India’s Most Powerful Matriarchs - Mother's Day Special

Born into patriarchal societies, these women have braved the challenges life threw at them and emerged leaders in their own right. Steering their families towards success and fortune, they’ve managed to create an aura of legend around them while still being the caregivers to their family and households. You & I takes a look at five legendary mothers this country can be proud of.       - Vishwaveer
The only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi is synonymous with the term ‘dynasty,’ since in many ways she gave rise to the Nehru-Gandhi family and its decades-long control over India’s longest ruling party – the Congress. Having lost her husband and her father in the early 60s, Indira had to take on the role of the family matriarch, bringing up her son Sanjay as an eventual heir to the family’s political empire. Gandhi’s terms as Prime Minister are scattered with many achievements, without which India wouldn’t have been the nation it is today. Unifying the country at a time when several parts of it were on the verge of splitting up from the dominion, successfully carrying out the liberation of Bangladesh and undertaking a suave diplomatic strategy for the benefit of India, are probably Indira’s most noteworthy achievements. Having lost Sanjay in a plane crash, Indira herself was assassinated a few years later, as a direct result of Operation Bluestar, the attack on Bhindranwale in the Sikh’s Golden Temple. Her son Rajiv, a professional pilot then took over the reigns from his mother, but was himself assassinated by LTTE terrorists while campaigning in South India. The Congress today is helmed by Indira’s daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi and her grandson Rahul Gandhi. ‘The Iron Lady of India’ is a title that was not easily earned by Indira, but it is certainly how she will be remembered for years to come. 
Born in Cooch Behar in 1918, Gayatri Devi came to prominence after she’d won the heart of the Maharaja of Jaipur. The two married, making Gayatri Devi Sawai Man Singh’s third wife, but by all accounts his most loved and favourite. Over the years, Gayatri Devi earned several titles, least of which, was being touted as one of the World’s Most Beautiful Women by Vogue Magazine. Her innate style and sense of fashion, coupled with her ethereal looks, made her one of the most recognized faces in India in her days. Gayatri Devi also forayed into politics, wining by a landslide victory in what the Guinness Book of Records recognized as one of the most successful wins in a democratic election ever. As the years passed, Gayatri Devi lost her husband, the Maharaja of Jaipur and lived a stoic life at Lillypool Palace in Jaipur. Her son Jagat had married a Princess from Thailand, with whom he had two children, but soon became estranged from his family and took to drinking. Like Indira Gandhi, Gayatri Devi too had to suffer the loss of her son, when Jagat passed away in London in the late 90s. During her life, the Rajmata, as she was fondly called, played the role of matriarch for most of her family, including the present royal family, that was sired by her step-son Maharaja Bhawani Singh.

Born in the 1930 to a middle class Gujarati family, Kokilaben had a very orthodox childhood, but was allowed to study till the 10th grade. In the 1950s she married Dhirubhai Ambani. The couple had four children, two boys and two girls, with whom they initially lived in Yemen, where Ambani had started a small business. Over the years Kokilaben played an important role in the growth of Reliance Industries, standing beside her husband as he created one of the largest business conglomerates of Asia. A devout Hindu, Kokilaben dedicated her life to the pursuit of spiritual endeavors, even patronising Nathdwara, a temple on the outskirts of Udaipur, where she created a foundation for the maintenance and upkeep of the temple. When her husband Dhirubhai passed away, it was Kokilaben who played ombudsman between her two sons, Mukesh and Anil, carving out a piece of Reliance for the both of them, at a time when the two were at loggerheads with one another. Today, Kokilaben exerts her influence as matriarch on India’s richest family, with both sons following her instructions unwaveringly.

The wife of industrialist OP Jindal, Savitri has been the matriarch of the Jindal family since 2005, when she lost her husband in a helicopter crash. OP Jindal started out making buckets in the early 50s, but soon graduated to the manufacture of pipes, eventually growing his company into Mining, Steel, Power, Natural gas, oil and Cement. The divisions of Jindal industries were split up between the couple’s four sons, Naveen, Sajjan, Ratan and Prithviraj, and Savitri took to politics, wining from Haryana with a ticket from the Congress party. She was a even Minister in the State Government on two different occassions. Today, Savitri Jindal is ranked as India’s richest woman, with a network that of over US$ 12 Billion. A staunch philanthropist and public servant, Savitri has through the years created a niche for herself independent of the laurels won by her husband and sons. She was conferred with the Acharya Tulsi Kartritva Puraskar in 2008 by Akhil Bhartiya Terapanth Mahila Mandal


Possibly India’s most powerful lady today, Indu Jain controls the Times Group, the country’s largest media empire with newspapers, radio channels, TV and online media. As the Chairperson of the Bennet Coleman Co. Indu Jain has been instrumental in supporting the rise and fall of ideologies, but has simultaneously maintained as extremely reticent personality, shying away from the spotlight as much as she could. IN 1999, Jain lost her husband in the US while he was undergoing a heart transplant. She has two sons, Vineet and Samir Jain, who run the various arms of the Time Group under her watchful gaze. As the Chairperson of the Times Foundation, Indu Jain has been instrumental in the Times’ foray into philanthropy and charity. She has also been the founder of the Women’s Wing of FICCI, now known as FLO. Rarely seen at her companies offices, she prefers running the show behind he scenes, leaving much of the micro-management to her two sons. In 2016, Forbes estimated her net worth to be over US$ 3 Billion.