Indira Gandhi is a well-known political personality in the history of Indian politics and is a much-celebrated figure around the world for her grit and achievements as the first female prime minister of India.
Let us first take a look at some of the notable works she did to ensure the progress of Indian society and then delve deep into her actions and contributions.
- One of the inevitable rhetorics of the first woman prime minister of India was “Garibi Hatao”. The post-independence financial crisis was unique in India. Amidst the political chaos, the socio-economic disorientation was massive. The government had to improve the economic status of millions of Indians. Indira Gandhi and the Indian National Congress took up multiple initiatives to improve the financial crisis of India.
- Under her leadership, agricultural growth in India was the highest that has ever been achieved. Despite global political tensions, she also tried to help the Indian business landscape develop.
- In a country that was still struggling with illiteracy, a weaker economy, and the world smarting under global turbulence, she was keener towards establishing a welfare state rather than a developing nation. Many of her policies were directed towards poverty eradication of the Indian household and economic stability of the poor and marginalized.
- After winning the office of the prime minister of India, and becoming the first woman prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi paid a visit to Washington DC to gain international support to help a still-weak Indian economy. Those were the times of international tension, yet she visited Moscow to carry forward the long tradition of India’s non-alignment policy.
- In 1972, she granted statehood to Tripura, Meghalaya, and Manipur, and helped rename the North East Frontier Agency as Arunachal Pradesh.
- When speaking of agricultural growth, her period is recognised still as the golden era in Indian history. There were several years of consistent poor rainfall that was smashing India’s agricultural economy. Indira Gandhi, the first woman prime minister of India, devalued the Indian rupee immediately to compensate for the loss, much to the disapproval of many, including members of her party.
Now, let us engage in a deeper analysis of Indira Gandhi as the first female prime minister of India, discussing her contributions and her role in building the country.
Let’s assess the political and socio-economic approach of Indira Gandhi during her administration. From 1966 to 1984, there were some significant reforms in India under her leadership. Even though the Reserve Bank of India was the nodal authority for financial management in India, still, many private banks were owned by individuals and business families. Indira Gandhi took rapid steps to end the culture of bank privatization and intended to launch a firm policy of nationalization of Indian banks.
In 1969, she nationalized more than ten central commercial banks. This nationalization drive helped increase household savings, significantly contributing to her ‘Garibi Hatao’ campaign. Bank nationalization also had other benefits, such as an increase in the geographical coverage area for the banks, thereby helping them gain access to the unbanked population. It provided considerable support to small- and medium-scale industries and boosted their regional development, helping further strengthen the overall economy. Though industrial growth during the reign of the first woman prime minister of India was not ambitious, some of her policies were suitably directed for the same.
When she was re-elected in 1971, apart from the nationalization drive of the Indian banking sector, she also attempted to nationalize other important industries that contributed heavily to the national GDP, employing lakhs of Indians, such as coal, cotton, and other industries. She extended the drive to nationalize the insurance sector too. The target was to strengthen the public sector and bring the private sector within the folds of regulatory control. Indira Gandhi also ventured to privatize several major companies in India such as the Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, and so on. There were interesting developments during this time. Her decision was put into effect during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Many foreign companies around this time had refused to supply oil to India, affecting the operations of India’s naval strength and military, which was to directly and negatively impact India in the war against Pakistan. But a feisty Indira Gandhi, also the first woman prime minister of India was not one to bow her head to the machinations of politics. Headstrong, bold, and intelligent, to compensate for the loss, Indira Gandhi decided to nationalize the major petroleum companies in India which eventually helped and strengthened the Indian army and navy.
The contributions of the first woman prime minister of India towards building up a stronger Indian society comes through her inclination towards designing welcoming social reforms, such as the famous ‘Equal pay for equal work.’ It was important for her to bring the concept to the patriarchal society in India that men and women merit equal pay for equal work. This was one of the first and most significant steps toward fighting gender discrimination in the workplace. She fought for the abolition of the privy purse for the princely states.
In her attempt to promote oneness across a huge country that speaks different languages and dialects, she introduced the policy of using Hindi and English as official languages in India. According to the constitution of India, Hindi was the official language in India. However, this was a matter of great concern to her because a vast population of India didn’t speak Hindi. (The demography still doesn’t.) This bi-lingual policy of Indira Gandhi won significant support, including the non-speaking corners of India, such as southern India.