What is Indira Gandhi’s legacy?

October 30, 2009

It is former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary on October 31. 

What was her legacy?

She was associated with events like the Emergency, which briefly made Gerald Ford head of the largest democracy in the world, and decades of militancy in Punjab.

Her policy of nationalising banks was mentioned as a reason why the Indian banking sector weathered the global financial crisis.

She also won a famous military victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan and ordered the Pokhran I nuclear tests three years later.

Going by columns and television discussions around her anniversary, it is safe to say it was contentious.

Over her career and beyond she was compared to a dumb doll, the goddess ‘Durga’, a lioness and Napolean.

Some called her, like Margaret Thatcher, the only man in her cabinet.

Richard Nixon described her as an “old witch”.

She herself played at being Joan of Arc as a child.

The more enthusiastic of her partymen coined the phrase “India is Indira and Indira is India”.

Its cadence has had a longer shelf life, if not the idea itself.

Twenty five years after her assassination, the Congress party in the ascendant, one news channel recounted her as India’s Indira.

Would it be accepted the other way around now?

Indira’s India is not an incredible idea given she was the second longest serving prime minister we had.

She was Prime Minister or minister for eighteen of her sixty six years. Not counting her other political roles.

I was four when she died and my memory of her is from Doordarshan films showing her unfurling the tricolour.

Much clearer is the memory as a seven-year-old, of waiting for hours behind wood barrricades with my mother to watch Rajiv Gandhi pass by.

What I remember is my mother’s patience and my disappointment when I couldn’t glimpse him as his convoy zipped by.

My mother did however, or so she said.

It was a Gandhi who was passing through that day and that seemed to be enough reason to wait however long, for a fleeting moment.

Was dynasty and its mystique, which she was accused of building, the most lasting contribution of Indira Gandhi?

Or is it too soon to assess her legacy?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

You are right vipul, dynasty is her legacy and nothing more.She could have avoided operation bluestar and handled the punjab terror problem differently. There were other ways to flosh out the men who seized the golden temple as many felt in the aftermath of the military action. Jail singh was the president at that time.Liberation of bangladesh was an accomplishment of the armed forces, period.

Posted by azad | Report as abusive

It is not too soon to assess her legacy… Indira was a failure as a leader on all fronts… She only carried forward her dad’s dictatorship policy by using media and theatricals to create magnanimous image… Her close confederates revealed in Outlook November issue that she didn’t have any knowledge about constitution and constitutional procedures.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive

Indira Gandhi was well judged in her living years and one can say got all fitting replies to her actions, in her lifetime. P Shivshankar her lawyer told Outlook that Indira had no knowledge of Constitution. To summarize, Indira furthered creation of democratic dictatorship, first kicked off by her father Nehru. Indira never trusted anyone but her family only and so made Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi heroes without any deed during her lifetime. The leadership offered by her only alienated people with faith native to this nation APART which was for he first time during entire history of our nation from start to end. To summarize, her leadership plunged India into depths of darkness. For example, her green revolution theory, an extremely weak and baseless theory, so praised by Congressis is now turning to be a bane of farmers as the soil loses fertility and organic farming takes roots which anyways had roots in India from start.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive