It was early morning of 31st October that Indira Gandhi was preparing herself for an interview to a foreign TV channel at her residence at Safdarjang Road and walking towards the office at Akbar Road. As soon as she reached the gates of her house, the guards at duty, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh fired at her. Mrs Gandhi was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The news of attempt on prime minister’s life spread like wild fire but unfortunately India under the strict government information control was just getting information through All India Radio and Doordarshan that Mrs Gandhi was attacked and doctors at AIIMS were trying to save her life.
There was no information and after some time people started spreading rumors. The BBC had declared that she was dead and this information had already been broadcasted by all the international radio stations but back home Doordarshan and Akashwani were just playing ‘bhakti sangeet’ and melancholy music.
The justification was that no senior politician was in the the capital. President Jail Singh was on an official visit to South Korea, while Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning in West Bengal. Vice Presidents and other senior leaders too were out of Delhi and hence no one was there to guide the government – resulting in total chaos that led to rumors in the street resulting in anti-Sikh violence. By the evening, the 6 pm news on the radio and TV officially announced that Mrs Indira Gandhi died in a terrorist attack at her residence around 9 am. By that time, the president and other senior leaders were back to Delhi.
In the late evening, President Jail Singh swore in Rajiv Gandhi the new prime minister of India along with a few other ministers. The fact is that there was no parliamentary board meeting that time but president Jail Singh fulfilled his loyalty to late Indira Gandhi by asking Rajiv to form the government. The anti-Sikh sentiments were running high during that period and slowly the country saw the worst ever governance at the Centre.
While Radio and TV were showing Indira Gandhi’s dead body over and over again, there was no constraint on the government not to broadcast the anti-Sikh sloganeering being raised by Congress workers. ‘Jab Tak Suraj Chand Rahega, Indira Tera Naam Rahega… Khoon Ka Badla Khoon Se Lenge’, were some of the provocative slogans on the air. The local political leaders of the congress party had already started whipping up passions and Sikh establishments and business institutions were targeted. By the evening the Sikhs became an alien in this country. The country was moaning for Indira Gandhi but the Hindus had decided to teach the Sikhs a lesson for their act. Reasoning was lost in the din of noise and as the governance remained completely lost; the people were allowed to die on the street by the hooligans.
Innocent lives were lost. Children became orphans; women became widows and parents saw their children getting burnt in front of them. This was the scene at the street at India’s capital. Shamelessly, the government had no time and it looked like that it was instigating the crowd to act. There was no governance for the next three-four days. Aakashwani and Doordarshan were dutifully showing the crowd and their anti-Sikh chanting.
This continued till the cremation of Indira Gandhi took place in which a large number of international leaders too participated. The only thing was that there were not many Sikhs in the entire programme except for President Jail Singh and Congress leader Buta Singh. It is ironical how Sikhs were kept out and completely isolated for so many days in the Indian political establishment.
Rajiv spoke to the nation that ‘Indira was not just my mother but the mother of nation’. He spoke of everything except the violence on the street. The sarkari news agencies never bothered to inform people about the violence on the street. “The situation is tense but under control”, was a trademark statement. It was not just Delhi – the anti-Sikh violence took place everywhere with police and administration allowing things to happen.
Why innocent Sikhs should be punished by criminal mobs because a prime minister was assassinated by people who happened to be Sikhs. There was no sane voice who could tell the nation that entire community couldn’t be held for the crime of two individuals. There was no one in the government who could speak that the first thing for the new government to do was to restore law and order. Even when army was required, it looked, it was delayed deliberately. And at the end of the three days, India had debris of human masses – killed by the political people for their political purposes.
And as it happened, justifications were ready from the criminals. “The Sikhs need to be taught a lesson,” they said. They were celebrating and distributing sweets, when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was shot, said the others. “If we do not teach them a lesson, they will destroy India,” said many. And the pattern was similar to what the forces of Hindutva do. The fact is that they too participated in this whole exercise.
It needs to be understood that Indira Gandhi became a ‘Hindu’ leader when she was shot by her Sikh security guard and Rajiv became the aspiration of Hindus who were being threatened by the Sikhs. He was a son, an obedient one, who needed to be supported and it was that reason that during the subsequent general elections, the country gave a huge mandate to the Congress Party. It was an election which was built up on a hate campaign against a community and if I dare say a completely communally mandated one at that. The fact was that the Congress had realized the popular sentiments and communalized atmosphere in the country, and they felt it was the right time for them to strengthen that further and hence they promoted anti-Sikh sentiments and violence in different parts of the country.
The victims of the communal violence instigated by the political goons of the Congress Party have not yet got justice. Court proceedings are delayed while the criminals roam freely in Delhi. Some of them were awarded as key ministries in the subsequent cabinets as well as in the party. The scars of those pogroms are still in the hearts of the people because of the deliberate delays and attempts to save the criminals by the power elite of the country.
In fact, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to justify anti-Sikh violence by, “Jab Ek Bada Ped Girta Hai Toh Aas-Paas Ki Dharti Hilti Hi Hai” [When a huge tree falls, it’s natural that the surrounding earth shakes]. It was not a speech of a seasoned political leader but a politician who was playing politics with the dead bodies. And a massive mandate does not justify the killing and violence. The Congress’s game was replicated by the BJP in Gujarat and the victims belonged to another minority this time.
It has to be understood that in the schemes of things of our major political parties, the value of a majority community is important and for that they are ready to dump the minority voices and their rights. Hence, Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress did not care for the Sikhs when the matter was communalized and the Hindus felt that the Congress needed to be strengthened. In the similar case of Gujarat, Modi sidetracked all the criticism of justice to Muslims and went on his tirade against them.
A similar pattern is being witnessed now in Haryana when no party is ready to take on the Khaps for their anti-constitutional statements and violence against Dalits. It effectively shows that the Indian state is primarily a Brahminical state that just works on the sentiments of the so called upper caste Hindus and only stereotypes the minorities. The difference between an act of violence by an individual is actually painted as the voice of the community and then punishment is given by the ‘people’ and is justified by the power elite as the sentiments of the ‘majority’.
It is not for nothing that when we see the pattern we find strange similarities of violence against minorities in Delhi and Gujarat. One shudders to think what would have happened if Gandhi was killed not by Nathuram Godse, a Brahmin but by some Muslim or Dalits? But a Brahmin killing Gandhi did not result in violence against them in the country. In fact, there was justification of their theory of killing Gandhi.
India cannot become a truly democratic society if she fails to protect the people who do not practise the same religion or values as the power elite do. The rule of law must be applied in all circumstances and political deaths should not be used as hate propaganda against one community to get the political benefit for the other. The threat of communalism looms large on the country and can take it back to primitive age of horror and terror. It is time that Indians rise above their narrow communal mindset and behave as citizens of the country. All the citizens of the country need protection and failure to protect them by officials needs to be punished severely including formation of special courts for their trials.
The criminals of Delhi’s anti-Sikh riots must be punished at the earliest and all those innocents who lost their near and dear ones need to be rehabilitated and protected so that they continue to have faith in the constitution of the country and their hopes are not totally belied in the politicization of a crime.
- On This Day: The Assassination of Indira Gandhi (india.blogs.nytimes.com)