In Turkey, Indira Gandhi Is Slang for Cheating and Petty Theft

India’s former prime minister is invoked when children steal pens at school, use GTA5 cheat codes, and at anti-corruption protests.
A poster of ‘Indira Gandhi Memorial Week’, to mark anti-corruption week in Turkey. Image: Twitter

Most Indians remember Indira Gandhi as a controversial but firm political figure, associated with political ruthlessness and suspending civil liberties in India during the Emergency. But in Turkey, India’s third prime minister has become synonymous with cheating, or corruption.

A Turkish learning portal translates “İndiregandi” as the act of misusing public money, stealing from someone else’s pocket, or trying to get something for nothing. The term is used in a song about cunning love. Gaming enthusiasts use it as an exclamation when using cheat codes in Grand Theft Auto V. And what would Turkish political mudslinging be without our former leader?


“I think it means pocketing the money of others”, Bulent Turan, 32, a literature research scholar based in Kocaeli, Turkey told VICE over email. “We often hear this in the street, or in a conversation among friends. It is very street-level language.”

Turan thought the term originated out of the similarity between “Indira” and “ indir”, a conjugation of the Turkish verb indirmek—lowering, or downloading something—which is also used as slang for stealing or pocketing money.

The film dialogue that popularised the phrase.

Didar Akar, a professor of linguistics at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, agreed. “The only explanation I can think of is based on sound resemblance to indir (take down, pull down) and ‘kandı’ (deceived, fooled)”, he said in an email. He added that such slang terms often have a short lifespan.

Onder Sahan, 35, a Turk who has been living in New Delhi for 14 years, first remembers hearing the term in a 2001 comedy show ‘Ekmek Teknesi’. Sahan, who runs an educational consultancy and the Dilli Cafe, told us “It really picked up when famous Turkish comedian Sahan Gokbakar used it in his movie Recep Ivedik. The movie was a blockbuster and the term became a rage especially among young boys, who used it in jest with close friends. Using it with a stranger would have led to a fight, as it’s sort of an abuse,” said Sahan.

In Recep Ivedik, Gokbakar uses the term with the manager of a hotel, telling him “ Indiregandi yapacan değil mi çakal”—don’t try to Indira Gandhi me, you jackal—a phrase which attained cult status among Turkish youngsters in 2008. A number of fan videos and dubsmash videos of Gokbakar’s dialogue can be found on YouTube.


“I first came to know about it when a dormitory mate in Konya asked me whether I knew what it meant in Turkish,” said Behzad Fatmi, secretary general of the Indialogue Foundation, an Indo-Turkish peace organisation. Fatmi, an Indian who had lived in Turkey for a couple of years, told us “I later realised it wasn't her style of politics or personality which was the reason behind the Turks using her name for theft, but because her name sounds similar to the Turkish expression indirmek.

Dubsmash inspired by Recep Ivedik.

Akif Yıldız, a 12th Standard student in Hyderabad, said he heard the term in the Beyaz Show, one of Turkey’s most popular talk shows. “I was very curious what Indira Gandhi means, as a lot of my friends were using it,” he told us.

“If someone steals my pen at school, I would say, ‘Hey you are doing Indira Gandhi with me, please return my pen’,” he explained. “If I use it in front of my family, they would beat the shit out of me.” He also said that he, like most Turks, believed that Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Mahatma Gandhi. “Some even believe they are one and the same person,” he added.

The name of India’s former Prime Minister isn’t only used in the context of petty theft. It’s also been used as a symbol of alleged corrupt practices by the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

In 2014, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) observed “Indira Gandhi Memorial Week” from December 17-25. The event was a satirical comment on the corruption scandal that was uncovered during the same week the previous year, when a number of ministers in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party resigned following an investigation into one of the biggest corruption cases in the country’s history.


A song inspired by the phrase.

To commemorate the scandal, in which Erdogan and his son were allegedly involved, LDP workers raised a huge banner with the photo of Indira Gandhi outside their office building. The banner was subsequently taken down by the police. Opposition leader Aykan Erdemir said to a Turkish newspaper, “What do you attribute to this intolerance that the police showed to the poster of Indira Gandhi, the only female prime minister of the friendly and brotherly country of India?”

It’s not as if Indira Gandhi is the only Indian political figure that has been in appropriated by Turkish popular culture. The main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has often been referred as the Turkish Gandhi, with his supporters comparing his looks and style of politics with the leader of the Indian freedom struggle. “His fans call him ‘modern Gandhi’, while detractors call him ‘Chakma Gandhi’—fake Gandhi,” said Sahan.

Sahan said that Turks now know India more for its Bollywood films, especially Aamir Khan, who has a crazy fan-following in the country after 3 Idiots became a superhit there. “There is a whole section of people who eagerly wait for Turkish subtitles for Indian movies,” Sahan said. “Indian weddings are also getting popular with groom wearing a sherwani and bride dressing up in a lehenga. Your culture is making its mark in our country.”

Indira Gandhi makes the news in Turkey.

Follow Zeyad Masroor Khan on Twitter.