Indira Gandhi

Published: 1984
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Paul Woodell: It was only a one-minute walk between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's home in New Delhi and her office, and she made that walk at her usual no-nonsense stride almost daily for most of the two decades she dominated India's politics.

On October 31st, that walk was cut short, and so was her life. A turbaned Sikh policeman and her own security guard pulled his pistol and fired five shots into her from pointblank range. As she fell, a second Sikh policeman emptied his submachine gun into her frail body. Before other guards could react, Indira Gandhi lay dying, with blood surging from at least 25 bullet wounds. Doctors could do nothing to save her.

Angry crowds lashed out in grief and vengeance at the Sikh community in the capital. When police did nothing to stop it, the violence swept across much of Northern India. Mobs of lower-class, young Hindu men, often led by workers of Mrs. Gandhi's own political party, systematically attacked Sikh homes, killing, looting and burning. A conservative official count says that more than 1,300 people were killed and tens of thousands injured or left homeless.

Amongst the violence Mrs. Gandhi's 40-year-old son, Rajiv, was hastily sworn in as new Prime Minister, despite less than four years' experience in politics. Rajiv ordered the Army in to quell the riots. He took over leadership of the ruling party and called nationwide elections.

Questions remain. What were the reasons for the assassination, and how wide was the conspiracy behind it? Can the split between Hindus and Sikhs be healed without further killing? How will the inexperienced Rajiv govern?

Whatever the answers, it's clear that the life of Indira Gandhi had an impact on her people, matched perhaps only by the trauma and loss of her death.

Paul Woodell, New Delhi.