Who was Indira Gandhi
20 years ago: Assassination attempt on Indira Gandhi
We could only hear three shots and I was told: 'Oh, that's nothing, that's so ... eh, these are oriental things that explode, that children use.' But then came the noise of a machine gun, I already know that, it wasn't toys.
Inder Malhotra, a respected Indian journalist and biographer of Indira Gandhi, sums up what happened after the police investigation:
It took Indira a minute to reach the gate, where she smiled at Under-Inspector Beant Singh, a Sikh. In response to her smile, he shot her in the abdomen with his revolver. When she collapsed, Sergeant Satwant Singh, also a Sikh, fired his submachine gun at her until the magazine was empty.
Both killers belonged to a respected religious minority among the Hindus. They are considered good, loyal soldiers and make a disproportionately large number of army officers. However, the Prime Minister had put her loyalty to a severe test: For months, a wave of terrorist violence flooded the Punjab, the home province of the Sikhs. Dozens of Hindus had been murdered by young fanatics in order to force the establishment of a Sikh theocratic state in Punjab. In the end they were holed up in the highest sanctuary of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Indira Gandhi negotiated with them for months, desperate as well as in vain. There was no alternative to Operation "Blue Star", the forcible occupation of the temple complex. Indian Malhotra:
On July 2, Indira made a final appeal on radio and television to the Akalis to break off the agitation and return to the negotiating table. She ended her speech with a passionate appeal: Do not shed blood - remove hatred! ’But those concerned did not listen.
There were hundreds of deaths and great damage to the sanctuary. Many Sikhs around the world, including moderate ones, were outraged. Less than four months later, two of them, Beant and Satwant Singh, took terrible vengeance. Once again Ms. Gandhi's biographer:
Officers from the Indo-Tibetan border police took Beant and Satwant to a nearby service barracks. A scuffle broke out there, allegedly because of an attempt to escape in which they were shot. Beant was killed instantly, Satwant was later charged with murder and executed in January 1989.
Of course, Indira Gandhi and her security advisors knew how threatened the Prime Minister's life was after she gave the order for Operation Blue Star. Top officials had urged that Sikhs be kept out of their bodyguards for at least some time after they stormed the temple in Amritsar.
On the 'Top Secret' file containing this suggestion, which only appeared after she was murdered, Indira had scribbled just a few words:
"Are we not secular!" - "Aren't we a religiously neutral state!"
Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, who led India to independence, died as a martyr of the secular idea of the state in a subcontinent shaken by religious contradictions. Her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, suffered the same fate - he was murdered by a Tamil nationalist. Indira Gandhi was certainly not a saint, but a cunning, if necessary ruthless power politician. But she fought fearlessly for her family and the unity of India. In a television interview shortly before her death, the 67-year-old confessed:
I've had a full life. Whether I die lying down or standing - I don't really care.
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