Thursday, October 31, 2013

Remembering Indira Gandhi

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her security guards on October 31, 1984. It was a tragic happening. I have had the opportunity to work in the PMO earlier in two stints from April, 1974 to October, 1977 and for about a year in 1982. My job and responsibilities entailed brief and cursory interaction with PM Indira Gandhi on many times both in the office and PM’s residence. It was an honour to work in the close vicinity of the great leader of India, Indira Gandhi. I wish to write about those days sometime later, if I could do. Today, I would like to recall her from another point of oral history.  It so happened that I was again involved in the matters on October 31, 1984 which are still vivid in my memory.

President Giani Zail Singh was in Sana’a on October 31 on a State visit to North Yemen. I was staying with President Giani Zail Singh and his personal entourage in the Presidential Palace as the Liaison Officer from the Indian Embassy. As the President was to scheduled to leave Sana’a for India well before noon on October 31, my job was to see that all the personal baggage of the President and his family members is collected and sent to the airport and everybody gets ready after breakfast. I got up early and went to the dining room for breakfast. One of the Presidential Body Guards of the Indian Army, a young Captain, joined me. While taking quick breakfast he told me that he had heard on the radio that some incident had happened in Delhi involving PM Indira Gandhi. He did not have further details. I enquired whether he had told about this to anybody.  He said no. I considered and thought that it should be brought to the notice of President Zail Singh immediately. I being a junior officer thought of informing Ambassador Ranjit Gupta or Chief of Protocol Hamid Ansari (now Vice President of India) who were staying in a separate hotel. I knew COP Ansari well as I had worked with him earlier as Protocol Officer in the Ministry of External Affairs. I could get COP Ansari on phone and informed him. He rushed to the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, I, at the Control Room, started getting telephone calls from the media in Dubai. The picture was clear about the misdeed of the security officers of PM Indira Gandhi. COP Ansari arrived at the Palace and I accompanied him to President Zail Singh. Simultaneously, we tried to get confirmation and details of the happenings in Delhi from the Rashtrapati Bhawan on the hotline set up in the Room of PS to President. But nobody was responding. With great difficulty, we could get confirmation from the Rashtrapati Bhawan and Ministry of External Affairs. President Zail Singh got visibly very upset. He desired to fly back to Delhi immediately without any ceremonial send off which was scheduled. The Yemeni hosts including President Ali Abdullha Saleh were informed accordingly. The aircraft, technically, needed refueling on the way. President was informed of this. He categorically said that he did not want to stop and would go to Delhi direct. President Saleh came to the Presidential Palace, as the official send off was cancelled, to say good bye to President Zail Singh. He waited at the ground floor. I brought down President Zail Singh in the lift. On meeting President Saleh, President Zail Singh broke down and wept. I could feel the pain and his worries in the aftermath of PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination.  The rest is history. Incidentally, I knew Basant Singh Khalsa, one of the assassins of PM Indira Gandhi from my PMO days.

Yet another co-relation with the tragic incident is that I as Under Secretary (East Europe) in the Ministry of External affairs processed the gifting of the Crystal River by Czechoslovakia/ Czech Republic in 1990 which covers the blood spot where PM Indira Gandhi was shot at on the pathway at the residence of the PM which has been named as Indira Gandhi Memorial.

I write this as a tribute to PM Indira Gandhi, a great leader, with whom I have had the good fortune to work and interact though in a small way and in a very junior position.


  1. Respected Sir,

    You may recall me that I was working in Indian Embassy in Minsk while you were Ambassador there. Today evening when I was looking the sea through the window of my kitchen amidst silence I was remembering you with great respect which I had always nursed inside me even though all times it was not visible. So I thought I would send you an email to you. I remembered about your blog so that I could find your contact details. Today I also hold you in high esteem. I am writing you not because I want to please you or I need anything from you. It is my true respect for you I am writing. I am grateful to you for your prompt decision and action you had taken for my medical treatment in London when doctor suspected that I had kidney cancer. Your humane approach is outstanding and praiseworthy.

    Anyhow, I read your above story and came to know something unwritten history. Thank you Sir. I convey my respect to Madam and wish long life for you and Madam.

    With kindest regards,

    Amit Sarkar
    Embassy of India