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Indira Gandhi’s assassination: Shocking story behind why Iron Lady’s trusted bodyguards turned assailants

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Indira Gandhi, ‘Iron Lady’ of India, was assassinated on the morning of October, 31, 1984. She was the then Prime Minister of India. The assassination was carried out by her ‘Sikh Bodyguards’ Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. The assassination was the aftermath of the ‘Operation Blue Star’ carried out by the Indian Army at the behest of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The Indian Army’s June 1984 assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar left the Sikh temple heavily damaged. Hundreds of people lost their lives and this included both the militants and the Army. However, what followed the assassination was brutal, the recuperations were massive. For the next four days, the country was engulfed in the fire of riots. The country’s capital bore the most of its brunt. More than 3000 Sikhs were killed all over the country. The rage against the Sikh community post the assassination was evident.

Indira Gandhi was the first lady Prime Minister of the country and a very good one at that. Despite the Emergency and the Operation Blue Star, she was popular among the masses. There were scores of people mourning her loss, loss of a great leader who could have avoided the mistakes just the way Rajiv Gandhi could have avoided making the famous statement, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes”.


On October, 31, 1984 Indira Gandhi was on her way to meet British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. He was going to interview her. At around 9:10 am, Indira was walking through the garden of the Prime Minister’s Residence at No. 1, Safdarjung Road in New Delhi.

Her trusted bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were waiting for her at the gate. As soon as she crossed the gate, her trusted guards open fired at her. Sub-inspector Beant Singh fired three rounds into her abdomen from his .38 revolver. Satwant Singh then fired 30 rounds from his Sterling sub-machine gun into her after she had fallen to the ground.

At around 9:30 am, Indira Gandhi was rushed to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in a white ambassador. Her daughter-in-law accompanied her. The doctors decided to operate on her. At the time, her son Rajiv Gandhi, who later succeeded her as the Prime Minister, was not in the capital. He was campaigning in Bengal for the elections that were upon them. Soon, Rajiv was informed that his mother is critical and he had to rush back to the capital.

Meanwhile, at the Prime Minister’s house within six minutes of opening firing on the Prime Minister, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were nabbed by Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Gandhi’s other bodyguards respectively as both of them threw their weapons and stood their ground.

At AIIMS, team of doctors was operating on Indira Gandhi. Of the 33 bullets that were fired at Gandhi 30 had hit; 23 had passed through her body while seven were trapped inside. Dr Tirath Das Dogra extricated bullets to establish the identity of the weapons and to correlate each weapon with the bullets recovered by ballistic examination.

Beant Singh captured by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police was shot dead within minutes after the assassination. According to the reports circulated by media later, Beant Singh allegedly initiated the firing resulting in his death. Satwant Singh was arrested and prosecuted.

At around 12:30 pm, the news of Indira Gandhi being critical started spreading. BBC aired the news at the same time saying the Prime Minister is critical. Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi took a flight back to Delhi from Kolkata along with Pranab Mukherjee. On the flight, Pranab suggested to Rajiv, that he should take over as the Prime Minister. Rajiv Gandhi landed in Delhi around 3:00 pm, and headed directly to AIIMS.

At 2: 20 p.m, the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had succumbed to her injuries, but the news of her assassination was announced almost 10 hours later on Doordarshan’s evening news show.

Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the 6th Prime Minister of the country at 6:45 pm, without needing an interim government. At 8:00 pm, news reader Salma Sultan announced the death of the Prime Minister to the nation on Doordarshan. Soon after that, Rajiv Gandhi addressed the nation.

By midnight, the rumours and the news of riots throughout the country had started coming in. Satwant Singh and conspirator Kehar Singh were sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out on January 6, 1989.

I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow . . . I do not care whether I live or die . . . I have lived a long life and I am proud that I spent the whole of my life in the service of my people . . . I shall continue to serve till my last breath and when I die, every drop of my blood will strengthen India and keep a united India alive.”  These are the words spoken by Indira Gandhi just a day before her speech at in Odisha (Orissa then). Almost suggesting what was coming her way.

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