Indira Gandhi: First Woman Prime Minister, 1966-1971

Shastri’s Successor

After the unexpected death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, on 10 Jan, 1966, the search for new successor started. There were 7 aspirants for the post of 2rd Prime Minister – Desai, Indira, Nanda, Chavan, S.K.Patil, Sanjiv Reddy and Kamaraj. Kamaraj for reasons better known to himself he withdrew from the contest. Desai insisted on secret ballot. Finally, there was a straight contest between Desai and Indira Gandhi. On 19th Jan 1966, secret ballot was held in the meeting of Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), in which Indira won with 355 votes against Desai with 169. She owned her triumph to Kamaraj.

The Congress President K.Kamaraj played a crucial role in clearing the way for Indira Gandhi to succeed Shastri. Kamaraj, in his own characteristic way supported her;

1) She knew all the leaders of the world;

2) Had travelled widely with her father;

3) Was grown up with almost all the great men of the freedom movement.

4) had a rational and modern mind;

5) Totally free of parochialism;

6) In 1967, she could win the election.

Besides she also had other experiences such as;

1) Member of Congress Working Committee (1955);

2) Elected President of the Congress Party (1959);

3) Elected member of CWC as well as member of Central Election Committee;

4) Joined Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting.

Though she inherited the name and mantle from her father Nehru she had the ability and was eminently qualified to become the first woman Prime Minister of India. On 24th Jan 1966, the 49 year old Indira was sworn in as the Prime Minister by the President Dr.S Radhakrishnan.

Indira Cabinet

Indira Gandhi was the choice of the syndicate. K.Kamaraj, thereof insisted that she retained most ministers of Shastri’s cabinet. She wanted to drop the Home Minister, Gulzarilal Nanda, but she was constrained to retain him in her cabinet. However, Indira had her way in inducing Ashok Mehta (new Minister of Planning); G.S. Pathak (Minister of Law); Fakrudin Ali Ahmed (Minister of Irrigation and Power); and Jagjiwan Ram (Minister of Labour); Morarji Desai was not invited to join her cabinet . Soon

‘Kitchen Cabinet’

Indira Gandhi’s ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ was the expanded version of the ‘Back-Benchers Club’, formed during the Shastri years. Her Kitchen Cabinet, a wheel within the wheel, comprised of Dinesh Singh, I.K.Gujral, Nandhini Satpati and Ali Ahmed. This ‘Nucleus of Power’ assisted and advised the prime minster Indira Gandhi crucial decision making.

1966: The Year of Turmoil

Unrest in North-East

There was unrest in the North-East. The Nagas were threatening cessation from the Indian Union, there were periodic terrorist attacks, insurgency and guerrilla activity of Naga rebels, “Trained in China, Pakistan and Burma”. In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front (MNF), headed by Laldenga declared independence from India (March 1966). The Mirzo insurrection was crushed. In 1973, the Mizo district of Assam was separated and given the status of a Union Territory.

Demand for Punjab Suba, June 1966

The Dar committee in this report dated 18th March 1966, recommended the creation of Punjabi Suba. The Boundary Commission Report dated 31st May 1966 favored the inclusion of Chandigarh in Punjab. On 9th June 1966, the Government of India, after carefully considering the recommendation of the Dar Commission decided to 1) Make Chandigarh Union Territory; 2) Chandigarh to be the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana 3) Punjabi Suba and Haryana to be formed as separate states. Punjabi Suba retained its old name Punjab. The Siks were happy, the Hindu-speaking people revolted and there were riots.

The Food Crisis, 1966

There were food shortages and famine conditions in several parts of the country. The Economy was in recession. She visited the U.S. on a mission to get both food and foreign exchange without appearing to ask for them. President Lyndon Johnson promised three million tons of food and nine million dollars in aid. At home the system of procurement and distribution system improved. The food crisis was tackled for the time being.

Keywords: Indra Gandhi, First women Prime Minister of India, Kitchen Cabinet, Punjabi Suba, Food Crises, Lal Bahadur Shastri

Diane Cynthiya Miller