HT Archive: Indira Gandhi’s assassination, a day of shock and mourning
New Delhi: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who steered the nation for 15 daunting and often turbulent years to bring India on the threshold of greatness, was assassinated October 31, 1984, on the lawns of her residence in the Capital by two of her security guards
New Delhi: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who steered the nation for 15 daunting and often turbulent years to bring India on the threshold of greatness, was assassinated October 31, 1984, on the lawns of her residence in the Capital by two of her security guards.
Both the assailants were shot at by the other security guards in the Prime Minister’s house.
One of them, sub-inspector Beant Singh, died on the spot while the other, constable Satwant Singh, was hospitalised with serious gunshot wounds. Beant Singh was on security duty at the Prime Minister’s house for eight years before she was assassinated.
A pall of gloom spread over the country as reports came that doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences were waging a desperate but losing battle to save Mrs Gandhi’s life. The Prime Minister, who received 16 bullets from an automatic gun and a pistol at point-blank range around 9.15am, passed away at 2.30pm.
Within hours of her death, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in by President Zail Singh as the new Prime Minister.
A black-bordered extraordinary gazette notification was issued to announce the sad demise of the Prime Minister. Signed by the home secretary, the gazette notification said the “Government of India announced with most profound regret the death of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India. at New Delhi, on 31st October, 1984.”
State mourning was observed in the country for 12 days, with central government offices remaining closed for a day.
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, who would have been 67 on November 19, and who was described by Sarojini Naidu at her birth as a “new star on India’s horizon” was resplendent in a saffron saree when the assassins struck. She was getting ready for a session with an Irish Television team led by the renowned British actor, Peter Ustinov.
Around 9am, word was sent to her at her Safdarjung Road bungalow that the TV team was ready for filming. Mrs Gandhi came out and walked towards the lawns of the adjoining 1, Akbar Road bungalow forming part of the Prime Minister’s house complex. Near the gate that led to the Akbar Road bungalow, the two assailants shot at her. There were no family members with the Prime Minister. As she slumped on the lawns, other security guards fired at the assailants.
HY Sharada Prasad, information adviser to the Prime Minister, heard the shots and ran towards the direction of the sound. Reaching the spot, he found the Prime Minister being attended to by the security staff.
Sonia Gandhi rushed out of her house amidst all the noise.
Mrs Gandhi was helped into an ambassador car and rushed to AIIMS at 9.30pm. Dr AN Safaya, AIIMS medical superintendent, said that Mrs Gandhi was alive when she was brought to the emergency ward.
The 16 bullets in her chest and abdomen were extricated but, despite the doctors’ efforts, the Prime Minister passed away at 2.30pm.
Among the large number of people at AIIMS was Maneka Gandhi, with her son Varun.
According to officials, sub-inspector Beant Singh had endeared himself as a household member. He was not on morning duty, and had been assigned the afternoon shift. But he came on the morning duty, reportedly on the plea of indisposition.
It could not be established immediately whether Beant Singh was aware of the fact that the Prime Minister had cancelled all her programmes of the day except three, including the interview with the television team. Mrs Gandhi’s day usually began with meeting a large number of people who would gather at 1, Akbar Road. She did not go through with this on the day of her assassination.
By nightfall, security arrangements were being tightened in the city not only to ensure that communal harmony was not ruffled but in preparation of the large number of VIPs expected to arrive in Delhi in the course of the next two days to pay their homage to Mrs Gandhi and attend her funeral.
Till late in the night, messages of condolence were pouring into Delhi from all over the country and the world where she had attained a new stature with her election in March, 1983, as chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The body of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was brought to her residence late at night in a gun-carriage and was received tearfully by her family members and close friends.
The body was draped in a Tricolour and carried on a gun-carriage towed by an Army three-tonner. The four-km route was cordoned off by armed policemen.
Beant Singh, who had been with the Prime Minister’s security for nearly a decade, was one of her most trusted bodyguards, security officers at the PM’s residence said.
Satwant Singh, the second assailant, joined duty only three days ago after a two-month leave in Punjab.
Satwant Singh’s sten-gun, which carried 30 rounds, was fully emptied, the officers said. Mrs Gandhi was shot from a distance of seven feet.