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Indira Gandhi: Autocratic Leader of India Analytical Essay


Indira Gandhi was born of Priyadarshini Nehru in 1917 in Allahabad province of India. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru who was India’s first prime minister. Indira had the chance to enjoy excellent education by going to Somerville College, as well as the Oxford University from where she finalized her college education. Indira was later married to Feroze Gandhi between the years 1942-1960.

The Nehru family was a political family in India that produced political leaders for India. When her mother died in 1936, she became the only person closest to her father. This case enabled her to rub shoulders with people in leadership and the diplomatic world thus growing up as an experienced person in politics and diplomacy.

After her father’s death, she was elected as president for India’s National Congress. She subsequently assumed the post of the minister for information. Indira became “India’s prime minister in 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 to 1984” (Steinberg, 2005, p.760).

She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguard in revenge for her ordering the invasion of the Golden temple, which was a Sikh holy place to flush out separists hiding in the temple. Indira was considered the iron woman of India for the way she ruled the country with an Iron fist.

Characteristics, which are unique to her leadership style

Indira grew up as a hardened child whose parents were always away from home attending independence strategy meetings. Thus, she had to learn to overcome her fear of her parents being away by developing into a tough strong-headed girl. When Indira took over as the prime minister of India, she showed her knack for independent mindedness by sacking some of her father’s loyalists from the government who were viewed as powerful persons in the Indian political circles.

Indira grew India’s profile by making sure that India remained the powerhouse of East Asia by assimilating small neighboring countries like Sikkim to become India’s 23rd state. She provided leadership by securing India as one state by silencing separist groups that were trying to fight for their separation from India. According to Steinberg (2005), Indira comes out as a multifaceted character in such a way that she has different characteristics that make up her personality (p.755).

Among her characteristics, she was ambitious, reticent, contentious, and dominating. When Indira’s mother died, she took over as her father’s hostess. For a long time, she was viewed as not politically ambitious. This misunderstanding enabled her to horn her skills in politics and diplomacy by learning from the extremely best that ruled at the time. She was able to combine her different roles thus being able to execute them as demanded.

Although she was a mother, wife, and at the same time her father’s hostess, Indira played all these roles as demanded. Though viewed as a shy person during those days, she turned out differently when she became the prime minister. As a prime minister, she turned out to be a forceful and sometimes ruthless person who would do anything to push a cause in which she believes.

Immediately after taking over as the prime minister, she purged some of her father’s loyalists as a way of entrenching herself in leadership thus taking control of the party. She subsequently took total control over the leadership of the country. Every move she made was meant for self-preservation. In 1975, she declared a state of emergency, which led to her popularity ratings slumping and subsequently leading to her removal as the prime minister.

Her dominating nature led her into making India a dominating figure among the Asian states in East Asia. Thus, she is credited with the creation of Bangladesh, which was previously part of Pakistan. As a child, Indira pretended to be Joan of Arc. She would tell her aunt that she would lead her people one day the way Joan of Arc did (Malhotra, 1989, p. 37).

As a reticent person, she hid most of her feelings to the outside world though she acted in an aggressive nature when things went overboard. This case can be attributed to her reaction to the Sikh separist group that was hiding in the golden temple. She ordered the invasion of the temple, which is a sheer sacred place to the Sikh community. This attempt led to the death of over 450 people during the purge, which infuriated the Sikh community to the core.

Unfortunately, the scenario further led to her death after she was shot by her most trusted Sikh bodyguard in revenge to the desecration of the sacred place. Indira Gandhi could be described as a manipulative person though in a hugely suppressed way. This trait is evident in her relationship with media. During her early days as a prime minister and the time, which she was fighting to take total control of the party, Indira embraced the media so much that she was seen to be an open person.

This claim was purely for consolidating her support among the people’s support, which she well knew the media could deliver. After gaining her foothold, she shunned the media after declaring a state of emergency while time purging the media at the same as a way of self preservation because she knew that the media could break her the same way it made her. This leadership style can be defined as autocratic due to its dictatorial tendencies.

The effects of her role in societal changes

Indira Gandhi can be credited with so many changes especially in the Asian nations specifically the East Asia nations that bordered India. For a start, she led to the creation of the Bangladesh state after a weeklong negotiation with the Pakistani prime minister.

This activity happened after the Pakistani government had led a purge against the states around the Himalayan Mountains that were revolting thus leading to an influx of over ten million refugees running into India. This part of her controlling character was spilling over into her leadership style.

Her ambition was to have India as the dominant power in that region. Thus, she is believed to have sponsored the revolt before going ahead to negotiate for a state for them. This attempt is manipulative and a strong leadership style. Her nature of leadership led to India developing nuclear technology thus leading to the nuclear race between India and Pakistan people who are known to be India’s competitors.

India’s diplomatic prowess led her into negotiating a deal with her Pakistani counterpart in 1971 that resolved to solve the Kashmir dispute through peaceful means. This step ensured that there was peace between the two nations in the middle of their differences. She also secured her country’s interest by ensuring that it was not influenced by ideologies that could hurt it.

To this end, she rebuffed China’s political ideologies and influences by locking it out of countries such as Nepal that was inside India’s borders (Crossette, 2008, p. 40). Indira is credited with changing society through her campaign for the green revolution. The green revolution was started in India in the late 1960’s as a way of making the country self-sustaining in food production.

This achievement enabled the country to produce enough food for its population as well as for export. Before the green revolution, just about 80000 hectares of land in the Punjab province were under modern method of agricultural production thus making the country insufficient in its production of food for its population.

When Indira inspired the green revolution, the country presently boasts of over six million hectares of land under food crop production making the country an exporter of food (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2002, p. 2) because Indira had the mettle to push for what she believed. The green revolution led to growth of the economy by creating jobs for the masses, as well as leading to food security for the nation.

The per capita income of India doubled from between the year 1975-1995 thereby cutting poverty levels in the rural populations by two thirds. The overall nutrition levels of the nation improved through better nutrition thus substantially improving the life expectancy of the nation.


Though many people viewed Indira Gandhi as an autocratic leader and even christened the iron woman of India, she should better be described as a transformational leader due to the changes and stability she brought to India as a nation and to the regions surrounding India. Her long hold on to the Indian premiership brought about stability to the nation and meaningful long-term changes to the nation.

Reference List

Crossette, B. (2008). Indira Gandhi’s legacy: vying for mastery in South Asia. World Policy Institute, 25 (1), 36-44.

International Food Policy Research Institute. (2002). Green revolution: Curse or blessing. Washington D.C: IFPRI.

Malhotra, I. (1989). Indira Gandhi: A personal and political Biography. London: Holder and Stougton.

Steinberg, B. (2005). Indira Gandhi: the relationship between personality profile and leadership style. Political psychology, 26 (5), 755-789.

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"Indira Gandhi: Autocratic Leader of India." IvyPanda, 28 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/indira-gandhi/.

1. IvyPanda. "Indira Gandhi: Autocratic Leader of India." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indira-gandhi/.


IvyPanda. "Indira Gandhi: Autocratic Leader of India." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indira-gandhi/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Indira Gandhi: Autocratic Leader of India." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indira-gandhi/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Indira Gandhi: Autocratic Leader of India'. 28 December.

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