The Day Indira Was Killed

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On 31st October 1984, India witnessed a revenge killing that shocked the nation, unleashed beastly violence and took the life of its Prime Minister. At 9.10 am, as Indira Gandhi walked from her official residence to her office, she was shot dead in cold blood.

Indira Gandhi's funeral | The Scotsman
Indira Gandhi's funeral | The Scotsman

Indira fell to 30 bullets fired by her Sikh bodyguards. It was payback for her decision to storm the Golden Temple, the holiest of holy Sikh shrines, to flush out terrorists during Operation Blue Star.

Indira was alive when she was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, just 20 minutes later. She died five hours later.


Soon, a wave of communal violence swept across Delhi and other parts of the country. Sikhs were sought out by violent mobs and lynched. In India’s worst communal carnage since independence, 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi alone.

For three days, anarchy ruled Delhi as heads of state arrived to attend Indira’s funeral. As Indira’s body lay in hospital, Congress leaders huddled in the corridors of the building, to decide on her successor. They decided on her son Rajiv.

Rajiv, then General-Secretary of the Congress and a Member of Parliament, was in West Bengal when his mother was shot dead. He rushed back to Delhi and was sworn in as Prime Minister at 6.45 pm that same day. Only then was Indira’s death made public.

Death sentences to the assassinators | Hindustan Times
Death sentences to the assassinators | Hindustan Times

The new government was paralysed for 3 days as violence raged across the capital. Dr Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister, said in 2019 that the anti-Sikh riots could have been avoided if the then Home Minister P V Narasimha Rao heeded the advice he was given.

Rao had been advised to deploy the army a day after Indira’s assassination. But he refused. On 3rd November, the army was finally called in, curfew was imposed and shoot-at-sight orders issued. Indira was cremated on the banks of the Yamuna that day.

Almost 40 years after the violence and bloodshed, most of the political leaders accused of instigating the rioting mobs haven’t been brought to justice. Sajjan Kumar, a former Congress MP, is the only senior leader who was convicted.

In the meandering search for justice, four commissions of inquiry and two Special Investigating Teams were set up to probe the 1984 riots. The latest team was set up in 2018. It is investigating 186 cases that had been closed.

As justice eludes, the wounds of 1984 have largely healed. But the question remains – how did a nation guided by secular and democratic principles descend so uncontrollably and so quickly into a brutal, beastly mobocracy? It’s a question that haunts us even today.

Cover Image: Sisyasat Daily

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