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  • Indira Gandhi assassinated

    by Sunny
    31st October, 2005 at 1:51 pm    

    … 21 years ago this day, the BBC quite helpfully recalls. The only woman Prime Minister of India was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for her attack on the holiest Sikh shrine of Harminder Sahib (aka Golden Temple) in Amritsar, in which 1000 people were estimated to have died.

    Her killings prompted some members of the ruling Congress party to start riots in the capital Delhi, and start massacaring Sikhs. Nearly 4,000 were murdered. A lot of the instigators are still on the loose. The BBC website has some witness accounts.

    Because the media was still heavily state-controlled at the time, a lot of news about the killings did not come out till later. About the only useful thing Indira Gandhi did during her tenure was to stop the Pakistan army massacring Bengalis and help liberate Bangladesh in 1971. It was listed somewhere as one of only two military interventions in the 20th century that actually stopped the killing of people.

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    Filed in: South Asia,The World

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    1. Jagjeet S Bura — on 31st October, 2005 at 3:02 pm  

      Thought I would add this article.

      That horror 21 years ago
      October 31, 2005

      Today, 21 years ago, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated former
      Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Her death unleashed the
      horrific killings of Sikhs and riots that resulted in over
      3,000 deaths. Payal Singh Mohanka, a Sikh journalist, was
      travelling in a train with her family that day. She recounts
      what happened in the journey between Kolkata and New Delhi.

      November 1, 1984: An eyewitness account

      There was a glint of madness in their eyes and murder etched
      across their faces. Ominous shouts and cries of “Koi Sardar
      hai? Goli se maar dalenge” (Is there any Sikh? We will shoot
      him) followed. We were all shocked into a state of stunned

      I was a journalist working with a leading magazine, The
      Illustrated Weekly of India. A Sikh myself, I was travelling
      with a group of 20 Sikh friends and family members to Delhi
      for a wedding. When we boarded the train from Calcutta at
      10 am on October 31, 1984 we had never imagined that death
      and destruction were in store for us.

      It was at 12.30 pm that we first heard that Prime Minister
      Indira Gandhi had been shot by her bodyguards and was in
      hospital. Our instant reaction was one of disbelief. The
      confirmed news of Mrs Gandhi’s assassination reached us
      over the radio at about 6.30 pm. And it was only then that
      we learnt that the two assailants were Sikhs.

      Every passenger, irrespective of his or her religion, was
      in a state of shocked silence. But not one anticipated the
      disaster that awaited us at Ghaziabad. The train reached
      Ghaziabad (two hours from Delhi) at 11 am the next day.

      That was the beginning of two harrowing hours for us, when
      we were suspended between life and death. A bloodthirsty mob,
      almost like a pack of hungry wolves hunting for prey, went
      from coach to coach in search of Sikhs. In a frenzy of
      madness the mob, armed with iron rods and knives, brutally
      dragged out Sikhs, burnt their turbans, hacked them to death
      and threw them across the tracks.

      Even the old and feeble were not spared. However, the mob,
      devoid of rationality, declared that women would be spared.
      But in what sense were they spared? After all, what could be
      more torturous for women than seeing male members of their
      family hacked to death in front of their eyes?


      Payal Singh Mohanka is a journalist and documentary filmmaker.
      This article first appeared in the Round Table Journal of
      Commonwealth Affairs.

    2. Siddharth — on 31st October, 2005 at 3:10 pm  

      Bangladesh owes a lot to Indira Gandhi, whether they like to admit it or not. Whatever her real intentions were, her actions did manage to halt the genocide by the Pakistani Army in Bangladesh. For which reason she’s always be one of my heros. At the same time I can see why Sikhs hold her in utter contempt. Obviously she did not look at separatist movements in India in the same light as those in Pakistan, at the time. Also, as Hitchens has documented, her relationship with Kissinger was mutual hatred. And hating Kissinger has got to be the sign of a healthy human being. ;-)

    3. blue mountain — on 31st October, 2005 at 3:14 pm  

      Jyoti Basu and his communist government in West Bengal could get due credit for dealing sternly with rioters.

