Revisiting the assassination that rocked the nation has not been an easy task for me. In this two part series, the first part talking in detail about less known facts of assassination and the second part dealing with Carnage and slaughter of Sikhs, I have tried to cover the details that were hidden by media and subsequent governments.
Chain of events- 31 Oct, 1984
Indira Gandhi was just done with the last touch ups and her make up artist, Sameer was working on her hair. Indira Gandhi never allowed people to be close to her. R.K Dhawan was probably the only person who didn’t really have to knock the door and seek permissions from madam. Irish filmmaker and journalist had requested an interview with Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was fond of foreign press but a little inquiry was done into who Peter is, it was very simple for Indira Gandhi that if it is to be seen in the west, it is a yes. Peter Ustinov’s request for interview was approved on 28th Oct. Peter had requested 3 passes.
And 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. She had directed R.K Dhawan to make changes in the guest list. A list of 28 names was to be excluded from list of people. The 28 people to be excluded were majorly Janta Party people and few Congressmen that Indira Gandhi disliked.
Gandhi, in a pale orange sari and black sandals and carrying a red cloth bag, walked out of her official residence at 1, Safdarjung Road, towards her office at 1, Akbar Road, abutting the residence. Ustinov was waiting there to conduct the television interview. Her attendant, head constable Narain Singh, held an umbrella over her, shielding her from the sun so that her make-up wouldn’t be ruined.
She walked across the lawn, she saw a server carrying a tea set, which was to have been placed in front of Ustinov and Gandhi during the interview. “Not this one”, she said, and instructed him to bring out a fancier tea set. Then she walked on the small cemented path of around 20 metres, surrounded by neem and oak trees, towards the gate separating the official residence and her office.
She folded her hands to say namaste to the guards stationed there when bursts of gunfire from the other side of the gate felled the Prime Minister. It was 9.09am.
R.K Dhawan records the incident and says that a total of 30 bullets were fired and she was on ground in a flash. Satwant singh fired with his sten gun. Sonia Gandhi hearing the gunshots came running out and called for the doctor. Dr. R. Opeh was the house doctor. They rushed to hospital in private car because the driver of the ambulance at Akbar road was missing. 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.
Dr Sneh Bhargava, former director of Aiims and former head of the radiology department who attended Indira Gandhi recalls that there was an atmosphere of tension and sadness. Dr. A.N Safaya was also attending the bullet loaded body of Indira Gandhi.
Satish Jacob was one of the few journalists to reach hospital within the minutes of incident. “She has been shot”, is the first thing Satish records from people outside AIIMS. The close aide of Rajiv Gandhi Vincent George also told Satish that she is shot.
There was no news on All India Radio or Doordarshan, the rumours were abuzz in Delhi that Prime Minister has been shot by Sikhs. Few knew what had actually occurred, but a First Information Report (FIR No. 241/84) was filed at the Tughlaq Road Police Station at 11.25am, based on the account of head constable Narain Singh.
Subramaniam Swamy who was in Mumbai fighting a case filed by Ram Jethmalani was not shocked at all. He said that he had warned Indira Gandhi to not go ahead with Operation Bluestar. He said that he had warned Indira Gandhi to change her schedule for the week as well.
The two assassins were mysteriously shot at during interrogation inside an ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) booth at the Prime Minister’s house soon after they surrendered. While Beant Singh died on the spot, Satwant Singh, 21, survived and was taken to the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. R.S. Kulkarni, one of the members of a Special Investigation Team that probed the death, later wrote in a book that 444 officers and men drawn from various organisations worked in three shifts on the security of the Prime Minister’s house. Two of them had turned assassins.
Dr Rajeev Sood, head of urology, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, was in the operation theatre when a nurse informed him that Indira Gandhi had received bullet injuries and was being brought there. ‘I was asked by our head of the department to receive her at the casualty. But to our surprise, the ITBP personnel brought in Beant Singh and Satwant Singh instead,’
Meanwhile, doctors at Aiims were still trying to revive Gandhi. ‘We had some 60 bottles of blood and we had used around 40 bottles. But her liver, lung and kidney were bleeding profusely. We could not control the flow of blood,’ said Dr. Bhargava
Rajiv Gandhi had been informed, and was waiting for a helicopter at Kolaghat on the outskirts of Calcutta that would take him to Calcutta airport from where he could catch a flight to Delhi. Pranab Mukherjee was with him.
BBC announced that the Prime minister is dead at 1pm. Satish Jacob says that he did it after confirmation from many sources. Rajiv Gandhi heard the news from BBC. Indira Gandhi’s death was announced by Dr Safaya outside the operation theatre at 4pm. She was declared dead ‘at around 2.23pm or so’, he announced. As the crowds that had gathered at Aiims started to disperse, the first reports of violence started coming in. Sikhs had been targeted in the Kidwai Nagar area, near the hospital.
All India Radio and Doordarshan however took a different approach in reporting the incident, the State mouthpieces reported “two Sikhs and one clean shaven one in the assailants”. The reporters didn’t clarify if the report is from sources or confirmed. It was not clarified if the clean shaven one is a Sikh. However later that day, the mention of clean shaven one was taken off air. Media reverberated with “two Sikhs”. Why was clean shaven one omitted?
Doordarshan went a step ahead and for complete 25 minutes showed the provocative sloganeering “Khoon Ka Badla Khoon”. Amitabh Bachchan, a Bollywood actor and then Congressman arrived at Teen Murti and joined the crowds sloganeering “Khoon Ka Badla Khoon”. Jagdish Tytler was seen by people in that crowd as well. However later, Congress called it Janta Party March and that it was not congressmen. M. Chandrashekhar of Janta Party is known to have organised peace march on that day, he immediately snubbed the allegation and this was later supported by all organisations.
