Indira Ghandi

University of Oxford


Country of Origin:

Study Destination:
United Kingdom

Year of Graduation:
Unable to graduate

Year inducted into Hall of Fame:

Indira Ghandi

Indira Gandhi was India's first woman Prime Minister. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, a major figure in the Indian independence movement and the first Prime Minister of Independent India.  Educated in India, Switzerland and England, she came to Somerville College at the University of Oxford, in 1937 (soon after her mother's death) to read Modern History.  She did not finish her degree due to ill health but while she was here she established lifelong friendships as well as important political contacts.  She returned to India in 1941 and married Feroze Gandhi in 1942.

During the long prime ministership of her father (1947-64), she acted as his official host and assistant, and began to flourish as a politician in her own right. In 1966, as leader of the Congress Party, she was elected Prime Minister.  She won three consecutive terms of office steering the country through the war with Pakistan and the declaration of Bangladesh's independence. She lost power in 1977 following a period of highly controversial emergency rule in 1975.  Her party won the election of 1980 and she became Prime Minister for a fourth term. 

As the Prime Minister of India, Gandhi was known for her political ruthlessness 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 regional hegemon of South Asia. Gandhi also presided over a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 during which she ruled by decree and made lasting changes to the constitution of India. In June 1984 however, a violent clash with Sikhs at the Golden Temple caused increased anti-Gandhi feeling and on 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in the ground of her home a few months after she ordered the storming of the Sikh holy Temple in Amritsar.

Indira Gandhi is associated with fostering a culture of nepotism in Indian politics and in India's institutions. She is also almost singularly associated with the period of Emergency rule and the dark period in Indian Democracy that it entailed, the period of conflict with Khalistan militants in the western state of Punjab and being the face of a progressive Indian electorate owing to her being the first woman elected to hold the office of the Prime Minister of India.

The Indira Awaas Yojana, a central government low-cost housing programme for the rural poor, is named after her. The international airport at New Delhi is named Indira Gandhi International Airport in her honour. The Indira Gandhi National Open University, the largest university in the world, is also named after her. Indian National Congress established the annual Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1985, given in her memory on her death anniversary. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust also constituted the annual Indira Gandhi Prize.

In 2001, Gandhi was voted the greatest Indian Prime Minister in a poll organised by India Today. She was also named "Woman of the Millennium" in a poll organised by the BBC in 1999.