    4. raz — on 31st October, 2005 at 7:13 pm  

      Defiling a holy place and murdering 1000 innocent people. What an evil woman. Well done to the Sikhs for killing her :-)
      Sadly the subsequent leaders of India have all followed her example of persecution and mass murder of minorities, as seen in Kashmir,Manipur, Assam, Tripura,Nagaland, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, etc. Terrible for the poor, oppressed people of India to be live in such a brutal, repressive and murderous nation.

    5. ContraryMary — on 31st October, 2005 at 7:35 pm  

      Sunny - I’m not sure I agree with, ‘about the only useful thing she did in her tenure was to liberate Bangledesh in 1971.

      Granted her forced sterilisation programme, state of emergency and failure to actually address the issue of a separate Sikh state were major mistakes, but she did plenty that was positive.

      She came to power in 1966, 19 years after independence. Can you imagine any country electing a woman leader 19 years into the country’s life? It took Britain over a 100+ plus years, and America still hasn’t had a woman leader.

      She also fiercely believed in India as a secular country, if she hadn’t been so strong willed on this matter there’s a good chance India would now be a Hindu nation.

      Ultimately her firece belief in this resulted in her assasination. Her staff removed Sikhs from her security while the Sikh separatist tension rumbled on but she immediately reinstated her Sikh bodyguards and rebuked her staff for sacking her bodyguards - precisely because she did not want to be seen to be excluding or alienating any religion or group.

      Finally, without her India’s economic development would not be what it is today. She expanded, and empowered the middle classes, by setting up the infra structure to allow them to borrow money to buy houses. She is also rightly commended for her attempts to address poverty in rural India.

      Her biggest mistake is that of entrusting her son, Sanjay Gandhi with policy. The enforced sterilisation programme was his idea, it was his completely misguided cultivation of Bindrenwale that backfired and resulted in the desecration of the Golden Temple. It’s pretty unbelievable he was so influential when he was unelected and had no mandate.

    6. Mirax — on 31st October, 2005 at 7:59 pm  

      “Can you imagine any country electing a woman leader 19 years into the country’s life? It took Britain over a 100+ plus years, and America still hasn’t had a woman leader. ”

      Actually this happens rather regularly in developing countries with a strong feudal background. Fathers and husbands pass on their mantle of leadership, almost a family birthright, to their womenfolk. Witness Bhutto, Gandhi, M Sukarnoputri ,two presidents of Bangladesh and the Philippines, and even my personal hero, Aungsan Suu Kyi. Either the women leaders or their mothers had to sleep with someone already in power. South Asians often boast about their women leaders as if that indicated progressiveness compared to the west; it does not.

    7. Mirax — on 31st October, 2005 at 8:02 pm  

      The culture and mentality which regard nepotism as natural is the same one that allowed Sanjay Gandhi to run amok.

    8. Sunny — on 31st October, 2005 at 8:04 pm  

      ContraryMary - I’m not sure I would exactly agree with that assessment.

      Yes I know about her re-instating her Sikh bodyguards with stubborn belief in secularism. But I believe it is important that the belief in secularism be practiced properly, not just be paid lip service.

      The Sikhs saw many injustices under Gandhi, including under the 2 year emergency, saw I see her stance of being a staunch secular a bit hypocritical.

      I remember reading an article once which said that the difference between the BJP and the Congress was that while both played religious politics and stoked up communal violence for their own means, the Congress kept playing lip service to secularism. The BJP never had that pretence - they just followed the tradition.

      As for her economic record… there is a great book I read in India called India [something], which was in its 17th edition. The name will come to me. Anyway, in it, he lays bare the Gandhi economic record showed that under Indira the country expanded its bureaucracy as part of the “license raj”, which stifled economic growth for decades and increased corruption massively.