The effect of Media provocation was quick records Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat. Brinda was in Connaught Place in central Delhi at an eye doctor’s clinic when she came to know of the assassination attempt. “Within no time mobs had started targeting Sikh establishments in the area.”, she records.
‘Slogan shouting crowds were roaming the streets and I could sense that there would be a lot of trouble. We learnt that Sikhs were being targeted in a very systematic way,’ She says.
Twenty days after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Supreme Court judge M.P. Thakkar was appointed as a one-man commission to investigate the killing, lapses by the security and medical staff, and the possible involvement of foreign agencies.
It took Thakkar 4yrs to submit its report in March that concluded “There is no escape from the conclusion that there are weighty reasons to suspect the complicity or involvement of Dhawan in the crime,”. He also did not rule out foreign involvement
Dhawan is not the only official indicted. But while others, including security adviser Ram Nath Kao, the then Delhi Police commissioner S. Tandon and Intelligence Bureau joint director S. Ramamurthy, have been charged with dereliction of duty, Dhawan has been named as a likely accomplice. This confines the controversy mainly to Dhawan. In fact, of the 314-page report 213 are devoted to Dhawan.
Thakkar has charged Dhawan not only with being responsible for posting back Beant Singh and Satwant Singh after they were removed from Mrs Gandhi’s security, but also of manipulating the timing of Mrs Gandhi’s television interview on the morning of October 31, 1984, to facilitate the assassination. Later, Thakkar says, Dhawan doctored the interview entry in the appointments diary to cover his tracks.
Thakkar alleges that Dhawan lied about his closeness to Beant Singh, a fact other witnesses – Satwant Singh, Beant’s widow Bimal Kaur Khalsa and police officials – had testified to. Thakkar also attaches significance to Satwant’s claim that Beant asked him to make sure Dhawan was not hurt.
Thakkar’s reports did not matter as government started a parallel SIT and home ministry declared that R.K Dhawan had nothing to do with the assassination. Home Ministry said that although a foreign help cannot be ignored but R.K Dhawan had no role whatsoever in the assassination.
Sikh Genocide commissions record that it would have been uneasy task for congress to blame anyone else but Sikhs for that would make the genocide all the more worse because it will take away the reason for genocide as Rajiv Gandhi always maintained that it was due to anger in people. By proving Dhawan guilty, the anger would have shifted.
A very very senior congressman who didn’t want to named when he talked to PUCL had said that Indira Gandhi knew that Congress needed revival after operation BlueStar. It was then that this was lightly talked about. She said jokingly, “if my sacrifice is what Sikhs want, let’s give them that if it helps our cause in the future.” The statement was also a part of Her Bhubaneswar speech which was slightly altered on advice of R.K Dhawan.
Mr. Satya Narayan Sinha, former congress MP and close aide of Mrs Gandhi had always said that he knows the conspirators Of assassination personally and would be able to identify them if need be. He was never ever consulted. As a matter of fact he was seen as hostile to congress for defaming top brass. “Rajiv Gandhi was naive when he took oath and easily fell prey to the lobby that killed his mother. He never pushed for thorough investigation of his own mother, how do you think there will be justice for Sikhs?” he says.
“Why is Dhawan not taking a lie detector test?” Asks Narayan. He also points out to various statements by widow of Beant Singh where she denies the fact that Beant singh had refused to take 100/- from Indira Gandhi as gift. She says that he did bring 100/- note and expressed regret on doing so. The lobby that was bent to blame Sikhs and Sikhs alone had stated that Beant singh had refused to take gift from madam Gandhi and had expressed anger.
Narayan wrote to Professor Madhu Dandavate MP citing the conspiracy that needs investigation. In that letter Narayan had disclosed lot of things about assassination. However when Madhu wanted to read the letter, the speaker Mr. Balram Jhakkar did not allow that to be read. It was then demanded by Madhu to send the letter to home ministry for further investigation which was denied as well.
“It appeared to me that they (congress) deliberately wants to blame just Sikhs and hang Kehar singh as third person which he isn’t. There is no going back to undo riots but congress wants to snub Assassination because it comfortably gives them an evil moral ground to justify riots” Narayan in his interview to Forum Gazzete.
Narayan says that he was sleeping in his apartment in Birmingham when a British secret service friend rang him and told him to watch News. Narayan says that there is credible evidence from Peter Ustinov’s camera that was on and the film was telecasted live in UK. He says that Thakkar made haste in arriving at conclusions
Narayan argues that Satwant singh and Kehar singh were hanged without investigation.
“Had all the facts been considered Satwant singh and Kehar singh would not have been sent to gallows. I was shocked to hear that Kehar singh was hanged without proving anything. It will further alienate Sikhs. No investigation proves his role as conspirator.”
In reply to the question about his relationship with Mrs Gandhi, and why didn’t he inform her about threat to her life, Narayan says, “Six months before the day she was murdered, I told her in a very explicit manner that some people are trained in Birmingham to take out her life. In fact the third person was one of them, I can identify him.”
“The government knew everything about this man’s involvement and the deep connections he had. It seems that they have no interest in revealing the truth now that they have already killed Sikhs and hanged innocents, but it is sad that a son never cared to find out who killed his mother.”
“I don’t know who helped this third person to escape and I want investigation into it.”
Aftermath of Assassination
There are many lies propagated about what happened after assassination. Many reports including PUCL & PUDR say that meetings of congress workers and ministers were held in late hours of 31 October to teach Sikhs a lesson. In my next piece tomorrow, I will talk about the plan, the execution, the lies and the bloodbath that rocked the entire nation from 1st Nov-8th Nov.
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