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Women in Power: Indira Gandhi


Welcome to CF’s new column, Women in Power! Inspired by the upcoming election, Women in Power will feature important women in history, outline their accomplishments, and explain how you can honor these amazing ladies in style. Enjoy!

Indira Gandhi and Jackie O
Indira Gandhi and Jackie O (then Kennedy) in 1962 | Photo Credit

Women have been fighting for power for decades; their struggles have been well-documented and honored, and the fight for gender equality is far from over.

I always find it incredibly inspiring to hear stories about women around the world achieving political influence; one such story is that of Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India. As the embodiment of a strong-willed, independent, and confident leader, Indira Gandhi stands as a symbol for women’s political rights around the world.

Keep reading to learn more about Indira Gandhi and to see an outfit inspired by her influential style. 

 10 Facts about Indira Gandhi:

  • Indira Gandhi served as the third Prime Minister of India for four terms in office. She was the second female head of government in the modern world, preceded only by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka.
  • Raised in the politically influential Nehru family, Indira grew up with a great deal of political knowledge. Her father served as independent India’s first prime minister and her grandfather was an Indian nationalist leader.
  • Indira went to England in an effort to attend the University of Oxford but failed the entrance examination. She instead attended Somerville College for a brief period of time. While in the UK, Indira met Feroze Gandhi, a young man studying at the London School of Economics. They later married in Allahabad and returned to India in 1941.
  • In the 1950s Indira served as personal assistant for her father, then Prime Minister of India. When he died in 1964, she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha, or upper house.
  • President K. Kamaraj of the Congress Party worked diligently to make Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister. She was elected in 1966 and stayed in office until the end of her third term in 1977. She was elected for one more term in 1980.
  • 1966 was a year of turmoil in India. The nation was split between the socialists (led by Indira Gandhi) and the conservatives, led by Moraji Desai. In an effort to create peace in Congress, she appointed Desai as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Unfortunately, after numerous disagreements between the two, the Indian National Congress split in 1969. For the next two years, Indira ruled with the support from the Socialist and Communist parties.
  • In 1971 India suffered financial hardships under the burden of Pakistani refugees. As Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi led India into war against Pakistan and won, creating an independent Bangladesh. As a result, relations between the Pakistan-supporting U.S. and India became strained and India developed closer ties with the Soviet Union.
  • Indira Gandhi authorized the testing of nuclear weapons in 1967 in response to Test No. 6 by the People’s Republic of China. Because of the peaceful state of world affairs at the time, Pakistan accused India of intimidation tactics. Indira denied the accusation, insisting that she was just doing what was necessary to protect her country.
  • In 1975, Indira Gandhi imposed the President’s Rule on the opposition parties in India. This degree brought the entire nation under her central rule. Curfews were enforced and censorship was allowed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • Indira was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Her death fueled a period of anti-Sikh riots, rendering millions of Sikhs homeless and thousands more killed.

Style Inspired by Indira Gandhi:

Indira Gandhi Outfit
Product Info: BlouseOrange ScarfRed ScarfEarringsSkirtBanglesPantsBagFlats

Unlike black suit-clad American political figures, Indira Gandhi wore colors and fabrics in the customary Indian style. Honor her independent and confident spirit with clothes from her homeland.

Traditional Indian clothing is characterized by beautiful patterns and fabrics; the style focuses on the shape, movement, and color of the clothes. Channel Indira Gandhi’s beautiful style by wearing conservative and silky blouses and long, flowing skirts; if you feel daring, throw on a pair of loose, patterned pants. Accessorize with a handcrafted bag, layered bangles, teardrop earrings, and, of course, lightweight patterned scarves. Finally, the trendy ombre hair look gives a nod to Indira’s signature streaked hair.

Your turn!

Indira Gandhi served in a time of great turmoil in India. During her years in office, she made many tough decisions and challenged conventional governmental assumptions.

The first female Prime Minister is memorialized all throughout India; The Indira Awass Yojana, a low-cost housing program for the rural poor, is named in her honor, as are the Indira Gandhi International Airport and the Indira Gandhi National Open University, the largest university in the world.

What do you think of Indira Gandhi’s legacy? Her style? Do you admire her independence and strong will? Who would you like to see featured in future articles? Make sure to leave your thoughts in a comment!

