It is rooted in the collective Sikh psyche that nemesis visits the person responsible for the attack on Darbar Sahib, the holiest of the holy Sikh shrines and this belief is supported by history. When a few months after Operation Bluestar, her own security men, who happened to be Sikhs, gunned down Prime Minister Indira Gandhi there was sense of utter shock and disbelief all over the country. However, for the followers of the Sikh faith, it was the continuation of that very historical phenomenon. She had personally paid the price for Operation Bluestar and become the victim of the deadly and degenerate politics being played in Punjab of which she happened to be one of the key players. The other security men mysteriously fired upon her assassins, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, though they had surrendered immediately. Beant Singh died on the spot while Satwant Singh was seriously injured and was hanged to death years later.
Her assassination on the morning of October 31 while walking down to her residential office was followed by a planned genocide of the Sikhs in Delhi and other places in the country to teach them a bitter lesson. Even the cavalcade of President Giani Zail Singh was not spared when he entered the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where the body of Indira Gandhi had been brought. Thousands were killed in this worst form of violence perpetrated against the Sikhs in the post-independence period. Men were burnt to death with burning tyres around their necks and women raped. Rajiv Gandhi’s comment justifying the violent reaction saying the earth trembles whenever a big tree falls is now part of the history. He was sworn in as the Prime Minister thus continuing the dynastic rule.
The SGPC’s publicity wing issued a signed statement on behalf of the high priests expressing shock at the assassination of Indira Gandhi and appealed to the countrymen to maintain peace, communal harmony and amity. Significantly, Deputy Commissioner Ramesh Inder Singh read out this statement at a meeting of the district peace committee. However, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Kirpal Singh within no time rang up several journalists to convey that the high priests were not a party to the statement. Within minutes, a news agency flashed the denial. Apparently, the denial had been issued under pressure from the militants. Akali Dal ad hoc committee convener Parkash Singh Majithia and SGPC acting President Rajinder Singh Dhaliwal also condemned the assassination.
Across the Border, Pakistan announced three-day state mourning.
The Times of India, Delhi, reported the widespread violence against the Sikhs breaking out in the aftermath of the assassination of the PM thus on November 1: “In a spontaneous manifestation of their wrath, hundreds of youths took to the streets this evening following the news of the death of the Prime Minister, setting fire to the shops, vehicles and other property belonging to Sikhs.” Going by the pattern of anti-Sikh violence, the manifestation of wrath was not spontaneous but pre-planned. The same paper commented on the edit page: “Once again the light has been sniffed out. Once again the country has been plunged into darkness. The blow is even heavier and crueler this time than on January 30, 1948. Then there were other stalwarts, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, who could steer the nation to safety. Now there is no one to step into her place. Indira Gandhi was not just India’s Prime Minister. She was the hope of the country in the turbulent period ahead. So much hinged on her. Independent India has never been so orphaned”.
A more balanced Indian Express editorial dated November 3 was blacked out in the paper’s Chandigarh edition due to censorship and was reproduced on November 30. Excerpts:
“Yesterday we mourned for Indira Gandhi. Today we mourn for India. Ever since Wednesday night, but more so on Thursday, rampaging mobs have been indulging in an orgy of violence aimed against Sikhs, in Delhi and several other cities in a number of states. This is totally wrong. Indira Gandhi’s assassins were not representatives of any community and taking revenge against Sikhs is unpardonable folly. What started out seemingly as sporadic outbursts of community anger steadily degenerated into a mindless frenzy, causing the most grievous loss of life and property, with arson and loot as significant motif. Curfew was declared in some places and the Army called out in others. But the machinery of law and order totally collapsed in the capital with mobsters and looters enjoying virtually a free run of the city while the police stood by pleading helplessness. The Army already on alert was tardily summoned to the aid of civil authority. There was no curfew until evening, only the most trivial show of force and lack of command and strategy for dealing with an extremely delicate and dangerous situation. Key posts seemed to be unmanned as frantic and pathetic appeals for assistance by beleaguered and terrorized groups in scattered areas went unheeded. Some senior officials and political figures appeared to be trapped in Teen Murti House where huge, milling crowds had gathered to pay homage to Indira Gandhi as her body lay in state.
It was The Indian Express that took the lead in exposing this pre-planned violence.
A report from as far away as Ranchi, then in Bihar, on violence against the Sikhs was very significant. Col M.S. Duggal, in charge of the Army operations in Ranchi, Bokaro and Daltonganj, told media persons that the Army had been alerted on the very day the PM was assassinated but not called out to curb the violence till 7 pm on November 1. Similarly, the Army was rushed to Bokaro where 60 Sikhs had been killed on November 2. He said the first request to the Army was to send out two columns for a flag march. Though the Army moved in immediately, no authority was given till the evening to effectively curb violence, The Telegraph reported on November 8, 1984. The same report quoted Parhlad Singh, a local Sikh leader, alleging that a particular magistrate had encouraged anti-social elements to attack the Sikhs, apart from two local Congress leaders. Everywhere, the administration was conniving with the mobs led by Congressmen to attack the Sikhs. The situation was worst in Delhi and adjoining areas, including parts of Haryana.
The situation in Delhi was described thus by Arati R. Jerath and Sanjay Suri in The Indian Express’ Delhi Edition, “For three days, mobs prowled the streets, killing, looting and burning, unchecked and often aided by the police and local Congress (I) workers.” This report, due to appear in the Chandigarh edition on November 9 was carried almost a month later on December 5 due to censorship.
A deputation of the Sikh leaders including Delhi Mayor M.S. Sathi, G.S. Dhillon, President of Guru Tegh Bahadur Foundation, Prof Harbans Singh, General Secretary of Guru Nanak Foundation, Jathedar Rachhpal Singh, President of Akali Dal (Master Tara Singh), Jaswant Singh, President of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, Gurbax Singh, Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University and Harvinder Singh Hanspal and Charanjit Singh, both MPs, called on the Prime Minister on November 6 to condole the death of his mother. He gave them the certificate of patriotism.
While addressing the congregation at Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Delhi on Guru Nanak’s birthday, Amarinder Singh commented on the situation, “It is not just their fault. We must look into ourselves also. Who asked us to drag out innocent people from buses and kill them? Who told us to shoot down poor people in villages? We must share the blame for what has happened today.” He also felt that by assassinating Indira Gandhi, the Sikhs had alienated themselves. “We have moved in wrong direction. And this is what happens when hate and revenge rule the mind,” he said.
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