1970s: The Rise and Fall of Indira Gandhi

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We remember Indira Gandhi as the ‘Iron Lady’ of India. So it might surprise you to know that when she took over as Prime Minister in January 1966, she was nervous, reserved and a lightweight within the Congress. She was meant to be a puppet. But that didn’t go as planned.

Kumaraswami Kamraj | Wikimedia Commons
Kumaraswami Kamraj | Wikimedia Commons

A group of veteran Congress leaders called the ‘Syndicate’ thought they could control Indira like a puppet. They included K Kamaraj of Tamil Nadu, S Nijalingappa of Karnataka, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, Atulya Ghosh of West Bengal and S K Patil of Maharashtra.

The Syndicate did not want Morarji Desai as Prime Minister as he was rigid and conservative. But they soon realised that Indira was not easy to ‘control’. She first shocked them by devaluing the rupee, without consulting senior leaders, only months after she became PM.

Indira Gandhi in 1966 | Wikimedia Commons
Indira Gandhi in 1966 | Wikimedia Commons

The Syndicate realised that Indira was no pushover, so they decided to clip her wings or even overthrow her. But leaders K Kamraj, Atulya Ghosh and S K Patil lost the 1967 elections, while Indira emerged as a mass leader.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy | Wikimedia Commons
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy | Wikimedia Commons

In an attempt to dislodge Indira, the Syndicate chose Neelam Sanjiva Reddy the party’s official Presidential candidate. But Indira went against her party and supported V V Giri. Ultimately, Giri won the election.

Indira was expelled from the Congress and this triggered a split in the party. It split into the Congress (Organisation) of the Syndicate and Congress (Requisitionists) of Indira Gandhi. After running a minority government for some time, Indira declared mid-term elections.

Indira Gandhi | Wikimedia Commons
Indira Gandhi | Wikimedia Commons

In the 1971 elections, Congress (R) won 352 seats, while the Congress (O) won just 16 seats. This made it very clear who was in charge. It completed Indira’s transformation from a shy and nervous woman into a mass leader, a metamorphosis that was truly spectacular.

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