Posted on on February 11, 2012 / Filed Under: Inspiration / Tags: , , , , , , ,

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42 Responses to “Women in Power: Indira Gandhi”

  1. 1
    February 11th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    While I appreciate your attempts to showcase strong women in power, I have to question your choice of Indira Ghandi. She was the first prime minister of India, no doubt an extremely amazing position of power for a woman to achieve. However, her actions while in power were so incredibly horrendous that I have to take issue with her. Her forced birth control practices enforced on her people were incredibly inhumane and her refusal to help the Sikh people as they were being persecuted by other Indian groups highlight her cruelty. Like I said, I understand looking for “strong” women, but please, choose better women than Indira Ghandi. I say this not just as a feminist, but a humanitarian.

  2. 2
    February 11th, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    The third fact is incorrect. Indira attempted the Oxford entrance examination in 1936 and failed due to severely failing her Latin exam. However she attempted the examinations for a second time in 1937 and was successful. She then attended Somerville College, which is one of the many constituent colleges which form Oxford University. Somerville most definitely counts as Oxford University, and I should know, seeing as I am in my third year at Somerville! Incidentally, I lived in Indira’s old room during my first year.

  3. 3
    February 11th, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Love this feature,great article. Fashion has always been influenced by politics, but don’t really ever notice it. So thank you.

  4. 4
    February 11th, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Awesome article.

  5. 5
    February 11th, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Isn’t it incredible that India and Sri Lanka, two countries with a rich culture that westerners tend to feel superior to, especially when it comes to feminism, were the first two countries to have female heads of government? Just goes to show the arrogance we can have. I love that such a strong and intelligent woman still embraced her femininity, she didn’t subscribe to the belief many have nowadays that women need to become like men in order to compete in a “man’s” world.

  6. 6
    February 11th, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Well about the last comment… she was killed by her two bodyguards after she called an attack “Operation Blue Star” on the Sikh’s holiest temple: the Harmandir Sahib aka the Golden Temple.

  7. 7
    February 11th, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Nice article by the author – but due to Indira Gandhi’s attack “Operation Blue Star”, which by the way was absolutely pointless and carelessly planned, I have less than zero respect for this woman and don’t consider her to be an ideal woman of power at all. Nonetheless she had made many good breakthroughs during her time as prime minister of India but her flawed ending ruins her.

  8. 8
    February 11th, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    the picture is discredited. In 1962 she was still Jacqueline Kennedy.

  9. 9
    February 11th, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    I admire Indira Gandhi’s strong will and her sense of style! Great post!

  10. 10
    February 11th, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you for doing this feature on Indira Gandhi.

  11. 11
    February 11th, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    I am so glad that CF established early in this new series that gender equality is far from over. :)! Look forward to more of this series

  12. 12
    February 11th, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    LOVE that hair pic! where did you get it?

  13. 13
    February 11th, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I love the idea of doing this series! There are so many strong women in history that people forget about- if you guys ever did a series based on strong women, I’d love to see Marie Curie and Elizabeth I:)

  14. 14
    February 12th, 2012 at 1:52 am

    The first fact is wrong. Indira’s BROTHER was the first prime minister of Independent India! I’m indian, so i know :) Hope this helps! :)

  15. 15
    February 12th, 2012 at 1:54 am

    Oh wait, i just checked, and i’m wrong. Oops :S

  16. 16
    February 12th, 2012 at 2:45 am

    Great feature!

  17. 17
    February 12th, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Amen Rose! As a Sri Lankan, avid lover of fashion, and Women’s Studies major, this article makes me p-r-o-u-d. Love this!

  18. 18
    February 12th, 2012 at 5:40 am

    It may seem amusing that India, usually referred to as a man dominated country is being run by Women! The present president of India, Pratibha Patil is a woman, also the head of the Indian Congress, Sonia Gandhi which by origin is an Italian is a woman too! And being an Indian I take pride in these fact. :)

  19. 19
    February 12th, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Great new feature! I personally admire Indira Gandhi for her strong character. At the same time, I cannot really like her for her dictatorial political attitude. It was rather ironical that she was against the same democratic culture that her father helped to build in India.

    Also, the fact that Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan had female heads of state before many Western countries did is not exactly because we have more gender equality here. I think it’s because those women heads of state had strong political lineage and did not really have to build their way from the bottom up.

    @Shereene: Please get your facts right. Being Indian doesn’t make you an authority on giving away wrong facts about the country. Pandit Nehru being Indira Gandhi’s brother is by far the stupidest comment that I’ve ever read about her.

