Every 31st October I remember that night in 1984. When I got home, there was a burning bus right outside my gate, and a man hiding from the mobs in our garden. Down the road I could see more cars, buses and buildings in flames. It was the day Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India, was shot dead by her own Sikh guards.
Below are a couple of passages from my book the Puffin History of India vol 2.
‘Violence against Sikhs had already started that day, and continued for the next three days. Over 2700 Sikhs were killed in Delhi, and property belonging to them, worth hundreds of crores of rupees, was destroyed. The worst area was in Trilokpuri in east Delhi, where Sikhs were burnt alive and killed in other terrible ways. In Kanpur, 140 people were killed and attacks on Sikhs occurred in eighty other towns in north India.
A curfew was imposed in Delhi, but it had little effect, till the army was asked on 3 November to shoot if necessary to control the situation. Slowly peace returned. In the midst of the madness, many residents of Delhi and elsewhere, protected and saved hundreds of Sikhs.’
Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi was chosen as prime minister, and later after elections in December, and a massive win by the Congress, he was again chosen to lead the country. Unfortunately, a few years later,on 21 May 1991, he too was assassinated. Though as prime minister he had introduced policies from which we still benefit [new technology, for instance, that brought in mobile phones, the internet, etc], the tragedy of his life being cut short was greater, as he never wanted to be prime minister or in politics at all.
Another quote from my book, “He said, ‘I had no love for politics. I treasured the privacy of my happy family life.’ He went on to say that after his brother Sanjay’s death, his mother had no one to turn to. ‘She called out to me in her loneliness. I went to her side. At her insistence, I left my love for flying. At her insistence, I sacrificed my family life. At her insistence I joined her as a political aide. It was from her that I learnt my first political lessons. It was she who urged me to respond to the insistent demand from the constituency and the party to take my brother’s place as member of Parliament from Amethi.”
His policy in Sri Lanka led to his assassination. The IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force], and its role in Sri Lanka remain controversial. Its activities seemed badly planned and executed. More on that later.