Archive for January 6th, 2012

1989: Kehar Singh and Satwant Singh, assassins of Indira Gandhi

Add comment January 6th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1989, the last hangings at Delhi’s Tihar Jail dispatched two Sikhs for the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi) was the daughter and political heir of Jawaharlal Nehru and one of the postwar world’s more remarkable political biographies.

Never averse to breaking a few eggs, Gandhi led her country (sometimes autocratically) for four terms from 1966 to 1984, sandwiched around a stint under a legal cloud for political corruption.

She backed East Pakistan’s breakaway from India’s neighbor and rival, but also negotiated a Kashmir settlement with her Pakistani opposite number; oversaw the Green Revolution; pushed ahead with a nuclear weapons program; maneuvered between American and Soviet foreign policy.

The omelet that cost her life was the June 1984 Operation Blue Star, when she had the Indian military storm a Sikh shrine that armed militants had turned into a virtual fortress, even using tanks and artillery in the shrine’s residential area.

Although the operation “worked,” hundreds — maybe a thousand or more — lost their lives and the shrine itself suffered heavy damage.

Sikhs were incensed — including, apparently, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, two Sikh bodyguards of the Prime Minister who probably ought to have been reassigned. Maybe that’s just hindsight speaking, after they took the opportunity afforded by an escort assignment on Halloween 1984 to suddenly gun down their charge.

Beant Singh was shot down on the spot by other guards, but Satwant Singh was arrested.

He and Beant Singh’s uncle and alleged inciter Kehar Singh would later stand trial for their lives — but not before the assassination triggered an apparently government-blessed four-day anti-Sikh pogrom. The disturbing orchestration and four-figure body count of this infamous affair remain sensitive subjects on the subcontinent to this day, especially insofar as nobody has ever been punished for it.

The accused assassins were not so lucky — although they were more than content to accept martyrdom for avenging Operation Blue Star.

I have no hatred for any Hindu, Muslim, Christian, neither hatred for any religion. After my Shaheedi, let no Sikh throw any rock at any Hindu. I am not in favor of any retaliation or bloodshed over my Shaheedi. If we do create bloodshed, then there is no difference between us and Rajiv Gandhi. I am proud of the task that I did! I do ardas in front of Waheguru! If I am blessed with a human life, then give me a death of the brave when I am hanged. Forget one life, if I could I would give up a thousand lives to kill dushts like Indira Gandhi, and laugh as I become Shaheed by hanging.

-Satwant Singh in court

The killers were then and are still held in high regard by many Sikhs. (Satwant’s fiancee even married his picture.)

Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi followed her as head of state — and followed her fate when he was assassinated by Tamil terrorists in 1991. The Nehru-Gandhi family remains a powerful force in Indian politics.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,God,Hanged,History,India,Infamous,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures

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