  20. 20
    February 12th, 2012 at 10:17 am

    This is a very good write up. Enough credit has not been given to her. Thanks for posting and feel free to drop by me too.

  21. 21
    February 12th, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Could have done a bit more fact checking (noted above by other commenters), but very well put together piece and a great, if a bit controversial (!), figure to choose. Although one puzzling part: so many pictures to choose from and you select a photo where she’s standing with her head down, completely dominated (compositionally) by Jackie??

  22. 22
    February 12th, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I’m Indian and I’m so glad to see that we are finally looking to non-western icons for style too! I wouldn’t mind seeing more Bollywood stars in these “inspired by” posts too. Also, fashion inspiration from East Asia would be nice too! We can’t ignore the Japanese fashion industry either!

  23. 23
    February 12th, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Dory – Completely agree about the photo, it’s not ideal, however there actually weren’t many photos to choose from – there are copyright laws we have to follow, and since the photo agencies we work with didn’t have photos of her we could buy, we were limited to public domain images. This was one of the clearest ones we could find that gave a glimpse of her personal style.

  24. 24
    February 12th, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I’m not sure I would have chosen Indira Gandhi as a good example of women in power. She imposed a state of emergency to “grant herself extraordinary power” and under her leadership, slums were “cleared out” which killed and left many people homeless. Her government also enforced vasectomy on unwilling men to bring down India’s population, which falls under human rights violation by Amnesty International’s standards.

    I appreciate that you’re trying to find women in power, who can also inspire our fashion, but there are at least dozens out there with a less clouded history than Indira Gandhi.

  25. 25
    February 12th, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I have to agree with the previous comments that although Indira was the first female PM she also did a lot of questionable things which still have no justification whatsever.I’m a literature student and we have this book called The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh.It was definitely eyeopening to know the atrocities she had caused during her reign,including calling A National Emergency in 1975 due to which many people were executed without questioning which eventually caused riots.If it wasn’t for her,Bangladesh would’ve still been a part of India & the Indo-Pak war would’ve not taken place.

  26. 26
    February 12th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    @Pearl – Bangladesh ceased being a part of India in August 1947. It was East Pakistan until 1971 when it declared independence from Pakistan and called itself “Bangladesh”. Even if Indira Gandhi hadn’t helped it, it would still not be a part of India anyway.

    By the way, editors, perhaps Indira’s daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi would have been a less controversial figure for this column. Besides being a shrewd politician, she has some seriously good style sense.

  27. 27
    February 12th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I definitely agree with the first comment by Elle and SP, Indira was an all-powerful, ego-tripping dictator, horrible PM and I would not look up to her for inspiration at all. It’s cool that she was a powerful woman but that does not justify her inhumane actions toward the people under her bedeviled reign.

  28. 28
    February 12th, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I usually hate maxi skirts but dang that skirt is awesome

  29. 29
    February 13th, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Indira Gandhi was also involved in genocide of SIkhs in India. She ordered an attack of the bombing of the Golden Temple, which is a very holy and important site to Sikhs.

    That is why she was killed by her bodyguards. For many people, this was a beacon of hope and contributed to ending genocide. I can say, as an Indian and a woman, I have absolutely no respect for her whatsoever.

    Please research more thoroughly before posting things such as this in the future.

  30. 30
    February 13th, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Its great that a woman was able to be the PM of india way back in 1966 and for 4 terms. but this woman was a brutal repressive leader.
    we have to remember that no matter the race, gender or sexuality of a leader its their policies that we should be placing more importance on.

    She made some anti- women choices.
    she forced many men to have vasectomy’s and women to have tubectomy’s for the sake of family planning

    As an Indian girl i have no respect for this women

  31. 31
    February 13th, 2012 at 9:17 am

    “In 1975, Indira Gandhi imposed the President’s Rule on the opposition parties in India. This degree brought the entire nation under her central rule. Curfews were enforced and censorship was allowed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.” And we’re celebrating this woman? I find that questionable.

    Also, although I admit I praised the Thatcher article last week, in large part out of previous partiality to Thatcher, I have my doubts about the appropriateness of this post series in general. Putting aside all political partiality for or against any one woman in power, is it not a bit odd to do fashion features, which are rather typically feminine in nature, on women who have striven to attain ranks not traditionally considered feminine? I recognize that style is terribly significant to how we are perceived, and that it can represent much more than mere adornment or materialism, but I also wonder a little about the merit of reducing the achievement of female leaders to a series of posts on what they wore. Isn’t it, in a way, pigeonholing them into a sort of femininity that their own exceeded?