      She had the ideal for Garibi hatao but in practice didn’t get far with eradicating poverty. I’d say the economic reforms since 1991 have done a much better job.

    9. Sunny — on 31st October, 2005 at 8:06 pm  

      Oh yeah, and as Mirax said.
      Although I would argue that a psychological barrier has been broken, and the opportunity for other women leaders is there. Except in India they are all terrible leaders (see: Uma Bharti and Jayalalitha).

    10. Mokum — on 1st November, 2005 at 12:55 am  

      That was an awful time. An Indian Hindu friend {I know how biased that sounds}, one of the smartest and most balanced people I know {this is true}, totally lost it when we heard the news in the States. He became a different person. From thousands of miles away, for the first time, I finally saw how India could suffer such terrible communal violence. Never mind reading history or the news. The glint in the eye, yeah, that’s it. And its speed when it appears.

      My friend sorted it, fast, like most people. What a shame we’re still stuck with slow learners.

      hating Kissinger has got to be the sign of a healthy human being

      Lol, yes, that is one way to good health.

      For me, the “non-aligned movement” was funny. All those non-aligned Mig fighter planes :-)

    11. Mokum — on 1st November, 2005 at 1:05 am  

      so much history for Bollywood, when it dares

    12. Al-Hack — on 1st November, 2005 at 1:06 am  

      All those non-aligned Mig fighter planes

    13. Mirax — on 1st November, 2005 at 12:12 pm  

      India lost its innocence with Indira Gandhi. The mahatma set it up in terms of a larger than life, semi-divine leadership role and Jawaharlal and Indira were happy to play along with the manifest destiny to rule India storyline and worshipped as idols almost- many indian homes, even in the diaspora, had a framed pics of Indira in the living room for example. Despite the disillusion and the many betrayals of faith, it still came as something of a shock to many when she was assassinated- after all she was only playing (Indian)politics as usual with the Sikhs.
      The backlash against innocent sikhs was not spontaneous mob violence - hindu/sikh enmity is not of the depth that hindu/muslim feelings run to- but a coldly orchestrated political/criminal vendetta by various congress members. It is inexcusable that the ringleaders have escaped a judicial accounting but that is very much the nature of indian politics ,no? Real cosying of criminal types and all sorts of improbable backroom deals and compromises, even across party lines.

      The Gujarat massacre ringleaders will similarly escape. Bastards all.

    14. Al-Hack — on 1st November, 2005 at 1:27 pm  

      The Gujarat massacre ringleaders will similarly escape. Bastards all.


    15. raz — on 2nd November, 2005 at 2:13 am  

      Only a week or so ago another 100 Gujrat suspects were aquitted. Three years after the massacre of thousands of innocent people, justice is nowhere to be seen. Disgraceful.

    16. anish — on 2nd November, 2005 at 4:33 pm  

      Indira was probably one of india’s strongest leaders ever, most of whatever she did was absolutely necessary.when faced with terrorists who are willing to use the holy temple as a military bunker would , i dont think it was wrong for her to send the army in. she did’nt desecrete the temple it was the terrorists who did that.
      now if someone asks for a separate nation for muslims or sikhs or hindus or any religion in say the UK for instance , would any sane person expect the british government to bend to thir , when a third world country does what it should do , there are comments pouring in that says it was wrong.ofcourse the massacre following her death was wrong ,but then she was not alive to stop it

