Public Reaction to Indira Gandhi’s Ascension as Prime Minister of India

Indira Gandhi photo

The Challenging Times of Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership

When Indira Gandhi assumed the role of Prime Minister of India after the untimely demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri in January 1966, the nation was grappling with a series of daunting challenges. The consecutive deaths of two beloved leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, within a span of 18 months had deeply shaken the country. This article delves into the complex issues that Indira Gandhi faced during her early years in power and highlights the magnitude of the tasks she had to tackle.

  • Socio-Political Turmoil:

Domestically, India was facing significant turmoil on multiple fronts. Various regions, including East Punjab, experienced unrest, with demands for a separate Sikh state. In Madras state (now Tamil Nadu), there were massive protests against the imposition of Hindi as the sole official language. Tamil speakers rallied to preserve English as an additional official language, effectively averting the nation’s transformation into a monolingual state. Additionally, ethnic tensions were brewing in the Northeast region, further adding to the challenges faced by the new Prime Minister.

  • Economic and Agricultural Challenges:

During this period, India confronted severe food shortages due to consecutive droughts in 1965 and 1966, exacerbating the infamous Bihar famine. Inflation was rampant, and the government faced massive budget deficits. Furthermore, the war with Pakistan in 1965 and the conflict with China in 1962 had strained the economy, prompting the World Bank and the United States to suspend aid. The defense expenditure incurred during these conflicts put additional pressure on the country’s finances.

  • Reluctance and Political Risks:

Given the tumultuous circumstances, very few individuals were willing to assume the leadership role at that critical juncture. Even K Kamaraj, a prominent political figure, briefly contemplated the possibility of becoming the Prime Minister. However, the political landscape was fraught with risks, dissuading senior leaders from taking up the challenging task. The nation was in disarray, and the Congress party itself was on the verge of splitting.

  • Indira Gandhi’s Leadership:

Amidst this volatile backdrop, Indira Gandhi assumed power, providing a sense of relief to the public. Her reputation as a known and relatively stable figure brought reassurance during these uncertain times. However, behind the scenes, influential figures within her party, known as the syndicate, secretly planned to exert control over the direction of her government.

The Complexity of Indira Gandhi’s Challenges:

The magnitude of the challenges faced by Indira Gandhi during her early years as Prime Minister should not be underestimated. No other Prime Minister had encountered such a complex array of problems. The burden of addressing socio-political unrest, economic crises, agricultural struggles, and international aid suspension weighed heavily on her administration.

When Indira Gandhi succeeded Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister of India in 1966, it marked a significant moment in the nation’s political history. This article aims to explore the public reaction to Indira Gandhi’s appointment, shedding light on the sentiments, expectations, and concerns prevalent among the Indian populace during that transitional period.

A Moment of Change:

Indira Gandhi’s rise to power following the death of her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, brought about a mix of emotions among the Indian public. The country had grown accustomed to Nehru’s leadership for over 17 years, and his departure marked the end of an era. The announcement of Indira Gandhi as the new Prime Minister signified a moment of change and uncertainty for the nation.

Anticipation and Optimism:

Many citizens welcomed Indira Gandhi’s appointment with anticipation and optimism. As the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, she possessed a political lineage that instilled hope in the minds of the people. Some believed that her leadership would carry forward the vision and progressive agenda set by her father, fostering continued development and social reform.

Symbol of Empowerment:

Indira Gandhi’s ascension to the highest office in the country also held symbolic significance. As the first woman Prime Minister of India, she became a beacon of empowerment for women across the nation. Her appointment challenged societal norms and opened doors for women to envision themselves in positions of power and influence.

Skepticism and Doubts:

However, not everyone viewed Indira Gandhi’s appointment with unreserved enthusiasm. Some segments of society expressed skepticism and doubts about her ability to lead the nation effectively. Critics questioned her political experience and raised concerns about her capacity to navigate the complexities of governance.

Political Rivalries:

Indira Gandhi’s assumption of power also intensified existing political rivalries within the Indian National Congress party. Some party members viewed her appointment as a strategic move to consolidate power, leading to internal divisions and power struggles. These dynamics added further complexity to the public’s perception of her leadership.

Public Support and Opposition:

During her initial years as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi enjoyed considerable support from a significant section of the population. She implemented various social and economic policies that resonated with the masses, such as the nationalization of banks and the “Garibi Hatao” (Eradicate Poverty) campaign. However, her tenure also witnessed increasing opposition and criticism from various quarters, culminating in significant political and social unrest.


When Indira Gandhi assumed office as the Prime Minister of India, the public reaction was characterized by a mixture of anticipation, optimism, skepticism, and doubts. Her appointment as the first woman to hold such a position symbolized empowerment for women and marked a significant transition for the country. While she garnered support and implemented popular policies, her tenure also faced growing opposition and challenges. Ultimately, the public’s reaction to Indira Gandhi’s leadership evolved over time, shaped by the unfolding events and her actions as Prime Minister.

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