges in order to allow an equal distribution of income. Hence the 1971 elections focused on the cult-of-personality campaigns rather than loyalty-to-party ones. The landslide victory in 1971 elections, on the basis of socialist tenets for the impoverished masses, was followed by a military victory over Pakistan during the 1971 War. This established Indira as quasi-divine in her own country and as the most admired woman leader abroad. The net result of such successes came in the form of deteriorating democratic set-up. Indira, out fresh from her electoral success, became increasingly sure of her suitability to run the government single-handedly. She took all measures to dispose of the constitutional constraints and procedures regarding the use of power. The political climate that thus emerged is comparable to the Jacobin concept of political power which allowed a direct and popular rule with democratic skeleton as a shield. Such an environment changed the meaning of democracy even in the layman imagination, reducing it to mean simply the winning of power through electoral success and ignoring its meaning also as a method of regulating exercise of power. The political set-up was thus centralized with all the power resting with the center at New Delhi and not the regional states. The old method of leaving adequate power with the regional bosses was eliminated and was replaced by pooling political talent. "Indira surrounded herself with a group of highly intelligent and sophisticated men, leftist and technocratic in bent, and mostly of Kashmiri origin: P.N. Haksar, D.P. Dhar, P.N. Dhar, T.N. Kaul" (Khilnani, 2001). This situation was further aggravated by the thuggish involvement of Indira's younger son, Sanjay in party politics. In other words, Indira restricted democracy to serve her own ends through haughty centralization, abandoning legislation whenever required. She began planning sweeping changes in order to strengthen the center. She appealed to her parliamentary supporters to introduce massive legislative changes and constitutional amendments. All these actions to centralize and limit power to herself resulted in mass dissent that in turn led to declaration of Emergency on her part and finally to her assassination.

In 1973, nation-wide demonstrations took place due to high inflation, poor state of the economy, rampant corruption and the poor standards of living. In 1974-1975, the country was besieged with severe economic conditions. The negative economic situation sparked a chain of mass agitations in the west and the east of the country. These popular uprising were followed by a nationwide railway strike which was led by the former Gandhian and socialist Jayaprakash Narayan. In June, 1975, the Indian court reversed Indira Gandhi's election to parliament using a very tiny infringement of electoral procedure as the basis. The High Court of Allah bad found her guilty of illegal practices during the last election campaign and demanded that she vacate her seat. This court action made her paranoid and even more possessive towards retaining her power and led her to believe that there was an extensive conspiracy to overthrow her that utilized international backing. Her paranoia was not completely baseless since Salvador Allende had been deposed a little while ago and Mujibur Rahman was assassinated not long after with the aid of the CIA. She began to feel the pressure of resigning and relinquishing her powers as prime minister. In order to avoid so, she declared the India to be in a state of Emergency. The power to do so was extracted from the constitution of the Raj days. India existed in this state of Emergency for two years till 1977. The impartial accounts of the Emergency period are not available…

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