    17. dynesh — on 2nd November, 2005 at 4:43 pm  

      I do agree one thing: Indira Gandhi did a lot of wrong things. Bluestar was not one of them. When Terrorists take over a religious place, the only option is to flush them out. Why is it that your blog which is without a doubt a very progressive voice when it comes to Islam is suddenly hiding behind the veil of Bluestar when it comes to Sikhs? or are you Hypocrites? This is a really simple thing to understand…Osama = terrorist, Bindhranwale = terrorist. Both were created by people who were then killed by the monster they had created (America in Osama’s case, symbolically, and in Jarnail Singh’s case, Indira Gandhi herself). Surely none of you would defend Islamic terrorists if they hid in Mosques. And frankly the link to that ‘attack’ on the Temple is like reading Al- Qaeda’sersion of the Quran. Find some balance. or read the polar opposite view here ( The man who led Bluestar was a Sikh and he understood the why Bluestar had to be done. Now, the fact is 4000 Sikhs were killed in the aftermath, I’m not going to dispute that. That happened because India, the majority of people lack the ability to think and judge for themselves. Instead they blindly follow whoever instigates them. People are stupid, which is why they rioted. They were stupid because they couldnt understand the difference between catching the Skihs who assassinated her and killing every Skih they saw. But at the same time, the Sikhs also have to understand the difference between themselves and people like Bindhranwale.

    18. Al-Hack — on 2nd November, 2005 at 5:36 pm  

      If the terrorist did indeed need to be flushed out:
      a) why did the army attack on an auspicious day when many more Sikhs were going to be around; and
      b) why were so many other Sikh Gurudwaras around the country also attacked on the same day?

    19. Mandip — on 2nd November, 2005 at 6:27 pm  

      A few additional questions:

      - Why was Sant Jarnail Singh arrested and released without charge a few months before June 84 if he was such a major terrorist?
      - Why did the Indian Army build a replica of the Golden Temple and practise attacking it 2-3 years before June 84?
      - Why was the Sikh Library at the Golden Temple looted (most items still not returned to this day) and burnt down?

      There are lots of other unanswered question but i suppose the crux of the issue is that thousands of Sikhs were killed due to Indira playing typical stupid Indian politics off pitting communuities against each other to win votes.

    20. Vikrant — on 2nd November, 2005 at 6:29 pm  

      Auspicious day? Really… what was on that Day?

      As for your (b) point, i havent ever heard of that. Can u show any unbaised links?

    21. Vikrant — on 2nd November, 2005 at 6:32 pm  

      BTW Do you guys have moderators here. Raz’s views are simply ignorant and bigoted. Theres a certain limit which anybody can tolerate. Raz has crossed that line.

    22. Vikrant — on 2nd November, 2005 at 6:38 pm  


      Again can u give an links to unbaised sources for ur allegations?

    23. Mandip — on 3rd November, 2005 at 12:48 pm  


      I will try to find it, I have read that it was from a book by an ex-Indian Army General. It was built somewhere in UP.

    24. Mandip — on 3rd November, 2005 at 12:51 pm  

      As for the day, it was the anniversary of the martyardom of the 5th Guru, Guru Arjun Dev Ji. A day when the Golden Temple is always packed to the seems with pilgrims.

    25. Mandip — on 3rd November, 2005 at 1:15 pm  

      Vikrant - Please consider the following, I haven’t been able to link to the original sources because it those days the internet was still in its infancy and I couldn’t find the articles online, you may therefore argue against their authenticity, but I will leave it to you to prove them false.

      “The attack was planned well in advance and was not a decision taken late in the day because there was no other alternative. In October 1983, the Indian Army selected 600 men from different units and sent them to rehearse the assault on a replica of the Golden temple at a secret training camp in the Chakrata Hills about 150 miles north of Delhi: 2 officers of RAW, an Indian secret service, were sent to London to seek expertise from the SAS (see the report by Mary Anne Weaver in the Sunday Times 1984)”

      Retired Lt-General S.K Sinha a directly involved and high ranking army leader of the time reported in the Spokesman newspaper (June 1984 pge28-29) how “ The army action was not a last resort as Prime Minster Indira Ghandi would have us believe. It had been in her mind for more than 18 months. The army had begun rehearsals of a commando attack near Chakrata Cantonment in the Doon Valley, where a complete replica of the Golden Temple complex had been built”.

