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The day before her assassination

  • Indira Gandhi delivered her last speech at the BBSR parade ground at Bhubaneswar, Orissa on 30th October, 1984. She said, “I am here today, I may not be here tomorrow. But the responsibility to look after national interest is on the shoulder of every citizen of India. I have often mentioned this earlier. Nobody knows how many attempts have been made to shoot me, lathis have been used to beat me. In Bhubaneswar itself, a brickbat hit me. They have attacked me in every possible manner. I do not care whether I live or die. I have lived a long life and I am proud that I spend the whole of my life in the service of my people. I am only proud of this and nothing else. I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.“

On the day of her assassination

  • On the morning of 31st October, 1984, Indira had to be ready for a television interview with British actor and television presenter, Peter Ustinov for Irish Television. In the evening, she was to host a dinner in honour of Princess Anne of Britain, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s daughter, who was visiting India. The Prime Minister wanted some changes to be made to the guest list for the dinner and dictated them to her long-time aide, R.K. Dhawan, who noted them down carefully.
  • In a pale orange sari, black sandals and carrying a red cloth bag, Indira walked out of her house at 1, Safdarjung Road, towards her office next door at 1, Akbar Road. Ustinov was waiting there to conduct the television interview. Her attendant, head constable Narain Singh, held an umbrella over her to shield her from the sun.
  • As she walked across the lawn, she saw a server carrying a tea set, which was to be placed in front of Ustinov and Gandhi during the interview. She told him this wasn’t the right one and instructed him to bring out another tea set. Then she walked on the small cemented path of around twenty metres, surrounded by neem and oak trees, towards the gate separating her house and her office.
  • She folded her hands to say namaste to the guards stationed there. It was about 9:09AM when Sub-Inspector Beant Singh fired three rounds into her abdomen from his sidearm. Satwant Singh then fired thirty rounds from his sten gun into her after she had fallen to the ground.
  • After the shooting, both threw their weapons down and Beant Singh said, “I have done what I had to do. You do what you want to do.“
  • In the next six minutes, Tarsem Singh Jamwal and Ram Saran, soldiers in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, captured and killed Beant Singh in a separate room because he allegedly tried to pull a gun on the officers in the room. Satwant Singh was arrested by Gandhi’s other bodyguards along with an accomplice trying to escape. Satwant Singh was hanged on 6th January, 1989 with alleged accomplice Kehar Singh.
  • Within seconds, Sonia Gandhi had come running out of the Safdarjung Road house on hearing the gunshots. Dr R. Opeh, the Central Government Health Scheme doctor on duty, who was posted to the Prime Minister’s house arrived but the driver of the ambulance deployed there couldn’t be found. So they placed her in an official car and rushed her to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Gandhi’s son, Rajiv, was in Contai, around 150KM from Calcutta, on an election tour of West Bengal. Sonia Gandhi sat in the car, cradling her mother-in-law’s head.
  • Indira Gandhi was brought at 9:30AM to AIIMS-New Delhi, where doctors operated on her. She was declared dead at 2:20PM. The assailants had fired thirty three bullets at her, of which 30 had hit; 23 had passed through her body while seven were trapped inside. The bullets were matched with respective weapons at CFSL Delhi. Her body was brought in a gun carriage through Delhi roads on the morning of 1st November to Teen Murti Bhawan where her father stayed and where she lay in state. She was cremated on 3rd November, near Raj Ghat (a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi) at an area named Shakti Sthal. Her elder (and then surviving) son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, lit the funeral pyre.

After her assassination

  • For the two days when her body lay in state at the Teen Murti House, the mansion that had been Jawaharlal Nehru’s residence during his years in power, hundreds of thousands of her countrymen came to pay their respects.
  • Over the next four days, thousands of Sikhs were killed in retaliatory violence. About 8,000 Sikhs were killed in North India, with more than 3,000 in Delhi.
  • National television had a continuous broadcast with footage of Indira Gandhi’s body, surrounded by crowds shouting “Khoon ka badla khoon“.
  • World reaction quickly centred on two themes - shock and horror at the murder of a woman who had led her country for a long time.
  • In Washington, President Reagan, who was awakened with the news of the shooting soon after midnight, expressed his “shock, revulsion and grief over the brutal assassination.“
  • Secretary of State George Shultz was designated to lead the U.S. delegation to the funeral.
  • British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher who spoke with Indira regularly on telephone, declared, “India has been robbed of a leader of incomparable courage, vision and humanity. For my part, I shall feel greatly the loss of a wise colleague and a personal friend.“
  • Pope John Paul II said that her death provoked ’universal horror and dismay.’
  • In Moscow, which has had consistently friendly relations with Indira over the years, General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko praised her as “a fiery fighter for peace“ and “a great friend of the Soviet Union.“
  • U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Arthur Hartman was sitting in Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko’s office when the news of Indira’s death arrived. Hartman remarked that the two superpowers should do what they could to keep the situation in India calm, and Gromyko agreed. Within hours, however, the Soviet news agency T.A.S.S. implied that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was implicated in the assassination, a charge that Ronald Reagan later dismissed as “a cheap shot.“



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