Prelude To The Violence
Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, was shot by two of her security guards at 9.18 A.M. on October 31, 1984. She was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (in South Delhi). Her son Rajiv Gandhi, was away in West Bengal at that time and he returned to Delhi at about 4 P.M. President Zail Singh who was away in the Middle East, returned at about 5 P.M. and at 6.55 P.M. Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister of India.
The media focused on the fact that the two assassins were Sikhs. As it by design, the entire blame of this grave tragedy was put on these two Sikh individuals and later transferred to the entire Sikh community.
The first incidents, any where in the country, started in Calcutta. According to the Statesman of November 1, a Sikh was beaten up at 11 A.M. near Writers’ Buildings and one more Sikh was attacked in the Kidderpore area around the same time. A Sikh was assaulted in front of the Tea Board at about 1.30 P.M. The national Press reported that Congress-I workers and volunteers ran amuck in different parts of Calcutta from the forenoon. The Army was called in to control the situation and it had taken charge of the city by 2.30 P.M.
In Madras city, mobs took over, smashing shop windows, forcing shopkeepers to close down, and burning two buses of the Adarsha Vidyalaya run by the Punjab Association.
In Madhya Pradesh, angry mobs attacked shops and petrol pumps belonging to Sikhs in Jabalpur and Indore. The Army was put on the alert.
In Uttar Pradesh, witness to terrible incidents of arson, loot, and killing from November l onwards, particularly in Kanpur, few incidents were reported for October 31. Huge crowds gathered in the streets on getting the news of Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. Shops were closed. But that was all.
In Orissa, Congress-I workers attacked Sikhs in Bhuwaneshwar and set a private truck on fire. In Kalahandi where much burning and killing took place from November 1, nothing violent happened on October 3l, but crowds collected in the Gandhi Chowk in front of the Police Station and the S.P’s office. Also continuous Ramayan Path was begun.
In Delhi, incidents started in the afternoon of October 31. Most of these incidents were concentrated in South Delhi and that too in the vicinity of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where Mrs. Gandhi was admitted after being shot. Majority of the Sikhs in Delhi had always been supporters of the Congress-l, and many of them, as shocked and grieved as anyone else, had also reached All India Institute of Medical Sciences on that tragic morning of October 31. It was only in the late afternoon that their manhandling began. Even the President’s car was stoned when it slowed down at the entrance of the hospital. Sikhs were dragged out of buses near the AIIMS by large mobs and beaten. At about 4 P.M. some looting of shops and burning of vehicles started at South Extension and INA market: as reported, it was at the observed instigation and signal of a Congress-1 member of the Delhi Metropolitan Council.
The following incident outside the 1NA market at about 4 P.M. is significant. A Sikh youth’s turban was snatched by a small crowd of 30 - 35 persons. They tossed his turban once, and jeered as it came down. They tossed it a second time and as it came down, set it ablaze. Some persons from the 1NA market came out and whisked away the Sikh youth: he was not harmed.
Then the mob moved to the Safdarjang Airport Flyover. They spotted a car with an elderly Sikh gentleman inside. They stopped the car, dragged out the Sikh, abused him, roughed him up, hammered the car, but let the Sikh go without any harm to his life.
Around that time, a mail van driven by a Sikh was burnt near the Jor Bagh-Safdarjang Airport crossing. The Singh Sabha Gurudwara at Laxmibai Nagar was set on fire just as the Gurudwara at East Kidwai Nagar, next to All India Institute of Medical Sciences, was burnt down. Two private buses and two shops in the same area were set ablaze. The police watched passively. In the walled city, mobs looted shops belonging to Sikhs, and set timber shops and trucks on fire. By 4 P.M. shutters were down on most of the shops in the Shanker Market, Punchkuin Road, Karol Bagh, Sarojini Nagar and various other shopping centres in Delhi but there was no general phenomenon of loot and arson in the city, as markets remained open in certain areas like Greater Kailash-II.
One significant scene was enacted at the AIIMS at about 5 - 5.30 P.M. Rajiv Gandhi came out with folded hands after seeing his mother’s dead body. H.K.L. Bhagat followed him. A huge crowd had collected and were chanting slogans of ‘Indira Gandhi Amar Rahe’ and ‘Khoon ka Badla Khoon se’. Bhagat came out and was reported to have scolded the crowd, “What is the point of assembling here?”
There is not a single known incident of any Sikh having been killed or burnt alive on that day. A rumour concerning Sikhs was doing the rounds on October 31 – of Sikhs celebrating Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination by distributing sweets, or dancing the ’bhangra’, or by lighting lamps and bursting crackers.
Unsuspectful of any plan against their community, Sikhs in general ventured out of their houses for various errands on the morning of November 1. A large number of Sikhs unmindful of any personal danger had gone to Teen Murti House in the early hours of November 1, just like others, to pay their last homage to their departed leader. As observed on T.V. a large number of Sikhs were seen in the crowded queues, which were passing in front of the dead body of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the early hours of November 1. However, the sight of the Sikhs from those queues completely disappeared within an hour and a half of that morning. By that time the plan had been put into operation.
Looking back and comparing the events of the 31st October with the carnage which followed from November 1 onwards, it appears that the 31st October occurrences were isolated, sporadic, and emotional in nature while those which started on November 1, and continued for a full three days were extremely systematic, planned and organised in character: based on cold political considerations. In retrospect, it is perhaps not implausible to suggest that between the time of Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination on the morning of October 31 and the time of her son Rajiv Gandhi’s accession as the new Prime Minister in the evening of that fateful day, three crucial decisions were taken by someone somewhere is logical sequence (however perverse the logic may appear in a secular, socialist, democratic republic):
- Rajiv Gandhi must succeed as the new Prime Minister;
- Elections must be held forthwith to cash in on the ‘sympathy’ factor in favour of Congress - I;
- Sikhs as a community must be taught a lesson and demonstratively so – this was felt necessary to consolidate the Hindu public opinion swaying towards Indira Gandhi and her party after the Army action on the Golden Temple in June. The situation changed dramatically after the assassination. The Hindu community’s confidence in the ability of the ruling party to give protection to the Hindus against the “militant” Sikhs would have been shattered, the Hindu votes would have swung towards the Opposition, if nothing whatsoever, was done to suggest immediate “retribution” and “badla” for her assassination.
So something appears to have been done.