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

Then you say why there is no closure on India’s tragedies, ever.

That I do not follow the correct chronology and put the riots ahead of the assassination is a deliberate, editorial call and not merely an admission of the fact that I was late on the assassination story. Everybody was, because, as I had said earlier, the riots had overtaken everything else, even the assassination. In fact, even as the funeral procession made its way past New Delhi to the banks of the Yamuna, rioting still raged. But, as after Operation Bluestar, Roli Books again brought out The Assassination and After, another contributory book for which I wrote the chapter on the assassination, “Claws of Conspiracy”, while Rahul Bedi wrote on the riots, Arun Shourie on the militancy and Prannoy Roy, who made his mark as a psephologist globally by calling the 1984 elections that followed the assassination and the killings, wrote about them. The conspiracy was later fully unravelled, accused put to trial and convicted. So there isn’t much left to tell now. But I cannot forget the visit to Agwaan Kurd, near the border enclave of Dera Baba Nanak in district Gurdaspur in Punjab where Satwant Singh, the younger of the two assassins hailed from. I remember his mother, Pyaaro, protesting her son could never do such a thing, that he was such a Congress loyalist, that even as a child he only played with Congress flags etc. She even pleaded that they were not a family of traditional Sikhs, that they believed in the Babaji of Radha Soami Satsang at Beas, not so far away, and further that Satwant Singh had visited it thrice seeking baptism as a Radha Soami. I could see a mother’s desperation, and no mother would ever believe anything else but that her child was never capable of committing murder, and least of all, of the woman he protected. But that year of madness had made too many simple, sane people do crazy, unexpected things.

This election campaign was marked by a one-sided intensity not much different from Narendra Modi’s in 2014. But I dare say, while it had the optimism of Rajiv Gandhi’s youth and his promise of the 21st century and the sympathy for his mother’s assassination, it had stronger negative and even communal overtones than any seen in 2014. One slogan was, Rajiv Gandhi ka ailaan, nahin baneyga Khalistan. The advertisement campaign, designed by Rediffusion, invoked iron rods and daggers etc as far-from-subtle metaphors to build insecurity and paranoia. Nevertheless, Rajiv Gandhi won a a majority of 415, and my one abiding recollection is his smiling, gentle, but devastating declaration of having reduced the opposition to a 10 (Janata) plus two (Jan Sangh), and 3 (Socialists) system, as the tenure system of school/ college education was then described.

Almost exactly 30 years later now, that wheel has turned full circle, or more or less. The BJP, from 2, is now up to 282, the first time a party has won a majority …continued »

First Published on: June 6, 2014 12:00 amSingle Page Format
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