      You may recall that recently the Israeli army waited for over a month using diplomacy and negotiations to get over 200 fully armed Palestinian Militants peacefully out of the Church of Nativity. Why was no such diplomacy used by the Indian Government to secure a peaceful resolve to the stand off, taking into account thousands of innocent pilgrims were caught inside the complex.

    26. blue mountain — on 3rd November, 2005 at 1:47 pm

      Starting from 1982, throughout the decade, the Khalistani terrorists continued gunning down mercilessly the innocent people of Punjab, both Hindus and Sikhs, without any let up. The people were blasted to bits by planting and exploding bombs in crowded bazars public places, trains and buses, cinema houses and other busy places. According to a most conservative estimate, the Khalistani terrorists have butchered more than 20,000 people in the past ten years on the self-presumed pretext of their being police informers, anti-Sikh or defying their dictates. Even women, breast-sucking infants, children or aged people were not spared.There are very few villages in Punjab where someone or the other has not fallen prey to Khalistani bullets.

    27. blue mountain — on 3rd November, 2005 at 2:03 pm  

      For more on how Khalistanis misused and and made golden temple their fortress

      Read BBC correspondent Mark Tully’s widely acclaimed book No full stops in India

    28. blue mountain — on 3rd November, 2005 at 2:07 pm  

      Ex Correspondent…Now Sir Mark Tully

    29. blue mountain — on 3rd November, 2005 at 2:29 pm  

      Related Link

    30. Mandip — on 3rd November, 2005 at 4:31 pm  

      It is interesting to see when looking at the report how many of the “20,000″ killed died before June 84 and how many after. It appears that the June 84 attack on the Golden Temple, instead of stopping violence, was the trigger and fanned the Khalistan movement. You will see if you read Sant Jarnail Singh’s speeches Khalistan was a non-issue for him, he was actually happy for the Sikhs to stay as a part of India, as long as they were treated as equals to the majority community.

      Blue Mountain, out interest, do you have any information on how many people were convicted for the “20,000″ murders, because that is a lot of people, or were all the “perpetrators” eliminated by the police in “encounters”.

      I am not disputing the fact that a lot of innocent people, both Sikhs and Hindus, were killed during this dark period, but I think it is very unfair to put the all blame at the door of Sant Jarnail Singh and the Sikhs. I am pretty sure that more people were killed by the Indian Army and Punjab Police and the attack on the Golden Temple was a huge mistake and was made purely for political reasons.

    31. Vikrant — on 3rd November, 2005 at 7:08 pm  

      lets not bring religion into it. It was never a Hindu-Sikh war eeven if the Pakistanis are keen to make it out that way.

    32. Mandip — on 3rd November, 2005 at 8:13 pm  

      Vikrant I tend to agree with you, as I said before the 10 years of pain were the result of typical stupid politics through which millions of innocent Sikhs and Hindus sufferred.

      We have seen it at partition, Punjab/Delhi, Mumbai (after Ayodya), Kashmir and Gujarat.

      Hopefully Manmohan SIngh will ensure that this doesnt happen again.

    33. Opinder Singh — on 7th February, 2006 at 4:32 pm  

      Mandip shed some light on these questions.

      Who put Bhindranwala into leader ship position,was it Gyani Zail Singh or Nehru Family itself?

      Who ran the sikh insurgency the congress party or any other was indeed very strange it stopped instantly as Akali govt.came back to power in Punjab?

      What role Punjab Police played in the insurgency if any?

      Who organised train and bus massacres killing many innocents?

      What definite proof is there that Satwant singhand his partner killed Mrs.Gandhi be cause Mr.Peter Ultsinov changed his story many time,both of accused killers were Majbhi Singh”s and they wont gain any thing from that plus they(majbhi singh) are always traditionaly been loyal to congress party ever since Guru da bagh morcha.

      Is it possible that assasination of Mrs.Gandhi was ordered by Congress Party or Indian Army.

      What rolle Mr.Vajpaie played in instigating the riot agaist sikhs after the Mrs.Gandhi”s assasination.

      Enough for now may be more later.

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