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India 1984, Golden Temple Assault, Indira Gandhi Asassinated

In the months leading up to June 1984, militant Sikh separatists in the Indian state of Punjab murdered hundreds of Hindus and rival Sikhs. Their leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, had taken up residence within a Sikh holy site called the Golden Temple, where he and his followers were gathering recruits and amassing a formidable arsenal of sophisticated weapons. Faced with the increasing danger and threats, and negotiations for his surrender having failed, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi authorized military action to apprehend Bhindranwale and disarm his followers. The daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, a hero of the Indian independence movement and the country’s first prime minister, sixty-six year old Gandhi was Indian’s first female head of state and, as such, was one of the most powerful women in the world. She had been India’s prime minister for 14 of the previous 18 years. The assault on the Golden Temple began on June 1 and it was met with heavy resistance from the militants, whose armaments included rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles. During the fighting, which raged for a week, hundreds of militants and Indian soldiers were killed. Bhindranwale was among those killed in the fighting. By June 8, Indian commandos had secured the area. In the aftermath of the assault, many Sikhs were infuriated that their temple had been profaned and damaged, and at the large number of civilian casualties. Many vowed to have their revenge on Indira Gandhi. As a precaution, the Indian Intelligence Bureau ordered that Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards be reassigned, but Gandhi overrode the order. She was concerned that removing her Sikh bodyguards would contribute to the perception that she was anti-Sikh. Besides, she trusted them; especially Beant Singh, a personal favorite whom she had known for over ten years. Tragically, she had made a fatal mistake.

On the morning of October 31, 1984, Gandhi left her home, on her way to an interview with Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary. As she passed by the security gate, Beant Singh stepped out, drew his revolver, and shot her three times in the abdomen and chest. After Gandhi fell to the ground, another Sikh bodyguard, Satwant Singh, emptied his submachine gun into her. In all, Indira Gandhi was shot thirty times. Indian police soon captured and killed Beant. Satwant and another accomplish were captured separately, and both were hanged in January 1989. Compounding the tragedy, as news of the treachery spread, anti-Sikh rioting broke out across India, and thousands of Sikhs were killed by angry mobs. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi on October 31, 1984, thirty-seven years ago today. In her last public speech, given the day before her murder, Gandhi 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.”


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