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Indira Gandhi

On This Day: Indira Gandhi Assassinated

October 31, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Oct. 31, 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by two Sikh security guards.

The Indira Gandhi Assassination

Indira Gandhi, the strong-willed, four-term prime minister of India, believed in the power of the central government and consistently took a hard line on regional conflicts. In 1983, a Sikh rebellion broke out in the northern state of Punjab and Sikh separatist leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale set up headquarters in the Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism.

In June 1984, Gandhi responded by ordering Indian troops to the temple to remove Bhindranwale. On the night of June 5, the troops raided the temple and a bloody battle ensued; according to government numbers, nearly 500 Sikh extremists and civilians were killed, though the number is likely higher.

The operation incited anger against Gandhi. Despite her knowledge that she was a target for Sikh radicals, Gandhi refused to wear a bulletproof vest. “I am not interested in a long life. I am not afraid of these things,” she said on the eve of her death. “I don't mind if my life goes in the service of this nation. If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation.”

On the morning of Oct. 31, 1984, two Sikh security guards shot Gandhi seven times on the grounds of her home. She died that afternoon, igniting widespread sectarian violence across India.

“Riots had erupted in several parts of the city overnight as organised mobs, alleged to be led by Congress party leaders, picked out Sikhs, assaulted them, snipped their locks, vandalised their property, torched their homes and began an orgy of lynching,” writes Tarun Basu for the Indo-Asian News Service.

Gandhi was succeeded by her son, Rajiv, who had been groomed for the position since the 1980 death of his brother Sanjay, Mrs. Gandhi’s first choice to follow her.

Not everyone thought of her in kind terms, but all knew who ‘She’ was, and her assassination leaves an incalculable void in the life of the country,” wrote The New York Times. “Her sudden disappearance from the public scene represents a considerable challenge to the future of the Indian experiment in democracy.”

Biography: Indira Gandhi

A scion of the politically powerful Nehru dynasty, Indira Priyadarshini Nehru was immersed in India’s independence movement from Britain at an early age. Her grandfather, Motilal Nehru, was an early leader of Indian independence and her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, served as the first prime minister of independent India.

At 12 years old, she led a children’s informant group called the Monkey Brigade. Designed to act as an early warning system for Indian National Congress workers who feared random search and arrest by police, her group had numerous successes.

In 1942, she married journalist Feroze Gandhi—no relation to Mohandas Gandhi—and had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, with him. Rajiv would succeed her as prime minister following her assassination.
She served as an advisor for her father when he assumed the role of prime minister in 1947 and became an active member of the Congress Party in the 1950s. After the death of her father in 1964, she served in the cabinet of his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Following Shastri’s death in January 1966, Gandhi was elected prime minister. After a year in which she faced stiff opposition from within her own party, Gandhi narrowly won re-election and began to take a strong hold on Indian politics.

“Strong-willed, autocratic and determined to govern an almost ungovernable nation that seemed always in strife,” Gandhi was a “decisive—some said dictatorial—leader,” wrote Linda Charlton in The New York Times her obituary.

In her foreign policy, Gandhi remained nonaligned, wavering between support of the United States and USSR. India established itself as a formidable military power under her rule, defeating Pakistan in an 11-month-war in 1971 and building a nuclear weapon in 1974.

She won re-election decisively 1971, but there were accusations of election fraud made against her. In 1975, she was found guilty of election fraud and banned from politics for six years; she refused to resign and declared martial law, which allowed her to arrest dissenters, censor the press and rewrite the country’s constitution. When she was up for re-election in 1977, she lost convincingly and was removed from office. She was voted back into power in 1980.

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