First Person Second Draft: 1 Assassination, Countless Murders

The assassination of Indira Gandhi caught me on the wrongest foot possible: in transit from New York to New Delhi.

Rajiv Gandhi and actor Amitabh Bachchan beside the body of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi and actor Amitabh Bachchan beside the body of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Written by Shekhar Gupta | Updated: June 6, 2014 9:59 pm

home one afternoon, two of my women colleagues and neighbours, Anita Kaul Basu and Anuradha Kapoor, squeezed themselves on the pillion as no other transport was available. We drove past the Chirag Dilli area and saw a beautiful new bungalow fully ablaze on the intersection of Outer Ring Road and what is now Josip Broz Tito Marg. Anita, who, with her equally talented husband, Siddhartha Basu, runs a successful TV production house that produces Kaun Banega Crorepati, was then expecting her first child as we were our second. Both boys are now grown up and working for many years. And we still cannot erase that image from our eyes or minds.

In fact, the least celebrated story of those riots is also its most inspirational and reassuring. It is of Hindu neighbours setting up vigils, even in upper middle class localities and carrying out 24-hour patrols to protect Sikhs. Mostly, these were no more than motley groups of babus and other salaried professionals — including this reporter in G Block, Saket — wielding anything they could find, lathis, walking sticks, iron rods and hockey sticks, the most effective weapon, though in short supply. I noted then that sometimes these patrols looked like excited teams of uncles and teenagers in some mohalla cricket match. You also found what protection you could, thick winter jackets (it was quite cold already at night), crash helmets, anything. These defenders would not have lasted if challenged by even half a mob with any persistence. But the fact that these were never challenged, that mobs saw even these and disappeared and then stopped targeting colonies that had this vigilante patrolling tells you the real story of the 1984 killings. It wasn’t a communal riot in the classical sense, there was no mass upsurge, no widespread frenzy. It was just three days out for the looters, rapists and killers, given a furlough by the police and the local government and of course the Congress party.

One fifth of the 30,000-strong Delhi Police then was Sikh, but it was not to be seen. Of its SHOs, 13 out of 66 and four out of 21 ACPs were Sikh. Many of them were told to stay at home, or stayed in headquarters. They bitterly complained to us reporters that they were being treated like outcastes, not wanted by the brass though willing to work even as they worried about their own families. The most striking stories of police incompetence and casual complicity were brought by Rahul Bedi and Joseph Malliakan of The Indian Express. In an inquiry later, they accused then additional commissioners, Nikhil Kumar, H.C. Jatav and DCP Seva Dass of negligence. Nikhil, who later became an MP and governor, was reported to have pleaded that he was on leave and merely visiting the headquarter, so was no more than a guest artist. Nikhil denied this later, but the larger belief still remains that Delhi Police failed the uniform, and until today, nobody senior enough has been called to account. …continued »

First Published on: June 6, 2014 12:00 amSingle Page Format
Do you like this story
  Previous Story
Modi, like Indira
Next Story  
Badaun breakpoint