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Friday, October 31, 2014

30 years ago, this day

It's 30 years today since Indira Gandhi fell to assassin's bullets, when an era also ended.

I was in the classroom in St Xavier's College, Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, where I was doing my undergrad course in Chemistry. Around 11 am or so, a group of Kerala Students Union members came into the class to tell the professor that classes need to be suspended, as Mrs Gandhi has been shot at. There was hushed silence as we eagerly sought more details of what had happened.

There were not many details. The students themselves had got to know about it from someone in the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. Those were the days when terrorists managed to break through the security and strike at prominent personalities. And then, it was just four months after the sensational Operation Bluestar when Mrs Gandhi ordered Indian Army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out the militants.

Classes were suspended and we all streamed out discussing among ourselves what may actuallly have happened. Then, someone broke the startling news that her own security guards had opened fire at her. That was unbelievable, too shocking to be true.

Our effort was to get a transistor and tune in to BBC. There were two classmates who stayed in hostel, within the college premises. One of them, not sure if it was Stephen or Thomas, got a radio, to the staff room. I was the radio buff, so they handed it over to me to tune in to BBC.

We listened to 12.30 pm news. BBC announced that Mrs Gandhi had been assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. We were all stunned to silence. She had been riddled with bullets pumped into her from very short distance. She was taken to AIIMS but she would have passed away immediately.

She was walking from her house to be interviewed by Peter Ustinov. She was shot when she was at the wicket gate by the guards. Beant Singh was killed by the ITBP guards and Satwant Singh was arrested.

After listening to the news I left for home. Quite puzzlingly All India Radio news at 2 pm did not say that she had been assassinated. The news only said she had been admitted to AIIMS after being shot at.

We later realised that President Giani Zail Singh was in Zimbabwe at that time and was flying back. Vice President too was not in the capital. Apparently the news was not officially announced on AIR because of the power vacuum in Delhi. Her son Rajiv too was away in Kolkata and got to know of the news from BBC.

The news was broadcast only in the 6 pm AIR bulletin. We then started hearing on foreign radio stations that riots had broken out especially in Delhi.

Next thing we looked forward to was who will be the next PM. Rajiv was elected unanimously. Pranab Mukherjee who was the natural choice was edged out.

Next came Rajiv's address to the nation. And the infamous reference to riots.. to the effect that.. When a big tree falls the earth is bound to shake.. But then few understood the enormity of the backlash against the Sikhs that unfolded.

Indira Gandhi was definitely a strong PM India had. She meant business. And things moved, though we may disagree in which direction it was. She was variously described as a dictator, tough task master, visionary, nationalist etc..

India hasn't had a PM like her since then. Of course the world too changed in many ways later.

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