    Just a thought.

  32. 32
    February 13th, 2012 at 4:54 pm


    never thought about that before, but it’s a good point.

    perhaps someone like madeleine albright might be a better person to highlight. she used fashion (pins) to make political statements & eventually, it was one of the things she became known for, along with being a strong (& 1st female) secretary of state.

  33. 33
    February 14th, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I absolutely adore this website, especially the fashion inspiration posts

    But I have to echo what everyone else has already said,
    this woman is not one to be looked up to, and her legacy not one to be celebrated
    and I think it’s irresponsible to talk about her assassination without talking about what led up to it, her attempted genocide on Sikhs

  34. 34
    February 14th, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    I don’t know much about her or what she did while in office so I can’t respond like everyone else but I do really like this outfit. too bad the source for the skirt isn’t working for me.

  35. 35
    February 15th, 2012 at 12:02 am

    I would agree with Elle on this one, a questionable choice based on the atrocities committed under her leadership. Yes, she was the first female PM in India. However, that’s not reason enough to be deemed inspirational.

  36. 36
    February 16th, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Yes, she did call for an attack on the Golden Temple. But it was to flush out Sikh extremists that she did that. They were calling for Sikhs to have their own nation, Khalistan. However only Sikhs of the upper castes would have been welcome and they would have slaughtered low and middle caste Sikhs. So, as a lower caste Sikh I am grateful to Indira for helping us.

  37. 37
    February 16th, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    While the attack on the Golden Temple was an attempt to get rid of Sikh extremists. The support for extremism came from abroad not from Sikhs in India.

    There is a problem with what Indira Gandhi did for two reasons, she attacked a holy site and the attack killed a large number of innocent people (a fact that the Indian government hid .

    If you look solely at the religion no one Sikh will say you are a lower middle class Sikh or higher middle class Sikh. These discrepancies between caste was brought up based on culture divulging into religion. The religion itself does not promote the caste system.

    Therefore, as an ordinary Sikh I don’t support the actions of the extremists but nor do I think the Prime Minister took a rational approach in dealing with the problem. It was tragic the way she died but even more tragic was the 3000 lives lost following her death.

  38. 38
    February 16th, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I completely agree with K’s comment above (I’m also Sikh)! It’s put together very well and gets the main point across!

  39. 39
    February 21st, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Yeah! Another Indira! I often tell people that my name is Indira, like Gandhi, and I’m often surprised that people don’t know who I mean.

  40. 40
    March 6th, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I’m an Indian history student and I think people saying that we should not be inspired by Indira Gandhi should stop. Every political figure has good and bad aspects about them. Yes, I agree that A LOT of the stuff Indira Gandhi did was detrimental to a lot of people, but no one commenting in the Thatcher column said half as many negative things about her.

    I was surprised at how little people complained about the post on Thatcher not being a good figure, especially when you consider how many people starved to death in third world countries when they couldn’t afford food because Thatcher and Reagan forced their markets to liberalize. My parents lived in England during Thatcher’s time, and they said British people didn’t like her much either because she made a whole bunch of cuts to social programs.

    Before you criticize, realize that there’s good and bad in all these figures. Please consider that before bashing the people these posts represent.

  41. 41
    April 7th, 2012 at 12:09 am

    I found the write-up(s) to be impressive In fact, the whole idea is novel and should have mass appeal. The one on Indira Gandhi caught my eye, especially. As a historian, however, who has spent an equal amount of time both in India and the United States, I feel compelled to point out the picture with Jackie Kennedy would not have been my first choice. Mrs. K. actually did not think too highly of Mrs. G, and actually called her a bitter, pushy, prune.( Among other evidence, please see Perhaps another picture of Indira Gandhi- she was always meticulous and stylish, and there are lots of pictures in the public domain.
    I wish you the best in your college career.

  42. 42
    August 9th, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I am from Sweden, and used to know Indira Gandhi in person, and wrote a book (in Swedish) about our contact.I have saved her letters and an interview I made with her concering women in east and west. It was never published, but other articles I wrote about her were published in different newspapers or magazins.
    I am now working on a new text, called “The freedom and the power”, where I hope to publish this interview as a chapter.
    I do not agree with mrs Kennedy conderning IG as a person. But she was not always an easy person to know.

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