Thursday, December 8, 2022

When Madam was Adam

India experienced a shattering event on October 31, 1984 when its first and till date, the only lady Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was brutally gunned down by her two personal bodyguards-Beant Singh and Satwant Singh- at around 9.29 a.m. as she was walking for an interview from her official residence at No.1 Safdarjung Road to the neighbouring No.1 Akbar Road office. The shocking assassination was linked with her directive to the Indian army to launch ‘Operation Bluestar’ between June 1 to 8,1984, to remove ‘Khalistan’ leader Jarnail Singh Bhinderwale from the Golden Temple of Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar Punjab. According to accounts around 83 army men were killed and 700 injured in a well laid ambush by heavy armed Khalistani Sikh rebels. The Sikh rebels also suffered around 400 dead. It is said that the Sikh rebels were led by Maj.Gen.Shabeg Singh, a hero of the Bangladesh war of 1971. Maj Gen Shabeg Singh was dismissed from service, without a court martial on corruption charges, thus denying him of full pension rights. Though he was later acquitted in February 1984, General Shabeg had made up his mind to become military adviser to Bhinderwale. Those killed included the renegade army general and Khalistani leader Bhinderwale. The handling of the operation, loss of lives inside the temple premises and damage to the holy shrine led to widespread criticism of Indira Gandhi. The perceived threat to Indira’s life increased after the operation. Accordingly, Sikhs were removed from her personal bodyguard detail by the Intelligence Bureau for fear of assassination. Indira Gandhi however thought that would reinforce her anti-Sikh image among the public. She ordered the Delhi Police to reinstate her Sikh bodyguards, including Beant Singh, who was reported to be her personal favourite. The shock and anger over Indira’s assassination incited partisan mobs who attacked Sikhs in Delhi that led to the deaths of over 3000 innocents and displacement of several thousands. While Beant Singh was killed by other security men on October 31, the other accused, Satwant Singh and alleged conspirator Kehar Singh were sentenced to death and executed on January 6, 1989. Indira went against the popular grain by introducing reforms such as the nationalisation of banks and the abolition of privy purses of the royal families, green revolution for improving agriculture productivity among others. Under her leadership, India inflicted a devastating defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 was that led to formation of Bangladesh as a separate nation. Indira showed indomitable spirit when India fought Pakistan despite solid opposition from the USA, who, along with allied powers – UK and France besides China, Iran and Jordan backed Pakistan. Despite being isolated, Indira displayed her decisiveness, fearlessness, discipline and determination to dismember Pakistan and birthing of Bangladesh. At home, Indira expanded India by acquisition of Sikkim and Siachen glacier without any big fuss. She also brought India on the path to becoming a nuclear power with the first nuclear test on May 18,1974 at Pokhran. For all these reasons she was called ‘The Iron Lady’. October 31,2022 was the 37th anniversary of Indira’s death and even till today, both admirers and critics agree that she was India’s most internationally renowned prime minister who could stand up to the super powers.

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